Dying of the Light
by George R.R. Martin
Reviewed by Bob Sojka

I was late “discovering” George R. R. Martin, never having come across any of his work until being assigned to read his story The Sand Kings at Odyssey 2008. Before even laying down the syllabus I was predisposed to disliking him. My dad had this prejudice against people who use two middle initials. Dad was very effective at convincing me it was a sign of pomposity--a bias that I fed over the course of my professional life, perhaps selectively. Syllabus or not, this guy wasn’t getting my full attention. After all, there’s a lot to read and write at a six week writer’s workshop. 

Then I read The Sand Kings. Plot refinement was listed as a big need on my Odyssey application. It turns out George R. R. Martin is the go-to-guy for learning about “causal chain.” If I had known some of Martin’s bona fides, I wouldn’t have been so surprised to learn that. He spent 10 years in Hollywood writing and producing for film and television. His credits include contributions to The Twilight Zone, Beauty and the Beast and various other shows. Since leaving tinsel town in the mid 90’s and returning full time to writing, he has produced a bevy of novels and short stories. He is especially known, of late, for his acclaimed series A Song of Ice and Fire, which has been said by some to be a hip and refreshing overhaul of the entire fantasy genre. I’ll let you know if I agree, just as soon as I read those next four or five thousand pages--which I hope to do.

Dying of the Light is a far flung far future story set on the rogue planet, Worlorn, that is sling shotting from the great nothingness between galaxies, around a small star cluster at the edge of the Milky Way, back to the black void. It’s a one time round trip from nothing, to something, back to nothing--a course that parallels the ecology, the cultures and lives of those who have taken up temporary residence on the planet. Martin uses this device to compress the interaction of species, governments, religions, ethical codes, technologies and relationships in a piston-tight reaction vessel that ignites explosively when the spark of an impolitic interloper is introduced into the reaction vessel in the waning days of the planet’s habitation.

If you remember the story of King Arthur’s Court, then you won’t be surprised that the lone female in the story is named Gwen. And you will recognize Arthur in the flawed hero Jaan and Lancelot in the brash intruder Dirk. All the rest of the players are there too, but the jousting is more raw and the code chivalric is far more complex. The consequences of code violation are bizarre and brutal. And so is the unfolding string of tragedies and betrayals. Several plot elements are mirror images of the Arthurian legend from which the novel springs, casting this version of the kingdom in a more somber light, both figuratively and in fact. One twist of poetic justice improves the ending of this Camelot tale that I won’t give away. Read it yourself and see whether it truly satisfies or if, instead, it leaves you, as it did me, mindful about everything you have always learned about the wages of honor and trust, the cost of their loss, and the price of redemption.

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