The Hero – by George R.R Martin (1971)

Today, I came across this short story by George R. R. Martin called The Hero. It is his first published work of fiction. The story that got his name out there in print. A great stepping stone in his career as a writer. Originally written sometime during the 1960’s, it was finally publicized in the February ’71 issue of Galaxy magazine. You can read it online here. (Warning: major spoilers ahead!)

My Review

The Hero delivers a very engrossing tale of war and military malfeasance, all set in the backdrop of space. The story follows John Kagen, a field officer of the Terran Expeditionary Force, as they invade a new inhabited planet. Kagen has grown old and tired of military life and wants to retire, picking Earth as his planet of choice. A decision that ultimately gets him killed.

This story was written during a period in the United States when soldiers were returning home with mental and emotional scars from the war in Vietnam. George admits this in a recent interview, “… it was actually triggered by people coming back from Vietnam, particularly green berets and the like, who had been trained to respond violently to any kind of threat, and they had a hard time turning this off in civilian life”.

Two years after writing The Hero, George was called up to be drafted to Vietnam himself but applied for Conscientious Objector status instead. He submitted this story as proof that he had anti-war sentiments. As he mentions in the interview, “… it perhaps gave my application a little more credence”.

You can definitely see the influence this had on a young George at the time. The overall message of The Hero is that war brings the worst out of people, whether that is through killing or by other means. We see this with Kagen when he slaughters the natives of that mudhole planet without remorse. Almost like a machine. And it is certainly true of Major Grady’s character when he decides to kill and space Kagen for wanting to go to Earth.

From what little we know, War Worlders have very little to do outside of war. Kagen has clearly undergone some sort of conditioning to be such an effective killer on the battlefield, reacting to any minimal threat with utmost violence. Like the soldiers returning from Vietnam, Kagen would’ve had a hard time adapting to life on Earth, if he had been allowed to leave.

Grady certainly sees people like him as second-class citizens. When he tests Kagen with the laser pistol, and sees Kagen’s reaction first-hand, he is convinced at that point that Kagen should not be allowed on Earth. After all, letting one of their ‘killing machines’ loose among the gentry would be a bad idea. So, in a way, Grady might’ve believed he had “good intentions” for what he did, even as nefarious as he seemed to the rest of us. This morally gray ambiguity is something common among GRRM’s characters. And you can definitely see the beginnings of it here. “Nobody is a villain in their own story. We’re all the heroes of our own stories.” — GRRM

It’s an interesting take on the consequences of war, even as short-lived as it is. Military science fiction has always been a great way to explore things of this nature. The Hero is a nice introduction to George’s imaginative mind and writing style. He even gets to murder the main character in the end, which, as you may know, is his bread and butter. You can start to see the early machinations of a great writer in the making in its narrative. Something that would’ve definitely been worth buying an issue of Galaxy for back in the day.

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The Blog Starts Here

I received this journal in the mail a few days ago. I ordered it from Amazon. It actually came faster than expected. It was handed to me by a delivery worker at my front door. Here it is.

It’s covered in a nice leather shell. I think it looks good. I bought it to jot down some ideas and thoughts I’ve been having lately about becoming a published writer. A topic that I’ll be discussing here in length.

Let me begin by saying that I have only read about a dozen or so books in my life. Not that many, if I’m being honest. I was never a voracious reader growing up. Most of those books were given to me by English teachers in middle school for assignments. So my desire to become an author doesn’t stem from a long history of reading, unfortunately. That being said, that’s okay. We all have to start somewhere. The key is to start.

In the past few months, I’ve been considering what the best way to tell a story is. Although I don’t think there is one particular medium that is considered the best, for intricate storytelling at least, I keep coming back to literature. There is something endearing about a writer being able to make a person visualize something in their head just by marking words on a page. An author doesn’t have to be skilled at drawing or be some sort of film director to paint you a picture. They just have to be coherent with their words. A good writer, the kind that I want to be, can go further than that, making you invested in a story so much to the point of instilling you with deep-seated feelings.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been wanting to tell my own stories. As a kid, I loved to doodle and create my own sketch comics. As a young adult, I was known to create the world and lore behind role playing games that my friends and I would play. We would then act out our characters and create our own narratives from there. Things like that remind me that I’ve always had an appeal for writing fiction. I just never took it seriously.

Well, I’m taking it seriously now.

To become a good writer, I’ve realized that I need to become a better reader. So I’ve been reading more books lately. One of them is Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey. It’s the first book in the Expanse series. If you don’t know what the Expanse is, you’re missing out. It is the best space-based science fiction show on television right now. Not just because of its realism, but also its overall story. I’ve just begun to read the first book, and I’m already hooked. (You can see my reading progress on Goodreads)

If I dedicate myself to this, I can see myself publishing my first written work in a year. I might start with a short story here and there, but eventually I’ll feel comfortable enough to move to bigger and better things, like starting a novel. I already have some ideas floating around in my head. Now, I just have to go ahead and jump into it.

Wish me luck!

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