The first thing in the anthology Warriors is an introduction by one of the editors, George R. R. Martin. And he talks about how firm the genre lines have become over the decades, in contrast to when he was a kid and he was happy to read any good book, regardless of what genre it fell into. If you’ve been reading a while, you know how much I complain about the pointless subdivisions the young adult section has acquired, since that one in particular seems to fall victim to this trend. I already know that fantasy didn’t split off from science fiction until the eighties or so, and tend to refer to older fantasy novels as being science fiction, since that’s how they were classed then.
I admit it, I’m guilty of sticking to my genres. I try to be open sometimes. And sometimes it works out. But I also try to not pick up books that don’t hold some semblance of interest for me, because I get enough disappointment from the ones I grab that I don’t need more reasons to go hide deeper in my fantasy and sci-fi. I’m proud of myself for reading both The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England and Golda Meir’s autobiography this year, as both mark a huge departure from my norm.
So here’s where anthologies can be a good thing. The book only has to have one thing tying all the stories together, whether it be a theme, a concept, an object, or an author. Beyond that, there’s no limits on what kind of stories might be within. That’s why it’s so wonderful that this book contains authors who write in fantasy, in sci-fi, in historical fiction, in mystery, etc. It’s also important to remember that, just because an author is well-known in a particular genre does not at all prevent them from writing other types of stories. Naomi Novik is well known at this point for her Temeraire series – the Napoleonic wars with dragons – and yet her contribution is pure science fiction. (And it’s pretty impressive, let me tell you. It almost makes me sad that I got bored with Temeraire somewhere around the fifth book, though I kept reading through the seventh, I think.)
Backing up a bit, let’s talk about the book as a whole. I found Warriors the last time I was out browsing used bookstores a few weekends back. When I found it in the anthology section of sci-fi/fantasy, I saw a number of names I recognized, and Gardner Dozois as one of the editors. That name was a good sign, as I knew he was the editor of the Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies, having read a number of them in highschool when I spent my free period in the library. He also coedited The Dragon Book, another good anthology that was already sitting on my shelf at home. So it seemed like a good book to pick up. Then, at the third used bookstore of the day (having purchased Warriors at the first), I saw another copy of the same book. This one was hardcover, so I really had no regrets about buying the first one I saw. But on reflection, it does seem like the world was telling me to buy this book. What can I say? I listened.
As I’ve hinted, there were some standout stories in this book. In fact, they were all very strong pieces of literature. In addition to Naomi Novik’s “Seven Years from Home”, there was “Dirae” by Peter S. Beagle. The man’s work will always be impressive, I think, and it was an easy guess that his story would be utterly engrossing. My mind keeps ranging back to “Forever Bound” by Joe Haldeman, and I have to wonder why this is the first thing I’ve read by him. I’ll also call out “My Name Is Legion” by David Morrell – the man who first created Rambo. The closest I’ve ever come to seeing the movie was when I found a copy of First Blood in the box of old betamax tapes, and I didn’t know it was based on a book. But that does not diminish my respect for this man I’ve never heard of, or the strength of his story.
There was a tale in here that I was already familiar with, which is, I suppose, not entirely unexpected. “Out of the Dark”, by David Weber, was later expanded into a full-length novel. Now, when I first read said novel, I did not see the twist coming. At all. And I got somewhat annoyed by how out of nowhere it seemed. Yet I kept the book. And I still reread it. Having read the original novella, I think that, if this had been my first exposure, I might not have been so upset. I might have even foreseen the twist. Still, what’s done is done and I have to admit that I prefer the novel.
These stories are powerful, twisted, heartfelt, optimisitc, pessimistic, and simply amazing. And the final tale has put me in something of an awkward position. As you may know, the more popular something is, the more I tend to avoid it. Witness my story of how I started reading Harry Potter! So until today, I had never touched A Song of Ice and Fire. I never doubted that the books were good, I simply had no interest in reading them for myself.
The final novella in this anthologys is titled “The Mystery Knight: A Tale of the Seven Kingdoms” and it is not for beginners. The names, dear g-d, the names! There are so many people listed in this story and I have no idea who any of them are supposed to be in the context of the world! Admittedly, it’s a novella, so background shouldn’t be necessary to get the gist of the story, and indeed I have enough experience that I could track the main action well enough. But let me make it clear: this story is not intended for someone like me, who has never before read a George R. R. Martin novel. The fact that it’s called out on the front cover as being “an all-new Game of Thrones novella” makes it clear that they were using this tale to sell the whole book. I’d imagine that this story does what you’d expect for a short story or novella set in a larger, pre-existing world: elaborates on an event that has been (or will be) mentioned, or tells a story that explains a character’s later choices even though it has not been referenced. Frankly, either reasoning might apply here, or even both for multiple characters. Again, I have no idea.
So what do I think of Westeros, now that I’ve read something set in the world? It’s definitely well-written, as I expected. I can feel the weight of the references that have been drawn on to create this single story, much as I can with Tolkien. And yes, I suppose I am now more likely to consider reading the series. Not watching the TV show though. I can read a lot faster than I can watch TV, and I tend to prefer books to their adaptations. However, I think I’ll probably get the books from the library when I do decide to step out of the shallow end of A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s cheaper, and I can live with lugging hardcovers around. I’ve done it before, and I’ll be doing it again later this month.
Plus, if I wait long enough, maybe the series will be finished. I’ve already had a couple very long waits for series to be continued or concluded, though somehow I doubt George R. R. Martin will beat the current record of twelve years between books. Not simply a dozen years before the next book appeared, but a dozen years knowing what the title was to be and everything! But I’ll discuss that more in depth the next time I read that particular book.