Skip to main content

A Song for Lya (SF) - George R. R. Martin ****

Venturing into my old SF books I discovered this classic 70s short story collection from what's described on the back as 'a new breed of science fiction writer' - though, of course, George R. R. Martin would really make his name in the field of fantasy.

There are some excellent stories here. Some are pure mood pieces, notably the opener 'With Morning Comes Mistfall' which is rather like a Somerset Maugham short story, set on a distant planet. Others have the classic twist in the tail, such as the short short 'fta' that gives a kick to the gut for that SF classic concept, hyperspace. Although the collection has very much a feel of the period - nuclear war hovers in the distant past in 'Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels', for example, and two separate stories reference Simon and Garfunkel songs - there's nothing here that doesn't hold up very well, other than a lack of female main characters. Only the closing title story, which won a Hugo Award, the wistfully thoughtful 'A Song for Lya', has a female main character, and she is not the narrator.

It says a lot for Martin's writing skills that even 'Run to Starlight', which despite being written in 1974 has the most 50s feeling characters of any story here, and centres on American football - a topic in which I have zero interest - manages to be entertaining, with the nice thought of a future Earth in contact with several intelligent alien species having to deal with the difficulties that arise from an alien team wanting to join an American football league.

All in all, a collection that has stood the passage of 40 years remarkably well.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the popularity of Game of Thrones, the book is out of print and there's no Kindle version. The cover shown here is my 1978 Coronet edition.
Paperback 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Infinity Plus: Quintet (SF) - Keith Brooke (Ed.) ****

When I was younger there was nothing I liked better than a good, deep, dark (frankly, often downright miserable) science fiction story, and this collection delivers excellent modern examples that would have fit easily into a thoughtful if downbeat 70s collection such as the 'New Writing in SF' or the Interzone magazine of the day (one was actually first published in Interzone, in 1987 - the rest date between 1989 and 2010).

If I'm honest, I prefer more upbeat fiction now, but that doesn't stop me appreciating the quality of these five stories, put together by the SF website and publisher Infinity Plus. I've rarely seen a better contradiction of Margaret Atwood's putdown of science fiction as being limited to 'talking squids in outer space.' What we have here is pure character-driven storytelling with not a mention of space, spaceships, ray guns or aliens. It's the inner world, not the outer trappings of sci fi tropes that interest these writers.

On…

The Lost Planets - John Wenz **

Reading the first few lines of the introduction to this book caused a raised eyebrow. In 1600, it tells us, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake 'for his radical views - that not only was the Sun just one of many stars, but those stars likely had planets around them as well.' Unfortunately, this bends the truth. Bruno was burned at the stake for holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith - for conventional heretical beliefs amongst which his ideas on cosmology were trivial. This was an unfortunate start.

What John Wenz gives us is a people-driven story of the apparent early discovery of a number of planets orbiting other stars, made by Peter van de Kamp and his colleagues at Swarthmore College in America, most notably connected to a relatively obscure star called Barnard's star. Wenz is at his best dealing with personal conflict. The book really comes alive in a middle section where van de Kamp's discoveries are starting to be challenged. This chapter works wel…

Bone Silence (SF) - Alastair Reynolds *****

Of all the best modern SF writers, Alastair Reynolds is arguably the supreme successor to the writers of the golden age. He gives us wide-ranging vision, clever concepts and rollicking adventure - never more so than with his concluding book of the Ness sisters trilogy.

Neatly, after the first title, Revenger was written from the viewpoint of one sister, Arafura and the second, Shadow Captain, had the other sister Adrana as narrator, this book is in the third person. It neatly ties up many of the loose ends from the previous books, but also leaves vast scope for revelations to cover in the future if Reynolds decides to revisit this world (he comments in his acknowledgements 'I am, for the time being, done with the Ness sisters. Whether they are done with me remains to be seen.')

As with the previous books, the feel here is in some ways reminiscent of the excellent TV series Firefly, but with pirates rather than cowboys transported into a space setting. Set millions of years in…