Even as the excitement grows for the upcoming House of the Dragon TV show, many Game of Thrones fans are still waiting for the next installment of the A Song of Ice & Fire series, Winds of Winter. But book fans can turn to author George R.R. Martin’s 50-year back catalog while waiting.
Along with filling out the edges of the Ice & Fire universe, Martin wrote short stories and novellas in his expansive Thousand Worlds universe, most of which take place after a devastating war ended in a pyrrhic victory for humanity, after which spaceflight and other technology were lost for as little as a generation for some to as long as centuries for others.
A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms (2015)
A collection of short stories, A Knight of The Seven Kingdoms includes The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword, and The Mystery Knight, the story of Duncan, a gentle giant of a hedge knight, and his small, bald-headed squire Egg, who is much more than he appears.
Over the three short stories, Martin examines some of the central themes of Ice & Fire, the deconstruction of the chivalrous knight in shining armor in The Hedge Knight, how warfare on any scale is ultimately pointless through The Sworn Sword, and the arbitrary nature of the reasons we decide who should be in power in The Mystery Knight. All the stories have Martin’s signature lyrical writing style, as well as his attention to detail.
The Hero (1971)
One of Martin’s first published works, The Hero depicts the attempted retirement of life-long solider John Kagen, who was born and bred to fight humanity’s wars of expansion. The Hero is the first entry in the Thousand Worlds universe and showcases the terrifying power of future technology.
Staunchly antiwar, even in 1971 readers can see Martin’s skepticism of authority and power structures. One of the biggest strengths of the story is its 180-degree turn from a classic, violent sci-fi story to a commentary on how poorly leadership views “grunts.” Even the small bits of worldbuilding in The Hero show glimpses of the fullness of a universe that Martin can create.
Dark, Dark, Were The Tunnels (1973)
One of the few Martin short stories not to take place in the Thousand Worlds universe, Dark, Dark, Were the Tunnels instead takes a look at post-apocalyptic Earth, as humanity has returned to Earth 500 after a nuclear war.
Martin shows off some of his horror chops in this ultimately heartbreaking story of disconnection, genetic mutation, and the dangers of stagnation. He uses the dark atmosphere to create tension and unease as it becomes clear that the remnants of humanity can not relate to the humans who escaped to the moon. GOT fans will see an early connection to the fantasy world, as characters can warg with bonded animals.
Fire & Blood (2018)
Part history textbook, part prequel, Fire & Blood is the latest addition to the A Song of Ice & Fire universe. Unlike the upcoming House of the Dragon, which appears to be focused on a single period of history, Fire & Blood the novel covers about 150 years.
For fans of the lore behind GOT, Fire & Blood fills in a lot of gaps that were only touched on previously, adding even more richness to one of the richest fantasy worlds today. One thing that stands out is the wonderful illustrations by Doug Wheatley. The massive size of dragons, and the otherworldly appearance of the Targaryen, truly come into focus with the 75 illustrations that grace the pages.
Decades-long winters have long been a theme Martin has returned to, and in Bitterblooms 15-year-old Shawn is rescued from such a winter by the mysterious and powerful Morgan and “travels” the galaxy in Morgan’s spaceship.
It’s revealed that Shawn’s civilization is one that has been thrust into a permanent dark age and that Morgan only partially understands the tech on her spaceship. This plays perfectly into the theme of wondering if your imagination is more worthwhile than the often grim reality, as Morgan only creates holograms that make it appear as though the two are traveling. Years after their encounter, and Shawn is an accomplished old woman, she still yearns for Morgan’s imaginary world.
And Seven Times Never Kill Man! (1975)
“Winter Is Coming” is used for the first time in this Martin work about a violent human cult called “The Steel Angels” attempt to rid a planet of its native population.
Martin really shows off his ability to come up with names and titles in this short story, beyond the warning of a title, “The Steel Angels” and the “Pale Child Bakkalon” that the cultist worship is all great, chilling, names. The ideas of the danger of religion and fanaticism are expertly explored as the murderous Steel Angels end up destroying themselves in their attempts to cleanse the planet. A pale child with a sword also became a motif Martin used in the Ice & Fire books.
A Song For Lya (1974)
A Song for Lya finds Robb and Lyanna, names familiar to GOT fans, exploring a strange, alien culture that is 14,000 years old but is mysteriously stuck in the bronze age.
A Song for Lya has a melancholy, heartbroken vibe that Martin often returned to during this period of his life. A love story as much as a science fiction one, Martin delves into the frailty of human connection, even for a couple with telepathic powers. Full of collective consciousness dream sequences, and other mind-bending visuals A Song for Lya has a psychedelic bent to it that adds to the uneasiness of the narrative.
The World Of Ice & Fire (2014)
A coffee-table “world book” The World Of Ice & Fire was co-written by longtime Martin editors Elio M. Garcia Jr. and Linda Antonsson. Beyond going into the history of Westeros The World Of Ice & Fire also covers the history and politics of far-flung Essos.
These histories of Great Houses like Tyrell and Greyjoy, and regions not only adds to the wider universe but are interesting to read in their own right, a rarity in such types of books. Along with the info, the full-color pictures on every other page add a level of realism and depth to the world. The pictures of places like Winterfell, and Casterly Rock, the ancestral home of the Lannisters, create a sense of how old these castles are.
Men Of Greywater Station (1976)
Men of Greywater Station finds a group of scientists trying to find a way to weaponize the mind-controlling Fungus that is found on the planet Greywater, but when some of the group get lost, the others must decide their fate.
Very much a Cold War allegory, Martin covers the ideas of mutually assured destruction and the dangers of ignorance. The violent nature of the Fungus is only ever implied and the idea that the Fungus is evil is just a projection from the human scientists who don’t ever try to understand it. Fans of the Ice & Fire series will recognize “Greywater” as “Greywater Watch” the home of Ned Stark’s friend, Howland Reed.
Dying Of The Light (1977)
George R.R. Martin’s first published novel, Dying of the Light is one of his strongest non-Ice & Fire works. Part lost love story, and part anthropological study, with lots of sci-fi ideals mixed in, it’s easy to see how Dying of the Light can lead to something as successful as GOT.
Martin has a well-earned reputation for his worldbuilding, and that talent is on display in Dying of the Light. Interesting, fully formed alien cultures and a dying planet with a heartbreaking past put readers easily in the shoes of the depressed protagonist, Dirk t’Larien. With some of the best turns-of-phrases and imagery in Martin’s work period, Dying of the Light deserves to be looked at in the same light as anything in the A Song of Ice and Fire series.