George R.R. Martin on why sci-fi/fantasy is less optimistic these days

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Writer George R. R. Martin attends the 70th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Writer George R. R. Martin attends the 70th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb) /

George R.R. Martin has a new book out. No, not that one. Ten Speed Press is putting out The Rise of the Dragon, an abbreviated version of his novel Fire & Blood.

Fire & Blood is the book that the new Game of Thrones prequel show House of the Dragon is based on, although The Rise of the Dragon is a bit of an odd beast; it’s a lot shorter than Fire & Blood, so you aren’t getting the full story. However, there are a ton of great pictures. Fair trade?

In any case, Martin went on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert to promote the new book, House of the Dragon, and even talk a little about The Winds of Winter. And he filmed this cute little bit about him writing a monologue for the show:

George R.R. Martin cares about the dragons on House of the Dragon

Martin isn’t in the writer’s room for House of the Dragon, but he does consult with the producers. And one of the things he wanted for the new show was for the dragons to stand out more than they did on Game of Thrones. “I wanted the dragons to be characters, to have a stronger personality, and to look different from each other, so when you saw one, immediately on the screen, you know, ‘that is Vhagar, that is Caraxes, that is Seasmoke,'” he said. “I like them to be more colorful too, than the first show.”

With “roughly 17-20” dragons to play with depending on when we are in the story, that should be no problem. The dragons on House of the Dragon already feel much more distinct than Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion did back on Game of Thrones.

House of the Dragon also took the opportunity to revisit the design of the Iron Throne, which in Martin’s books is much bigger than it is onscreen. “We didn’t have a sound stage with a tall enough ceiling to fit it in there,” Martin said of the original design, which has become iconic. Armed with more resources, the team changed things up for House of the Dragon. “We were able to expand it.”

Finishing The Winds of Winter will take “a while”

As Colbert says, he’s legally obligated to ask Martin about his progress on The Winds of Winter, the long-in-coming sixth entry in the author’s Song of Ice and Fire series. “I am making progress with The Winds of Winter, but it’s still not done yet.” Martin said. “I think it’s going to be a very big book.”

All in all, Martin thinks he’s “about 3/4 of the way done.” He’s done writing the full stories for some of the point-of-view characters, “but not others…It’s still gonna take me a while.”

Colbert asked the obvious question: “So, 10 years to go 75 percent of the way through means…?” Martin didn’t guess as to when he might finish, but he did say what everyone was thinking: “That’s depressing, that’s depressing.”

George R.R. Martin: “I wish I had a dragon I could fly to the Kremlin”

The most interesting part of the interview comes at the end, when Colbert and Martin contrast the sort of optimistic science fiction stories that Martin grew up on with the harder-edged, more cynical tales in vogue today. That early optimism was driven by what looked like big leaps forward for technology and humanity as a whole, represented by stuff like the moon landing in 1969. “What I never saw coming was that we would go to the moon, and then we would stop going to the moon,” Martin said. “We wouldn’t go to Mars at all and we would sort of abandon the space program.”

Since then, concerns that were big at the time Martin was growing up — such as nuclear war with the Russians — are being raised anew. “Suddenly nuclear war seems more and more feasible again,” Martin said. “It’s back there. We may have a nuclear war. And we have new pandemic diseases.” It’s easy to see why writers (and people in general) might get more cynical in the face of not only a lack of progress, but a potential backslide into the problems of the past, not to mention a host of new ones.

“[T]here would always be some good people who would get together and they would reinvent civilization, and optimism was still there even if the setting was terrible,” Martin said of the sci-fi stories of yesteryear. “Can we be optimistic about climate change? What are we going to do if Putin actually does use nuclear bombs? What do we want to do? I wish I had a dragon I could fly to the Kremlin.”

That one gets a round of applause from the audience. The Rise of the Dragon is available to buy now.

Next. House of the Dragon delivers a solid finale that pulls one too many punches. dark

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