This Tower of Ashes (1976) by George R. R. Martin

This short story reads like a proto-attempt at what would become Martin’s much more accomplished novel, Dying of the Light. Clearly, both stories (as well as Meathouse Man) are drawing from a personal experience that affected Martin deeply. For better or worse, I can relate deeply with that experience, especially at this time of my life. While I felt Dying of the Light was a more nuanced and mature examination of such an experience, a rejection (and Meathouse Man a more juvenile and ugly one, although I think that was intentional), This Tower of Ashes is still a compelling exploration of the emotional state one might feel after a semi-amicable but unexpected break-up.

Martin’s greatest strength is his characterisation, and it’s on great display here. The characters are painfully real. The worldbuilding is also quite fascinating. Unfortunately, towards the end, I feel the story regressed into typical science-fiction short-story “what a twist!” focus, with the emphasis on ambiguity and surprise overriding the story’s actual strengths; the characterisation and exploration of the protagonist’s mental state following his wife leaving him.

Still, it’s a strong story, and very lean (Martin once had a gift for brevity, believe it or not!). It resonated strongly with me. I give it four spiderwebs, and an eight-legged “cat”.

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