A brief announcement for Vermonters: I’ll be presenting a paper based on a couple of my columns here at the 11th Annual Tolkien in Vermont conference at UVM on April 12th in Burlington.
This past weekend, HBO aired the first episode in Season 4 of the popular fantasy drama Game of Thrones, and announced that the show will continue for a further fifth and sixth seasons on the network. The show, based on the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, builds on the success of the books, the first of which appeared in 1996. Since then, Lev Grossman has described Martin as “the American Tolkien,” and he is arguably one of the biggest names in fantasy fiction at the moment. Yet, fantasy wasn't Martin's original calling. In Patti Perret's photobook, The Faces of Science Fiction, Martin noted: "But I'm an sf person, and always will be."
Born in Bayonne, N.J., on September 20th, 1948, George Raymond Martin grew up between the housing project where he lived and his school, several blocks away: "that was pretty much my world, from First Street to Fifth Street." It was a world unto itself and the confinement helped to invigorate his imagination. From an early age, he read science fiction & fantasy novels, the first being Robert Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel.
Off of an allowance of $1 a week, Martin bought the latest Ace Double novels (including ACE's editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy) and comic books. When his family moved to the LaTourette Gardens apartment complex, he was surrounded by children his own age for the first time. They were his "first audience," and he wrote up and sold monster stories to them for pennies, often providing dramatic readings to go along with them. In 1963, Martin wrote a fan letter to the editors of Fantastic Four, which ultimately provided him with an entry into fandom. Other fans wrote directly to him, and he began to read and write for various fanzines.
In 1966, Martin left New Jersey for Northwestern University in Illinois, where he eventually earned a B.A. in Journalism in 1970, and went on to complete his Master's a year later. By now, he'd begun to put his writing skills to work, publishing his first short story, “The Hero,” in the February 1971 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. Objecting to the ongoing war in Vietnam, he joined the AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program until 1977, during which time he volunteered at a legal foundation, directed chess tournaments and taught college-level English. He also began his career as a writer at a frantic pace, publishing dozens of stories and beginning to win awards for his science fiction stories.
1973 brought "The Exit to San Breta" in Fantastic; “The Second Kind of Loneliness” in Analog Science Fiction and Fact; “Slide Show in Omega A Peripheral Affair” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; "Night Shift" in Amazing Science Fiction; "With Morning Comes Mistfall" and "Override" in Analog; and "Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels" in Vertex: The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. According to Mike Ashley in his study Gateways to Forever: The Story of Science–Fiction Magazines from 1970-1980, “[a]lthough Martin sold to other magazines and anthologies, his major stories nominated for awards all appeared in Analog, and he was also nominated for the [John W.] Campbell Award for Best New Writer primarily on the strength of his Analog appearances.”
"With Morning Comes Mistfall" earned Martin his first Hugo and Nebula nominations, and over the next four years, Martin continued to publish widely in Analog and Amazing, among others. In 1975, he earned his first Hugo Award for his Novella A Song for Lya (and another Nebula nomination), and a year later, he and co-author Lisa Tuttle earned another Hugo/Nebula nomination for their novella The Storms of Windhaven and for his novelette And Seven Times Never Kill Man, both published in Analog. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction notes that Martin’s employment as a journalist and journalism professor likely helped his craft: “Perhaps because of his training as a journalist and his employment in the mid-1970s as a teacher of journalism, Martin in his period as sf author seemed most comfortable with stories which are fast-paced and economical.” Brian Aldiss also commented on Martin’s early rise in the field during this period: “Martin was a romantic whose ideas and imagery spanned a wide and colourful spectrum. Vampires and spacecraft sit cheek by jowl in his stories….Martin’s revolution, if we can call it such, has been to imbue the expected magazine formulae—romantic, often sentimental and mechanistic—with a degree of realism.”
In 1977, friend and fellow author Tom Reamy passed away unexpectedly. While the two weren't close, the loss prompted Martin to evaluate his life and change careers to become a full time author. In the same year, he published his first novel as a serial in Analog, titled After the Festival, which appeared in the magazine's April through July issues. The collected novel, retitled Dying of the Light, was published by Simon & Schuster in October 1977, and was nominated for the Hugo and British Fantasy Awards in 1978, and placed 10th in that year's Locus Poll. The story took place in the same world as several of his other award-nominated works, including Song for Lya and "With Morning Comes Mistfall,” and followed a cast of characters on a dying world.
Alongside his novels, he continued to publish throughout the end of the 1970s and well into the 1980s. 1979’s “The Way of Cross and Dragon,” published in the June issue of Omni, earned him a second Hugo win and a Nebula nomination in 1980. In August of 1979, his novelette Sandkings appeared in Omni, which would also go on to win a Nebula and Hugo award in 1980. Two stories placed in Analog, “One-Wing” (January) and “Nightflyers” (April), were both nominated for the major awards, as well as others in the early 1980s. In 1981, Martin published his second novel, Windhaven, co-written with Lisa Tuttle, which placed second on the 1982 Locus poll. 1982 also brought another novel, Fevre Dream, a vampire novel set in 1857 on the Mississippi River.
Martin published his next novel in 1983, The Armageddon Rag, which mixed fantasy and murder alongside a look at rock music of the 1960s. The book was ambitious and critically acclaimed, but was described by its author as an utter commercial disaster that largely destroyed his career as a novelist. As a result, Martin ultimately took a break from writing science fiction in favor of writing for the television industry, where he worked on shows such as Max Headroom and Beauty and the Beast throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s. Along the way, he created and edited a long-running superhero series called Wildcards.
In 1991, frustrated with the restrictive television industry, Martin returned to writing fiction, starting with a fantasy story that would in 1996 become A Game of Thrones and its sequels, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast of Crows and A Dance with Dragons. The series has rebuilt Martin’s reputation as a novelist, this time in the epic fantasy genre, where his stories imbue a greater sense of realism than some of its genre counterparts. In 2007, the show was optioned by HBO and released in 2011 as the television show Game of Thrones. Fans of the Song of Ice and Fire series eagerly await the next volume, Winds of Winter, due out at some point in the next couple of years.