Dying Of The Light by George RR Martin (book review).

April 29, 2017 | By | Reply More

Unlike the rest of the Earth’s population, I have neither read nor watched ‘Game Of Thrones’, not being a fan of fantasy, though I did once see George RR Martin in passing at EasterCon. I did read two of George RR Martin’s Science Fiction books years ago: ‘Windhaven’ and ‘Tuff Voyaging’, the latter of which remains one of my favourite short story collections. ‘Dying Of The Light’ was his first novel, published in 1977 and the copy I’m reading is from the 2012 reprint by Subterranean Press which comes with several black and white illustrations and full-colour plates. I haven’t read enough of George RR Martin’s work to compare his style of forty years ago, but the book maintains a freshness and originality that hasn’t dated during that time.

The setting is the orphan planet Worlorn that has recently completed a close pass of a multiple star system and is now heading back into interstellar space and away from the ruddy light of the system’s primary red giant. A small remnant of inhabitants from fourteen other worlds still live on Worlorn in the empty shells of the cities built for a twenty-year long festival celebrating the planet’s perihelion. This setting gives the whole book an eerie and oppressive atmosphere that ties in well with the mostly tragic tale.

Among the occupants is ecologist Gwen Delvano, who is studying the artificially created ecosystems before they die off and who lives with her Kavalar ‘family’ whose social and familial relationships are almost impenetrable to an outsider. This is Gwen’s former lover, Dirk t’Larien, struggling to understand and come to terms with them is who arrives on planet in response to her summons and sets about trying to save her. Unfortunately, it’s not entirely clear whether she needs saving or indeed what she needs to be saved from. This doesn’t stop Dirk from wading into cultural misunderstandings, insults and confusion over untranslatable terms though.

This is where I became torn over this book. On one hand, the rigid code of friendship and honour of the Kavalars is intriguing and well-explained, though with somewhat overly-long historical discourses to fill us in on their societal development. On the other hand, experience traveller Dirk t’Larien, who several times mentions the number of planets he’s visited, seems rather clueless about respecting cultural differences and finding out the facts before jumping to conclusions or even explaining himself when he’s caused offence. Gwen Delvano is equally inept at explaining what, if anything, she wants from him, leading to lots of blank expressions and a lack of communication that I quickly found to be irritating.

The disagreements, duels, pursuit and subsequent visit to empty cities and dangerous wilderness are well-written and engaging, but I had a constant nagging feeling that it was all rather unnecessary and they had brought the problems on themselves while also dragging lots of innocent people into their troubles. The brief mentions of the other cultures and peoples involved in the construction of the festival cities are imaginative and varied and the Kavalar culture continued to be mesmerising in its intensity.

I was surprised to find it had been nominated for a Hugo. This is not a book I would hail as a classic of the genre but, overall, it was an enjoyable tale with a wonderful setting and has not suffered from becoming dated.

Gareth D Jones

April 2017

(pub: Subterranean Press, 2012. 337 page illustrated signed limited edition deluxe hardback. Price: $125.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-254-2)

check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

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