Other works by George R. R. Martin
The author George R. R. Martin is best known for his “A Song of Ice and Fire” (ASOIAF) series. For those of you waiting like me for the next installment in the series, I recommend reading his other stories, especially Martin’s short story “The Sandkings” and his novel “Fevre Dream”.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
On his website, Martin writes that people – when starting to write – should begin with short stories:
These days, I meet far too many young writers who try to start off with a novel right off, or a trilogy, or even a nine-book series. That’s like starting in at rock climbing by tackling Mt. Everest. Short stories help you learn your craft.
In ASOIAF, every chapter is complete in itself. The chapters start gently with often somebody approaching a castle or rowing over to an island. Then the person meets someone at the destination, the story builds up and some new information or some twist is revealed at the end of the chapter.
We recognize his style in Sandkings. Martin puts us in an imaginary world and introduces its elements on the fly. We learn about Kress who lives alone in his house with his pets, but then we suddenly get this sentence which tells us that this world is not like ours:
The next day he flew his skimmer to Asgard, a journey of some two hundred kilometers. (“The Sandkings”)
This story alludes to the motifs of sin and punishment and keeps you thinking after you’ve finished.
“Fevre Dream” reminded me of “Heart of Darkness”. We’re in 1852 and the experienced river-boat captain Abner March strikes a Faustian bargain with odd stranger Joshua York: The elegant other will provide the funds for a shiny new boat that will outrun all other boats – even the arch-rival Eclipse – but in return March must ignore the oddities and eccentricities of York and his companions. As the boat cruises down the Mississippi, signs accumulate that something is wrong. One of York’s friends squashes a Mosquito, stares at a the blood and then licks away the blood. York insists of stopping at places for no economic reason; places where people had been disappearing for a while.
And as the sun went down, the muddy water took on a reddish tinge, a tinge that grew and spread and darkened until it seemed as if the Fevre Dream moved upon a flowing river of blood. Then the sun vanished behind the trees and the clouds, and slowly the blood darkened, going brown as blood does when it dries, and finally black, dead black, black as the grave. Marsh watched the last crimson eddies vanish. No stars came out that night. He went down to supper with blood on his mind. (“Fevre Dream”)
The plot line of Fevre Dream is pleasantly unpredictable. We see many of the motifs in this story that we find again in ASOIAF: unfulfilled longings, long time jumps, the undead, blood, the contrast of life and death and night and day. Even some phrases are familiar: “blood of my blood” and (almost like Melisandre) “The nights are full of blood and terror”; and at another place “The night is dark, the day is long”.
Let me know if you’ve read any other George R. R. Martin stories and can recommend any.