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Linda Antonsson

George R. R. Martin: The Rock Star of Genre Fiction

On this day 68 years ago, George Raymond Martin (the second R, for Richard, was added by him at his Confirmation) was born in Bayonne, New Jersey. As a child, between writing monster stories for the local kids (at a nickel a story), sending away “sticky quarters” for the earliest comic fanzines, and taking care of the turtles—which were the only pets he was allowed in the projects—George R.R. Martin dreamed of far-off places.

The Kill van Kull could be seen outside his window, ships constantly flowing up and down, and he would learn what countries the flags they flew represented and he would imagine what it was like to sail away to distant nations. That hunger for unseen vistas has served him well over the years as he went from fan to pro to… well, there’s nothing else for it but to say that he’s now at rockstar-like levels of fame.

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Series: On This Day

Firsts in Fantasy: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

You’ve watched the last episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and you’re staring at the screen with your jaw on the floor as the final scene cuts to black. And your first thought is: “I want more! When’s the next season?!” But the next season isn’t starting until Spring 2012, the almighty web search tells you. What to do? You could rewatch the show, sure. Or you could try and find something that hits the same sweet spot—The Lord of the Rings films, maybe, or perhaps or perhaps Deadwood for its gritty-bygone-era feel. Or maybe, just maybe, you decide… how about the book that the series adapted? Crazy idea, sure. Didn’t you just watch the story? Maybe the book will be a let down, maybe it’ll just feel like the same thing all over again, maybe—

No. Just… no.

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Series: Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Picks

The Sins of the Fathers in A Song of Ice and Fire

In our previous post (see all the posts in this essay series here) we discussed Eddard Stark and his refusal to share any information about Jon’s mother with his wife (and, indeed, with Jon) and the damage that this caused his family, and the similar situation Doran Martell found himself in with respect to his daughter.

This seemed to fit naturally back into a topic that was suggested to us by the folks at the way that everything seems to go back to fathers for so many of the characters in the novels. For Jon Snow and Robb Stark, Eddard looms very large in their imagination. The early death of Steffon Baratheon left Robert even more dependent on his foster-father, Lord Arryn. The highly dysfunctional Lannister family is a multi-generation problem, from the cold and remote treatment of Tywin Lannister to the follies of his own father. The Clegane patriarch who gave his horrifically burned son ointment after his older son shoved his face into a fire for daring to touch one of his toys (one he never played with) probably didn’t do his sons any favors. And on, and on.

[Of fathers in A Song of Ice and Fire]

Series: A Song of Ice and Fire

The Flower of Chivalry in the Seven Kingdoms

One of the things that, early on, really drew me to A Song of Ice and Fire was the veneer of courtly chivalry that George R.R. Martin placed in the setting. I had a double major at the time when I first read the series, and one of the two subjects was medieval history, so that quite perked my ears up. I had read fantasy novels with knights and the like before, but generally chivalry was taken at face-value: derring-do, knights in shining armor, damsels in distress, and so on. But not A Game of Thrones. Oh, the pageantry, the heraldry, the bynames that promised puissance on the field (“The Knight of Flowers,” “The Mountain that Rides,” “The Sword of the Morning”), those were all there. But beneath it all lies a sense that it really is a veneer, that the culture of chivalry is something added on top of the underlying society rather than being integral to it. Some knights—Barristan the Bold is a fine example—appear to live their life by this (arbitrary) chivalric ideal, while others show a remarkable pragmatism. To my eye, Martin captured the reality of chivalric culture in the Middle Ages with his approach.

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Series: A Song of Ice and Fire

The Dream of Dragons in A Song of Ice and Fire

[Note: Spoilers through all the published novels and stories are likely to creep in, so beware!]

The rise to power of the Freehold of Valyria some five thousand years ago, according to legend, involved a series of great wars against the Old Empire of Ghis. These titanic clashes—an echo of the Punic wars between Rome and Carthage over control of the Mediterranean—always ended in victory of Valyria. Why? Dragons. The Valyrians were the first (and, so far as we know, only) people in the world to tame dragons. Valyria’s Fourteen Flames, great volcanoes, may have been appealing to the dragons; they seem to have craved heat, and within the Fourteen Flames it’s said that wyrms that were related to dragons burrowed through solid stone. The Valyrians themselves would make claims to legendary descent from dragons, with the blood of dragons in their veins.

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Series: A Song of Ice and Fire

The Masterminds of Ice and Fire

We’ll be immediately talking spoilers today, so if you’ve not read the series or watched HBO’s Game of Thrones, beware!

Once more, with feeling: This article is chock full of SPOILERS for ALL of the released books in the series, which means it also includes spoilers for the TV show.

The “A Song of Ice and Fire” series has a lot of terrific qualities, but one of the ones that seems to most strongly drive reader participation in communities like the forum are the conspiracies and intrigues. The very first novel is set up by two key, inter-related conspiracies: [highlight to read] the alleged assassination of the Hand of the King, Jon Arryn, and the conspiracy to keep secret the incestuous love affair of Queen Cersei and her brother Ser Jaime Lannister. Untangling these mysteries is something that takes three novels to really resolve entirely. They motivate a great deal of the action….

And it’s all thanks to masterminds, it seems, the clever, ambitious schemers.

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Series: A Song of Ice and Fire

The Brothers Baratheon in A Song of Ice and Fire

This latest episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones has, for the first time, really put the three Baratheon brothers in some focus, comparing and contrasting them. It seemed worthwhile to us to go into more detail, because these characters play a major part in the series and because their relationships with one another help to illuminate some facets of the setting. We see loving families, like the Starks, and we see dysfunctional ones, like the Lannisters, but with the Baratheons there’s something different going on, a kind of distance that doesn’t really fit dysfunction, but certainly isn’t very happy.

But first, the obligatory spoiler warning: we’ll be discussing all novels of the series, not just the first!

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Series: A Song of Ice and Fire

The Wild Cards in A Song of Ice and Fire

No, not those Wild Cards! Instead, we thought it might be interesting look at some of the “wild cards” in the series—characters or groups that may well play a major role in the series. In a series with hundreds of characters (more than a thousand named characters, in fact, though many don’t actually have any lines), there’s bound to be some who are more important than others, who have a more significant role to play… but just what that role is is a mystery. Truth be told, even as we started kicking around names, we realized that at this stage the field is wide open… but here’s a few of our favorite wild cards. Note that there are spoilers below for all four published novels to date, as we discuss where we last saw the characters and speculate as to where they may be going. Also, note, this is in no particular order!

Note that there are spoilers below for all four published novels to date, as we discuss where we last saw the characters and speculate as to where they may be going. Also, note, this is in no particular order!

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Series: A Song of Ice and Fire

The Cycle of Inheritance in A Song of Ice and Fire

Every Wednesday Elio and Linda of premiere Song of Ice and Fire web portal present an essay focusing on an aspect of Westeros, its world, or the series. You can find them all collected on the Song of Ice and Fire Master Index. Some spoilers inherent.

Given the strong medieval inspiration behind the Seven Kingdoms, it’s interesting to consider that the process of deciding who rules or leads varies from place to place and organization and organization within Westeros. It can even vary within regions, depending on culture and customs and traditions. Even merit-based advancement can happen… although in this essay on inheritance in the Song of Ice and Fire series we’ll find that lineages can matter, even there.

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Series: A Song of Ice and Fire

How Seasons Work (Or Don’t Work) in A Song of Ice and Fire

Every Wednesday Elio and Linda of premiere Song of Ice and Fire web portal present an essay focusing on an aspect of Westeros, its world, or the series. You can find them all collected on the Song of Ice and Fire Master Index. Some spoilers inherent.

In my previous article, I discussed the history of Westeros in terms of the vast time scales regularly mentioned—the Wall founded 8,000 years ago, the wars between Valyria and Ghis 6,000 years ago, and so on. One of the points to come out of the discussion was that the time-related problem some had wasn’t the time scale, but the multi-year seasons that are a fixture of the novels. It’s one of the first thing anyone mentions when they’re trying to describe the setting. After all, there’s been a long, nine year summer of peace and plenty, and the fact that everyone fears it’s coming to an end is a persistent part of the background. “Winter is coming,” the words of House Stark, are foreboding.

[But what causes these strange, unpredictable seasons?]

Series: A Song of Ice and Fire

The Uncommonly Stable Records of History in A Song of Ice and Fire

Every Wednesday Elio and Linda of premiere Song of Ice and Fire web portal present an essay focusing on an aspect of Westeros, its world, or the series. You can find them all collected on the Song of Ice and Fire Master Index.

One of the things that people who are not fans of genre fantasy hold against it is its lack of “realism” in various aspects that they believe do not require a lack of realism. They can point to The Lord of the Rings, for example, and complain about the vast swaths of land that were left uninhabited or, at least, ungoverned. Or they could look at The Wheel of Time and wonder about a pre-modern continent the size of Europe having very distinct cultures rubbing shoulders… but only one language between them all.

A similar complaint can be made about A Song of Ice and Fire, with the inhabitants of a South America-sized continent all basically sharing a common language (we’ll leave the giants and certain wildlings, who only speak the Old Tongue of the First Men, out of this). There are other things that strain credulity, which are there to signal “fantasy” of a particular stripe rather than as pure examples of realism—the huge structures, the ravens as messengers, and so on.

One that seems to be a sticking point for some, however, is the depiction of history in the novels.

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Series: A Song of Ice and Fire

The Many Gods & Dark Faiths of A Song of Ice and Fire

“Swear it,” Arya said. “Swear it by the gods.”

“By all the gods of sea and air, and even him of fire, I swear it.” He placed a hand in the mouth of the weirwood. “By the seven new gods and the old gods beyond count, I swear it.”—George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

The setting of A Song of Ice and Fire is one where there are many faiths, and many faithful. People who don’t believe in any gods at all are quite rare, when compared to the great majority that do. To begin with, however, the faiths of characters are largely a background detail, an added piece of verisimilitude. It’s only in the later novels that Martin reveals that religion, and religious faith, is playing an important role in the larger story. That story extends beyond the political realm of the primary conflicts of most of the books, and into the more epic, Manichean struggle against the Others that’s likely to increasingly occupy a central place in the series.

But where do all the gods stand? And how many are there?

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Series: A Song of Ice and Fire

The Surprising Growth of Magic in A Song of Ice and Fire

“… sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.” A Storm of Swords

Magic in “A Song of Ice and Fire” is one of those subjects that’s always engaged fans. A Game of Thrones basically starts with none at all. There may be a 700-foot Wall made of ice that stretches 300 miles, yes, and the prologue opens with the mysterious Others with their icy blades and blue-eyed wights, but after this glimpse at an eerie threat in the lands beyond the Wall, the magic largely disappears from the novel. Each novel gradually expands the scope and importance of magic, although its use is rarely pivotal so far, and often comes with a price. Martin has compared his approach to the reintroduction of magic to the setting to boiling a crab: put it in the water when it’s already hot and it will leap out, but place it in cold water and gradually heat it and it’ll stay put. It seems just as well that it’s now growing, as a new Long Night—the legendary winter that lasted generations, until the Night’s Watch defeated the Others in the Battle for The Dawn—threatens while the Seven Kingdoms is mired in the struggle between high lords.

[Magic in A Song of Ice and Fire wasn’t always rare, though]

Series: A Song of Ice and Fire

Best SFF Novels of the Decade: An Appreciation of A Storm of Swords

During the run-up to the publication of A Storm of Swords back in 1999 and 2000, the anticipation was mounting on the old “A Song of Ice and Fire” forums. We had speculated and argued about every aspect of the two previous novels. Adding fuel to the fire, a group of fans had pooled resources to win an auction to get a hold of three chapters (a fourth was thrown in as a bonus) from the book a couple of months before the publication date. Those particular chapters, from early on in the book, convinced some of our fellow fans that they knew where the third volume in the series was going to lead. Suddenly, speculations started to creep into the community about how a certain character was going to end up married to an unexpected ally, to name but one of these sudden “inspirations.”

Then A Storm of Swords came out, and the rug was pulled out from under us; not once or twice, but many times.

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Series: Best SFF Novels of the Decade Readers Poll

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