While science fiction is one of the most creative types of genres out there for books, it is also one of the most difficult types of genres to write. The important factors for writers to remember is to create a story that captivates the readers and takes them to a world or worlds beyond their wildest dreams while also making the physics, politics, and other features of the world(s) plausible. Similarly with the religious fiction genre, it is very easy to fall into the science fiction cliché trap. With science fiction being around for as long as it has, if readers today read a book where at the very beginning, they know by the end a mech acquires the ability to feel and love, a giant battle will ensue where the humans will win against the alien race, or a story that takes place on a different world with a new race with such unusual names that they are pretty much forgettable, a majority of the readers will not even take the time to finish the story in its entirety. A few well-known writers have succeeded in creating intriguing science fiction worlds and races such as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, and Douglas Adams, just to name a few. However, other well-known writers today are not so lucky.
George R. R. Martin is a prime example of the not-so-lucky crowd of writers with his earlier science fiction creation Dying of the Light. Published in 1982, this novel was said to be a gripping space opera that takes place on a dying planet that is trapped in twilight and is near to falling victim to the darkness of night forever. On top of the dying of this planet, a love triangle involving a woman named Gwen, a man named Jaan who belongs to a barbaric alien race who claimed her as his wife, and her first love, Dirk, who must do everything he can to protect her is ensuing. Sounds somewhat cliché, but incredibly intriguing, right? The story itself was far from what the synopsis had to offer its readers.
To start with, one of the most disappointing aspects of the story was that Martin hardly focused on one of the most interesting parts: the dying planet. A handful of cities are mentioned throughout the book and those are somewhat intriguing, but no details are given that really make the cities memorable. A few exotic animals living in the forests of the planet are also mentioned, but the reader only gets a chance to experience a couple of them one time towards the end of the story. Six suns circle the planet and are mentioned in brief throughout the book, but it would have been nice to read how much their fading light is affecting the planet. The readers are informed that about 90% of the planet was evacuated, but what about the planet itself? Is it disintegrating in certain places? Will the planet just become a cold barren wasteland? Are there any possibilities of it ever coming back to life again?
When a science fiction book promises an intense love triangle upon a dying planet, a reader might think; hey, maybe it’ll be a story like Titanic or Pompeii or The Phantom of the Opera where there is action and suspense accompanied by a love triangle and the readers/ viewers are actually rooting for a couple to survive. Not only does the dying planet hardly play a part in the story, the characters are incredibly unlikable. The main character the reader follows, Dirk, is like a hopeless puppy who follows Gwen around, praying that she still feels the way she did towards him when they first met. Gwen, it seems, feels no sympathy towards Dirk or Jaan and spends most of the book leading both of them on without actually picking which one she really cares for. When she is not leading them on, she is busy sitting in a corner throwing a pity party for herself with no one feeling any sympathy for her. And then there is Jaan, supposedly an incredibly tough member of this barbaric race of alien beings who acts more like a pathetic wuss than a warrior. He is not stupid and realizes that Gwen still has feelings for Dirk, and yet she is his wife, but he does nothing to try and assert that they are already together. Perhaps it is the lack of romance or maybe it is the lack of development in pretty much all of the characters, but the “love triangle” in this story should not be deemed as one for the readers will more than likely not root for any couple pairing.
As aforementioned, the world itself was creative and would have made the story that much more intriguing if Martin had elaborated on it more. An aspect that would have helped make the story more creative would be the glossary. Hey, readers? Did you know that there was a glossary explaining many of the aspects of Martin’s science fiction world at the back of the book? This glossary, containing additional information on the cities, the alien race, other planets mentioned, words from the made up language, etc. would have been more beneficial if it was put at the beginning of the book where readers could view it before they actually dive into the story itself.
George R. R. Martin is a very popular and talented author is mainly known now for his A Game of Thrones fantasy series and is both loved and hated for writing wonderful characters readers fall in love with and then breaking the hearts of these same readers by killing the characters off. So what happened with this book? Maybe Martin was meant more for writing fantasy than science fiction. Maybe Dying of the Light is not as memorable due to it being one of Martin’s first published works. In the end, if readers are just starting out with books from Martin, Dying of the Light may not be the best choice for that first read.
Originally published at www.examiner.com on February 23, 2015.