Steve Chatterton
Will Write for Food
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Science Fiction References in George R. R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones”

July 21st, 2016 by Steve

A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series

Before becoming arguably the most well-known fantasy writer alive, George R. R. Martin–author of the A Song of Ice and Fire saga that became the hit HBO series Game of Thrones–used to make his living as a science fiction writer. He made his first professional sale ever to Galaxy magazine when they published his story “The Hero” in 1971. According to Wikipedia, “Although Martin often writes fantasy or horror, a number of his earlier works are science fiction tales occurring in a loosely defined future history, known informally as ‘The Thousand Worlds’ or ‘The Manrealm’.”

First, let us assume that Martin–as a successful science fiction writer–is also well-read in the genre. Second, note that Martin has a tendency to reference other works within his own. This page, for instance, details references to everything from The Three Stooges and Blackadder to Jack Vance and Robert Jordan that can be found within the pages of A Song of Ice and Fire, many of which have been confirmed by Martin himself.

Given that, it seems likely that Martin–whether consciously or not–might also reference classic works of sci-fi in his fantasy work.

I first thought this might be the case when I read Alfred Bester‘s Fondly Fahrenheit in the classic story collection The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964. In this story of a rampaging robot that develops murderous tendencies when the temperature spikes, someone meets a rather gruesome death–SPOILER ALERT–when the robot pours molten gold over her head. It’s a rather specific way to go, yet it’s oddly similar to the way Khal Drogo crowns Viserys Targaryen–brother of Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons–in A Game of Thrones (published more than fifty years later). I thought I was onto something, and my suspicions were confirmed a few pages later when Bester introduced a new character–Jed Stark. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, that’s just one letter away from a very important character in Martin’s fantasy series.

Coincidence? I thought it might be until I put it on a timeline. Fondly Fahrenheit first appeared in print in 1954, when Martin was only six. But it was anthologized in the Hall of Fame collection in 1970, the year before he made his first sale as a writer in the same genre. It’s very likely Martin read the anthology as part of his research into what makes a great science fiction short story–a sensible move for any aspiring writer looking to break into a specific market.

Once I made the connection, I started spotting other things that appear to have been woven into ASOIAF as I read deeper into sci-fi myself. For instance, in Ursula K. Le Guin‘s classic The Left Hand of Darkness I noticed a chapter entitled “The Mad King”–the nickname of Aerys Targaryen, Daenerys’s father. Then I noticed that the setting of the book–Gethen–was a planet of perpetual winter, reminding me of The North, and particularly the lands north of The Wall, in Martin’s series. In addition, one of the central characters, Estraven–the gender-neutral Prime Minister of Karhide–reminded me more than a little of Lord Varys, the eunuch who also had a tendency to speak in confusing ways. Estraven baffles Genly with his fancy talk in much the same way Varys baffles Ned.

After The Left Hand of Darkness, the next book I picked up was Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, and as luck would have it I spotted another line too close to something in ASOIAF to be ignored. At one point in the Clarke novel, Rikki Stormgren–Secretary-General of the United Nations when the Overlords descend upon our planet–says, “We Stormgrens always pay our debts.” It’s very close to the unofficial motto of House Lannister: A Lannister always pays his debts.

That’s all I’ve found so far, but–rest assured–I’ll update this page as soon as I uncover anything else. If you know of any connections I’ve missed, please leave a comment below.

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