George R. R. Martin exhibits a daring creative imagination in the best tradition of the science-fiction genre. He is not afraid to deal with such matters as homosexuality, prostitution, and free love, subjects strictly avoided by conservative earlier writers of science fiction. Martin attempts to project his vision into the distant future to discover what life will be like for remote descendants of the current generations. His plots typically are mere threads to lead the reader into the bizarre worlds of his imagination. The real interest is not so much in the fates of the characters as in the experience of living in the strange environments these characters invariably take for granted.
“The House of the Worm” is perhaps the most effective work in this collection. Characteristically, the story of young Annelyn is merely a vehicle to introduce the reader to a foreign world, one in which the Sun is dying and life is evolving deep underground to cope with changing environmental conditions. The background is more important than the foreground and the setting more important than the action it contains. This story is remarkable for its sustained grip on the imagination, taking the reader ever deeper into an underground world where a whole civilization existed in the forgotten past and has since been taken over by creatures adapted to live in perpetual darkness. “Bitterblooms” and “The Stone City” are other good examples of stories relying primarily on atmosphere for their effect.
Martin sprinkles his stories with neologisms to create atmosphere and verisimilitude; “sandkings,” “bitterblooms,” and “fast-friends” are examples. Martin has the poetic power...
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