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George R R Martin before Game of Thrones: Early work you have probably never seen, plus his first reviews

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George R R Martin before Game of Thrones
Photo on left via George RR Martin/Twitter; Cow photo from Envato

The early career of George R R Martin: A reverse chronology

By the time “A Game of Thrones” — the first novel in the hugely successful A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series — was published in 1996, author George R R Martin was 48 years old, and a solid quarter century into his writing career.

Unlike the Shadow that sprang from Melisandre, Martin’s career did not arrive in the world fully-formed. The path to success as the creator of the enormously successful HBO TV series Game of Thrones took many twists and turns, requiring millions of words, along with the sacrifice of thousands of hours.

So where did it all begin? Here, look back with us at the early career of a man who would go on to create stories that would enthrall (and, yes, infuriate) much of the world.

George R R Martin photo 2017 by Henry Soderlund
Photo by Henry Söderlund – Worldcon 75, 2017 (CC BY 4.0, Link)

Book review of George R R Martin’s “A Song for Lya” (1976)

Review: Author delineates alien god, religion in novellas

Published in The Daily Item (Sunbury, Pennsylvania) October 15, 1976

By Bill Swanger, Special to The Daily Item

A SONG FOR LYA by George R R Martin. Avon. 208 pages (paperback only). $1.25.

One gets the feeling from reading George R. R. Martin’s first collection of short fiction, “A Song for Lya,” that if he made the decisions governing scientific expeditions, the Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster would forever remain mysteries.

If there is a central theme to be found in the works of authors, Martin’s particular one is man’s need for mystery and myth, if only to add a sense of adventure to his life.

Although the theme is inherent in several of the 10 short stories and novellas in the collection, it is most apparent and best contained — and most beautifully detailed — in the lead story “With Morning Comes Mistfall.”

Set on a planet almost wholly shrouded by a sea of mist, the story details a scientific expedition to discover the identity of “wraiths,” mysterious creatures living in the milky depths of the mists who have allegedly attacked or killed visitors to the planet.

On this mystery — which later is revealed as myth — the planet thrives. Once the wraiths are “gone,” the planet becomes merely another world to be exploited for whatever wealth it contains.

But to the one man who recognizes the planet’s true wealth — the beautiful rising and falling of the mists and all that those mists hide — the difference between myth and mystery is negligible. The wraiths may be mysterious creatures or they may be mythical; either way, they allow man to confront and know (and enjoy) his need for adventure and uncertainty, Martin seems to say.

Man’s needs

Not all of the stories are as beautifully told. but many examine, in some slightly different fashion, man’s need for wonder, for adventure, and for myth. Of these, perhaps the most successful, in an analytical fashion, is “Slide Show.”

But Martin has saved the best for last. The collection ends with the novella for which it was named: “A Song for Lya.”

It is a Hugo Award-winning story, and rightly so. Its plot is too complex to summarize here, but it is, in a sense, man’s confrontation with, and sublimation of, the ultimate mystery: something held as a god.

The story’s characters are slightly simplistic and perhaps a bit stereotyped, but Martin’s delineation of an alien god and religion is excellent. The book is worth purchasing simply on its title story.

George R R Martin before Game of Thrones


“Solarcon II” honors science fiction author

Published in the El Paso Times (Texas) April 10, 1976

George R R Martin, whose short novel “A Song for Lya” received the Hugo Award, most coveted of awards for science fiction works, in 1975, will be guest of honor at “Solarcon II,” the second annual science fiction convention in downtown El Paso April 16-18.

Martin, a freelance writer and editor specializing in science fiction short Stories, will come to El Paso from Chicago. His works have appeared in “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,” “Amazing,” “Analog,” “Galaxy,” and a wide variety of anthologies.

He is author of a new book representing 10 of his outstanding pieces: of short science fiction. The book, “A Song for Lya,” was published in February by Avon Books.

Martin, together with Tom Reamy, science fiction writer from Kansas City, and Don C. Thompson, a Denver- based fan editor, will meet on the University of Texas at El Paso campus April 15 for the opening part of Solarcon II — a panel discussion on “Problems of Writing in the ’70s.”

The Solarcon II convention is sponsored by the UTEP science fiction club.

Other events planned for the three-day meeting of science fiction fans, writers and collectors, include a film series at the Plaza Theater, a “Meet the Authors” party at the Centro del Paso Hotel downtown, panel discussions on “Women in Science Fiction,” “Collecting Science Fiction,” and “Fanzine Publishing,” a banquet luncheon April 18 in which Martin will deliver the guest of honor speech.


Short story collection reviews, including Martin’s “A Song for Lya” (1976)

Jack Curtin, Paperbacks in Review

Excerpted from the Philadelphia Daily News (Pennsylvania) March 26, 1976

I started off with short story collections this time, working myself into the mood for tackling a pair of important new novels.

I was most impressed with A Song for Lya (Avon, 208 pages, $1.25), by George R.R. Martin, a writer unfamiliar to me before this. That is probably because a lot of his work has been done for “Analog,” a magazine I don’t read regularly (even though it is getting much more literate under new editor Ben Bova).

The title story was a Hugo winner recently, and deals with a strange, destructive, yet satisfying religious culture on a distant planet and what happens to the earthen (and, in this specific case, woman) who succumb to it. Nicely done, as are all the 10 stories in the book.

Martin uses several striking touches throughout (such as having human colonies on Mars named “Bradbury” and “Burroughs City”) and in one short-short, he gives a twist to the old concept of hyperspace that I have never seen used before.


Book reviews written by George R R Martin

‘Pluribus’ projects zany sci-fi shenanigans

By GEORGE R. R. MARTIN, Chicago Sun-Times

Published in the Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghampton, New York) August 17, 1975

Science fiction has always been a literature of ideas. The genre’s first giants were often half-bad writers whose literary failings and quirks were lovingly forgiven in the storms of enthusiasm over the bold new concepts they introduced.

Later generations of authors borrowed freely from those concepts, refining and distilling, adding new twists. and innovations. Those stories, in turn, were mined by still later writers, and so it has continued to the present.

In this furious literary dialog, very few concepts have remained untouched — but, curiously, even fewer have ever been abandoned.

Michael Kurland’s “Pluribus” (Doubleday, $5.95) is eloquent testimony to that point, a patchwork quilt of sci-fi hand-me-downs sewn together with a zany sort of gusto.

Here we have all the standard stock ingredients: the plague that has wiped out 90 percent of humanity, the shattered United States where a dozen pint-sized “nations” scheme and war, the superstitious villagers who equate witchcraft with technology, and blame science for their catastrophe, the fortified “enclaves” (grown out of today’s colleges) where handfuls of dedicated men and women preserve crumbs of ancient knowledge and strive to check the country’s slide into a new Dark Age.

Kurland, though, is too good simply to rehash old stories. and “Pluribus” is a joy to read. His characters breathe new vigor into all the cliches by refusing to take any of them seriously.

The chief delight is Mordecai Lehrer, the unlikely hero whose travels from the Duchy of San Francisco to the Chicago spaceport from the skeleton of the plot. He runs into all the usual troubles that wanderers run into in books of this sort, including savages, religious bigotry, superstition and would-be conquerors, and he meets every new threat with common sense.

The lesser figures are also fine, especially Simple Simon, the Napoleon of the Midwest, a tactical genius who worries about his warts. There are also a phony judge named Crater, bisonboys (cows being extinct), a spy named R. B. (Bob) Patterson (“some Xaliic Midwestern name,” Mordecai explains) and sundry other treats.

The ending of “Pluribus” seems terribly rushed, as if Kurland had planned a longer novel but was forced to cut it short, and a subplot about the New York City enclave is neither properly resolved nor tied in with the rest of the narrative. Despite these problems, the book is entertaining.

The same cannot be said of “The Shattered People” (Doubleday, $5.95), a sad potboiler by Robert Hoskins. Like Kurland, Hoskins parades out a whole array of worn ideas, but unlike Kurland, he does nothing with them, and his novel is stale.

Hoskins tells his story in alternating segments, flashing back-and-forth between Aaron, a Stone Age hunter on some primitive planet, and Ducas Martin, a would-be revolutionary in the urban warrens of an overpopulated, mechanized future Earth.

Aaron is tough. We know this because he kills an animal with a sling, swims a flooded river with the carcass on his back, crosses a desert and slays three tigerish carnivores with his bare hands. He continues to do things like this for the rest of the novel.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Ducas and the figurehead Empress he advises maneuver endlessly and intricately and pointlessly in pursuit of their comic-book revolution. Most of this politicking does not seem to make any sense, but it must, because Hoskins says so, and in the end, the good guys win.

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Genius takes work: George R R Martin’s early newspaper articles

Now, before we get too deep into this next section, a note.

While the headline about “work few people have read” is totally accurate… the reason people haven’t read the work below is that most of the articles initially had a very small circulation, and, unless you were really into the topics in question, they’re pretty boring. (Well, we do appreciate Martin’s selective use of quotation marks.)

The dull factor is no fault of George R R Martin — he has long been a skilled writer, and did a solid job on some extraordinarily dry news subjects. But if you don’t really care much about farming and ranching in the ’70s… well, some things don’t get more interesting with age.

So how did a kid from Bayonne, New Jersey, end up writing about agriculture in the midwest? College.

These four articles were all written on behalf of the Medill News Service back in 1971 — the same year that Martin was completing his Master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Illinois.

In these stories, there are no dragons and swords and direwolves… but what you will discover is the foundation on which those books were built.

Bottom line: There is much to be said for a young man getting an education, making a living, honing his talent, and paying his dues. Take a look.


George R R Martin article: Chippewa Country is target for rural development

Published in the Chippewa Herald-Telegram (Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin) June 1, 1971

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated Chippewa county and several neighboring counties as target areas for a special pilot program of concentrated rural development.

No new programs or funds are involved in the project, but the operations of traditional USDA agencies will be “stepped-up” in the target areas for the duration of the test. “Special efforts” at interagency coordination will also be made, a USDA spokesman said.

The goals of the pilot program will be identical to those of other rural development efforts: 1) ending or slowing rural population decline, 2) providing increased employment opportunities in rural areas, 3) improving quality of life and safeguarding the environment. After a “reasonable” test period, USDA will evaluate the progress made towards these goals by the concentrated efforts in the target areas, against the results achieved by more traditional programming.

Agencies participating in the program include the Farmers Home Administration, the Extension Service, the Forest Service, the Soil Conservation Service, the Farmer Cooperative Service, and the Rural Electrification Administration. Other agencies are also expected to “support” the pilot project, USDA said.

WISCONSIN, WITH TWO target districts, is one of only five states selected by USDA for participation in the program. Other target areas are located in Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio, and South Carolina.

Chippewa County is part of the “West Central” Wisconsin target district. Other counties included in this district are Clark, Pepin, Eau Claire, Dunne, Barron, Polk, St. Croix, and Pierce. (Article continued in image below)

Chippewa Country is target for rural development - George R R Martin article in Chippewa Herald-Telegram - June 1 1971

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George R R Martin news article: High cotton prices called perilous

The Delta Democrat-Times (Greenville, Mississippi) May 30, 1971

WASHINGTON — The high cotton prices now being collected by American producers may have damaging long-term effects on the US cotton industry, a cotton expert from the US Department of Agriculture has warned.

H. Reiter Webb, Jr., director of the Cotton Division of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Division, said that the world cotton economy is at a “crossroads,” and approaching a crisis. Decreasing world production is forcing cotton prices too high, Webb said. As a result, cotton’s competitive position against other fibers in the world markets has been severely imperiled. (Article continued in image below)

The Delta Democrat-Times (Greenville, Mississippi)30 May 1971, SunPage 6


George R R Martin news story: Holstein headed toward table?

Published in the Chippewa Herald-Telegram (Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin) May 10, 1971

WASHINGTON — Holstein cattle, long one of the nation’s top dairy breeds, may see more use as beef animals in the future, according to research results released recently by the Agriculture Department.

Holstein cow, 5 years old

In feed trials conducted by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, Holsteins finished a clear first in rate of gain, had the largest rib-eye areas, and the highest percentage of lean meat.

Competing against the Holstein were Jerseys, another dairy breed, Angus and Hereford steer calves, the most popular beef breeds, and Milking Shorthorns, which are widely used for both dairy and beef purposes. The Holsteins gained weight faster than any of the competing breeds during the year-long feed trials.

However, the beef breeds, Angus and Hereford, produced the most fat, while Holsteins had the least. At equal slaughter weights, this means that Holstein meat will generally be graded lower than the beef breeds, since fat is considered to add tenderness and flavor to the meat. With a lower grade will come a lower price. (Article continued in image below)

Holstein cows headed toward table - George R R Martin article in Chippewa Herald-Telegram - May 10 1971


USDA: Mirex future is uncertain – To test in Mississippi

Published in The Delta Democrat-Times (Greenville, Mississippi) April 26, 1971

By George RR Martin, Medill News Service

WASHINGTON — There is still a good possibility that the controversial pesticide Mirex will not be used in the eradication campaign against the fire ant, spokesmen for the U. S. Department of Agriculture say.

Mirex, a slow-release insecticide manufactured in Mississippi, was to have been USDA’s main weapon in a massive campaign to wipe the fire ant from the United States. The plan was for Mirex to be mixed with bait and sprayed aerially over 11 million acres of farmland and pasture infested by the ants. The campaign came under attack from environmental and conservation groups, however, when it was discovered that Mirex leaves residues and concentrates in the food chain.

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In response to the criticism and to a suit filed against it, USDA cut the average to be sprayed from 11 million to 7 million and then again to 5.5 million. Now a USDA spokesman says that neither the acreage to be sprayed nor the use of Mirex is certain. (Article continued in image below)

George RR Martin article in Delta Democrat-Times (Greenville, Mississippi) April 4, 1971

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