The Transformation of George R.R. Martin

I’ve been a fan of Game of Thrones since I first caught it a couple of years ago, and I’ve been impressed with the HBO series as I’ve continued to watch. When Season 1 hit, I pulled out my copies of A Song of Ice and Fire and started the first book, alternatively reading and watching the show. I’ve found the books to be a trial to get through, but I’ve ultimately enjoyed them.

I’ve found Martin’s rise to real fame in the last couple of years to be an interesting thing to watch, and it’s equally as interesting to look back and remember that he was a fairly prominent SF author throughout the 70s and 80s, and with this past weekend’s release of Season 4, it’s a good time to look back on his roots.

Go read The Transformation of George R.R. Martin over on Kirkus Reviews.


  • Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, by Brian Aldiss: Aldiss notes Martin’s role in the late 70s in magazine fiction here, and it’s a helpful couple of pages contextually.
  • Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970-1980, by Mike Ashley. Like Aldiss above, Ashley provides some good contextual information on Martin’s writing.
  • The Heart of a Small Boy, George R.R. Martin: This is a cool autobiographical piece about Martin’s upbringing.
  • The Faces of Science Fiction: Intimate portraits of the men and women who shape the way we look at the future, by Patti Perret. This is a really cool book. It’s portraits of a ton of major SF/F authors, and a little bit about their background, in their own words.
  • Martin, George R.R., SF Encyclopedia. This is a helpful biographical sketch of Martin and his place in genre fiction.

Because of Martin’s fame, there’s been a lot of (well rehearsed) interviews about his background:



I would also be remiss if I didn’t point to two of Martin’s stories, currently online at Lightspeed Magazine:

The Meteoric Rise and Fall of Gnome Press

In my day job, I work with MBA students, and in the time that I’ve been doing that (and working at my regular job), I’ve gained a certain appreciation for how businesses function. When it comes to researching the column, looking at how a business functions has a certain appeal, especially since a major, unspoken element of SF History is really a sort of business history.

An excellent case in point is the rise and fall of a small, independent publisher, Gnome Press, which existed for just over a decade in the middle of the 20th Century. They published some of the genre’s greatest authors, but ultimately failed, overtaken by their own inability to sell books and by changes in the marketplace. Gnome is an interesting business to study, because it carries with it some important lessons.

This post is quite a bit longer than the usual ones, but I had quite a bit of fun reading up on the history of this small press, and learning of the real implications it had for the genre as a whole.

Read The Meteoric Rise and Fall of Gnome Press over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources for Gnome Press

  • I, Asimov: A Memoir, by Isaac Asimov. Asimov provides a short chapter on his own frustrating interactions with Gnome Press, as well as some good detail on its publisher, Martin Greenberg.
  • The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Critical and Bibliographic History, by Jack L. Chalker and Mark Owings. This was an extremely detailed and in depth look at the history of Gnome, but also provides an excellent listing of the books which they published between 1948 and 1962.
  • Dark Valley Destiny: The Life of Robert E. Howard, The Creator of Conan by L. Sprauge de Camp, Catherine Crook de Camp and Jane Whittington Griffin. This text, while it has some problems, provides some solid details into de Camp’s interactions with Gnome Press.
  • Over My Shoulder: Reflections on a Science Fiction Era, by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach. This was a whim buy at ICFA the other day, and nicely, it has a chapter on Gnome. Unfortunately, the book meanders quite a bit, and isn’t written well. It’s got a lot of very useful information on the history of Gnome and the people behind it, but it’s organized poorly.
  • A Pictorial History of Science Fiction, by David Kyle. It’s always good to get information right from the source, and in this case, Kyle briefly talks about Gnome in his book.
  • Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography, by Neil McAleer. Gnome is mentioned sparingly in this biography, but the points are helpful as reference points.
  • The Way the Future Was: A Memoir, by Frederik Pohl. Pohl talks a little about Gnome in this book, chiefly noting the business opportunities that Gnome had, and squandered.
  • Robert Silverberg – I’ve been e-mailing Silverberg for another project, and he kindly answered a couple of other questions that I had with this.

ICFA Appearance

This coming week is the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, down in Orlando, Florida this coming week, and I’ll be sitting on a panel for the first time! I’ve sat in the audience for a bunch of these things at ReaderCon or Boskone, so sitting on the other side of the equation will be different.

Here’s where you can find me:

  • Thursday, March 20, 2:30-4:00 pm, Captiva B. Hybrid Publishing: How to Survive and Prosper in a Brave New Publishing World

This panel is going to be talking about publishing and how the model has been shifting with new outlets and platforms available to authors and editors. Jennifer Stevenson will be moderating David Hartwell, Ellen Datlow, Julia Rios and myself. I suspect I’ll only really be able to talk about Kickstarter and the work I’ve done with War Stories, but I suspect I’ll be able to talk a little about Lightspeed as well.

It should be a fun time. There’ll be a couple of other War Stories folks in attendance: Brett Cox, Joe Haldeman and Richard Larson. I know Brett’s going to be reading from his story from War Stories, “Where We Would End A War” in Vista A on Thursday from 8:30-10:00 am or in Vista A, on Friday from 8:30-10:00 am). Joe will have a reading in Vista A on Saturday from 4:00-5:30 pm. Rich Larson will be reading on Thursday at 2:30-4:00 pm in Vista A and at Words and Worlds in Dogwood on Thursday, 4:15-5:45 pm. I don’t know what they’ll be reading, however.

If you’re there, come by, say hello!

The Innumerable Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon

One of the stories that remains a favorite for me is Theodore Sturgeon’s “Microcosmic God”, which I tore through when I received a copy of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame way back in High School. Sturgeon became an author that I’d turn to pretty quickly whenever I picked up another anthology, and I’ve generally enjoyed all of the stories I’ve read from him.

Sturgeon is someone who’s popped up a bit in the column already, and he’s been someone I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now. He left an enormous footprint within the SF/F short fiction genre, and his work really ran counter to the largely conservative-leaning authors and stories that had been published by Campbell & imitators.

“Microcosmic God” is still one of my absolute favorite stories in the genre. If you haven’t read it yet, go do so.

Go read The Innumerable Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon over on Kirkus Reviews.


… are coming.

Sinking An Ally, 1940

The latest issue of Armchair General Magazine just arrived, and it includes an article of mine: Sinking An Ally, 1940. This is my fourth piece for them, and it’s a little shorter than my usual ones, but it’s no less interesting than those.

The topic this time is around the British attack on the French fleet anchored at Mers-el-Kébir. French? Weren’t they allies? I came across a reference to the battle in a roundabout way, and did a bit of a double-take. Shortly after the fall of France, Britain had grave concerns about the status of the French Navy, now nominally in Vichy French (read: German) hands. The result was a combination of mistakes, mis-communications and egos that caused some real splinters for the Allies.

The article isn’t online, but you can subscribe to the magazine here. It should be on newsstands at some point in the next month or two.

The Martian, Andy Weir

Andy Weir’s first novel, The Martian: A Novel, has garnered a lot of buzz lately: it’s an addicting, rapid-fire book that runs along with a manic energy that makes it difficult to put down. You know how you slow down while passing an accident on the high way? I had that reaction as I blew through it, waiting to see just how Astronaut Mark Watney would survive.

The plot of the book is fairly straight forward: a low-ranking astronaut, Watney, is stranded on Mars when a storm prompts the evacuation of his expedition just six days after they arrived. When he awakens, he finds that he’s alone on the planet, with no way to call home to let NASA know he’s still alive, and more importantly, let them know that he needs a ride home. With only the mission’s remaining supplies and equipment, he needs to figure out just how to survive until the next mission is scheduled to arrive.

A lot’s been made of the fact that this is a hard science novel: there’s a lot of technical details throughout the book, from calculations of air volume to chemical reactions to physical engineering. All of this gives the book a technical, grounded feel, and you can imagine that someday, this book will come true, or at the very least, be used by NASA to plan for a Mars mission. It’s near-term outlook and reliance on strictly realistic components makes this a safe science fiction novel. It’s the sort of book that’s okay for the general public to read because it could really happen; there’s no aliens, galactic empires or expeditionary backstory that require any great leaps of faith for the reader. It seems to work well, too: the book currently sits at #11 on the New York Times bestseller list for Hardcover fiction, and is ranked #158 in books over on Amazon (#7 for Science Fiction).

That isn’t meant to denigrate the book: it’s easy to see why it’s so popular when it’s cracked open. Weir’s narrative plays out as Watney recounts his misfortunes in an audio log, occasionally jumping back to Earth and in between to other characters for some outside context. They, like the reader, are captivated by this slowly unfolding disaster. There are some nice touches to this: cable news puts Watney front and center for their own segment. Like Apollo 13, all eyes become focused on the skies above, waiting to see if the astronaut will return home safely. Weir’s Watney is a fun character: witty, immature, resourceful and optimistic, it’s hard to do anything but root for him to get through the crisis, and you can’t help but cheer for him as he overcomes just about everything that Mars throws at him. This is high-tech Robinson Crusoe, with a much steeper difficulty curve.

Space disaster narratives have been popular lately: last year’s big film was Gravity, which featured a similar premise: an astronaut, stranded after an accident, must find her way back home, using only what she’s got with her. These are good stories to root for, because at their core, they’re about humanity against nature.

What holds The Martian back from being a *great* book is what separates it from Gravity. Watney’s trials are technical in nature, and Weir never quite spends the time to step back and have him question his survival or do anything but blindly plow forward from task to task. Gravity presented a far more interesting character story that addressed some much larger themes: Stone’s own challenges (fall) and eventual recommitment to live life on her own terms make it a much stronger narrative that makes me come back time and time again.

But, I enjoyed the hell out of The Martian. It was an exciting read from start to finish, one that kept me up late into the evening, frantically turning pages to see what happened next. That’s what every good book should do, and this does it nicely.

Aaron Allston

My Facebook wall blew up this morning with the following news: Star Wars author Aaron Allston collapsed at a convention last night, and passed away at the age of 53. I’m having trouble processing that; Aaron has been a steady presence in the Star Wars literary world as long as I’ve been reading Star Wars novels, and to learn that he’s gone is just a terrible thing.

Iron Fist, I’m pretty sure, was the first Star Wars novel I purchased on my own. I remember thinking that the cover looked cool in those monthly book catalogs we got when I was in Middle School, shortly after I realized ‘holy crap, there are Star Wars novels??’ I eagerly got the book… and couldn’t get into it. I hadn’t realized that it was in the middle of a longer series. The book ended up shelved for a number of years while I read my way around the rest of the Star Wars universe.

And then, I was out of books, save for the X-Wing novels. Written jointly by Michael A. Stackpole and Allston, they followed the new exploits of the Rogue Squadron, a group of fighter jocks who tangled with the Empire and generally got away with it. Stackpole’s books are straight up action fair (and they hold up well too), but Aaron’s novels did something different: they were funny. They had all the same stuff that Mike put in them, but Aaron injected a certain brand of humor into his stories:

His name is Kettch, and he’s an Ewok.
Oh, yes. Determined to fight. You should hear him say, ‘Yub, yub.’ He makes it a battle cry.
Wes, assuming he could be educated up to Alliance fighter-pilot standards, an Ewok couldn’t even reach an X-wing’s controls.
He wears arm and leg extensions, prosthetics built for him by a sympathetic medical droid. And he’s anxious to go, Commander.
Please tell me you’re kidding.
Of course I’m kidding. Pilot-candidate number one is a Human female from Tatooine, Falynn Sandskimmer.
I’m going to get you, Janson.
Yub, yub, Commander.

- Wes Janson to Wedge Antilles, Wraith Squadron

Moreover, Aaron’s books navigated some fun points in the Star Wars canon, something that was always complicated for anyone trying to piece together events. He made it look effortless, but above all, he made it fun. I tore through those books over and over again, and while they’re tattered, they’re well loved.

I met Aaron in 2005 at Celebration 3 in Indianapolis. We’d chatted before:  I was a regular member of’s discussion forums, and I’d interviewed him for a website about his pitch-perfect Clone Wars story, The Pengalan Tradeoff (which is still one of my absolute favorite Star Wars stories). He signed my copies of Wraith Squadron, Iron Fist, Solo Command and Starfighters of Adumar, and graciously answered my questions and chatted with me several times throughout the convention.

He was friendly, excited to meet fans and happy to talk with us about the characters and stories he constructed. I didn’t know him as well as some of my other friends did; they regularly ran into him at Dragon*Con and other conventions, but I always enjoyed their stories and his sense of humor. I was beyond thrilled to see that the X-Wing series was granted a new addition recently, with Mercy Kill, and with Aaron behind the wheel. I bought a copy immediately, but I’ve been waiting to read it while I go back and re-read the entire series. Now, I’ll do so with the knowledge that it’ll be the last one he’ll write, and that’s a sad thing to contemplate. 

Yub, yub, commander. Thank you for the ride and the stories.

The Clients of Virginia Kidd

When Megan and I started dating, I made the trip from Vermont to Pennsylvania. It’s around eight hours, covering four states. On one such trip, I decided I really didn’t want to endure New Jersey, and took an early exit off of I-87 toward the alluring sign ‘Delaware Water Gap’. It didn’t take me much longer to cut through the two-lane road, perfect for driving a Mini Cooper on, and it took me through a quiet, quaint looking town of Milford. Since Megan and I have married, we make the trip frequently, crossing through Milford a couple of times a year. I like the town, even though I’ve never stopped.

While writing this column, I’ve come across the name ‘Milford Method’ a number of times, but it wasn’t until I started reading up on Virginia Kidd that I realized that the Milford that I’d been reading about was the very same quiet town that I’d been driving through for the last five years! Milford, PA, sitting right on the intersection of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, became a hub of activity for the science fiction world for decades, and is still home to the Virginia Kidd Literary Agency.

Virginia Kidd isn’t necessarily a recognizable name to anyone from outside of the genre’s walls: she worked behind the scenes, and appears between a number of pivotal figures within the genre. While authors get most of the credit, it’s important to see the influence of major editors and agents can play in shaping the direction of the arts world.

Go read The Clients of Agent Virginia Kidd over on Kirkus Reviews.


  • Transformations / Gateways to Forever, Mike Ashley. Kidd pops up briefly here and there in Ashley’s books, mainly around her short fiction.
  • The Futurians, Damon Knight. This book contains a wealth of information about Kidd on her life and influence within the Futurians group, and after.
  • Science Fiction after 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars, Brooks Landon. This book has a good couple of notes on Kidd and her anthology, especially with how it fits into the feminist movements during the 1970s.
  • Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril, by Judith Merril and Emily Pohl-Weary. Merril was close friends with Kidd, and there’s some great letters and background information on their interactions.

There’s a number of online sources that I found helpful:

Also, many thanks to Ursula K. LeGuin for answering some questions for me about Virginia.

The Big Ideas of James Blish

The first Blish story I read was Surface Tension in Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology. While there’s certainly some issues with the anthology, it’s a solid collection of short fiction. Blish isn’t an author I’ve read extensively, but I remember him popping up frequently in the various anthologies I read over the years.

We’re getting to a transitional phase in the history of SF following the ‘Golden Age’ period smack-dab in the middle of the century. Now, we’re starting to get into the early 1960s and beyond, which will have some interesting things happen.

Go read The Big Ideas of James Blish over on Kirkus Reviews.


  • Billion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss. Aldiss has some good things to say about Blish and his influence
  • The Scribner Writer’s Series: Science Fiction Writers, 2nd Edition, edited by Richard Bleiler. John Clute has a great section on Blish’s works and career, particularly about his Cities in Flight and A Case of Conscience stories.
  • Age of Wonders: Exploring The World of Science Fiction, David G. Hartwell. Hartwell mentions Blish a couple of times, with some good points about the political undertones to his stories.
  • The Futurians: The Story of the Great Science Fiction “Family” of the 30′s That Produced Today’s Top SF Writers and Editors, Damon Knight. Blish shows up quite a bit in Knight’s book (they were fairly close friends), and there’s some good information about his career.
  • Better To Have Loved, The Life of Judith Merrill, by Judith Merrill and Emily Pohl-Weary. Merrill and Blish didn’t get along, to say the least, and there’s a couple of good points about Blish’s politics.
  • The Way the Future Was: A Memoir, Frederik Pohl. Pohl bought Blish’s first story, and has some good rememberences in his memoir.
  • American Science Fiction: Five Classic Novels, 1956-1958, edited by Gary K. Wolfe. I love the Library of America books. They’re beautiful to physically behold, and they include some great little biographical thumbnails that are great as starting points for this column.

Arthur C. Clarke, Proselytizer Of Space

There were two authors I read extensively when I first started reading science fiction. The first was Isaac Asimov, because, well. Robots. Foundation. Reasons. The other was Arthur C. Clarke. The first story I really remember reading from him came from a thick anthology cultivated by Asimov, with one fantastic story by Clarke in it: Who’s There? I then ran through a bunch of his books: 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010, 2061 and 3001 are the ones I checked out over and over again. Later, I dug into Rama and even later, Childhood’s End.

A while ago, I had some grand idea of doing a parallel column for another website on the history of SF film, but quickly found that I didn’t have the time or background to really get into it. I started writing an inaugural piece on – you guessed it – 2001: A Space Odyssey, before quickly realizing that I was really writing a column about the book.

There’s a lot out on Clarke, more than most of the authors I typically write about. As a result, this column’s quite a bit longer than what I usually put together.

There’s a lot of tie-in novels out there, from all the major franchises, but typically, the books come as a result of the film, or there’s a film based on the book. Far less common is when the book and film are created simultaneously, as is the case with Clarke’s book. It’s not his best work, but it’s probably his most visible.

Go read Arthur C. Clarke, Proselytizer Of Space over on Kirkus Reviews.


Billion / Trillion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss. Aldiss comes out of the British scene, and has some interesting and good notes on Clarke’s works, although not as much on 2001 specifically.
Science Fiction Writers: Second Edition, Richard Bleiler. This book has a good section on Clarke and his life, which works as a good thumbnail for his life and where everything fits.
2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke. I have two editions of this book: a special release from 2001, and an original Signet Paperback from 1968. The latter has a good forward with some helpful details. The former is also neat, and it’s helpful to hold something one’s writing about in one’s hands.
Astounding Days: A Science Fictional Biography, Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke wrote a short autobiography of his time at Astounding, which helped with some of his earlier moments as a writer. This is pretty limited, only going up to the 1950s, but it’s a neat look at Astounding.
The Lost Worlds of 2001, Arthur C. Clarke. Not merely content to write a book to have a movie based on it, Clarke also did a book on how the movie came about. This has some particularly good details on the writing process, repent with dates and neat details. (Asimov’s 3 Laws in the movie? Think of how it could have changed!)
Olaf Stapledon: Speaking for the Future, Robert Crossley. Stapledon was a major influence on Clarke’s works, and this book recounts his encounter with Clarke, who invited him to a BIS meeting.
Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography, Neil McAleer. This book is a very good biography. Detailed and interesting, it provides a great amount of detail into how Clarke and Kubrick came up with the story.
History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts. Clarke makes an appropriate appearance here, and Roberts has a good discussion of his works.