Thursday, July 7, 2016

Review of Dying of the Light by George R.R. Martin

King Arthur stories and contemporary fantasy seem a match made in heaven. Medieval setting? Check. Knights and kings fighting for honor and power? Check. Wizards and sorceresses? Check. Epic wars on epic battlegrounds? Check. Indeed, whether it knows it or not, much of contemporary epic fantasy owes its existence to Uther Pendragon’s son. But science fiction?

The match less apparent—and one that is certainly limited to success under certain, ahem, space opera conditions, science fiction has nevertheless been married to Arthurian legend on a few occasions. Poul Anderson sending knights comically swishing through space in The High Crusade (he would later make up for this goof with “The Saturn Game”) and C.J. Cherryh attempting an Arthurian novel with a bit more ambition in Port Eternity, there are examples of the two being squeezed together. George R. R. Martin’s Dying of the Light (1977) is certainly another.

Dying of the Light is kicked off when Dirk t’Larien receives a most mysterious call from a former lover, Gwen Delvano. Delvano stationed on the distant planet Worlorn, t’Larien makes the long trip through space for the rendezvous, hoping to rekindle the love of their past. Worlorn a doomed planet, its orbit past aphelion, t’Larien tries to make sense of the call as, upon his arrival, he is introduced to Devalon’s husband, Jaan Vikary. One of Worlorn’s mighty Kavalar and ruler of a high house, the man is bound by codes of honor that force him to place t’Larien under his protection. Causing troubles for everybody, the protection comes back to haunt as Delvano’s devotion to Vikary comes into question, and the planet moves ever further from the sun.

With t’Larien playing Lancelot, Delvano Guinevere, and Vikary Arthur himself (even a surprise Merlin), Martin attempts to transpose English legend into space opera in Dying of the Light. And it is largely successful (within the medium). The setting perhaps the most detailed aspect of the story, it is rendered unique, and in a fashion complementary to the storyline. There are moments the love story fumbles with triteness, but Martin remains consistent, driving the characters’ lives ahead with the whip of fate, conceding the space opera label. Airships and laser pistols, chase scenes and kidnapping alongside the love triangle, it comes across as very traditional genre.

Where Dying of the Light gets a little interesting is in its conclusion. Martin attempting something more ambitious than revenge, or good vs. evil, he takes the reader to the last point of the characters’ evolutions. In other reviews I’ve noticed dissatisfaction with the ending. I can only say, if you are a reader looking for an easily recognizable plot arc with a satisfying conclusion that ties off all the issues raised with a pretty bow, you’ll probably agree with those reviews. If, however, you are looking for something more non-conventional, something ambiguous and all the more interesting for it, the conclusion of Dying of the Light can be a point of recommendation—perhaps even its strongest.

In the end, Dying of the Light is space opera in the vein of Jack Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy on a melancholy day. Part worldbuilding and part drama, the first half of the novel sets the scene on Worlorn, while the second puts the characters in motion, culminating in an equivocal but engaging ending that complements the characters’ arcs. “A Song for Lya” remains the stronger Martin story in this arena, but Dying of the Light has a chance to still be readable today simply for its ending. Science fiction may not be the warmest bedfellow for Arthurian legend, but the novel at least proves the two are not entirely estranged.


  1. Where is translate button? 😀

    1. Push this button -->

      :) Or you can ask: Jesse, what books should I read? :) I know what types of books you like, and for sure can think of a few you would enjoy...