I've been having this pleasant daydream: George R.R. Martin, mega-famous writer of the Game of Thrones industry, didn't write all of that epic fantasy stuff. I realize that the idea sounds horrible to a lot of people, but not me. I'm sure that the books are beautifully written, but my love affair with fantasy began and ended with Tolkien. Yeah, I tried some Brooks, some Donaldson, but they weren't for me.
No, imagine with me, horror fans, that GRRM followed The Armageddon Rag with another horror novel. And another. And another after that. And so on.
Imagine if you will that Martin wrote and published big, fat, wonderfully-written horror novels ever after, to this day and beyond. Perhaps even overtaking Stephen King as the biggest writer in our dark little literary genre.
It could have happened. Really, it could have.
Before Armageddon Rag, Martin did Fevre Dream. Horror was hot and getting hotter by the day. And these two novels are as good as anything ever written in the horror field, in my slightly humble opinion. However...
While the fabled horror boom of the 80's was barrelling in, Martin kind of got left behind. The Armageddon Rag was a complete disaster. Not so much critically, but commercially. It simply did not sell.
I bought it. I distinctly remember being attracted to the cover of the paperback while I was in a grocery store. I knew GRRM's name from the Science Fiction field, where he had been working in for a decade or so beforehand. I had read some short stories, which were good. Like some others at the time, like Thomas F. Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, and Charles L. Grant, George R.R. Martin was shifting toward the lucrative horror genre.
The boom, as I said, was underway, and for my own journey from SF fan to Horror lover, Fevre Dream and The Armageddon Rag were both important and influential books. I devoured The Armageddon Rag over the course of a weekend, and then I located a used copy of Fevre Dream the following week, and I read it withing a couple of days.
Fevre Dream is a historical novel that sort of combines the steamboat setting of Mark Twain with Bram Stoker. It's certainly one of the greatest vampire novels ever published, and it came long before the thought of a vampire story served well as an ipecac to discerning horror readers.
I think I might like The Armageddon Rag a bit more. Rag was ahead of the curve and it beat the Splatterpunks to the rock and roll horror punch by a few years. The novel serves as a taut and scary supernatural suspense story with a hard rock backdrop, but also as a lament to the optimism and hope of the Sixties and the hippie generation.
I've read quite a few books twice, but there are precious few that I have done so more than that. I recently found the two pictured trade paperbacks at a thrift store, and I bought them. I am reading The Armageddon Rag for the third time in my life, and I think I am enjoying it more now than I did the other two times.
Why does one good book sell like gangbusters, and another tanks? If that were an answerable question, every publisher would be as flush as Fort Knox.
It makes me sad, but I doubt that George R.R. Martin, or his agent, are losing any tears over his departure from the horror genre. Still, I can dream, can't I?
And, yes, I can read these books again. As well as his novella, The Skin Game, or his nerve-jangling horror-SF short story, Sandkings. You can, and should, as well.