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July 7, 2011

Game On: Fantasy fans can't wait to dance with beloved author's "Dragons"

As a bartender at Garden City Beach's Murphy's Law South, Deborah Tyner sometimes has to exercise patience. While she's in the business of waiting, nothing has quite tested her resolve like the anticipation for one of her guilty pleasures.

As a bartender at Garden City Beach's Murphy's Law South, Deborah Tyner sometimes has to exercise patience. While she's in the business of waiting, nothing has quite tested her resolve like the anticipation for one of her guilty pleasures. She's a huge fan of fantasy author George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, and a half-decade wait for the latest installment is nearly over. "I got Goosebumps just thinking about it," Tyner squeals.

On Tuesday, the much-anticipated fifth book in the series, entitled " A Dance with Dragons," will hit bookshelves; Tyner, and a huge collective of fantasy literature aficionados, can hardly wait.

Diehard fans- and the merely curious- can get a first hand taste of the cultural phenomenon that comprises A Song of Ice and Fire right here in Myrtle Beach. Heather Stoffa, Books A Million general manager, confirms that the Coastal Grand Mall store will host a midnight release event on Monday. The store, which normally closes at 10 p.m., will offer extended hours to commemorate "A Dance with Dragons'" release at one minute after midnight and allow fans to get their copy as soon as possible. A Song of Ice and Fire-inspired costumes are welcome, and raffles will be held. "We'll be raffling off a selection of fantasy and sci-fi books and merchandise in addition to selling A Dance with Dragons," says Stoffa.

Fans who'd rather bypass the costumes, but firmly believe a good book and a great cup of coffee go hand in hand, can stop by Barnes and Noble at The Market Common for a free tall coffee on Tuesday - but there is a catch. Fans need to show a receipt for " A Dance with Dragons" purchased from B&N to pick up a complimentary beverage in the café.

Anticipation and spoilers

What keeps fans waiting six years for the next installment in a book series? What could be so engaging about this series? What would cause a woman who typically reads crime novels to leave her socially acceptable, preferred genre for the dark corners of a marginalized dominion? According to Tyner, its Martin's ability to create his own world, his own history, caste system, beliefs, and characters that originally drew her in. But, it's his willingness to destroy his own creation that keeps her coming back: "If you have a soul, it will make you cry," she says.

Readers quickly discover that Martin, dubbed the American J.R.R. Tolkien by Time magazine, delicately balances fantasy and richly woven plot lines to create a series that is so character driven, it actually seems to be steeped in reality. And it's not without those classic elements of sex and violence as Martin's work is seen as much grittier than say Tolkien. The series chronicles a violent struggle for power over a torn and patched land that is strikingly similar to medieval Europe. Magical elements appear and seasons last for decades.

Meanwhile, Martin's writings are fueling a burgeoning cottage industry as HBO has adapted the Song of Ice and Fire series for the small screen, entitled "Game of Thrones," named after the first book in the series, along with a series of games - including video games - based upon the books, and the series is spawning graphic novels and comic books, too.

Also, a couple of metal bands - The Sword and Blind Guardian - have written songs based on the world Martin created in A Song of Ice and Fire.

With this much interest, there's bound to be some overzealous geeks to spoil the party...

Weekly Surge requested a review copy of "A Dance with Dragons" from Martin's publisher prior to this story, but got no response, presumably because the book was being closely guarded to prevent spoilers. But leave it to to put a dent in the suspense. The online book peddler's European division shipped close to 200 advance order copies of "A Dance with Dragons" and spoilers - real and fake - began cropping up on fan sites.

The author didn't find it amusing and in one of his blog entries said "Amazon screws the pooch."

And he offered a missive worthy of his brutal fictional land of Westeros: "If we find out who is responsible, we will mount his head on a spike."

He's no rookie

The bearded, bespectacled Martin who looks like he could be a character in a Harry Potter flick, was recently named "one of the most influential people in the world," by Time magazine, but he's no Johnny-come-lately and his success has been building steadily through the years.

Martin's first taste of the spotlight occurred in the late '80s when he worked as a screenwriter and producer for " The Twilight Zone" and " Beauty and the Beast" for CBS. He began writing A Song of Ice and Fire in 1991. Although it was originally planned as a trilogy, it has now spawned into an estimated seven book series. To date, the story consists of four released volumes, a highly anticipated fifth book hitting the shelves on Tuesday, and two additional books in the works (" The Winds of Winter" and " A Dream of Spring"). Although the series has been praised as a whole, each book has earned its own accolades as standalone volumes. " A Game of Thrones," the first of the series, won three fantasy awards and was nominated for a slew of others. The next two novels, " A Clash of Kings" and " A Storm of Swords" secured the coveted Locus Award. The forth book, 2005's " A Feast for Crows" debuted at No.1 on the New York Times Best Seller List and received a host of award nominations. The series has sold more than 16 million units worldwide.

And as previously mentioned, HBO recently jumped onto A Song of Ice and Fire bandwagon with a 10 part series entitled "Game of Thrones" (the first book in the series) that debuted in April. Creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff (" The Kite Runner," " X-men Origins: Wolverine," and " Troy") teamed up with Martin as executive producer to bring the series to the small screen. Martin's title is not merely a courtesy; he oversees production of all episodes. In a recent interview with's Michael Crider, Weiss states, "After each episode we get a report card," which probably accounts for how faithful the TV series is to the books.

Local reader Justin Sellers, a big fan of Martin's works, feels satisfied with the HBO adaptation in general. "The casting is excellent although HBO places too much emphasis on the sex in an effort to stay extreme in the TV market," he says. Despite the series' mediocre debut, more than 3.9 million viewers tuned in for the finale on June 19. Overall, it's estimated more than 8.3 million viewers watched the series when DVR and repeat showings are taken into account. In fact, the show earned three tips of the hat (Outstanding Achievement in Drama, Outstanding New Program, and Program of the Year ) in 2011 from the Televisions Critics Association (TCA), which often portends Emmy nominations, the only show to score nominations in three major categories.

Local "Game of Thrones" viewer Mark "Monty" Montanaro, keyboardist for The Necessary Band, doesn't consider himself a traditional fan of the fantasy genre, but the HBO series grabbed his interest. "For someone who's not a 'sci-fi' guy, I can't get enough of this series. I think the fascination comes with watching unassuming characters like Stark's daughter Arya and Tyrion Lannister really develop into meaningful roles. Arya's one of my favorite characters. She started out as someone who was always left out; she didn't know where she belonged. Who can't identify with that? But, you can really see how she's going to develop and come in to her own in Season 2."

After recently signing on for a second season of "Game of Thrones," HBO is actively casting for the next round of characters who don't mind baring it all. The network most recently announced that " Tudors"' star Natalie Dormer, who depicted Ann Boleyn in the HBO series, will play main character Margaery Tyrell in the upcoming season. The actress's experience depicting historically conniving figures will complement the character's personality well. Bernioff reminds fans that, "It's not like a traditional show where you've got your cast from Season 1, with maybe a few new people for Season 2. We've got dozens of new characters to bring in. And we've got all sorts of new worlds to introduce the audience to. A lot of Season 1 is about characters figuring out who they are and what they're after. So, in Season 2, you see them start to fulfill their destinies."

In an attempt to keep the HBO adaptation as close to the book series as possible, Martin will continue to oversee production and will actually pen the episode which portrays pivotal events that will conclude Season 2/Book II. Filming is supposed to start this month in the U.K. and similarly landscaped regions and should debut April 2012. Fans can also follow and receive up-to-the-minute updates by fanning Game of Thrones on Facebook.

In anticipation of the new season, HBO has a Web site dedicated to the concept of hosting a "Game of Thrones" viewing party. Fans can garner ideas for invitations, refreshments, costumes, and download specially-created recipes such as Tyrion's favorite lemon cake designed by Tom Colicchio. For more wine and mead inspiration, visit:

Meanwhile, booksellers have noted that there has been a recent resurgence of interest for the series, perhaps due in part to the success of the HBO series. In fact, Book I, A Game of Thrones, was named to the New York Times Best Seller List in January, nearly 14 years after its original publication. Local book sellers anticipate that " A Dance with Dragons" will quickly move to the No. 1 spot. According to local writer, educator, and book seller Daniel Wysong, the series is the perfect blend of historical fiction and fantasy - which makes its appeal universal.

Originally, "A Dance with Dragons" was a part of the 4th book, but the manuscript became too large. Rather than simply split it into Part I and Part II, Martin made the decision to divide the novels by location and narrators. So, readers can expect the first part of " Dragons" to run concurrently with " Crows." The latter part of the new novel's plot will follow the story lines as they were left in " A Feast for Crows," and will offer some resolution to the multiple story lines left hanging. Reportedly, a total of 18 characters will lend their voices to the narration pool. Wysong claims that it is these point-of-view chapters that allow Martin to step out of Tolkien's shadow, forging relationships between the reader and each character as the story progresses.

Regardless of the story's ability to engage readers, the latest installment - for many - has been too long coming. When Entertainment Weekly asked why it took so long to hit stores, Martin replied, "I'm not sure I have a good answer. If I did, I would have taken less time. It's enormous. It's as long as " A Storm of Swords." It's very complicated," Martin says. "I have a lot of characters and points of view. And I've been doing a ton of rewriting, trying to get it where I wanted it to be. Some of these chapters I've rewritten more times than I can count before I'm satisfied with them."

Local readers express a variety of opinions on Martin's timeline. For example, Tyner feels that the author seems pompous in his refusal to rush his timing; whereas Sellers feels that the author's reluctance to hurry his process demonstrates the author's investment in the characters and story. Although he notes that Martin's timeline is certainly atypical of a series of novels, the story is strong enough that readers will - and must - wait.

But the wait is almost over.

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