Dying of the Light
by George R.R. Martin
Bantam Books, copyright 1977, reprinted 2012, $16.00, 241pp
Release Date: October 16, 2012
This is a reprint of one of Martin’s older stories; obviously trying to cash in on his current success. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea; it gives us a chance to explore a story we might not have found in the used bookstore.
The setting for this story is marvelous. A wandering world, temporarily caught in a star system was designated as a Festival World and all the fourteen worlds in the Fringe participated in the terraforming. Each created a city representative of their culture and the whole universe came to party for five long years. The world is on its way out of the star system; everyone has packed up and left. Most of the cities are dark and crumbling already. But the forests were planted and populated with wildlife native to each culture and while dying, are not completely dead yet. And some people, for their own reasons, have chosen to remain on the darkening world.
Into this comes Dirk t’Larien, called there by a pledge to a woman he has never quit loving, his Jenny. She sent a love token he’d given her with his pledge to always come if she called. Upon his arrival, thinking to reunite with his love, he is confused. She is strangely distant and, strangely, pledged to another. Two others, actually. His Jenny, only she’s really Gwen and never wanted to be his Jenny, is a planetary ecologist studying the remaining flora. She is accompanied and protected by Jaan and his teyn, Garse. Teyn is a complex relationship between two men who are closer than partners, warriors and brothers but are all three. Women, in this culture, are protected property owned by both men. Dirk comes to believe he’s there because Gwen wishes to escape. But Gwen is torn between the two lives and while she’s trying to decide, Dirk gets caught up in a conflict between Jaan and Garse and other warriors of their kind who are on-planet to hunt. They hunt anyone who is not considered to be human by their standards. Jaan and Garse represent a more advanced viewpoint and are there to stop them. Jaan offers his protection to Dirk who, offended by the whole woman-as-chattel culture, refuses the protection, sure he can protect himself. But Dirk is from a sophisticated culture where people don’t try to kill each other and is supremely ignorant of his risks.
It’s actually a simple plot line in a beautifully complex structure. And the world building is par excellence. The world is worth the read alone. The characters are quite interesting. Their motivations even more so. ~ Catherine Book