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A treasure of books and magazines

Posted: March 2, 2012 3:55 p.m.
Updated: March 5, 2012 5:00 a.m.

One of the holiday gifts I received this past season was a bundle of five books -- the first five books in George R.R. Martin’s ongoing fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire. People are getting to know the books thanks to the HBO series named after the first book, “A Game of Thrones.”

Martin (I love writing that!) published the first novel in 1996. For some reason, I had resisted reading the series despite all the accolades. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series had come out by then; perhaps I was afraid of committing to two such grand series at the same time? Silly me.

Martin’s work is not for everyone. As much as some have crowned him the “American Tolkien,” “Lord of the Rings” this is not. Tolkien deliberately wrote in almost high, poetic English. Martin’s prose is earthy, to say the least, filled with vulgarity -- sex is prevalent. It is definitely for mature audiences, certainly R-rated if not NC-17 as viewers of the HBO series can attest.

(The TV series is equally brilliant, pulling no punches, thanks to an assist from Martin himself.)

Martin’s world-building -- the creation of the Ice and Fire world -- is on par with, if not above, everyone else in the business. There is most of an entire world at play, two continents with people as diverse as our own. The immediate magical characteristic is that Winter can last a lifetime; summer for decades. The storyline is complex, reflective of Greek tragedy, soap opera, historical and military fiction, spy thrillers with Martin’s unique takes on sorcery, dragons and the undead added in.

These are long books. I started them the day I received them, at the end of December, and just finished the fifth and latest, “A Dance with Dragons,” last week.

The characters are phenomenal and yet Martin’s not afraid of killing off favorites if it advances the plot -- which it always does. Speaking of characters, his are exceptional. One of my favorites is Tyrion, the dwarf son of the scheming Lannister family. Peter Dinklage won an extremely well-deserved Emmy Award for playing Tyrion in the HBO series. He is Tyrion come to life from the pages of Martin’s books. Tyrion is a tortured soul -- in more ways than one -- noble and profane in one and (so far) a survivor of his family’s schemes as well as his own.

Another favorite is little Arya Stark. Without giving too much away, a Lord’s daughter, she ends up on the run with more street smarts than most of the rest of the cast put together. Her journey so far has had me cheering at times and popping my eyes at others.

But there’s so many others: Arya’s half-brother, John Snow, who ends up helping to lead a desperate fight in the north; Tyrion’s brother, Jamie, a kingslayer who starts off as a pretty monster, but who may be less fearsome than he believes; Sam, one of John’s compatriots, scared of his own shadow, but somehow managing to become a hero nonetheless.

And then there’s Daenerys Targaryen. Living in exile, the teenage daughter of the last king of Westeros, arguably becomes the most important character in the series. Why? A magical connection to dragons. One of her oft-repeated lines in the books is “I am only a young girl and...” And then she states a wish or command, showing she is truly a queen in the making.

Martin has two more books on the horizon, “The Winds of Winter” and “A Dream of Spring.”

I can’t wait, and have no choice but to do so. Luckily, someone’s come to my rescue. I received a phone call the other day from a woman whose husband had passed recently. Among his things, she found nearly two dozen copies of Astounding Science Fiction, a science fiction magazine that started in 1930 as Astounding Stories and is still published today under the name it took in 1992, Analog Science Fiction & Fact.

The issues she found were published between 1956 and 1959 when it was still being edited by longtime editor John W. Campbell Jr. According to Wikipedia, Campbell got into “pseudoscience,” even using the magazine to publish L. Ron Hubbard’s first article on dianetics -- which would lead to Scientology -- in May 1950.

Be that as it may, Astounding’s reputation was and continues to be a focus on the science of science fiction. No less than Martin himself, who has written superhero novels in addition to Ice and Fire, is quoted as saying Astounding has “the reputation of being hard-nosed, steel-clad, scientifically rigorous and perhaps a bit puritanical.”

The woman said the magazines were in a shoe box along with two classic science fiction books and a science book all published in paperback. She said she initially planned to give them to the Kershaw County Library for its upcoming book sale, but then thought of me and my love of science fiction.

To my surprise, that shoebox showed up at the C-I’s offices the other day: 22 issues of Astounding plus a 1957 edition of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” a 1953 edition of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” and a 1954 edition of a 1948 book called “The Universe and Dr. Einstein,” “a clear explanation of Einstein’s theories.”

Obviously, I have a lot more reading to catch up on (I’m also trying to read an e-book of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods,” an interesting if odd book). I also have, oh, about four months worth of National Geographic to catch up on, too.

But, ma’am, thank you for the gift of these magazines and books. I am humbled by your thoughtfulness and will treasure them for years to come.


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