Friday, January 30, 2015

Dying of the Light

George R.R. Martin is officially part of the big time. An author in great demand who seems to have been able to win over everyday readers as well as a significant fraction of the literati. Most folks know him through his uber popular A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka his Game of Thrones work). You can definitely count me as someone who is a big fan of his writing style, his skill at building worlds, systems of magic, characters who take on flesh and bone, his dialog, and his pacing. However, until recently my only exposure to Martin's writing was through his Game of Thrones novels. I decided that I would begin to work my way through some of his other fantasy and science fiction works, beginning with his first published novel, Dying of the Light.

The story takes place on Worlorn, a rogue or free-floating planet that orbits the outer edge of the galaxy directly, instead of remaining closely tied to a central star. Thus the majority of the time, Worlorn is a frigid, dark, and lifeless rock. However, for a period, Worlorn's orbit brought it near a red giant star and it was settled. In fact 14 major cities were established to celebrate the diverse cultures of 14 different planetary systems. As Worlorn moved out away from the red giant, the planet was abandoned by all but a few individuals.

The protagonist of the story is Dirk t'Larien who was apparently called to Worlorn by his ex-girlfriend Gwen Delvano. Dirk's life has been empty and without purpose since Gwen left him, and her call sparks hope. When he arrives on Worlorn, he finds that Gwen is married to a warrior from the planet High Kavalaan, whose home-world culture is based on honor and clan loyalty. Dirk's sudden appearance on Worlorn however seems to be a surprise to Gwen and his presence leads to conflict on a number of fronts. The story is played out under the dying light of the star on the planet surface and the dying life of humanity that once filled the festival cities that were constructed to celebrate life and humanity's spread across the galaxy. Against this forlorn backdrop, Dirk finds himself immediately in conflict with the Kavalars on Worlorn whose own culture is dying just as everything around them.

The novel is relatively short for all of the development of peoples and cultures and worlds that Martin introduces, yet he handles this development with aplomb. A very gritty novel in which many of the characters face their own personal fears of life and death. Some might find this work too minimalist, too sullen, too moody. For me, I found it more introspective and a refreshing change from the typical novel endings where everything is tied up into a package with pretty wrapping and a neat bow. I will definitely move on to other works by George R.R. Martin, so stay tuned.