George R. R Martin’s Dying of the Light is a tale of protagonist Dirk chasing his past love, set on the fringe of the populated universe on the rogue planet Worlon, which has almost fallen out of range of the star whose light and warmth allows it to remain hospitable – hence the name. When an unexpected message summons Dirk to Worlon, he does, hoping that he can rekindle the love he once had with Gwen, but also chasing the idea that he can become the person he was when he was with her once again. If the plot sounds a little beige, that’s because it is; the characters are by far the largest stumbling block for the novel. Bear with them though, because Martin’s world building, even at the earliest stage in his writing career, is unparalleled. By devising fourteen unique cultures, all of which are represented by a city on Worlon, the universe in which Dying of the Light is situated feels suitably fleshed out, and the focus on Kavalar’s rich and blood soaked history shares a striking resemblance to that of the Dothraki in A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s a true testament to Martin’s writing that the world remains fresh some fifty years after its publication, as by avoiding the cheesy tropes that so many of his contemporaries inadvertently fell into, reading it still feels like discovery, not simply rehashing old ground; despite including hoverboards and flying cars!
By contrast, the weakest elements of Dying of the Light are the bloated plot and bland characters, as I alluded to earlier. The entire cast simultaneously manages to feel tedious for their lack of action, and detestable for when they do. Frustratingly, the love interest between Dirk and Gwen is fickle to the point of whiplash, ebbing and flowing only when the plot demands it, and by the end of the novel Gwen’s true feelings for her past lover are more opaque than they were before she was even introduced. Martin’s grand stab at creating a leit-motif of names also falls a little flat thanks equally to the obtuse delivery and how much it’s repeated. It’s an interesting concept that’s overexplained through great swathes of dialogue, leaving no nuances for the reader to mull over themselves. On the other hand, the motif of death and it’s different interpretations to each person, culture and even planets, is elegantly peppered throughout, and the concept of female independence is more relevant today than ever. As it stands, Dying of the Light deserves to be read by both fans of the author and the genre alike simply because of Martin’s incredible talent for building worlds that demand exploring; the real shame then, is that he didn’t explore it enough himself.