The recent BBC Big Read series showed that science fiction and fantasy titles are a lot more popular than some literary pundits would like to admit. Of the top five titles, only Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice does not fit into one of these categories. However, it is not often that in addition to succeeding in both science fiction and fantasy, an author can also be credited with being an accomplished writer of horror fiction. Yet American born author George R.R. Martin has continued over the past 3 decades to produce quality work in all three genres, work that has attracted (and continues to attract) the attention of many loyal readers. He has also produced and written for television, having been involved during the 1980s and 1990s in the revival of ‘The Twilight Zone’ and the development of the fantasy series ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
For certes, there are many people within the SF & F community who recognize his abilities. The Martin mantelpiece is currently home to 4 Hugos, 2 Nebulas, A World Fantasy Award and a Bram Stoker Award, and he has collected many more award nominations and lesser awards besides. Undoubtedly his most popular work to date is his “A Song of Ice and Fire” fantasy series. The paperback editions of the first three of a projected six volumes justifiably qualify for named shelf space in many bookshops worldwide, and, as was the case with Stephen Donaldson’s “Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” series in the early 1980s, there are a host of readers eagerly awaiting the publication of the next volume in this literate and compelling series.
George Raymond Richard Martin was born in Bayonne, New Jersey on 20th September 1948 where he was raised with his two younger sisters. He has fond childhood memories of plastic knights and castles, and to this day is still a collector, albeit of the finest quality hand-painted metal versions. Like Philip Pullman, as a boy GRRM was captivated by superhero comics, and in the sixties he began to contribute letters and stories to the burgeoning comic fanzine market. He left high school in 1966 and attended Northwestern University in Illinois where he studied journalism, gaining a B.S. in 1970 and an M.S. the following year.
GRRM’s first money-earning story was entitled “The Hero” and was published in Galaxy magazine in February 1971. From 1972 onwards, GRRM was a regular contributor of SF shorts to Analog magazine, and in 1979 he became a full-time writer. His first full volume to be published was A Song for Lya and Other Stories. This collection of 10 stories was published in paperback in the U.S. by Avon in 1976 and in the U.K. by Coronet in 1978 (also in paperback). Of the 10, the title story is by far the best, winning GRRM his first Hugo Award for best Novella in 1974. His next volume was another short story collection published in paperback by Pocket Books in 1977 and entitled Song of Stars and Shadows, but as the result of a warehouse flood, only about 20,000 copies actually made it into the wild. The U.K. edition from Coronet was published four years later in 1981 and is quite scarce in collectable condition. Also in 1977, Simon and Schuster published GRRM’s first full-length novel, a classic space opera entitled Dying of the Light. The Gollancz edition followed in 1978.
GRRM moved to his current hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1979 and that year also saw the publication in Omni magazine of “Sandkings”, probably his best-known short story. It won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards in 1980 (an unusual feat) and was adapted for television as an “Outer Limits” episode in 1995. It was also included in a short story collection of the same name that was published in paperback form in both the U.S. (Timescape, 1981) and in the U.K. (Futura, 1983). The collection also included GRRM’s third Hugo winner, another short written for Omni in 1979 entitled “The Way of Cross and Dragon”.
GRRM’s second novel Windhaven was written in collaboration with Lisa Tuttle. It was actually a fixup consisting of two stories that originally appeared in Analog magazine to which were added a prologue, a third section from another short (‘The Fall’) that appeared contemporaneously in Amazing magazine and an epilogue. Timescape published the hardcover edition in the U.S. in 1981 and a U.K. paperback edition from NEL followed in 1982. There were plans for further Windhaven stories, but the two authors could never quite get together to do the groundwork.
In 1981 Dell released Binary Star #5, one of a series of paperback originals in which novellas from two authors were printed back-to-back and each author wrote an afterword to the others work. GRRM contributed an extended version of his haunted spaceship story “Nightflyers”, first published in Analog magazine in 1980. The partner story was “True Names” by Vernor Vinge. There was never an equivalent U.K. release of either the book or the story.
In 1982, GRRM published his third novel, Fevre Dream, a Mississippi River steamboat and vampires tale that has been described by many as one of the best of its type. Regardless of the rather unlikely juxtaposition of vampires and the American Deep South (after all, Anne Rice got away with it), there is an authentic feel, perhaps imparted during GRRM’s sojourn in Dubuque, Iowa on the upper reaches of the Mississippi. Here, he first taught journalism at Clarke College between the years 1976 to 1978 followed by a year as writer-in-residence. The Poseidon Press published the true first, whilst the Gollancz issue was released in the U.K. a year later.
His fourth novel, The Armageddon Rag, first published in the U.S. in 1983, was a commercial failure but a cult hit. Dubbed “a rock and roll horror novel”, its Sixties revival theme reeks of nostalgia, having been written by someone who was so obviously, to quote the dust jacket blurb from psychedelia guru Timothy Leary “…sorry when it ended” (presumably a reference to the book).
Published in the U.S. in 1983 by Dark Harvest, the short story collection Songs the Dead Men Sing was the publisher’s first book, and unusually, it was only issued in limited edition form, thus pushing up the price to between £110 to £275. The Gollancz edition (minus “In the House of the Worm”, “This Tower of Ashes” and the introduction by A.J.Budrys) followed two years later and is now quite scarce, with asking prices in the £50-£65 region.
During the mid-1980s, GRRM began work upon a historical mystery set in the New York of the 1890s, but his publishers, still smarting from the failure of The Armageddon Rag were not interested, especially as it was not science fiction, and so the novel was never completed. Instead, he was drawn towards Hollywood with an offer of work as a scriptwriter on the revived television show “The Twilight Zone” where he stayed for two years, followed by three years on the show “Beauty and the Beast”. Despite all of the television work, GRRM did sell some story collections during this period. Nightflyers, a PBO from Bluejay Books published in 1985 contains the extended version of the title story plus 5 others.
His creation of the mushroom wine drinking, cat loving, galaxy traversing eco-engineer Haviland Tuf was the key to his first successful series. Tuf Voyaging, published in the U.S. (Baen Books, 1986) and later in the U.K. (Gollancz, 1987) collected the six Haviland Tuf stories previously published in Analog magazine along with a rewritten version of the first Tuf story “A Beast for Norn” which had originally appeared in the British hardcover anthology Andromeda 1 edited by Peter Weston (Dobson, 1977). In 1987, the title story from the collection Portraits of his Children won GRRM a second Nebula Award, and in January of that same year the first volume of the shared world series “Wild Cards” was published.
“Wild Cards” was based upon comic book heroes and grew out of a role-playing game that was run by GRRM. The game soon became an obsession amongst his New Mexico-based friends and fellow writers, and they eventually decided to capitalise on it by converting the games into print. By the time that the series had run out of steam in 1995, there had been fifteen volumes published, all edited by GRRM, and many containing stories written by him. The series was restarted in 2002.
Despite his commitments to Hollywood and the Wild Cards series, in the late 1980s GRRM still managed to produce two more award-winning stories. The first was “The Pear-Shaped Man” published in Omni magazine in 1987 and later in book form by Pulphouse (but not in the U.K.). It won the 1988 Bram Stoker Award for best horror story. The second was the novella “The Skin Trade” that was published along with stories from Stephen King and Dan Simmons in the horror anthology Night Visions 5 (Dark Harvest, 1988). It won a World Fantasy Award. Dark Harvest simultaneously produced a limited edition of 850 signed and slipcased copies which, thanks to King’s signature, are much more expensive and elusive than the trade edition. In the U.K., Gollancz published this anthology in 1989 under the title Dark Visions. Between 1989 and 1995, the only new work that GRRM produced was a “Wild Cards” story entitled Dead Man’s Hand written in collaboration with his friend John J. Miller. Hollywood remained his main focus during this time, but in 1991 he began work on the series that would introduce a whole new cadre of readers to his writing.
A Song of Ice and Fire
Eventually published in 1996, A Game of Thrones is the first novel in GRRM’s now hugely popular historical fantasy series ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. Historical fantasy? Yes, because here GRRM returns to the beloved castles and knights of his childhood to craft an epic tale that is far more sword than sorcery. Although not an immediate success (one could still purchase a personally dedicated copy for $24 via GRRM’s web site in 1998), the word eventually began to get around. Set mainly in the pseudo European medieval world of the Seven Kingdoms, A Game of Thrones follows the fluctuations in fortune of three noble families who are vying for the throne. However, not only the families are in conflict, for the environment is also unbalanced and an unnaturally long summer period created by ancient spells is coming to an end with the threat of a long winter to follow. The series features many well-developed characters of all classes and ages, the dimensionally challenged Tyrion Lannister (a.k.a. “The Imp”) being one of the most memorable characters, and also GRRM’s favourite.
A Game of Thrones was sold simultaneously to HarperCollins in the U.K. and Bantam Books in the U.S. and although the official publication date for the HarperCollins edition (under the Voyager imprint) was earlier than the Bantam edition, hundreds of copies of the latter were given away at the American Booksellers Association convention in May 1996. It is a moot point as to whether the giving away of copies constitutes first publication, and the waters are further muddied by the Voyager’s publication in the U.K. of a 124 page Collectors’ Preview Edition in paperback containing the prologue plus the first eight chapters of A Game of Thrones. This Preview Edition was sold at 99 pence and came with a message from the publisher exhorting the buyer to ‘return to the bookshop from which you bought this preview edition and you will be able to buy the complete novel at a special price’. How many punters took up this offer is unclear, but for sure, some silly prices have been asked on the net for this slender paperback. Realistically though, expect to pay at least £10 for a collectable copy.
Regardless of issue date, the Voyager is definitely the rarer of the two hardcover editions although by how much is uncertain because GRRM prefers not to give out information regarding the size of the print runs. Alas, the Voyager volume’s poor paper quality ensures that the text block is sure to take a tan, although the Bantam edition is not without its potential problems; the “silver foil” dustjacket shows up the slightest scratch and knock and is prone to laminate separation. Also, be aware that Bantam issued a second impression of A Game of Thrones in the U.S. in 2002 with a new dust jacket in the same style as the two subsequent volumes and, crucially, with the number sequence ‘10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1’ thus creating some confusion for dealers and collectors alike.
There are no precedence issues in respect of the next two volumes in the series. The Voyager editions of A Clash of Kings (1998) and A Storm of Swords (2000) were both published several months earlier than their Bantam counterparts. Unfortunately, Voyager specified the same paper stock for A Clash of Kings as was used for A Game of Thrones, but with A Storm of Swords, the quality is greatly improved. The Jim Burns wraparound dust jackets of the Voyager volumes are certainly superior to those of the corresponding U.S. editions. There is a limited edition version of A Game of Thrones from Meshia Merlin Publishing in the U.S., but it has not sold well, perhaps because at $250 for the numbered edition of 500, it appears rather expensive, and so it is still possible to purchase a copy at the issue price.
In 1998, another Seven Kingdoms story appeared in Robert Silverberg’s original anthology Legends. This brought together major fantasy writing talents who were asked to contribute stories set in their best known worlds. GRRM’s offering was the novella “The Hedge Knight”, set ninety years prior to the events of A Game of Thrones and introducing Dunk, a poor steward turned poor knight and his insolent sidekick Egg. The other contributors to Legends are Stephen King, Robert Jordan, Anne McCaffrey, Terry Goodkind, Raymond Feist, Ursula Le Guin, Terry Pratchett, Orson Scott Card and Tad Williams, an unprecedented gathering of fantasy talent in one volume. The U.S. edition (Tom Doherty Associates’ TOR imprint) was issued in both trade and limited forms, the latter being leather-bound, numbered, slipcased and signed by all 11 authors, including King, whose Dark Tower series story “The Little Sisters of Eluria” is unique to this anthology. Such an august collocation of fantasy author signatures and original stories, limited to only 200 for sale copies, guarantees high prices and you will need to part with £600-£700 to acquire one. Even more difficult are the 50 lettered copies that were reserved for the authors and the publisher for which I have been unable to find any price information. The U.K. edition from Voyager is a much more modest purchase at £25-£45 in collectable condition.
To commemorate his Guest of Honour status at the annual Boston science fiction convention in 2001, the organisers produced a limited edition volume entitled Quartet that contains the novella “The Skin Trade”, “Blood of the Dragon” (an excerpt from A Game of Thrones previously published in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and his fourth Hugo winner), “StarPort” (an unproduced teleplay), and a fragment from Black and White and Red All Over (his uncompleted mystery novel). The success of Legends resulted in the publication in 2003 of a second Silverberg edited anthology (the inspiringly named Legends II) to which GRRM contributed a further Dunk and Egg story entitled “The Sworn Sword”. This time, the limited edition is 500 copies and without any contribution from Stephen King, the prices should be more reasonable. 2003 also saw the publication in the U.S. of GRRM: A RRetrospective (yes, that spelling is correct!) by Subterranean Press. This huge volume contains 1280 pages and more than 400,000 words of commentary, novellas, teleplays and short stories (some previously unpublished) along with specially commissioned full-page black and white artwork. In addition to the trade version that sold out soon after publication, Subterranean also released a limited edition of 400 leather-bound, slipcased and numbered copies signed by the author complete with a chapbook containing the Twilight Zone teleplay for “The Last Defender of Camelot” and the original story by Roger Zelazny.
Looking forward, A Feast for Crows, the fourth volume in the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series should be finished soon and will be followed by two more volumes over the next few years. GRRM has talked of a follow-up to Fevre Dream and perhaps another Haviland Tuf book. Regardless of the genre, he has a solid base of readers and collectors in many parts of the world who are very keen to see more output from this talented author.