George R.R. Martin’s favorite Books & Movies – Recommendations, in his own Words

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George R.R. Martin (“A Song of Ice and Fire”, adapted to “Game of Thrones”) loves to read science-fiction and fantasy. He watches quite a lot of TV shows. He runs his own cinema in Santa Fe…

He blogs at grrm.livejournal.com

here’s a list of ALL movies, TV shows, authors, book recommendations and mini-reviews from his blog, published between 2005 and June 2017 – with extensive quotes by Martin himself.

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I’m a Berlin journalist, and I write mostly in German. Deutschlandfunk Kultur, an NPR-like station, invited me to talk about Martin’s writing progress.

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While reading Martin’s blog, I also marked 100 quotes and passages that resonated with me, and collected them here (Link: 100 Things I learned about George R.R. Martin and ‘Game of Thrones’ from reading his entire Blog).

It’s pretty parasitic of me to just copy’n’paste these huge masses of his text. It took me three days to read, edit and sort out all of this, so it’s still an effort on my side – but I could understand if he’s annoyed or wants me to delete it. For now, I ask you to PLEASE visit his blog, and take my own list as a mere appetizer.

Martin recommends the annual LOCUS Recommended Reading List (Link to 2016)

For a while, until ca. 2013, Martin published mini-reviews on his web site:

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Movies & TV shows:

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Movies:

  • the best Sci-Fi movie? MGM, 1956. Leslie Nielson, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Robbie the Robot. FORBIDDEN PLANET.
  • THE IRON GIANT, a personal favorite
  • WAR OF THE WORLDS, the great 1953 George Pal version
  • WATCHMEN, which I loved
  • The Swedish film of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Highly recommended  a very faithful adaptation of an excellent novel.
  • THE DESCENT, which I think may well be the best horror film of the past twenty years or so.
  • Try George Pal’s wonderful adaptation of H.G. Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS (a better film than the Spielberg remake, in my opinion)
  • Or Pal’s version of THE TIME MACHINE (a MUCH better film than the really truly abominable recent remake).
  • MY BIG NIGHT, a hilarious romp by the Spanish filmmaker Alex de la Iglesia.
  • THE MARTIAN: a great adaptation of a terrific book.
  • FREQUENCY (movie): one of the very best treatments of time paradoxes and the butterfly effect I’ve ever seen.
  • PREDESTINATION: an excellent little film, with a wonderful performance by Sarah Snook.
  • WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is a comedy out of New Zealand, about four vampires living together in Wellington, NZ. It’s hilarious.
  • DARK STAR, a hilarious SF comedy, and the movie that gave Dan O’Bannon and John Carpenter their starts.
  • The new JUNGLE BOOK: I loved loved loved it.
  • GENIUS (2016): The movie got very little notice from the world at large, but I loved loved loved it.
  • FREE THE NIPPLE, the docudrama about the women who led the fight for nipple equality in New York City.
  • The movies based on Pat Conroy’s books were pretty damned good, even if the film version of THE PRINCE OF TIDES did omit… well… the prince of tides. THE GREAT SANTINI is the best of those.

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other movies:

  • V FOR VENDETTA
  • AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
  • DEAD POET’S SOCIETY
  • BLAZE YOU OUT
  • 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
  • THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
  • CHARLIE (the film version of the classic “Flowers for Algernon”)

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recommended TV episodes:

  • SOUTH PARK’s “Trapped in the Closet”
  • “San Junipero” from BLACK MIRROR, my favorite episode from that terrific show.
  • 1×04: the latest [terrific] episode of TRUE DETECTIVE.

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TV shows:

  • THE SOPRANOS
  • DEADWOOD
  • ROME
  • MASTERS OF SEX
  • THE KNICK
  • HALT AND CATCH FIRE
  • VIKINGS
  • JUSTIFIED
  • BIG BANG THEORY
  • ORPHAN BLACK: a terrific show
  • FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: fine high school football drama
  • HOMELAND is an excellent series [2012]
  • AMERICAN HORROR STORY. A perennial Emmy contender, yet it never seems to get any notice at Hugo time.
  • FARGO and BETTER CALL SAUL both had excellent seasons, as usual, but ended way too soon. [2017]
  • BOARDWALK EMPIRE. Great show, I think. The second season was even better than the first. Love Steve Buschemi as Nucky especially.
  • THRILLER, the scariest show on television at the time (1960-1962).
  • Parris and I are going to miss THE GOOD WIFE, but we’ve been enjoying the hell out of BETTER CALL SAUL and COLONY, and the new season of PENNY DREADFUL has been fun so far as well.
  • The very grim WALKING DEAD, the very tongue-in-cheek Z NATION, plus I, ZOMBIE. The undead are well represented.
  • Horror fans had a lot to enjoy between THE WALKING DEAD, Z NATION, and PENNY DREADFUL.
  • The British anthology series BLACK MIRROR had some wonderfully original and mind-bending segments.
  • NYPD BLUE remains some of the finest ever seen on television. Best police show ever, imnsho.
  • THE NIGHT OF. Yes, it’s very dark, but damn, this is brilliant television, with a bravura performance by John Turturro at its heart that ought to win him a whole shelf full of awards, if there is any justice.
  • And for something truly from left field, the always witty crime romcom CASTLE has been known to wander into [science fiction] from time to time.
  • Why is Nick Offermann not on the [Emmy] ballot for PARKS AND RECREATION?
  • On the “guilty pleasures” front, I have been meaning to confess how much I enjoy DEADLIEST WARRIOR.

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longer quotes about TV shows:

  • How many of you have been watching HBO’s big new drama WESTWORLD? If not, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s intriguing. The old Yul Brynner / Michael Crichton movie was just the seed, this one goes way way way beyond that. It’s gorgeous to look at, and the writing and acting and directing are all first rate.
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  • OUTLANDER, the marvelous adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s time travel novels that just finished its first season on STARZ… well, the show is terrific, but the books are even better. [2014]
  • OUTLANDER, with its music and its costumes and its cinematography and the incredible performances of its three leads (especially Tobias Menzies in his double role). [2015]
  • The show that’s really knocking our (argyle) socks off, however, is the second season of OUTLANDER. [2016]
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  • BREAKING BAD: Amazing series. Amazing episode last night [“Ozymandias”]. Talk about a gut punch. Walter White is a bigger monster than anyone in Westeros. (I need to do something about that).
  • Uzo Aduba from ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, whose Crazy Eyes is the most unforgettable character on an amazing and addictive show.
  • THE EXPANSE: This is the show that fandom has been waiting for since FIREFLY and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA left the air… a real kickass spaceship show, done right.
  • JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL, the seven=part BBC television miniseries adaptation of the Hugo-winning novel by Susannah Clarke. A lovely piece of work, I thought, and — again — faithful to the source material (a big thing with me).
  • The other show we stumbled on was GOOD GIRLS REVOLT, which dramatizes the struggle of the women at NEWSWEEK… er, “NEWS OF THE WEEK”… fighting for the chance to be reporters instead of simply researchers in 1969. I thought it was excellent. The actresses in the leading roles were all terrific, and the male characters were pretty nuanced as well; the show portrayed the sexism of the times, and the indignities the women were forced to put up with, without falling into the trap of painting all the men as monsters and assholes. Good writing and good acting, and hey, I loved the music and the clothes as well (what can I say? I’m the guy who wrote THE ARMAGEDDON RAG). Aside from its feminist themes, which were front and center, GOOD GIRLS REVOLT also struck me as the best show about journalism since LOU GRANT. And Ilikeshows about journalism. Wish there were more of them. It’s a pity GOOD GIRLS REVOLT won’t be back. It was just getting started, and then it was over. Guess I’ll just need to read the book.

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problematic TV shows:

  • THE TUDORS. Decidedly mixed feelings.
  • BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: the reboot is a hundred times better than the original. [but he “pretty much hated” the series finale]
  • [he dislikes] SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND
  • I sure hope those guys doing LOST have something better up planned for us. Though if it turns out to be They Were All Dead All Along I’m really going to be pissed. [2009]
  • Let me banish all reality shows from the air!

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Music & Stage:

  • One of my favorite singer/ songwriters, the one and only JANIS IAN
  • My favorite song is Kris Kristofferson’s “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33.”
  • There was a certain time in my life when I listened to Leonard Cohen’s SONGS OF LOVE AND HATE album obsessively.
  • THE WRECKING CREW (2015 documentary): great, just great. Now THAT’s my kind of music.
  • We caught WAR HORSE on stage. AMAZING show. More impressive than the film, I think. The puppetry is magical.

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longer quotes about movies:

  • The original STAR WARS was a good movie, and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was even better (Leigh Brackett wrote that one, so there’s good reason), but RETURN OF THE JEDI went downhill, and you really don’t want to get me started about those three wretched prequels.
  • Saw the new STAR TREK movie [2009] last night. No spoilers here, just a resounding thumbs down. Take a pass. Let’s have television versions of Honor Harrington and Miles Vorkosigan. Let’s have someone film the Praxis series by Walter Jon Williams, the best space opera I’ve read in years. Let’s have anything that isn’t Trek or STAR WARS.If they really must remake old shows, screw it, let them remake Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, or Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.
  • The first MAD MAX was just okay, I will admit, but BEYOND THUNDERDOME was damned good, and I rank the middle film, THE ROAD WARRIOR, as the best post-holocaust film, and one of the best SF adventures, ever made. Fury road: I’ve often said that the climatic chase sequence at the end of THE ROAD WARRIOR was the best car chase scene ever put on film (it’s what DAMNATION ALLEY should have been, as I once told Roger Zelazny — who agreed). Well, FURY ROAD is the ROAD WARRIOR chase sequence with the dial turned up… not just to 11, but to 47 or some such. Truth be told, I sometimes get bored during car chases. Not this one.
  • It’s Christmas Eve. Time for my ritual screening of my favorite adaptations of A CHRISTMAS CAROL… the Reginald Owen version, the Alastair Sim version, the George C. Scott version, and… best of all… BLACKADDER’S CHRISTMAS CAROL, with Rowan Atkinson.
  • A CHRISTMAS STORY: my second favorite Christmas movie of all time (I love it, but I have to confess, I love the Alastair Sim CHRISTMAS CAROL even more).
  • I am a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino (and not just because he owns a movie theatre too).
  • RAZE: it’s the feel-good movie of the season… (Well, no, not really, but it’s a powerful piece of film making, brutal as a club to the guts, and Zoe Bell is terrific in it.)
  • FOOTLIGHT PARADE: One of the last of the great pre-Code films, it’s amazing to see how risque it is compared to what Hollywood would be making a year later and for decades to follow.
  • ARRIVAL. Terrific adaptation of a classic story by Ted Chiang. Brilliant performance from Amy Adams. (She is always great, I think, but this was her best role to date). A real science fiction story, not a western in space. Intelligent, thought-provoking, with some wonderfully alien aliens.
  • THE GREAT GATSBY (Baz Luhrman): Count me with those who loved it. I think this is a great film. AND a great and faithful adaptation of the novel, which is not necessarily the same thing.
  • Richard Donner’s LADYHAWKE. Not only one of the greatest fantasy films ever made (ignore that bloody soundtrack please), but one of the great romances as well.
  • My favorite guilty pleasure movie is SUMMER LOVERS. I want to go to the island of Santorini and have a menage a trois with Darryl Hannah and Valerie Quinessen.
  • TRUMPLAND: Whatever you may think of Michael Moore or his politics, he’s never less than entertaining. He makes some great political points here, but even if you disagree with every one of those, there are a lot of laughs as well.
  • Actress Amy-Joyce Hastings never got to audition for GAME OF THRONES. That’s something she has in common with thousands of other actors from all over the world. Unlike all the others, however, Amy-Joyce took life’s lemons and made lemonade; she shared her experiences with her friend Graham Cantwell, an Irish filmmaker, who took her tale about a young actress attempting to land a role in an epic fantasy, and turned it into a movie… a romantic comedy about moviemakers and aspiring actors that pokes fun at the whole casting carousel… starring Amy-Joyce Hastings: THE CALLBACK QUEEN (2013).

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He liked ALIEN. ALIENS was “even better”. But he never saw “Alien 3” or any other sequels:

I loved ALIEN and ALIENS, but when I read the early reviews of ALIENS 3, and learned that the new movie was going to open by killing Newt and… what was his name, the Michael Biehn character?… well, I was f*cking outraged. I never went to the film because I did not want that sh*t in my head. I had come to love Newt in the preceding movie, the whole damn film was about Ripley rescuing her, the end was deeply satisfying… and now some asshole was going to come along and piss all over that just to be shocking. I have never seen the subsequent Aliens films either, since they are all part of a fictional “reality” that I refuse to embrace.

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Marvel movies & comic books:

  • I loved MS MARVEL. Yay! A very fun read, a great new character for the Marvel universe.(he didn’t like that THE AVENGERS (2012) had Black Widow and Hawkeye instead of The Wasp and Ant-Man Hank Pym.)
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  • ANT-MAN has a proper balance of story, character, humor, and action, I think. A couple reviewers are calling it the best Marvel movie ever. I won’t go that far, but it’s right up there, maybe second only to the second Sam Raimi/ Tobey McGuire Spider-Man film, the one with Doc Ock. I’ve liked most of the Marvel movies, to be sure, I’m still a Marvel fanboy at heart (Excelsior!), but I liked this one more than the first AVENGERS and a lot more than the second, more than either THOR, more than the second and third IRON MAN and maybe just a smidge more than the first (though I liked that one a lot too). [2015]
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  • Doctor Strange was probably my favorite single character… well, him or Spider-Man, both drawn by Steve Ditko, whose art I loved. (I say single character because I always loved the group books as well, the FF and Avengers and X-Men). How much did I love Doctor Strange? Well, let me just say, one of the characters I wrote for the comic book fanzines of the 60s was called Doctor Weird, so… […] The movie is NOT the best Marvel superhero movie, as I was hoping it would be… it’s more middle of the pack, I’d say… but it looked great, did justice to the character, and had some scenes that were downright Ditko-esque. [2016]
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  • My first published words were letters to Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby] in the pages of THE FANTASTIC FOUR and THE AVENGERS. My first published fictions were prose superhero stories in fanzines like HERO and YMIR and STAR-STUDDED COMICS. I was a member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. I once won an Alley Award (though I never got it). Decades later, I was a guest of honor at San Diego Comicon and won an Inkpot. That was a long time ago, however. I fear I no longer follow mainstream comics much. I still love the stories and heroes I grew up, Silver Age Marvel and DC (hell, even Charlton, the Question and Blue Beetle were great), but there have been way too many retcons and reboots and restarts for my taste. I don’t know who these characters are any longer, and what’s worse, I don’t much care.

He’s not a fan of retcons and reboots in comic books, and was annoyed when he heard about the 2008 „Spider-Man“ storyline where Peter Parker’s marriage was razed from continuity:

  • I was puzzled recently when one of my readers emailed me to ask what I thought about what Marvel had done to Spider-Man. I didn’t know what Marvel had done to Spider-Man, but I was curious enough to Google, and pretty soon I found out. Bloody hell. I hate this, and judging from the discussions I am seeing on various blogs, I am not alone. Retconning sucks. Leave the goddamned continuity ALONE, for chrissakes. What happened, happened. Take an old character in a new direction, fine, cool, but don’t go back and mess around with the character’s past. It’s a breach of trust with your audience, as I see it. The DC universe has never really recovered from the Crisis on Infinite Earths, despite all the Crises that have followed, and I think the Marvel universe, and Spidey in particular, will be a long time recovering from this decision. So that’s my two cents. In a nutshell: boo, hiss, shame on you, Marvel. If I had a rotten tomato, I would throw it. [2008]

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…and one graphic novel recommendation:

  • I haven’t read enough graphic novels to know for certain that Scott McCloud’s THE SCULPTOR was the best of 2015. But it is so damned good, so original and so human, that I cannot imagine that it is not one of the best five.

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BOOKS:

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Robert A. Heinlein:

  • If [the Hugo Awards] would have had a “Best Writer” award instead of “Best Novel”, Robert A. Heinlein would have won it every year from 1954 until his death.
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  • The first science fiction novel I ever read was Heinlein’s HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL, a book that begins with a boy named Kip in a used spacesuit standing in his back yard, and goes on to take him (and us) to the moon, and Pluto, and the Lesser Magellanic Cloud, along the way encountering aliens both horrifying (the Wormfaces) and benevolent (the Mother Thing), as well as a girl named Peewee. In the end it’s up to Kip and Peewee to defend the entire human race when Earth is put on trial. I had never read anything like it, and from the moment I finished I wanted more; more Heinlein, more science fiction, more aliens and spacesuits and starships… more of the vast interstellar vistas that had opened before me.
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  • HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL. It made me a SF reader for life. For decades thereafter, RAH was my favorite writer. Saw PREDESTINATION at the Cocteau on opening night, and thought it was terrific… and very faithful to the Heinlein story.
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  • The SF I love best is still the SF that gives me that sense of wonder I found in that Heinlein book almost sixty years ago, and afterwards in the works of Roger Zelazny, Jack Vance, Alfred Bester, Ursula K. Le Guin, Jack Vance, Andre Norton, the early Chip Delany, Jack Vance, Frank Herbert, Robert Silverberg, Jack Vance, Eric Frank Russell, Cordwainer Smith, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, and so many more. (Did I mention Jack Vance?)
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  • Liking some of a writer’s work does not oblige you to like all of his work. I yield to no one in my admiration for Robert A. Heinlein, but my love for HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL and THE PUPPET MASTERS and “All You Zombies” and “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” does not make me like I WILL FEAR NO EVIL or TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE any better.
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  • I grew up reading [conservative author] Robert A. Heinlein, and still have been known to read works by [conservative-to-reactionary authors] Orson Scott Card, Dan Simmons, Larry Niven, and others whose political views are worlds away from my own. It’s GOOD to read things that challenge your own opinions and preconceptions… or so I have always believed…

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Classic Sci-Fi and Fantasy:

  • My own top three [Hugo Winners?] would have been LORD OF LIGHT (Zelazny), THE STARS MY DESTINATION (Bester), and THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS (Le Guin).
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  • Luminaries as Theodore Sturgeon, Donald A. Wollheim, Fritz Leiber, Doc Smith, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison.
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  • [The Hugo Awards hands out prizes to] the best that SF and fantasy have to offer. Heinlein won it four times. Zelazny, Le Guin, Simmons, Haldeman, Leiber, Pohl, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Walter M. Miller.
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  • Books: LORD OF LIGHT and THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS and STAND ON ZANZIBAR and THE FOREVER WAR and GATEWAY and SPIN
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  • Jack Vance, our greatest living SF and fantasy writer. I reread the entire DEMON PRINCES series, and I’m doing the same with the four DYING EARTH books now. The Vance books were even better than I remembered them.
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  • Peter S. Beagle, whose work I have admired for a long long time (if you have never read THE LAST UNICORN or A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE, don’t call yourself a fantasy fan).
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  • Terry Pratchett, the world’s funniest fantasist.
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  • I am a huge Lovecraft fan, and not much of a Burroughs fan at all.
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  • I would rank Gene Wolfe as one of the greatest SF and fantasy writers of the past half-century, right up there with Roger Zelazny and Ursula K. Le Guin.
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  • Now, I’m a major Stephen King fan, and have been for decades. King is tremendously prolific author, and when you write that many books, inevitably some of them are going to be better than others. That being said, 11/22/63 is the best King for at least a decade, a major piece of work.I was very pleased to see Stephen King take home the Best Novel award for MR. MERCEDES. You want to talk about writers who have been shamefully overlooked by the Hugos? (And by the Nebulas and the World Fantasy Award too). Start with King.
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  • Alan Garner was given a Lifetime Achievement award. I was very pleased to see that. Garner, the author of THE OWL SERVICE and THE WEIRDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN and many other fine, fine fantasies, is long overdue for some recognition. If you’re not familiar with his books, you have a treat coming.
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  • George MacDonald Fraser will never be admitted to the august halls of High Literature, but if there was ever a more entertaining storyteller, I don’t know his name. GMF wrote some fine screenplays and some terrific stand-alone novels, but he will be best remembered for the Flashman books, his delightful series of historical swashbucklers.
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  • Arthur C. Clarke has died in Sri Lanka. Clarke was one of the the all time greats, and his books will be remembered for as long as people still read science fiction. These days he is best known to the general public for his role in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and for his RAMA series… but to my mind his masterpiece is CHILDHOOD’S END, one of the best SF novels ever written, and a true mind-blower when it was first published.
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  • Harry Harrison: . BILL THE GALACTIC HERO, THE TECHNICOLOR TIME MACHINE, DEATHWORLD (the first one is the best), THE STAINLESS STEEL RAT (ditto)…
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  • Kage Baker, who did a Cugel the Clever story that was a delight from start to finish. Don’t know Cugel? Shame on you. In her afterword Kage describes him as a cross between Wile E. Coyote and Harry Flashman, and that’s about right. I’d rank him as one of the great characters of modern fantasy, right up there with Conan the Barbarian, Elric of Melnibone, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Jirel of Joiry, and those guys with the hairy feet from Tolkien.
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  • Algis Budrys was one of the greats. He did not write many novels, compared to some, but the quality of his work was second to none. MICHAELMAS and ROGUE MOON and WHO were his masterpieces.
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  • Howard Waldrop has few peers as a short fiction writer, and is long overdue for a Hugo.
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  • Richard Adams, the author of WATERSHIP DOWN. Gardner Dozois ranks WATERSHIP DOWN as one of the three great fantasy novels of the twentienth century, right up there with LORD OF THE RINGS and THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, and I agree. A truly amazing book… and one that somehow always seems to get forgotten when fans discuss the great fantasies. Maybe because of the talking rabbits? No idea… He wrote two terrific epic fantasies with human characters, SHARDIK and MAIA, both of which are criminally underrated, as well as an erotic ghost story, THE GIRL ON A SWING. His other “animal book,” THE PLAGUE DOGS, also has some wonderful sections… though it is such a dark, depressing, angry, gut-punch of a novel that I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ it.
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  • 1974, when Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle published THE MOTE IN GOD’S EYE and Samuel R. Delany published DHALGREN. Both major works by major writers, both bestsellers, both instantly recognized as classics… but in what may have been the last great battle of the Old Wave and New Wave, the fans who loved MOTE hated DHALGREN, and vice versa. (I loved them both myself.)
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  • You owe it to yourself to read J.R.R. Tolkien (LORD OF THE RINGS), Robert E. Howard (Conan the Cimmerian, Kull of Atlantis, Solomon Kane), C.L. Moore (Jirel of Joiry), Jack Vance (THE DYING EARTH, Lyonesse, Cugel the Clever, and so much more), Fritz Leiber (Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser), Richard Adams (WATERSHIP DOWN, SHARDIK, MAIA), Ursula K. Le Guin (Earthsea, the original trilogy), Mervyn Peake (GORMENGHAST), T.H. White (THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING), Rosemary Sutcliffe, Alan Garner, H.P. Lovecraft (more horror than fantasy, admittedly), Clark Ashton Smith, Daniel Abraham (THE LONG PRICE QUARTET, THE DAGGER AND THE COIN, Scott Lynch (the Locke Lamora series), Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie (especially BEST SERVED COLD and THE HEROES).
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  • Sir Walter Scott is hard going for many modern readers, I realize, but there’s still great stuff to be found in IVANHOE and his other novels, as there is in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s WHITE COMPANY (he write more than just Sherlock Holmes). Thomas B. Costain (THE BLACK ROSE, THE SILVER CHALICE) is another writer worth checking out, along with Howard Pyle, Frank Yerby, Rosemary Hawley Jarman. Nigel Tranter lived well into his 90s, writing all the while, and turning out an astonishing number of novels about Scottish medieval history (his Bruce and Wallace novels are the best, maybe because they are the only ones where his heroes actually win, but I found the lesser known lords and kings equally fascinating). Thanks to George McDonald Fraser, that cad and bounder Harry Flashman swashed and buckled in every major and minor war of the Victorian era. Sharon Kay Penman, Steven Pressfield, Cecelia Holland, David Anthony Durham, David Ball, and the incomparable Bernard Cornwell are writing and publishing firstrate historical fiction right now, novels that I think any fan of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE would find easy to enjoy.
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  • John Howe, Alan Lee, and Ted Nasmith? The “Big Three” of Tolkien illustrators are among the best known fantasy artists in the world today, and have been for many decades, and NONE OF THEM HAVE EVER BEEN NOMINATED FOR A HUGO. [2008]

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Writers:

  • Diana Gabaldon, author of the mega-bestselling OUTLANDER series… and the occasional terrific short story and novella
  • Joe Lansdale is an incredible writer, with a unique voice. Compulsively readable.
  • Pat Cadigan (a terrific writer herself, queen of cyberpunk)
  • Carrie Vaughn: an amazing writer, an amazing person.
  • Gillian Flynn is an amazing writer.
  • Jim Sallis, a world-class mystery novelist who made his mark writing and teaching SF earlier in his career
  • We have an especially strong crop of new young fantasists coming up of late, including Joe Abercrombie, David Anthony Durham, and Scott Lynch. [2008]
  • Robert Jordan: His huge, ambitious WHEEL OF TIME series helped to redefine the genre, and opened many doors for the writers who followed.
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  • Pat Conroy has been one of my favorite novelists for a long, long time. THE PRINCE OF TIDES is probably his masterpiece, but I loved BEACH MUSIC and THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE and THE GREAT SANTINI and THE WATER IS WIDE as well. Oh, and his non-fiction memoir, MY LOSING SEASON, another engrossing read.
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  • Dennis Lehane is the author of GONE BABY GONE, MYSTIC RIVER, and SHUTTER ISLAND, all of which have been made into terrific movies… but the novels are even better. He’s also written some other novels that haven’t been made into movies (yet), and those are just as good. My favorite is THE GIVEN DAY, a historical about the Boston Police Strike.
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  • China Mieville (who is a vocal and passionate leftist, yes, but also a helluva powerful writer)
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  • John Nichols, author of the MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR and many other great titles. A fascinating guy, whose work truly captures the sights, sounds, and spirit of Northern New Mexico.
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  • Ted Chiang… a writer of literary SF, we may agree, but one of the most powerful to enter our field in many years. There’s a reason Chiang wins every time he is nominated for a award. He’s bloody good.
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  • [Martin is friends with and admires the work of:] Connie Willis, David Gerrold, Daniel Abraham, Lisa Tuttle, My friend Vic Milan was smarter. His new novel, THE DINOSAUR LORDS, will be out next June. First of a trilogy. It’s got dinosaurs, and it’s got knights. What more can you ask? (And why the hell didn’t I think of it first??)
    .
  • It was particularly gratifying to see [Hugo Award] rockets go to [illustrator, artist] Donato Giancola and [sci-fi publsisher] David Hartwell.

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recommended novels:

  • SPIN by Robert Charles Wilson, a really terrific novel
  • Michael Chabon’s THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN’S UNION. A great book.
  • THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir: a great adaptation of a terrific book.
  • John Scalzi: REDSHIRTS is a light, fun, amusing SF adventure, an affectionate riff off of STAR TREK
  • Katherine Addison’s THE GOBLIN EMPEROR. I liked it.
  • “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi,” by Pat Cadigan. A brilliant story
  • Lauren Beukes: the brilliant SHINING GIRLS
  • I also read and enjoyed the new Naomi Novik, UPROOTED
  • Joe Hill’s THE FIREMAN: original and gripping, a page-turner…
  • Latest fun read: the new Melinda Snodgrass novel THE HIGH GROUND, first volume of her space opera series. Space cadets! This is her best work yet, I think.
  • The best epic fantasy I read last year has to be THE WISE MAN’S FEAR, by Patrick Rothfuss.
  • HEAVEN’S SHADOW, another solid and engrossing hard SF novel from David S. Goyer and Michael Cassutt.
    .
  • Ernie Cline: ARMADA, like READY PLAYER ONE, is a paean to the videogames of a bygone era, and like READY PLAYER ONE it is a tremendous amount of fun for anyone who remembers that time and played those games. (Those who did not may find it incomprehensible, admittedly).
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  • I read the mega-bestseller THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, by Paula Hawkins, a mystery/ thriller/ novel of character about three women who live near the train tracks of a London commuter lines, and how their lives and loves get entwined when one of them disappears under mysterious circumstances. Fans of Gillian Flynn’s books will probably like this one too. I know I did… though I don’t think Hawkins is quite as deft a writer as Flynn. The first person voices of the three narrators sounded too much alike, I thought, but that’s a minor quibble. The main narrator, an alcoholic who is slowly falling apart, is especially well drawn. It’s a strong story, with a great sense of time and place, and one that had me from start to finish.

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Historical Fiction:

  • And then there is Maurice Druon. Which is actually why I called you all here today, boys and girls. Look, if you love A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, and want “something like it” to read while you are waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for me to finish THE WINDS OF WINTER, you really need to check out Maurice Druon and THE ACCURSED KINGS.
    .
  • Maurice Druon: I am a huge fan of his best known novels, the wonderful “Accursed Kings” series of historical novels.
    .
  • I am a big fan of historical fiction, especially medieval historical fiction. Nigel Tranter, Maurice Druon, Thomas B. Costain, Sharon Kay Penman, Cecelia Holland… and especiall Bernard Cornwell, who writes the best battles of any writer who has ever lived.
    .
  • I read some of the latest Bernard Cornwell (excellent, as always). There’s no one who writes better action scenes, in any genre.
    .
  • David Anthony Durham’s new historical novel, THE RISEN, his take on Spartacus. DAD never disappoints, and Spartacus is another fascination of mine… I look forward to seeing how Durham’s take on him differs from Howard Fast’s and Colleen McCullough’s.
    .
  • Lisa Tuttle’s THE SOMNAMUBIST AND THE PYSCHIC THIEF, featuring Miss Lane and Jasper Jesperson, the Victorian-era detectives she first introduced in her stories for DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS and ROGUES. Those were hugely entertaining stories, and I am eager to see what Lisa does with the characters at novel length. Fans of Sherlock Holmes should love this.

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Fantasy: Quick Recommendations

  • I read more fantasy than SF last year. Understandably, as the publishers send me just about every epic fantasy they are putting out for blurbs. This is a golden age for fantasy, and there’s some great work being done. 2012 was no exception. I enjoyed Saladin Ahmed’s THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON, an old-fashioned sword-and-sorcery adventure with an Arabian Knights flavor, rather than the usual “medieval Europe” setting. There was a new Joe Abercrombie as well, and though I didn’t feel RED COUNTRY quite measured up to last year’s THE HEROES, Abercrombie is always worth reading. No new Rothfuss last year, though, and nothing by Scott Lynch… or that Martin guy, for that matter.
    .
  • 2011: Well, damn, it was a great year for fantasy. I read at least half a dozen books so good that they made me say, “I wish I’d written that.” THE HEROES by Joe Abercrombie was an action tour de force, an entire novel built around a single battle. Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIAN KING was a worthy successor to THE MAGICIANS, and proof that last year’s Hugo voters knew what they were about when they voted Grossman the Campbell Award as the best new writer in the field.

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longer Sci-Fi reviews:

  • THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM, by Cixin Li s a very unusual book, a unique blend of scientific and philosophical speculation, politics and history, conspiracy theory and cosmology, where kings and emperors from both western and Chinese history mingle in a dreamlike game world, while cops and physicists deal with global conspiracies, murders, and alien invasions in the real world. It’s a worthy nominee. If you like lots of science in your SF, this is a book for you, especially if you love theoretical physics, astrophysics, and mathemathics. The Chinese background is fascinating, especially the look at the Cultural Revolution and its aftereffects. And the prose is very clean and tight, which is not always the case with translations, which sometimes come across as a bit clunky. Ken Liu did a fine job, in that respect; the writing flows.
    .
  • LAURA J. MIXON is a professional writer, and a very talented one, with half a dozen strong novels under her own name and her pseudonym of M.J. Locke… but this year she published on-line, in a non-professional and unpaid capacity, ‘A Report on Damage Done by One Individual Under Several Names,’ a detailed, eloquent, and devastating expose of the venomous internet troll best known as ‘Requires Hate’ and ‘Winterfox.
    .
  • I also read LINES OF DEPARTURE by Marko Kloos. It’s military SF, solidly in the tradition of STARSHIP TROOPERS and THE FOREVER WAR. No, it’s not nearly as good as either of those, but it still hands head and shoulders above most of what passes for military SF today. The enigmatic (and gigantic) alien enemies here are intriguing, but aside from them there’s not a lot of originality here; the similarity to THE FOREVER WAR and its three act structure is striking, but the battle scenes are vivid, and the center section, where the hero returns to Earth and visits his mother, is moving and effective. ANGLES OF ATTACK is, I think, better.
  • My list of “great military SF novels” includes STARSHIP TROOPERS, BILL THE GALACTIC HERO, THE FOREVER WAR, and an oldie called WE ALL DIED AT BREAKAWAY STATION, but not much else.

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Nonfiction:

  • THE WHEEL OF TIME COMPANION was a mammoth concordance of facts about the universe and characters of the late Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, edited and assembled by Harriet McDougal, Alan Romanczuk, and Maria Simons. It’s a labor of love, and everything one could possibly want to know about Jordan’s universe is in there. Robert Jordan was a giant in the history of modern fantas
  • Felicia Day’s delightful look at her life, YOU’RE NEVER WEIRD ON THE INTERNET (Almost).
  • Kameron Hurley’s THE GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION, a collection of her essays, thoughts, and personal reflections.
  • A book of interviews — TRAVELER OF WORLDS: CONVERSATIONS WITH ROBERT SILVERBERG, by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro.
    .
  • I’ve also really enjoyed a non-fiction title from a couple of years ago called THE BEAUTIFUL CIGAR GIRL, by Daniel Stashower, which is simultaneously a bio of Edgar Allan Poe and a “true crime” account of a sensational NYC murder case that inspired him to write “The Mystery of Marie Roget.” Call this one history or biography if you must, but it reads like a novel… and I especially loved the stuff about the New York City press, one of my obsessions.
    .
  • DEAD WAKE: THE LAST CROSSING OF LUSITANIA. Eric Larson is a journalist who writes non-fiction books that read like novels, real page-turners. This one is no exception. I had known a lot about theTitanicbut little about theLusitania. This filled in those gaps. Larson’s masterpiece remains THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, but this one is pretty damned good too. Thoroughly engrossing.

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James S.A. Corey: The Expanse (novel series & TV show)

Martin’s former assistant Ty Franck is one of the two novelists of THE EXPANSE, a series of sci-fi novels that recently got a TV adaptation.

  • 2011, on book one, “Leviathan Rises” and the Hugos: This is the one that kicked my ass the hardest. It’s a terrific read, a page turner. If you love SF the way they used to write it, you will love this book.
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  • In 2012, the second volume of the Expanse series, CALIBAN’S WAR, was published. And far from being a victim of sophomore slump, that bastard Jimmy Corey seems to have done it again. CALIBAN’S WAR is even better than LEVIATHAN WAKES. It’s old-fashioned space opera, the kind of SF that I cut my teeth on, a real page-turner set in a vividly imagined solar system, squarely in the tradition of Heinlein and Asimov and Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (lacking only Pinto Vortando), superlatively written. Books like this were what made me an SF fan to begin with. CALIBAN’S WAR was the best pure SF I read in 2012, and I will be nominating it for the Hugo.
    .
  • One of the joys of the Expanse series is the way Jimmy Corey dances between subgenres. The series is certainly science fiction, no doubt of that, but assigning it to any particular sub-genre is more more difficult. Some parts read like space opera, some parts strike me as hard SF. The first book, LEVIATHAN WAKES, had some pretty strong horror elements with its vomit zombies, and also a real noir-ish mystery feel in the Miller chapters. With BABYLON’S ASHES, however, the war comes center stage, and we are definitely in the realm of Military SF.
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  • THE EXPANSE [TV show]: This is the show that fandom has been waiting for since FIREFLY and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA left the air… a real kickass spaceship show, done right.

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Martin also likes Ty Franck’s Co-Writer, Daniel Abraham:

  • I just finished THE KING’S BLOOD, the second volume of Daniel Abraham’s “Dagger and Coin” series. Books like this remind me why I love epic fantasy. Yes, I’m prejudiced, Daniel is a friend and sometime collaborator… but damn, that was a good book. Great world, great characters, thoroughly engrossing story. The only problem was, it ended too soon. I want more. I want to know what happens to Cithrin, and Marcus, and Geder, and Clara. And I want to know NOW. God damn you, Daniel Abraham. I know for a fact that you are writing more Expanse books with Ty, and more urban fantasies as M.L.N. Hanover, and doing short stories for some hack anthologist, and scripting some goddamn COMIC BOOK, and even sleeping with your wife and playing with your daughter. STOP ALL THAT AT ONCE, and get to writing on the next Dagger and Coin. I refuse to wait.
    .
  • And Daniel Abraham… yes, him again, damn him… did something I would not have thought possible. He published a novel called THE DRAGON’S PATH, the first volume in the new epic fantasy series called THE DAGGER AND THE COIN, and it was just as bloody good as his Long Price Quartet.

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Emily St. John Mandel: STATION ELEVEN

  • I’ve never met Emily St. John Mandel, and I’ve never read anything else by her, but I won’t soon forget STATION ELEVEN. One could, I suppose, call it a post-apocolypse novel, and it is that, but all the usual tropes of that subgenre are missing here, and half the book is devoted to flashbacks to before the coming of the virus that wipes out the world, so it’s also a novel of character, and there’s this thread about a comic book and Doctor Eleven and a giant space station and… oh, well, this book should NOT have worked, but it does. It’s a deeply melancholy novel, but beautifully written, and wonderfully elegiac… a book that I will long remember, and return to.
    .
  • [then, he invited her to a reading & author talk in Santa Fe] I had not read any of her three earlier novels. She was such a charming and fascinating guest, however, that I made up for that lack afterward, and now I am even more impressed with her talent than I was before. LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL, THE SINGER’S GUN, and THE LOLA QUARTET are not science fiction or fantasy — don’t know how to characterize them, “literary noir” is about the best I can do — but damned, they are good. Fascinating characters, original stories, and such gorgeous prose. Rich, evocative, beautiful writing, but never intrusive. She makes her people and her places come alive in a way that draws you in and will not let you go.
    .
  • Sadly, no, STATION ELEVEN did not get a Hugo nomination. The reports of my vast power and influence within the field seem to be greatly exaggerated. So far as I can tell, my effect on the Hugo nominations is exactly nil. But I’ll keep recommending good stuff anyway. I’m stubborn.

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Nnedi Okorafor:

  • [Martin is executive producing a new TV show for HBO] Yes, HBO is developing Nnedi Okorafor’s novel WHO FEARS DEATH as a series. Yes, I am attached to the project, as an Executive Producer. I am pleased and excited to confirm that much. I met Nnedi a few years ago, and I’m a great admirer of her work. She’s an exciting new talent in our field, with a unique voice.

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