Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy Podcast Episode 22 Interview with George R. R. Martin Transcript
Announcer: io9 presents The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, brought to you by Brilliance Audio, and here are your hosts, John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley.
David Barr Kirtley: Hi, this is Dave.
John Joseph Adams: And this is John.
Dave: And welcome to episode 22 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy. So this is the first episode that we’re producing in partnership with io9 and Brilliance Audio, and we’d really like to thank Annalee Newitz of io9 and John Grace of Brilliance Audio for supporting the show and allowing us to keep doing this.
John: Since we’re new here at io9, I thought we should introduce ourselves. So I’m John Joseph Adams. I’m the editor of several anthologies, such as Wastelands and The Living Dead. I’m also the editor of the online science fiction magazine Lightspeed, which is at lightspeedmagazine.com. And my most recent books are The Living Dead 2, which just came out, and The Way of the Wizard, which comes out in November.
Dave: And I’m David Barr Kirtley. I’m the author of a few dozen short stories that have appeared in magazines such as Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, Lightspeed, and Intergalactic Medicine Show, and in books such as New Voices in Science Fiction, Fantasy: The Best of the Year, and The Dragon Done It. And my two newest stories appear in John’s anthologies The Living Dead 2 and The Way of the Wizard. If you’re just joining us here at Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, we just want to let you know that we produced 21 episodes earlier this year for tor.com, and those are all still online. You can go to tor.com and click on podcasts, and check all of those out. We’ve interviewed lots of different interesting people: Paolo Bacigalupi, Holly Black, Naomi Novik, Cherie Priest, Jonathan Coulton. And we talked about Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and zombies and real-life war robots, and all sorts of fun stuff like that. And on the show today we’ll be interviewing George R. R. Martin and talking about his work. And I know a lot of people are just tuning into this because they want to hear the George R. R. Martin interview, and we have a bunch of listeners already who I know have been waiting to listen to this interview for a long time, so we’re going to get right to that. This is an interview that we recorded back in May, and we’re really happy to be able to bring it to you finally. If you haven’t read George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, you should definitely do that, it’s just one of the best book series out there right now. They’re sort of epic fantasy and kind of noteworthy for having an emphasis on courtly intrigue and politics, and a gritty, unromanticized view of life in a medieval society, and morally ambiguous characters, and sparing use of magic, you know, it’s not like Harry Potter, where everyone’s got a magic everything. In Song of Ice and Fire, the magic just comes in at moments of high drama. And also, the series, there’s a real willingness to have bad things, shockingly bad things, happen to major characters. The first book in the series is called A Game of Thrones, and it’s currently being adapted into a series by HBO.
John: Yeah. What did HBO describe it as, like The Lord of the Rings meets The Sopranos, or something?
Dave: Yeah, yeah.
John: So that’s kind of a good shorthand way of letting you know what it’s like.
Dave: Yeah. So everybody watch that, because we’re really hoping it does well, because we want to see more stuff like that on TV.
John: Also, that’s a good reason to read the books now. You know, get in on the ground floor before your visions of the characters are all changed by what you see on television. So get the mental picture first, and read the books first, and then see the adaptation later.
Dave: And we should note that we set up this interview with George and he agreed to talk to us for 45 minutes, and asked if we could cover not just Song of Ice and Fire and the HBO adaptation. He says, you know, he has all these other projects that he wanted to talk about as well. So we started drawing up questions, and actually figured we had enough questions to fill up the whole interview with that. So we figured we would just ask him about all the other stuff he’s got going on, and then John and I would talk about Song of Ice and Fire after the interview, because I follow all that news closely enough that I feel like I know everything that George is prepared to make public about the series and we could talk about all that stuff.
John: You probably could have told him a few things he didn’t even know.
Dave: [laughs] But then, as you’ll hear, we actually got to the end of our interview, and George said, “Hey, we could keep going. We could talk about some Ice and Fire stuff.” So we did end up with the chance to ask him a couple questions about that as well. So we’re really grateful to George for joining us on the show and answering so many questions for us, and we really hope you enjoy the interview, which we’ll get to right after this word from our sponsor.
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John: Well, let’s travel back in time to May and get George R. R. Martin on the phone.
George R. R. Martin: Hello there.
Dave: Hi, this is Dave and John from Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy.
George: Hi there. How you doing? This is George.
John: So you’re an avowed comic book fan, and several of your works are currently being adapted into graphic novel format, including Fevre Dream and Doorways. Could you tell us a little bit about those projects?
George: Yeah. I am a comic book fan. I started many, many, far too many years ago, as a kid, writing for comic fanzines and having letters published in the Marvel comics of the ’60s, long before I started making my professional sales. So I’ve always loved comic books and superheroes. In the last few years I’ve had a number of comic publishers approach me wanting to do some sort of project with me. Of course, while I would love to actually write something original for the comic books, I really don’t have the time to do that. There’s a limited number of hours in the day, and I can only juggle so many balls at one time. So I can’t do anything original. So what I do suggest then is the comic adaptation of some of the things I’ve done. Fevre Dream is a historical horror novel that I originally wrote back in the early 80’s and that is currently being done by Avatar Comics. It was adapted for comics from my novel by my good friend Daniel Abraham, who did a wonderful job. It’s a 10 issue miniseries, first issue just came out last month at the Chicago Comic Expo, C2E2. And I came in for that and did a premiere event there to help launch the book. So it’ll run 10 monthly issues and then it will be collected into a graphic novel. The art is by the Spanish artist Rafa Lopez. So that’s one, and then the other one that you asked me about, Doorways. Doorways was one of the pilots I did during my time in television. It was, perhaps the one that got along furthest. It was an alternate world series, a pilot for an alternate world series, that I wrote originally for ABC, while I was at Columbia pictures, and they liked it, and they gave us a green light and we shot a pilot starring George Newbern and a wonderful actress from France named Anne LeGuernec, and some other great people, Rob Knepper, Tisha Putman, Hoyt Axton. So we had a terrific pilot, I thought, but unfortunately, ABC did not pick it up and we were not able to place it elsewhere. But I’ve always loved the characters and the stories. At one point, when it did look like we would get picked up, ABC actually ordered six backup scripts. So I spent about half a year writing one of those and supervising the other five that were written by other people. So there’s a considerable backlog of Doors stories that are available. So I’m launching that one with a comic company called IDW, and that’s in the much earlier stage of development. We’re still at the conceptual stage and working things out. They’ll probably be working directly from my script without the need for an adaptation since the screenplay/teleplay form and the comic script form are, you know, pretty close to each other. It’s something an artist can work with. And you know, we hope to make that. We’re going to do the pilot initially, adapt the pilot episode to the comics form. But if that’s successful and proves to be a popular comic, that could be an ongoing thing where we could adapt the later backup scripts and follow the adventures of the characters at least that far. And after that, as if we were a TV series, perhaps commission some new material, the further adventures of Tom and Cat, the two lead characters there.
Dave: Okay, so you and Gardner Dozois have been editing some anthologies lately, one of which was Songs of the Dying Earth, a Jack Vance tribute anthology.
George: You know, there’s another anthology Gardner and I are doing called Warriors, you may be familiar with. Warriors just came out in March. Warriors is a big cross-genre anthology about warriors, obviously, but it’s not just a science fiction and fantasy anthology. We got a wide variety of writers from many different genres. We wanted to not restrict ourselves to one genre. So there are mystery stories and romance stories and mainstream stories in there. But when we were putting together Warriors one of the first people I approached was Jack Vance, through his agent, who is also one of my agents now, because I love Jack’s work and, you know, the chance of having something new from Jack for this big anthology would have been a dream of mine. But unfortunately Jack is in his 90s. He’s blind, and he’s not really writing much any more. He’s working on his memoirs, which are set to come out, but we were told he would probably not be doing any more fiction. And that made me very sad because, as I said, Vance is a tremendous influence on me, a tremendous writer, one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy writers of all time. And the idea that there would be no more of his wonderful stories saddened me, and then I got the idea, “Well, look, maybe he would be willing to have other people write some stories in some of his universes, particularly The Dying Earth, which was one of his first creations. The original Dying Earth book came out in the early ’50s and has been one of the most seminal universes, I think, in the entire history of fantasy. It ranks up there with the Hyborian Age and Middle-earth as a setting for great fantasy. So we approached Jack, again through his agents, about doing this and he was willing. So we worked out the terms of that and then we went ahead and did this tribute anthology to Jack. He gave us his permission to use his world and his characters, and we solicited writers who we thought had mentioned at some point being Vance fans or whose work, to our minds, showed evidence that they were Vance fans. And indeed, boy, it was the easiest anthology to fill up that I’ve ever worked on, because people were just so eager to be a part of it once they heard of it, people were saying, “Well, I’d write for this anthology for free. I’d crawl over broken glass to be part of this anthology. You can’t possibly keep me out of it.” We even got stories from about four or five people who we did not invite, but who heard about it from some other way and wrote stories entirely on spec and sent them to us. It’s a terrific book and we had everybody write an afterword about how they first discovered Jack Vance and the influence he had on their own work. And Jack himself contributed a short preface to the book and Dean Koontz wrote an appreciation. So we got some great people on there. That’s an anthology I’m very pleased with.
John: Another of your recent books you put together is called Songs of Love and Death, that comes out in November. What was the idea behind that one?
George: Well, I talked a little about Warriors, which came out in March. Warriors, as I said, was a cross-genre anthology. You know, I read in a number of different genres, and I talk in the introduction to Warriors about how when I was a kid in Bayonne, New Jersey, there were no bookstores in Bayonne, so when I started reading books, as opposed to comic books, I bought them all as paperbacks off a wire spinner rack that was right next to the comic books in my local candy store. And in that spinner rack, there were no sections. All the books were jumbled together, usually only one or two copies of each so if you wanted to find out, looking for science fiction, you had to look through every pocket, and not just look at the book in front, but look at the book behind, which could be different. I got very practiced at looking through the whole thing. I was mostly a science fiction/fantasy fan, even then. But I would come across some other interesting books. I would come across a mystery novel that looked sort of interesting, and I might take that home. I would come across a classic of literature, Tale of Two Cities. And I would say, “Ooh, I read the classics comic book of this, let’s try the real book,” and I would pick that up. So dealing with the spinner rack as I did accustomed me to reading fairly widely in a variety of genres, or at least being familiar with them enough to pick them up and look at blurbs. I think we’ve lost that in today’s bookselling environment. Most people buy their books from bookstores, everything is completely segregated. If you’re a fan of science fiction, you go into your bookstore, you go to the science fiction section. You don’t even look at what else is in the other sections. And mystery fans are similar, going to the mystery section. Gardner and I wanted to break that down a little, because we both read in a variety of genres, and we know there are many, many good writers out there that I think people would enjoy if they would only discover them. So we put together this Warriors anthology about drawing writers from all different genres. That was the first of these cross-genre books that we’ve done, but it was successful enough and we had enough fun doing it that we decided to do more cross-genre anthologies. And Songs of Love and Death is one of those. In that one we deliberately set out to cross science fiction and fantasy, on one hand, with romance on the other. Both very popular genres. You guys, presumably, are coming from the science fiction and fantasy side of the equation, with your geek show. [laughter] So you may not be aware that over in the romance section there are growing subgenres of science fiction romance, and fantasy romance, time travel romance. These are very popular genres that romance fans are reading about, so they’re sort of reading science fiction and fantasy without even realizing they’re reading science fiction and fantasy. And the science fiction and fantasy fans are not aware of those writers. Similarly, most stories, back in the ’70s when I broke in I was widely considered a romantic writer because a lot of my stories were about lost loves among the stars and things like that. Including my first Hugo winner, “A Song For Lya.” So it seemed like a natural for us. It was actually Gardner’s idea. Our initial title was Star-Crossed Lovers, and we recruited from both the science fiction and fantasy communities, and from the romance community. And assembled this book that we hope will cross over and appeal to fans from both sides of the fence, and maybe help people discover some new writers that they would like to read more of.
Dave: Okay, so Warriors includes your Dunk and Egg novella “The Mystery Knight.” Do you have plans to write any other shorter works? One of our listeners specifically wants to know if there will be any more Haviland Tuf stories.
George: I have more Tuf stories I would like to tell, yeah. It’s just a question of when. There’s only one of me, unfortunately, and there’s only so many projects that I can do at one time. But I would love to do more Tuf stories. I have an idea for a Tuf novel, I have an idea for a bunch of other stories. I’d like to revisit the character. But I also have a sequel to Fevre Dream that I want to write someday, and I have some new books that I want to write. And before I can do any of that, I need to finish Song of Ice and Fire, which of course, I’m still working on the fifth book. And then there’s a sixth and a seventh book beyond that. Each of these books is taking me years to complete. So I don’t know. Will I ever get back to Tuf? Maybe, it depends on how long I live, and how long I can continue to be productive. I make no predictions, [laughter] on any of these scores.
John: Other recent work you have out are a couple new volumes in the long-running Wild Cards shared world superhero anthology series. What’s the current state of Wild Cards and what can we look forward to in the future?
George: Well, actually, I was just working on the latest Wild Card book as you rang. Volume 21, although we don’t really use the numbers any more, but it’s the 21st volume in the series. It’s called Fort Freak. It’s sort of a return to Jokertown, which was a setting for many of the early Wild Card books. Jokertown in New York City, down around the Bowery. But it hasn’t been featured so much in the later books, but we’re coming back to it now and it’s kind of police work in the Wild Card universe. What it’s like for the Fifth Precinct, which is right in the middle of Jokertown, and therefore is given the name Fort Freak. And we’re telling some stories of that. The first Wild Card book, Wild Cards #1, which originally came out in 1987, is going to be reissued by Tor in hardcover in November with three brand new stories in it that were not included in the first edition. So we got some extra material there, and of course the classic things. So we hope to proceed on two fronts with Wild Cards. One front is having the old books reissued. Some of them have been out of print for a long time. There’s a great demand for them. You can look up, a few of them have become extremely valuable books on Abe and from used bookstores and rare book dealers, simply because of the demand for them. At the same time we’re reissuing the old books, we want to continue to do new books. We have some great new writers, some terrific new characters, so we’re working on that. And there’s also Wild Card comics. We’ve had a Wild Card comic written by Daniel Abraham called The Hard Call. It came out from the Dabel Brothers, DB Pro, it ran into some publication delays there. But DB Pro has now been taken over by Dynamite, and they have smoothed out all the problems. So the last issue of that comic series will be coming out pretty soon, and then after that it’ll be collected into a graphic novel. And we’re talking about another Wild Card series.
John: So there have been a lot of other shared world anthology series over the years, but none really as successful as Wild Cards. What advice do you have to anyone else attempting to launch a shared world series? I mean, do you think there should be more of those? Because really Wild Cards is the only one currently going.
George: Yeah, they were a big rage back in the ’80s. Thieves’ World was the one that led the way, and Thieves’ World was enormously successful for a time. I mean, at its peak they were probably doing better than anybody, but at a certain point they petered off. And then there were many others. There was Leovac, Ithkar, Merovingian Knights, those were all fantasy shared worlds, like Thieves’ World. There was War World, Heroes in Hell. There was a horror shared world called Greystone Bay. For a while everybody had their shared worlds. Now you don’t see that anymore. Pretty much we are the only one that’s survived the intervening 20 years. I actually think the shared world is a very interesting form. It’s a bunch of writers working together. In some ways it’s like working on a TV show, if you can assemble a good staff. But it’s very demanding. Editing a Wild Cards book is ten times more work than editing something like Warriors or the Vance Anthology because all the stories have to fit together. So you not only have to edit the stories for quality, but you have to edit the stories for continuity and to make all of the parts assemble into a greater whole. So it’s a demanding task for an editor, and it takes a certain kind of writer too. Some writers are loners, and they like being loners. That doesn’t work in a shared world, you really need to be team players. Writers who enjoy working with each other, writers who don’t mind rewriting. There’s always a lot or rewriting involved to make the stories fit together. But I’d love to see more good shared worlds. I enjoy the form. You’ve got to pick your personnel very carefully, though, and you have to have a good strong premise, which I think Wild Cards does have. And you’ve got to have a set of operating rules. Wild Cards, coming along like the fourth or fifth shared world after some of the others had come out, we were able to learn from the experiences of the others, particularly from Thieves’ World, where Robert Asprin and Lynn Abbey, editors of that, shared with me many of their trials and tribulations. We were able to set up operating rules that I think have worked very successfully for us, and avoid some of the problems that Thieves’ World ran into.
Dave: Okay, so Wild Cards originally grew out of a role-playing game. Do you still belong to a gaming group? And if so, what games have you been playing lately?
George: I do belong to a gaming group, but unfortunately I haven’t played much in the last year, so our group seems to have been dissipating a little. Most recently we were playing a space game, and before that a game set in Ancient Rome, which was like a straight historical game. We were all playing, you know, rising Roman politicians and soldiers at the end of the late Republic, hobnobbing with Julius Caesar, Pompeii, and Crassus, and people like that.
Dave: So in a recent blog post you wrote that most readers would probably be shocked to learn how many of their favorite authors have no health insurance whatsoever. What’s it like trying to obtain health insurance as a full-time fiction writer, and what do you think could be done to improve the situation?
George: Well, I mean, ideally what America needs is a single-payer health plan, like they have in Canada or Australia or New Zealand. You know, while I think that the recent health act that President Obama passed is a wonderful step in the right direction, I wish that he’d gone a lot further and had managed to have the political support to get through a true single-payer plan. But, yes, you know, I’ve been lucky, because I do very well, especially with Ice and Fire. And before that I worked in Hollywood. So while I worked in Hollywood for that decade, I had a health plan through the Writers’ Guild, which is an excellent plan. And then, when I stopped working in Hollywood I was able to COBRA for a number of years, so I kept my coverage through that. Thankfully, New Mexico has a state law. We have something called the New Mexico Health Insurance Alliance, which guarantees acceptance if you’re coming off of COBRA. But it’s a little tricky. I mean, if I had delayed a month when my COBRA was about to expire, if I had delayed a month, so my COBRA actually ended, then I would not have been able to get health insurance because that automatic guarantee under state law would have not kicked in. And of course, as I said, I know a lot of writers who are not as lucky as me who haven’t had Hollywood, and you can only get COBRA if you’re coming off an employer health thing. And people who’ve had preexisting conditions, people who have… You know, once upon a time we were all in our 20s and we were all healthy, and we didn’t need health insurance. And when you’re a young writer – as I was, as many of my friends were back in the ’70s and the ’80s – maybe you’re not making much money, but you don’t want to get a day job. You’re trying to make it as a full-time writer, and you’re young and healthy. Health insurance seems like a luxury. So you don’t get it. And then the years pass and suddenly you’re not as healthy as you were, and suddenly it’s more expensive because now you’re older. And if you wait too long and actually get sick, then you’re really screwed because now you have a preexisting condition and they won’t take you. But it’s terrible. I mean, right now the situation in science fiction and fantasy is not good because a lot of writers in my generation, the Baby Boomers, are now getting close to retirement age and they’re getting older, they’re getting sicker. And as I said in that post, a lot of people would be surprised at how few of them have health insurance, or who have good health insurance. They may have some kind of ridiculous plan, but it doesn’t cover it. Insurance companies will screw you if they at all can. We did get through SFWA, the Science Fiction Writers of America, back in the ’90s, did manage to get health insurance through Aetna for all of its members. You know, it was not required, but it was open to all SFWA members. You could get this health insurance. It wasn’t a great plan, but it was better than nothing. Unfortunately SFWA has like 1400 members, and I think like 200 members signed up for the health insurance, because the other 1200 were… I don’t know, they had a better plan through their day job, those who had day jobs, some of them had plans through their husband or wife, were covered by families. Some of them I guess were young and healthy and figured they didn’t need it. But for the 200 who had the Aetna plan, it was a godsend. It was very good, but then we only were able to offer it for like three years. Then Aetna decided that they would just drop us all, and they did. They couldn’t drop us in New York State because New York State had laws that once an insurance company insured people they had to continue to insure them as long as the premiums continued to be paid. So the SFWA members who were in New York State were still covered. But in the other 49 states we all got just dropped, even though we had paid our premiums on time. And no other insurance company was willing to step forward and make a deal with SFWA. We do in SFWA have a medical emergency plan where we raise money through auctions of donated items at conventions. We have enough money in that fund now that if a member has a medical emergency, we can give them a $10,000 interest-free loan. But, number one, it’s a loan. And number two, it’s limited to $10,000, even with the money we save, and as you know, if you get a serious illness, you can go through $10,000 in a week. In fact, if you have to have some certain kind of surgery, that’s $10,000 right there. Boom, it’s gone. So it’s not nearly enough, but hopefully the country is finally moving in a direction that this won’t be the crisis this is and we’ll have the kind of security that people in Australia and New Zealand and England and France and most of the First World has.
John: You’ve taught before at the Odyssey Writers Workshop, and will be teaching this summer at Clarion. What’s your approach when it comes to teaching writing, and did you have any writing mentors yourself?
George: I never went to Clarion or any similar group as a writer, myself, although I was aware of them. But I formed my own workshop back when I was living in Chicago, the Windy City Writers Workshop, which was based on the Milford Method, which is Clarion, too. Clarion grew out of Milford, Damon Knight’s famous group, and uses the same method of intensive critique of stories under discussion. And that’s basically what we do at Clarion, or at Odyssey, is the writers submit stories and you criticize them. And not only do you get individual notes on the story, but I think some larger themes inevitably emerge from the criticism. So that’s pretty much what I’ll be doing at Clarion. I do have occasional lectures on specific topics that I may throw in if the time permits, but it’s very much an active workshop. I also have taught at other workshops over the years that are what I would call more passive workshops where you have a series of lecturers come in. And you have, you know, 100 students are sitting in a room and you give them a lecture about characterization or something. You know, that may have its uses, but it’s not nearly as useful, to my mind, as the Clarion approach, where you only have a small group of like 15 to 20 people. And you’re dealing with their actual work and they’re getting intensive criticism of that work. In the case of Clarion, it’s six weeks, and they get six different teachers. So you also get a variety of viewpoints in there, and the teachers may not necessarily agree with each other, but that’s good too. You get exposed to different philosophies about writing, and so forth.
Dave: You mentioned that Wild Cards #1 is being re-released. I heard you tell a story once about that where you were saying that the only time you ever saw Roger Zelazny lose his temper was in connection with that book. Could you talk about that?
George: Oh yeah, sure. [laughter] As you said, Wild Cards came out of a role-playing game. So when we first decided to adapt it I went outside… The core group who began Wild Cards were the people that had been in the game: myself, Melinda Snodgrass, John Joseph Miller, Vick Milan, Walter Jon Williams. But we needed more writers. So we went outside of that group and I recruited people I knew who were comic fans, including Roger Zelazny and Howard Waldrop. And Howard… I love Howard, he’s my oldest friend. He’s one of the most brilliant short story writers in the field. But Howard is a stubborn coot, and it’s impossible to get him to do anything he doesn’t want to do, and he does things in his own way. And Howard insisted that he would do a story for us, but his story had to be set in 1946, and in particular it had to be set on September 15, 1946. That was the day his story took place, the climax of his story anyway. We had initially planned to begin Wild Cards in 1986, which was when we were writing the book. We’d begin in the present. But if we wanted Howard in the book we had to set it in 1946. It was actually good that Howard insisted that he do that because it really made the first book special, I think. We were able to present 40 years of history, because we didn’t want to stay in 1946, so, of course we wanted to get up. So the first book, Wild Cards #1 covers from 1946, Howard’s story, which opens the book, all the way up into 1986, which was the present at the time that we were writing that book. The thing you have to remember about 1946 was that September 15, 1946 is, in addition to the day that the Wild Card is released on earth, as dramatized in the book, it also happens to be Howard Waldrop’s date of birth. [laughter] That was the day on which Howard was born. So Howard is writing his story. We’re all writing our stories, and Roger who’s part of it, created this character, Croyd, who was in junior high when Wild Card day happens. And he was going to set his story in 1946 roughly through 1950. But it began in ’46 and he wanted Croyd at school and looking up and seeing Howard’s Jetboy character fighting in the sky, and then walking home as the Wild Card is released and the world changes around him. So he asked Howard, the one thing he needed from Howard, he said, “What day of the week is September 15, 1946?” Because it’s crucial that it be a school day. And Howard said, “It’s a Tuesday.” So Roger writes his whole story based on the fact that his character is walking home from school and it’s a Tuesday. And his story is finished, Howard’s story is finished. And you know, we were having some sort of conference or something at my house, and we had Howard on the speakerphone, or something like that. And Roger was sitting in my living room smoking his pipe. And I don’t even remember how it came out, but suddenly it actually comes out that September 15, 1946 is a Sunday. [laughter] And that’s the one time, as I say, I saw Roger lose it. He just said, “Oh, fuck!” And he took his pipe out and he threw it across the room and bounced it off the wall here. And Howard was sort of, “Oh. It’s a Sunday? I guess … I was always told I was born on a Tuesday. That’s what my mother always said.” [laughs] So he never bothered to look it up. So we got that inconsistency there in Wild Cards. At that point it was too late to change without essentially trashing Roger’s entire story, which we weren’t about to do. So we just gritted our teeth and hoped that no one would notice, which indeed as far as I know no one has except when I tell this damn story. [laughter]
Dave: These days when you do a book signing hundreds of people are likely to show up, but it wasn’t always that way. Could you talk about the time you did a signing at the same time as Clifford the Big Red Dog?
George: Sure, that was one of my more memorable disastrous signings. That was on the book tour for Game of Thrones, the first book in the series. The hardcover had just come out. Of course, it was my first novel in some time, because I had been working in Hollywood for most of the last 10 years. The series was not yet huge, so I was not getting large turnouts at most of my signings. Turnouts ranged from, I don’t know, a couple dozen, I suppose, at the biggest to hardly anybody at all at the smallest. And that was the case … I was touring Texas. They had me in Houston and Austin and Dallas. I believe it was at the Dallas stop and we arrived at the bookstore. It was one of the chain bookstores, I recall. And the parking lot was full and there were all these people getting out of their cars and going in. And I thought, “Well, this is good. This looks like this one signing will be a large signing, at least.” Of course, I discovered when I got in there that there were two signings. I was signing in the front of the store, and in the back of the store, as you have said, Clifford the Big Red Dog was signing. And so I had like three people, and Clifford had like hundreds. The way Clifford the Big Red Dog tours, I discovered by asking, since I had a lot of time to converse with the store manager, was they have this moth-eaten, sweat-stained Clifford costume that they ship from store to store. And it’s like whoever is the junior employee at the bookstore has to put it on and pretend to be Clifford and woof at the children as they come by. One of his hands is like a rubbery thing and he has a huge red ink pad that he steps in. So his signature is a paw print, a red ink paw print on the book. And he was busily slapping the books while I signed my signature a few times. So it was a humbling experience. Writers need things like that, I’m sure, to keep us modest, otherwise our egos might get out of control.
Dave: So Song of Ice and Fire has also been adapted into various games: a board game, a collectible card game, a role-playing game, and an upcoming computer game. How involved are you in the development of those games? And have you had a chance to actually play any of them?
George: I’ve played some of them. I’ve played the board game, most notably. I haven’t played the card game. The rules are very complicated. I don’t have the time. But whenever I make a license deal like that I get certain rights of approval, because I want anything coming out with my name on it, or with the Ice and Fire name on it to have a certain standard of quality and to be true to the books. But my approvals are limited to the artwork, where I consult on what artist to hire, and review particular artworks and also the text. The stuff it says about the world and the characters, I review that for continuity. I don’t look at any of the gaming stuff. I’m not enough into the gaming universe to give expert opinions about the game mechanics or the rules or all that. I just trust that my licensees know what they are doing in that regard.
Dave: Is there any news related to any of those games, new stuff coming out, or can you tell us anything about the computer game, anything like that?
George: The computer game is in development, but I can’t tell you any more about it. I’ve seen some conceptual art that I really like. Once again, although I reviewed some of the textual matters, I’m leaving all the game mechanics and stuff to the folks at Cyanide, who is the French company that has licensed the rights.
John: So other than games, one of your hobbies is collecting miniatures. Does that help inspire your writing at all? And are there any particular characters or scenes that you’ve dreamed up as a result of working with your collection?
George: No, not really. I enjoy collecting the miniatures. I’ve been doing it for like 15 years now. I have a pretty substantial collection, but it’s just a hobby. They’re beautiful. I enjoy doing that like someone else might collect stamps, but I don’t think it particularly affects the books. Dark Sword miniatures, which sells Ice and Fire characters, I do work with them closely on those miniatures and what they will look like. And I give them notes on the first sculpts, and they make changes and so forth. And that’s a lot of fun because it combines a hobby and a passion of mine with the work itself.
Dave: So J.R.R. Tolkien rewrote sections of The Hobbit to make it more consistent with The Lord of the Rings. Is there anything in your earlier books that you wish you could go back and change in light of later developments, and do you think you might ever do something like that?
George: There are probably things that I would like to go back and change, and by the time I finish the series there might be more. I don’t know that I would ever do anything like that. I’m not sure how much Tolkien actually did that, but I know Stephen King has done that with the Dark Tower series. He’s done some fairly substantial revisions to the earlier books in light of things that happened in the later books. Maybe, maybe. There’s actually one thing under consideration right now. I can’t say too much about it, but that might impact… It’s very minor, though, it would be changing a character’s name, changing the name of a minor character for the television series, and if we go ahead and change that name, I might go back in the books and change his name in the books, as well. So in the later editions of the book, the minor character would have a different name. But it’s still up in the air whether we’ll actually do that or not. So that’s really all I can say about it right now.
John: So you’re known for having fans who are very emotionally invested in your work. What are some of the more noteworthy examples you’ve encountered of fan activity connected to your writing?
George: The Internet has really changed a lot of things about fandom, where people have web pages and blogs now, where they used to publish fanzines, and fan groups and things are a lot more common. There have been, at this point I think, dozens of fan websites devoted to my Ice and Fire series, and at least one or two devoted to my Wild Cards series. Some of those are still going strong, others have folded and gone and are now just fading memories. Others are, you know, still up there on the web, but haven’t been updated in five years. So they’re kind of like ghost towns. But the ones that are thriving are still thriving and they’re getting hundreds of hits a day, if not thousands. People are debating every aspect of the work and discussing it, and that’s all very gratifying. I get artwork that is sent to me by fans, things that they put up on deviantArt and other art-sharing websites like that. Of course, the conventions. There’s the Brotherhood Without Banners, which is a sort of semi-formal fan group that grew out of some of the fans who would meet at conventions and start to throw parties there. They’re terrific. They throw parties every year at Worldcon, usually the best party at the convention. And they have raffles and things like that to pay for the parties, and also to bring over their members from other countries and places to attend, who could not otherwise afford to attend. They’ve raised money for charity, and they volunteer to work at the conventions. So I have great fans, by and large.
Dave: You also have people naming kids after your characters, and I saw a photo of you standing on a stage with a group of women dressed up as Melisandre, and stuff like that.
George: Yes, those were the Spanish fans. The bunch of Melisandres and Night’s Watch. There’s a Spanish fan group called Asshai who are enormously active and do all sorts of things like that. They’re a great bunch. The Italian fans are also amazing. I visited them last time I was in Italy. So it’s kind of a world-wide phenomenon, which is very gratifying to me. I’ll look forward to… this year, of course, the Worldcon’s in Australia, so I’ll be going down there to Australia and to New Zealand and meeting some of my fans from those areas for the first time. It should be fun.
John: Speaking of naming, I kind of want to change my name to Jetboy, just because that’s much cooler than John.
George: Well, it’s a pretty cool name. Yeah. [laughing]
Dave: So what are some of your other upcoming appearances and is there anything in the works that you’d like people to know about?
George: Uh, god, we’ve covered a lot of things. I have more anthologies coming out. As I say, I’m working on Wild Cards and, of course, I’m working on Dance with Dragons. And the big thing coming down the pike is the HBO series, which starts filming in July. This is, of course, the HBO series based on Game of Thrones. It stars Sean Bean as Ned Stark and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister, Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister, et cetera, and a cast of thousands. Many of whom will die, but… [laughter] We filmed the pilot in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Morocco last year, and HBO has given us the green light for a 10 episode first season. We will start filming again in July. Probably come on next March, next April, somewhere thereabouts. And if the series is successful, of course, then more seasons will be done after that. The plan is to do each book as one season.
Dave: Okay. Well, I think that does it for our questions, and we’re at about 45 minutes. So…
George: Okay. Well, if you do want to add a few questions about Ice and Fire, I’m willing. I mean you’ve covered all my other stuff, so we can certainly ask about that too.
Dave: Okay. I had a couple questions. Like, who’s Jon Snow’s mother, and who’s Coldhands…? No, like…
George: I think I’ll avoid those questions. [laughter] Jetboy, Jetboy is Jon Snow’s mother. [laughter] Or a zombie. John, your zombie book must have kicked off something. Every time I turn around there’s more zombie stuff coming out these days.
John: Yeah. Everybody and their mother’s doing a zombie book now.
George: That’s damn right. Yeah, it’s amazing. I have my zombie-raising Wild Card character. I obviously have to write more about her.
John: Yeah. [laughs]
George: Cash in on this whole zombie thing that’s going on.
Dave: Well, you know, Ran from the message board wanted to know what had been some of the biggest surprises that had developed in the series as you wrote it?
George: I don’t know if anything really surprised me, nothing leaps to mind offhand. I kind of knew the broad outlines of where I was going, you know, before I got there. I mean, people always ask me to what extent the series is planned ahead of time. You know, my usual answer there is to compare it to a journey, like, if I’m in New York and I’m going to drive to Los Angeles, you know, I look at a map and I know I’m going to leave New York. And I’m going to take this road, and I’m going to go through Chicago. And then I’m going to head down along the old Route 66 or something. And I’ll go through the Southwest, et cetera, et cetera, and eventually I’ll get to Los Angeles. So I know the principal places I’m going to go through and the roads I’m going to take, but what I don’t know is the details of what’s along the way. Where will I stop the first night to sleep? Where will I stop the second night? Where will the road be closed and I’ll have to take a detour? Where will I pick up a hitchhiker, you know? That sort of stuff you discover along the journey. And it’s the same way with writing. I know the principal events, I know the routes I’m going to take to get there, but I do discover things along the way, things that come out in the actual writing.
Dave: On your blog you talked a lot about untying “The Meereenese Knot.” Can you say anything about what made you have to keep rewriting those sections?
George: I’m still trying to unwrite it, [laughs] , I mean to untie it. It’s problematic. Well, you know, Meereen, of course, refers to the city on Slaver’s Bay where Daenerys Targaryen is left at the end of A Storm of Swords. She’s the queen of that city and she’s trying to rule that city and to bring peace to the region. And she’s faced with various challenges, both internal and external and personal. There are various events that occur. Meanwhile I have a number of other characters, viewpoint characters, and also secondary characters who are making their way to her and are turning up in Meereen at various points. So the chronology is kind of tricky because some of them left at the end of A Storm of Swords, and some of them left at various different points during the course of Feast for Crows, which does not actually precede dance with dragons, but occurs simultaneously with Dance with Dragons. So I have to figure out that chronology and when everybody will get there, and then with the events that are actually happening in Meereen, with the war and the other things that are going on, and, you know, certain events that I could talk about that wouldn’t make any sense to you or your readers, because you haven’t read about them yet… Well, does that happen before character X gets there, but after character Y gets there? And if so, character X would have a role in that, or character X would see part of that as a viewpoint. So I write it that way, and I say, “Well, no, maybe character Y should get there first, or maybe this would partly be from the viewpoint of character Z. He could have a different…” You know? It’s just a tangle of events and arrivals and viewpoints that are all coming together at one point, and I keep feeling that somewhere in here there’s an optimal answer where everything will fall into place. And I’ll find the most effective way of telling all of this, intercutting between these viewpoints and putting things together so that the events occur in the best possible way. But if one event occurs before another event, it changes the events that follow. If someone is there, as opposed to not being there, it changes what it is. So as I change my mind about this, I keep rewriting it too, and trying to get to the best possible unravelling of this knot. And I don’t think I’m there yet, but I’m worrying at it and I think I’m making some progress.
Dave: So yeah. You know Dance with Dragons is planned to be sort of a parallel novel to Feast for Crows, and you had said, depending on how things went, you might stick in some of the characters from Feast for Crows at the end. Do you have any more sense of how that might go?
George: Well, that still is my intent. In fact, I have some of those chapters already written. So there will be a chunk of Dance … You know, the two books will start out in parallel, but then Dance will continue on chronologically for a period after Feast ended, which will allow me to bring back some of the characters in Feast for at least a chapter or two toward the end. But the joker in the deck there is the question of the ultimate length of Dance. As you know, there’s a limit to how long a book can be. [laughter] That was one of the reasons that I split the book, because I was running up against that, and unfortunately I may be running up against it again, I don’t know. If Dance comes in below the length of Storm of Swords, I think I should be Okay. If Dance winds up going longer than Storm of Swords, then I’m going to have to remove some of the material that I’ve already written for Dance, because Storm of Swords was on the borderline of how long a book one can publish without it actually falling apart at the spine, in which case those chapters would be shifted over to the next book. But I don’t know. I’ll have a better sense of all of that when I’m actually finished with this last piece of it.
Dave: Season One of the HBO series is planned to cover the events of Game of Thrones. Have you and the team thought ahead about how the rest of the series might be adapted if Season One is popular?
George: I think Season Two would be Clash of Kings. Now, Clash is a little longer than Game. Maybe instead of 10 hours, we’d be budgeted for 12 hours. But that’s HBO’s decision, and the decision of David and Dan when we get there. When we get to Storm of Swords, which is significantly longer than either of the first two books, then we might need to break it into two seasons or to have a considerably longer season. I mean, one thing, if you look at HBO shows, it’s not like a network show. I mean, back in the old days, when I was working on Beauty and the Beast and Twilight Zone, a full season was 22 hours, 22 episodes, which they would inevitably order like the first 13 and the back nine, they would call it. They’d order 13 episodes. You’d make those and if the show was successful, they’d order nine more, the back nine. And then you’d be up to 22 episodes. That’s broken down – I mean, I’m talking the 1980s then. That’s no longer the rule, even in networks, but their seasons do tend to be longer. HBO’s seasons, if you look at The Sopranos or Rome or any of their seasons, the number of episodes in a season varies from season to season, and I expect that will be true of our show too.
John: Are you concerned at all that, you know, if the show starts and it’s successful, that they’ll run out of the material that you’ve already published and that they’ll sort of be waiting? You know, waiting for book six or whatever it is at that time. Since it’s taken you a couple years to work on a novel, and, you know, conceivably they could be doing a show each year, or a season each year…
George: Yes, theoretically that’s a danger, but I have an enormous head start here. I have a huge lead on them, you know. And I know how long it’s taken me for Dance with Dragons and for Feast for Crows before that, but I still cling to the belief — perhaps mistakenly — that they’re not always going to be that long. I mean, I have written books faster than this. I’m not always this slow. I think these books have had particular problems that have delayed me. So maybe I will pick up speed again, and I will write the next book and it won’t take me five years, it will only take me three years, maybe two and a half. That’s what I think is about the right time that it should take me to do one of these monsters. I mean, way back in the beginning of the series, when I first contracted for them, I was estimating I could do a book a year, because that’s what my earlier novels had taken. That’s what Fevre Dream had taken, and Dying of the Light, and Armageddon Rag, each of them took me about a year. But let’s face it, these books are three times the size of those books, so there’s no way I’m going to do a book in one year. But two years, two-and-a-half years, I think is about right. And if I can do it that fast, I don’t think HBO will ever catch up to me.
Dave: In Feast for Crows and Dance with Dragons, there are so many characters and so many sub-plots going on. It seems like you might run into budget problems with the show…
George: That would be consistent with my history. Everything I ever did always ran into budget trouble.
Dave: I mean, have you thought at all about whether they might want to streamline the events? And do you have any sort of–?
George: Well, they’re going to have to do a certain amount of that. We’re already doing that with the first season, deciding what will be the speaking parts, and what minor characters can be cut, or at least can be reduced to extras. You can have a character who is still there, but he no longer has any lines. So he’s standing in the background, and you can look at him and say, “Oh look. The cook is still there.” But he no longer has the three lines that he has in the book. And that of course makes a big difference budget-wise, because instead of casting an actor, you’re casting an extra who’s considerably cheaper. So that kind of stuff will happen, and events will have to happen and all that. Yeah, that’s going to be part of the process. But it’s not something you can solve in the abstract three years ahead of time. You simply have to do it episode by episode and deal with each issue as it comes up.
Dave: Do you find it kind of funny, you said that you left Hollywood because they were always telling you your projects were too expensive. And you said, “Well now I’m going to just go back to novel writing, where I can have the massive scope that I want.” And then that’s the one that they want to try to adapt?
George: Oh yeah. I think there’s just a tremendous irony to it, but one that I sort of appreciate. It’s a strange world we live in here. The more things go around, they come around, right? But that’s fine. I’m involved in the show, but I’m not the show runner. So David Benioff and Dan Weiss are on top of this, and they’re great fans of the books. They’re terrific writers in their own rights, and they’re great producers. And they’ll have to deal with these problems as they come up, and I wish them every luck, and I’m there to consult with if need be.
Dave: So George R. R. Martin, thanks so much for joining us on Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy.
George: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Dave: And that was our interview. So thanks so much to George for joining us on the show. And we’ll be back to talk more about George and his writing after this word from our sponsor.
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Dave: So just for our regular listeners, we just wanted to give a quick update on kind of the state of the podcast, since you know we’ve kind of been on hiatus for about four months. So we’re back. We’re on io9 now. And we’re planning at the moment to do a bi-weekly, every other week rather than weekly. The weekly schedule was just insane. And it really created big problems if a guest cancelled on us at the last minute. It was really hard to get the next episode out. So hopefully this will be a little bit more civilized.
John: So one of the other things we’re going to be doing now that we’ve relaunched is we’re going to be taking some listener donations. We had a number of listeners who asked if they could support the podcast in that way, and previously we had no way of doing that, when we were on tor.com, but here on io9 it’s all cleared to go. And if you want to make a donation you can just go to PayPal and send some money to firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’d do that we would appreciate it and you’d be helping support the show. And of course one of the other ways you can support the show is to go to iTunes and leave a review there. Or you know, you just come here to io9 and leave comments. Because that’s the way our corporate masters know that people are listening and enjoying the show. [pauses] And also, you should buy lots of books from Brilliance Audio. [laughter]
Dave: All right, great. So now let’s talk a little bit about George R. R. Martin.
John: Yeah. So who is he again?
Dave: [laughs] Well, he’s one of my favorite authors. I had talked about this in an earlier episode, I think, but the first George R. R. Martin story I ever read was called “Sandkings.” I was in an airport one time and my flight was delayed, and I had nothing to do, and I went into a bookstore and picked up a collection edited by Isaac Asimov called The Super Hugos. And that story, this Hugo-winning short story “Sandkings” was in it. And I read it and, man, it just creeped me out so much. [laughter]
Dave: And you know, the least likely time you’re going to be scared is when you’re bored, sitting in an airport, waiting for a flight, surrounded by…
Dave: Surrounded by hundreds of people. And just the fact that that story just gave me chills, just so much, in that situation…
John: So wait, is this an alternate history story you’re telling here? Because I can’t believe that there was a science fiction anthology in an airport bookstore. [laughter]
Dave: I’m telling you, man. I don’t know how it happened. But there it was. So yeah. And so that was the first thing by George that I read. And then actually, when I went to the Odyssey Writing Workshop, one of our assignments was, we were supposed to do a sort of close analysis of our favorite short story. And I picked that one. And out of… there were 18 students or something. And there was somebody else in the class who had picked “Sandkings” as his favorite short story too, which I thought was a pretty amazing coincidence. It’s a science fiction story about alien pets who get out of control. [chuckles] It was funny, actually. I attended Orson Scott Card’s writers boot camp, years ago, and a woman was telling a story about fumigating her house and all the problems she was having with bugs in this house. And somebody says, “Wow, that sounds like a great idea for a science fiction story.” And Orson Scott Card says, “Yeah, it is. Unfortunately it’s already been written. It’s called ‘Sandkings’ by George R. R. Martin.” [chuckles]
John: I can’t remember what the first George R. R. Martin story I read was. It may have actually been Game of Thrones. But since then obviously I’ve read a lot of his other stuff. Speaking of “Sandkings,” that just reminds me of one of his other horrific stories, which is the story called “Meathouse Man,” which I reprinted in The Living Dead. It’s an unusual zombie story in that it takes place in the far future, and humanity has settled other planets throughout the galaxy, and all that, and the zombies in the story are actually technologically-reanimated corpses. The character is what they call a “corpse handler.” They attach this rig to the corpses that allow a living person to go into this control booth and control a bunch of corpses at the same time, sort of as slave labor. But then shortly into the story, you learn that not only do they use them for slave labor, but they also use them for sexual gratification. It’s just really, really creepy as the story goes on, the different explorations of that aspect of the story. As the controller of the zombies, because your brain is connected to the zombie through this device, it has this sort of feedback loop. So when they’re having sex with the corpses, it’s like the most intense pleasure they could ever have, because there’s a feedback loop going on, and the corpse responds as the person controlling wants it to, because of that feedback loop. I thought that was really interesting and disturbing. There’s other things about the story too that are dark and creepy. But that’s one of my favorites of his.
Dave: Everyone knows Song of Ice and Fire, but he’s just such a great short story writer too. Fortunately, most of his short stories have recently been released in a series of collections called Dreamsongs. I highly recommend people pick those up.
John: Yeah. Actually, I just reprinted a story of his in Lightspeed called “…And For a Single Yesterday.” That story is not actually in Dreamsongs, so Lightspeed is probably the easiest place to find it. The only place I found it was in a couple of different… There is an anthology that it originally appeared in, called “Epoch,” and then it was reprinted in one of George’s collections. Both are long out of print. I dug that up out of the history books, and it’s really a very fresh story. It reads like a very contemporary story, even though it was written in 1975. Worth checking out if you want to learn more about George, because you can just go read it for free.
Dave: Yeah. Actually, I made a list here of some of my very favorite George R. R. Martin short stories. I’ll just read these and people can go seek them out. “A Song for Lya,” “In the Lost Lands,” “Sandkings,” “Nightflyers,” “The Monkey Treatment,” “Unsound Variations,” “The Hedge Knight,” and “Portraits of His Children.”
John: “The Hedge Knight” is really good too, and that one is a part of A Song of Ice and Fire, set in the same world. So that’s a way for people to sample the setting without diving headfirst into one of the novels, like if they’re not ready for that level of commitment. It was also adapted into a graphic novel too.
John: Yeah. George has a lot of great stories. Dreamsongs is a great collection, just because it gives you such a comprehensive view of all of his different talents. I don’t think you mentioned “Skin Trade,” that’s the big werewolf novella that he has in there. That’s a really good one, I think. Yeah. If you like audio books, as you might, listening to a podcast, the Dreamsongs audio book is actually pretty awesome. It’s broken up into three volumes, which is a little lame, but it’s broken up into three volumes and so they are able to include almost all of the stories in the book. Whereas most anthologies or collections, on audio they just abridge it, and they leave out half the stories. With the Dreamsongs one, even though it’s a mammoth two-volume collection in book form, they have included almost all of the stories in the audiobook. Most of them are very well narrated. There are a couple of narrators in there that I didn’t like. The guy who narrates the Song of Ice and Fire audio books, I really dislike, and he read some of the books in the collection. But generally, they’re very good. The guy who reads “The Hedge Knight” is very good, as I recall, and some of the others are excellent as well.
Dave: Actually, when I was at the Odyssey workshop, this guy who also listed “Sandkings” as his favorite short story, this guy Danny, he told me I had to read Song of Ice and Fire. At the time I was really down on epic fantasy. I had basically given up on epic fantasy. I think I had just read one too many bad Dragonlance novels, and I was like, “I’m done with this.” So it really took a lot to get me to pick up Game of Thrones in the first place. I had to have actually a couple of people really recommend it to me, and it’s such a huge book. It really takes a lot to get me to read a big thick novel like that.
John: And each one is longer than the last one was, right?
John: It’s like, “Oh my god. The first one is long enough,” but then, “Oh my god, look at the next ones.”
Dave: Yeah. I read Game of Thrones and just, man, from the opening prelude chapter, I was just like, “Wow, this is great.” One of the things about that series that really strikes me is just how strongly I feel about the characters. There’s a character named Joffrey, and I just hate him so much. Just on a really visceral level, I just hate him. Just the fact that a book can make you feel such intense emotions about the characters, I think, is really, really cool, especially in some of the later books. We’re going to try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, just so you know. But in some of the later books, there are just some shocking events that happen, and I was just so devastated when some of these things happened. I just put the book down, and I was like, “Wow, I don’t know if I can keep reading. I’m just so devastated by what’s happened.”
John: Yeah. That is so rare to happen in any sort of entertainment. I guess in movies, it’s easier to get caught up in the moment sometimes, because they have music and you have visuals and all the stuff conspiring against your emotions to cause you to weep or something. In a book, I think it’s really hard, and very rare in fantasy to have such affecting characters that would cause you to get that upset. I think it’s really one of the things he does very well. It also helps that he’s so brutal. It’s a very brutal reality that these characters live in. Nobody’s safe. In most epic fantasy you have your heroes and all those heroes are basically going to survive all the way to the end of the series. And in Martin it’s just not the case at all, nobody’s safe, you never know when some major character is going to end up getting killed off or something. It’s really interesting just because it feels very like, this is high stakes here. It’s funny though hearing how you ended up reading Song of Ice and Fire, it sounds almost like the same exact situation I was in. I was also reading a bunch of epic fantasy and I sort of burnt out on it. It was just sort of a confluence of friends recommending the books to me and saying, “Oh my god it’s so awesome,” and it was just like, “All right, will you guys shut up, okay, I’ll read it, just shut up already.” So I did, and now it’s like, “Okay, now I know why you guys wouldn’t shut up about this.” It took a lot of convincing for me to try it, you know if I was a bit more familiar with his work previously I probably would have been more inclined to just go ahead and try it but I wasn’t familiar with him before, maybe except that I had heard of him but I hadn’t really read him and so it took a lot of convincing but I’m glad everybody convinced me to.
Dave: And I was certainly one of those friends.
John: Yeah, oh yeah, god, oh man, to hear Dave and our friend Doug and our friend Andrea talk about Song of Ice and Fire you would think they were talking about real people and real events that happened to them in their own lives. I would have to leave the room because they would talk about all these spoilers and stuff and I was like, “I don’t want to hear anything, I want to read these things fresh.” Just to see how excited they got about it was part of the reason that convinced me to read it. I can kind of see the same thing in all of us when we were watching Battlestar Galactica and it was leading up to the finale and we were all sort of talking about, “Oh what could happen,” and “I have this theory about this or that,” and of course that ultimately disappointed us all and we just wanted to boycott anything else Ron Moore does. But we’re hoping that George will not let us down, and I don’t have any reason to expect he would, but I didn’t expect that from Ron Moore either, but I believe in George.
Dave: But I figured there have been at least 25 people I can think of that I have personally convinced to read the books because face to face I told them to read it. There was actually a point where the publisher put out really cheap copies of Game of Thrones like really inexpensive copies, like value-priced at three dollars or something, and I just bought I think five and gave them out to people like, you have to read this. I sort of got my whole extended family to read them as well, even people who don’t normally read fantasy novels would just get really into these books.
John: Part of the reason why this series appeals to so many different kinds of people is because it reads largely like some history of an alternate world where society developed differently. Because the magic is so low and there is such a low level of magic and it’s so in the background for most of the series, non-fantasy readers can get drawn into that. I mean, I think the thing that puts off a lot of mainstream readers from fantasy is that the magic and stuff is too much for them. But I think George Martin has sort of just the right amount to keep it at a level that makes it very accessible yet is also totally satisfying to the people who actually crave that stuff.
Dave: There was a time actually, you know, I convinced – we were at a bookstore, I don’t remember who I was with – and I had convinced someone to buy Game of Thrones, and we were making our way toward the cash register. Two or three people, you know, just strangers, just exclaimed, “Oh! That’s a great book!” Just seeing it, you know, in my friend’s hands. I’ve never seen anything like that. It was amazing. You know, one thing about epic fantasy series that can be a challenge, too, is a lot of times there’s so many characters to keep track of. I actually, I came across a list online one time of every named character in Song of Ice and Fire. You know, and then there’s other unnamed characters. You know, like extras and stuff. But so I’ll ask people, you know, who’ve read the series, how many named characters do you think there are in the four books that are out? And people usually guess – like, I don’t know – like 75 or 100 or something. And there are actually over 1,000…
Dave: …names on this list. I mean when people complain, you know, about how long it’s taking to write these books, I mean, just think of how long it would take you to sit down and write 1,000… make up 1,000 fantasy names, you know, just that, not even the story or anything, just to come up with all those names. I mean it’s just a huge scale. So it’s sometimes not easy to keep track of what’s going on, because it’s so complex. So actually there’s a sort of fan artist named Amoka, A-M-O-K-A, or at least that’s his handle, and he did fan art for tons and tons of the characters for… I didn’t count. I would say maybe 70 or 80 characters, you know, that he did portraits of. And you can go online and find them. I guess we’ll have a link in the show notes. I found that really, really helpful for, especially keeping track of some of the more peripheral, you know, sort of secondary characters. That’s actually something I first noticed when I would read Roger Zelazany’s Chronicles of Amber as a kid. I would sometimes have trouble keeping all of the characters straight. Then I got the role-playing game and it had portraits of all the characters, and I found that so helpful just to have a picture to associate with the name. And you know how fantasy novels always have like maps and stuff at the beginning. I’ve always thought it would be kind of cool if they would just have portraits of all the major characters.
John: For Song of Ice and Fire you’d need a whole separate book for that. [laughter]
Dave: So it’s cool to have those pictures of the characters. And it’s also really helpful to have pictures of some of the environments and things in the series. There’s actually this calendar that just came out. It’s called The Song of Ice and Fire 2011 Calendar, illustrated by Ted Nasmith. They have a portrait for each month of one of the fortresses from the series. So like when I was reading, I always wanted a picture of what the Eyrie looks like, this sort of fortress up on top of a really high up mountain. And George actually, you know, he consulted on this, so all the pictures of everything matches his visions of it. He actually consulted with these fan portraits too. He actually went through them at one point and kind of gave notes and the guy changed some of them to make them conform more to what George was saying.
John: There actually is a Song of Ice and Fire role-playing game too, isn’t there?
Dave: Yeah, I think there…
John: Or is it just some sort of board game?
Dave: No, no. I’ve played the board game. The board game is actually a lot of fun. There is a role-playing game. I mean there were… I haven’t looked at it in detail. I mean, they brought out one and the company folded, I think, and a company called Green Ronin did one. I’m not sure if that’s the newest one, but yeah, there are all sorts of secondary materials. There’s actually a really good art book – I think it’s called The Art of Ice and Fire, where it’s just collections of the best art that’s been done for the card games and the calendars and things. There’s an artist named Michael Komarck who’s just done some really amazing Ice and Fire illustrations. The cover, it’s a picture of Jaime Lannister sitting on the Iron Throne. But, actually, you know I was thinking that kids today, they grow up reading Harry Potter, and like everyone’s reading Harry Potter and they’re all waiting for the next book. There was nothing really like that when I was growing up. I mean all the series I was reading were done already, by the time I’d found out about them. And then, I didn’t know anyone else, really, who was reading the same stuff I was, and there was no Internet. So like Song of Ice and Fire has really been the one thing I’ve had kind of like that, where it’s been a series that, you know, I sort of caught before it was finished and have sort of been involved in discussions online and things. And there’s just a really active online community discussing Ice and Fire. If anyone’s a fan of the series, and you’re interested in… There’s some great message boards about it and things. So it’s kind of been interesting just from sort of a sociology standpoint, almost, to see that kind of thing in action. You know, because when you just read the books, you sort of pay an equal amount of attention, pretty much, to every chapter as you’re reading it. But then, when people are trying to figure out what’s going to happen next, they fixate amazingly on particular moments that seem to provide clues. And so, I mean, I read the first three books the first time through and there’s a section in Game of Thrones where Ned Stark thinks about something from his past that happened at a place called the Tower of Joy. And you know, I barely remembered that from my first read. And there’s a place in Clash of Kings where Daenerys Targaryen goes to a place called the House of the Undying, where she sees kind of like prophecies about the future. So just reading the series, you know, these things sort of just register, but when people are talking about the books, these chapters just get talked about over and over and over again to the point where you practically have the whole thing memorized and people know every single line. And you know, you’ve just read dozens of threads about, “What does this sentence suggest?” It’s just funny to see how completely differently people read when they’re sort of working as a community trying to solve the mystery. There are all these mysteries in the series and people have all sorts of theories about how to resolve them and it’s funny that… You know, if you’re familiar with all these theories and you’ve been following it for years, then someone will join the message board for the first time and they’ll say, “You know, this may sound crazy, but I have this theory about who Jon Snow’s mother might be.” And everyone’s like, “Oh, yeah. Come on.”
Dave: “Just look at the FAQ. It’s topic number one,” you know.
John: What you were saying about this being the first time that you’ve run into a series that wasn’t finished, and you know, you’re waiting for the book, you know, I mean that just makes me think of how some fans are so vicious towards Martin because it’s taking so long for him to finish the next volume. But, you know, there’s all these fans that leave really nasty comments on his blog whenever he talks about anything but Song of Ice and Fire. They’re just like, “Finish the book, George.”
John: You know, I mean it got to the point where people thought it was so ridiculous. Like, Neil Gaiman actually came out and had a post that said, “George Martin is not your bitch. He has a life. Leave him alone. Harping at him to finish the book is not going to help.” I just think it’s interesting what a fervor people get whipped into, you know, over waiting for the book. You know, even though they love him, they love him like nothing else, but yet, they can still muster up this hatred for him, because he hasn’t finished the book yet. It’s kind of an interesting pathology that you love something so much and then treat it with such disdain at the same time.
Dave: Well, no. I mean, and Feast for Crows just covered half the characters. So like, there are some big mysteries from the end of Storm of Swords that still haven’t been resolved. I read Storm of Swords, I think, in 2003. So it’s like seven years. I think it came out in 2001. So some people have been waiting nine years to find out how these things… what’s going to happen, and I certainly want to find out as much as anyone does and would love to see the book. But, I think as a writer, I just have so much sympathy for George, I mean, just knowing how hard it is for me. I write, you know, I’ve never even written a novel. I write short stories. And just, you know, how much, just an incredible amount of effort I put into writing, you know, a 7,000 word story. And then to think about writing a book like 20 or 30 times that long, and then, you know…
Dave: I certainly have immense sympathy for anyone who undertakes a project like that.
John: I predict that someone will post in the comments to this podcast that, you know, “Finish the book, George.” There’ll be at least one of those. You know, like they won’t even listen to the episode, because they’re so furious at the thought that, “He took time to talk to this stupid podcast, he should be writing Song of Ice and Fire.” While everyone’s waiting for the next book, I thought we might want to discuss a bit what other books people might like if they like Song of Ice and Fire, because since the books have come out I think there’s been a lot of new epic fantasy that’s been influenced by it. And then, you know, the first person I thought of was Scott Lynch, who wrote this great book called The Lies of Locke Lamora, and he’s written a couple sequels since then. Because I’ve read it, and I thought it was great and it’s obviously influenced by Martin. I mean that’s one of the reasons I thought of it. But the other reason is I was at Worldcon one year and George Martin was there, and I saw him and Scott Lynch at… Actually, it was at like a George Martin party – there’s this fan group called Brotherhood without Banners, and so they throw parties at a lot of different cons. George was sitting in a chair, and Scott Lynch was sitting on the floor sort of looking up at him, and it was like, “Oh, look at this.” It was like the student sitting at the feet of the master, you know, just learning. So I just thought that was interesting because it’s like you just knew that he was influenced by him from reading the book, but then you see that, it’s like, “Oh, Okay. Well there you go.”
Dave: Yeah, I know. It is kind of funny that A Song of Ice and Fire has been going on so long that you actually… You know, people have grown up and had careers in the time that people have been waiting between books. But, yeah, I definitely second the recommendation of Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora. That’s a tremendously well-done book. I would say also Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber.
John: That’s a precursor though.
Dave: Oh, are we only? I thought we were listing…
John: No, no, that’s fine. I’m just saying, it’s worth mentioning it’s a precursor, not, you know…
Dave: Yeah, it’s a precursor, certainly, and I would argue it’s an influence, as well. Another thing along those lines is Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. You know, I just reread Book of the New Sun, and there are actually tons of parallels between it and Song of Ice and Fire.
Dave: Yeah. Well, I’ve always thought that the Seekers After Truth and Penitence was really similar to the Night’s Watch. You know, they wear black and they’ve existed for a long time, and they’ve kind of fallen on hard times and they have all these rituals they don’t really understand anymore. And you know, if you think about Jon Snow versus Severian… I mean, like one of the big mysteries of Book of the New Sun is figuring out who everyone in Severian’s family tree is, and it’s kind of a similar thing with Jon Snow. There’s a huge wall around the city of Nessus that’s called the Wall and it’s the big wall in the north. Another one I just noticed, actually, was that in Castle Black there’s a guy named Maester Aemon who’s blind and in the Matachin Tower in Book of the New Sun there’s a character named Master Palaemon who’s blind. You know, stuff like that.
John: Right, right. Okay. You know, it’s worth pointing out it’s called Book of the New Sun but it’s actually four books, so I mean it’s like a series as well and you have to kind of read the whole thing. It’s not really something that you would read the first one and just stop. You really have to read the whole thing. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. Sort of the books that we mentioned… I mean, there are a few that come to mind that I haven’t read but I’ve heard that are good that are sort of along the lines of Martin, like Joe Abercrombie, you know, his epic fantasy books that are out now and Brian Ruckley. Specifically I’ve heard these people are sort of disciples of George Martin. Well, you just read Swords and Dark Magic, the anthology?
Dave: Yeah. Well…
John: So would you recommend that for Martin fans?
Dave: Well, I just started it,. But, I mean, I’m loving it so far. This is an anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders. It’s called Swords and Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery. And it has, you know, Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie. I read both those stories, loved them, and there’s a bunch of other stories I haven’t gotten to yet. But it’s got Gene Wolfe, Glenn Cook, Ursula LeGuin. It’s just a great lineup of authors who are writing great sword and sorcery stuff right now. And there’s been sort of a resurgence of sword and sorcery in the last, I don’t know, eight or ten years or so. I would say largely as a result of the success of Song of Ice and Fire.
John: Yeah. Actually, you know, speaking of Glenn Cook he’s an excellent author to recommend as well. I mean, between the Black Company series and the Dread Empire series, I think fans of Martin would also enjoy his work.
Dave: You know, and since Feast for Crows was so long-delayed, it gave me plenty of time to reread the first three books. I read each of them five times while I was waiting for Feast for Crows to come out. And they are books that reward rereading. I mean, you read them and you just keep noticing connections and things. It’s really amazing. There’s a line at one point about how Robert Baratheon had fathered a bastard child when he was a young man living in the Vale of Arryn and later, you know, later Catelyn Stark travels there and she gets led up a mountain by a young woman named Mya Stone, who’s a bastard given her last name and she has this black hair that’s characteristic of all of Robert Baratheon’s bastard children. The first time I never noticed that, but on subsequent re-readings you’re like, “Oh hey, that’s her.” And when Arya is sort of training, sort of sword training with Syrio Forel he sends her around the Red Keep to catch cats, and there’s this big, nasty cat that she can never catch. Then at one point you hear the story about how the Princess Rhaenys had a kitten that disappeared during a storming of the castle. You’re like, “Oh, it’s the same cat.” The cat is still around. The most clever… this is kind of a spoiler, so I’ll be circumspect about how I phrase it. The character Thoros of Myr has a special ability, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and he doesn’t know why. It actually is possible to figure out the pattern behind why it works sometimes and why it doesn’t. When you figure that out, you’re like, “Oh, wow. That is pretty clever.” And it’s all right there, you’re like, “Of course.”
John: It’s very cool, though, that he does stuff like that but doesn’t actually just spell it out for you. He leaves it there for you to figure out, because it’s not, like, relevant necessarily, I guess. He doesn’t hit you over the head with it, like, “Oh, look how clever I was. This is how it works.” I think most writers would be unable to resist the urge to do that.
Dave: There are also little in-jokes too. There’s a part in A Game of Thrones where Catelyn Stark is taking Tyrion Lannister to the Eyrie. There are random mercenaries hanging around, and three of them are named Lharys, Mohor, and Kurleket.
Dave: I saw someone asked George, like, “These are like the Three Stooges, right?” And he was like, “Yeah, I didn’t think anyone would notice that.” [laughter]
Dave: Then there’s just references to authors he likes too. One of the houses is Vance, and he mentioned Jack Vance. Actually, if you look through the index — some of them, they only appear in the index and on the maps, and stuff — there’s a House Rogers of Amberly, which is a reference to Roger Zelazny’s Amber series. There’s a House Jordayne of the Tor, and it’s Robert Jordan and Tor publishes his stories, and stuff like that. So there’s little things like that that the more times you re-read it, you keep noticing these things. I think another thing that’s really interesting, if you’ve read George’s other works, his earlier novels and short stories and things, and then you read A Song of Ice and Fire, is you can sort of see how A Song of Ice and Fire is like his magnum opus, where he’s taken pretty much every character and every idea that he ever came up with previously and put them all into the same milieu. Like, Sandor Clegane has his half-burned face, and there’s a guy like that in George’s first novel, Dying of the Light. If you read Tuf Voyaging, Haviland Tuf has this dry sense of humor, and he has a friend named Jaime, and their relationship is exactly like the relationship dynamic of Tyrion Lannister and Jaime Lannister. And the wights are like these sort of zombies who are being controlled, presumably by some distant intelligence, and that is like the zombie workers that you mentioned from “Meathouse Man” and the stories in that sequence. Names will reappear too. Like I mentioned the story “A Song For Lya,” and there’s a character named Robb with two B’s in that.
John: Speaking of the similarities like that, George sure seems to like calling things songs, right? He’s got A Song of Ice and Fire, it’s Dreamsongs, he’s got “A Song For Lya,” the tribute anthology to Jack Vance was Songs of the Dying Earth. He’s got another one coming out that’s got Songs in it, I think it’s called Songs of Love and Death.
Dave: Well, yeah. I think at this point, probably it’s as much a marketing thing as anything else.
Dave: For Songs of Love and Death, I’m sure the publisher was like, “Maybe we could just rename this to make it sound more like A Song of Ice and Fire.”
John: Because it actually was called something else…
Dave: It was called Star-Crossed Lovers, I think.
John: Oh yeah, right, right.
Dave: Here’s from Wikipedia. They say, “One of Martin’s earliest attempts at writing a fantasy story was ‘Dark Gods of Kor-Yuban,’ which was never published. The two heroes of the short story are the exiled Prince R’hllor of Raugg and his boisterous, swaggering companion Argilac the Arrogant. In an abandoned sequel Argilac teams up with Barron, the Bloody Blade of the Dothrak Empire, to slay the winged demons who killed Barron’s grandfather Barristan the Bold.” So if you’re a fan of Song of Ice and Fire you recognize all those names, you know, have reappeared in Song of Ice and Fire. George is very adamant to new writers to not throw out anything at all that you write, even if you don’t think it’s any good, because there’s probably something in there that you can reuse for something else at some point. Actually, probably the biggest one is if you’ve read The Armageddon Rag there’s a line in there, I won’t say what it is, but I feel it’s a huge thematic spoiler for Song of Ice and Fire.
John: Oh really? Huh.
Dave: So if you can’t wait for Dance with Dragons and you want a clue, I recommend Armageddon Rag.
John: I didn’t realize Martin had done all that with Song of Ice and Fire. Where he pulled in all this stuff from his other works the way you describe. When you describe that, and especially when you called it his mangum opus, it kind of makes me think of The Dark Tower by Stephen King. Because people often refer to that as his magnum opus. And he did that same exact thing, except even more literally. He literally connects the worlds of his stories all to the same story in The Dark Tower. Where The Dark Tower is sort of like the spine and all of his other stories are sort of these peripheral parts of the body, in that they are all connected. In many cases, he takes the character right out of the story and puts it into The Dark Tower. So it’s interesting that Martin does it in sort of a more subtle way.
Dave: I mean that’s one reason why I think people should read short stories. Because a lot of times, ideas originate in short stories. If you’re not reading any of the short stories, you’re sort of missing out on where a lot of this stuff came from and what its initial form was. It’s sort of the same thing with Philip K. Dick. If you’ve read any Philip K. Dick novels and you’ve also read his short stories, a lot of his novels, he just literally took three short stories and shoved them all together and that’s a novel. One thing that has sort of always struck me, reading the message board, is that there was this thread one time where there was sort of a poll on who were the sexiest characters in Song of Ice and Fire. But the three male characters who were rated the sexiest were Jaime Lannister, Sandor Clegane, and Theon Greyjoy. If you’ve read the books, it’s not quite but pretty close to the three biggest jerks in the series. So there’s definitely some whole bad boy appeal going on there, I guess.
John: Jaime, specifically, is often referred to as being very handsome though, isn’t he? That one seemed kind of obvious to me.
Dave: Yeah, but Sandor Clegane has like half his face burnt off.
John: Yeah, that is a little puzzling.
Dave: I wonder if that’s the kind of thing where it makes a difference that you can’t actually see it.
John: Right. Well yeah, I think it would probably look pretty horrible. Especially with no modern science to even tidy it up a bit, with skin grafts and what not.
Dave: They’ll probably have a similar poll when the HBO series comes out. It will be interesting to see how that would differ from what people think based just on the descriptions in the book. The casting for the HBO series, I guess George talked about it a little bit. They have Sean Bean as Ned Stark. He’s probably the most recognizable. They have Lena Headey, from The Sarah Connor Chronicles, she plays Sarah Connor. She’s Cersei Lannister. HBO just a couple of days ago released this promo piece where you can see some of the actors in costume for the first time, so if you haven’t watched that and you’re interested, you should check that out. They have, also, Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister. And the guy playing Khal Drogo, he’s from Stargate: Atlantis or something like that.
John: Actually, I didn’t realize this but, but what’s his name, Littlefinger?
Dave: Yeah. Peter Baelish.
John: So he’s played by the guy who plays Mayor Carcetti in The Wire. For anyone who watches that.
Dave: It was making me a little nervous, though, watching that promo piece. Because, it looks like they are doing a really good job but it isn’t exactly how I pictured the characters. And George describes the world in such sumptuous, grand ways that I just don’t know if a TV production, even an HBO one, can possibly match the sort of rich colors that the world has in my head. Okay, so I guess we’re just about out of time. We kind of like to end things with a quote. So I had a quote I was going to read that I really like. This is from the introduction to Dreamsongs. This is a quote by Gardner Dozois. He’s a well known editor in the field and has known George for a long time. And this is his description of George Martin’s writing. He says, “George has always been a richly romantic writer. Dry minimalism or the coolly ironic games of postmodernism so beloved by many modern writers and critics are not what you’re going to get when you open something by George R. R. Martin. What you’re going to get instead is a strongly-plotted story driven by emotional conflict and crafted by someone who’s a natural-born storyteller, a story that grabs you on the first page and refuses to let go. You’re going to get adventure, action, conflict, romance, and lust, vivid human emotion: obsessive, doomed love, stark, undying hatred, unexpected veins of rich humor … and something that’s rare even in science fiction and fantasy these days, let alone in the mainstream – a love of adventure for adventure’s sake, a delighting in the strange and colorful, bizarre plants and animals, exotic scenery, strange lands, strange customs, stranger people, backed by the inexhaustible desire to see what’s over the next hill, or waiting on the next world.”
John: All right, well, thanks everyone for joining us. It’s great to be back, and we hope you’ll tune in to the next episode.