Saturday, December 01, 2012

Melancholy Planet

Dying of the Light

Dying of the Light 

by  George R.R. Martin

“But the melancholy of Worlorn's dying forests had seeped into his flesh, and he saw Gwen through tainted eyes, a doll figure in a suit as faded as despair.”  ― George R.R. Martin, Dying of the Light

This is the first novel by George R. R. Martin that I have read and I was not sure what to expect since he has become so successful in the last decade with the Game of Thrones and related novels. Dying of the Light was George RR Martin's first novel, published in 1977. It is set in his SF 'Thousand World's' milieu. The edition I read included a glossary that was helpful to some extent, but I found some terms that were annoyingly not included in the glossary. As a first novel it exhibits some of the typical weaknesses of the genre, especially as regards to pacing. The first half of the novel is terribly drawn out. There are some moments when Worlorn, the dying planet on which the action of the novel takes place, and its flora , fauna, and dying cities are beautifully described. However, I felt that the plot meandered around without a purpose for a while. In the second half, the book's various story lines coalesced into a much more driven narrative and the pacing ramps up to an ambiguous finale.

The action takes place on Worlorn, a world without a sun, ejected from its home system by a supernova millions of years ago and now hurtling out of the Galaxy. For a few years as it passed the colossal red super-giant star, Fat Satan, and Worlon became a Festival Planet, with millions flocking from the outer worlds to spend a decade partying before it passed beyond the edge of the Galaxy. Now the Festival is over, most of its inhabitants departed, leaving behind a remainder determined to stay as long as possible before the planet freezes and becomes cloaked in eternal night. The story begins when the protagonist, Dirk t'Larien, is summoned to Worlorn by his former lover, Gwen Delvano, for a reason she will not identify. On Worlorn Dirk finds that Gwen is the lover and bonded partner of Jaantony Riv Wolf high-Ironjade Vikary, a visionary leader from the barbarous world of High Kavalaan. And, as he learns more about the Kavalar he becomes convinced that Gwen is ensnared in an unwanted situation. However, as Worlon passes into the night, greater stakes are raised and Dirk becomes caught in a desperate struggle for survival. This abridged version of the plot only hints at the surprising complexity that is encompassed in a novel of less than two hundred fifty pages.

The main characters are well-drawn. However the relationship between Dirk and Gwen seems a slight basis for such an elaborate setting. The Kavalar species have complex codes of honor that seem to alternately control the story and get in its way. The plot also relies too much on coincidence. For example, during a critical passage for Dirk when he is in extreme danger he just 'happens' upon another person who has been killed, thus allowing him to appropriate a weapon that is critical for his continued survival. Without giving anything away I must comment that the ending is weak as well. Overall I was disappointed in Martin's first foray into the Science Fiction novel. The pacing in the first half of the book has a tendency to drag somewhat and I was particularly disappointed at the lack of depth in the narrative given the elaborate nature of the setting. His more recent work has received the imprimatur of popularity and that suggests that he may have improved as a writer.

Dying of the Light by George R. R. Martin. Bantam Books, 2012 (1977).

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