George R.R. Martin is best known for his fantasy magnum opus, the A Song of Ice and Fire series, but his work has influenced all corners of the genre fiction world, from science fiction to mysteries and thrillers. PW spoke with Martin, who gave the keynote address and was honored as the International Thriller Writers’ ThrillerMaster at the organization’s 13th ThrillerFest, held in Manhattan from July 10-14, about his new book and more.
Would someone unfamiliar with your Song of Ice and Fire novels find your forthcoming history of the Targaryens, Fire & Blood, accessible?
Yeah, I think so. I’ve cited as my inspiration Thomas B. Costain’s four-volume history of the Plantagenets—do you have to know anything about the Plantagenets to pick that up and read it? I don’t think so. Obviously if you do know something about them it probably makes it a somewhat easier experience, but there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end, and you can follow it easily enough, and that’s what I’ve tried to do with my own book. It would help to have some familiarity with reading histories, and in particular reading popular histories. And there’s an authorial voice there that I had fun trying to create, the Archmaester Gyldayn, who is an opinionated guy and has his views of these people, that definitely leak into it. In some places, he has prejudices and gripes and his own cavils, and you have to realize that you’re reading the voice of a character, even as you’re reading about other characters who existed hundreds of years before him. But that was some of the fun of it. And I think that will be some of the fun for the readers who enjoy that sort of thing. The important thing, as I keep stressing, is that it’s not a novel. I think it’s very entertaining—a lot of people will like it, I hope—but I don’t want them to buy it thinking that they’re getting the latest Ice and Fire novel, which is an entirely different literary form than what’s essentially a popular history.
Would you consider it similar to Tolkien’s appendices, and his work on The Silmarillion?
Yes, definitely. I jokingly referred to it, before I came up with the title, as the GRRMarillion.
You’ve called it an "imaginary history." Why?
I was using the term "fake history" for a number of years, and some of my readers actually took umbrage at that. They didn’t like the term—they felt that it was demeaning, and that I was demeaning my own work. As much as I might steal from real history, file off the serial numbers, do my own version of it, and draw inspiration from it, it’s not meant to take its place, or suggest that there’s any level of reality to it. So I thought imaginary history was a good way to describe it.
How will your novella, Nightflyers, a self-contained story, translate into a continuing TV series?
I haven’t followed that too closely, but they made a number of substantial changes, of course. It’s not part of my The Thousand Worlds universe anymore. It’s still set in space, but it’s more near-future space, set in the solar system, and it has a considerably larger cast. So, it will go in different directions but hopefully keep the theme of it and some of the principal characters, and I’m excited to see it.
Did creating The Thousand Worlds universe influence your world-building in A Song of Fire and Ice?
Very little. Westeros and the world of Ice and Fire is a traditional secondary universe in the manner of Tolkien. It requires a lot of detail, a lot of close attention. The Thousand Worlds is much more of what we used to call, in science fiction, a "future history." And it is much looser—there are a few characters who are referred to as legendary figures from the history of The Thousand Worlds, but they don’t by and large actually appear in the stories. The worlds are so far apart, separated by centuries and by light years, that they’ve developed very different and very different civilizations—so it did not demand anything approaching the close level of interaction as in The Song of Ice and Fire. When you have 1,000 worlds, you can always, say, oh, this is a world that no one mentioned before, in the previous 47 stories, because I’ve got a thousand of them, and I’ve only mentioned 12. I give myself a lot of room to play around and can say, "no, this is in the other corner of the universe."
What appealed to you about turning Windhaven into a graphic novel?
I’m an old comic book fan. That’s how I started. Back in grade school, in high school, I was reading comic books, and the first words of mine ever published were in a letter to the editor published in "Fantastic Four #20." So I’ve always loved comic books. I've loved the format, the old superheroes. Basically, any of my works, when they tell me that they want to do it as a graphic novel, I’m always thrilled by it, and I think Windhaven lends itself to that format very well. I think it’s turned out to be a splendid-looking book.
In what way do you feel you’ve most contributed to the thriller genre?
I really don’t know. To tell you the truth, I was sitting last night with some of the writers I was meeting, and I was asking them to define the difference between a thriller and a mystery novel. I’ve read novels about criminals and detectives my whole life and have always thought of them as mysteries, not thrillers, but they’re apparently two distinct things now—Jack Reacher books are called thrillers, but are they really a distinctly different genre from Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels, or the stuff that Elmore Leonard was doing? I don’t know. There’s an increasing genrefication of fiction, where you go into bookstores and there are science fiction fans and there are mystery fans, whatever they are, and they never leave that section of the bookstore. They’re not even aware of some of the wonderful work being done in what’s classified as other genres. I like the idea of breaking down these barriers, and everyone just reading good books.