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Literature: Dying of the Light
The planet Worlorn is dying. Indeed, it had been dead for most of recorded history.

Worlorn was a rogue planet, a dead rock floating through space, and of no particular interest to anyone until it was realized that it would pass a star system as it left the galaxy. The outer worlds, joining together, terraformed Worlorn into a festival planet, each of the fourteen worlds building a city to showcase it's culture. For a good ten years it was the pride of the out-worlds. But now the window of habitability is closing, and the businesses have left. Shrouded in twilight, the vast cities are now inhabited only by stragglers, the computers dutifully keeping it all maintained as Worlorn awaits the final dying of the light.

Dirk t'Larien travels to Worlorn, and to his old flame Gwen Delvano. Seven years ago, they had made each other a promise: no matter what passed between them, no matter how much they changed, no matter what happened, if one of them called the other would answer. Soon after, Gwen dumped him, and didn't answer when he called. Now she's sent for him. A world-weary Dirk t'Larien, with nothing else going on in his life, decides to make the trip. To his surprise, the Gwen he meets is polite, but distant and less than enthused by his arrival. She's also married.

Her marriage is the type to raise eyebrows. She is a betheyn in the custom of High Kavalaan. A warlike culture high on dueling and honor, the men are in the habit of pairing off into teyns, while the native-born women (eyn-kethi) are essentially community breeders with the occasional betheyn belonging to a teyn-pair. Gwen had agreed to this arrangement out of love for Jaan Vikary, but year after year of dealing with his society, as well as his teyn Garse Janacek, has worn her down. Yet, she doesn't ask for help, nor bring up the summons, but Dirk understands. He's ready to do anything to help her escape the situation she's found herself in. But other things are happening on Worlorn.

Jaan Vikary is a very controversial man on his planet. An historian and reformer, he put forth a theory that High Kavalaan had suffered a near-Gendercide during an extermination war in the ancient past. Teynship was a predictable result of grieving widowers, and the communities that didn't lock up their women simply died off. This has made him rather despised among The Fundamentalist set. After being challenged to one duel too many, he arranged to have himself, his teyn, and his betheyn sent to document Worlorn. They arrived to discover that several members of the conservative Braith Gathering were also on Worlorn, with beliefs that even others Braiths would find shocking. They believe in mockman, essentially the disfigured radiation victims of the old war, hunted as demons in the past but protected now. These holdouts, born very much too late on a world that passed them by, now intend to revive to old ways on a planet with no law, with stragglers as prey. They have been stymied in part by Jaan and Garse's maneuvering, but the tensions between them are coming to a head, and Dirk's ignorance of the situation may be the spark that lights the powder-keg.

Dying of the Light is the debut novel of famed A Song of Ice and Fire author George R. R. Martin. It was first published in 1977 as "After The Festival", serialized in Analog Science Fiction And Fact.


Tropes

  • Anti-Climax: After a frantic chase through Challenge and the forests and the destruction of Kryne Lamiya, the antagonists all die while the main characters hide out in Larteyn. Dirk realizes that a person needs to have a code, and honors his duel with Bretan.
  • Ax-Crazy: Bretan Braith gives off this vibe.
    "He has a violent way of mourning," Dirk, on Bretan who just burned down an entire (empty) city.
  • And Your Little Dog Too: When Jaan's less-than-wise attempt to help Dirk leads to Chell fre-Braith challenging him, Bretan starts raving that now they're going kill Jaan and Garse and Dirk and wake the hounds and hunt his "betheyn bitch" and the "fat Kimdissi" through the forest. Jaan ignores him.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Jaantony Riv Wolf high-Ironjade Vikary. Kavalars partially name themselves.
  • Berserk Button: For Jaan, hurting Gwen, as Myrik finds out.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Arkin Ruark
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The story ends before we see the duel's outcome.
  • Brown Note: The constant depressing music of Kryne Lamiya. There was a high incidence of suicide there during the festival, and the music seems to particularly hit Dirk.
  • Car Fu: Dirk and Gwen are stumped by Jaan's comment that they have a weapon, until they remember their aircar.
  • Chekov's Gun: The story about the Banshee.
  • Contemptible Cover: Compare the more modern covers to the older ones.
  • Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night: A theme of the book. Also, the title comes from the poem.
  • Driven to Suicide: Arkin Ruark. Might fit under Redemption Equals Death.
  • Duel to the Death: High Kavalaan has a rather elaborate system for dueling. The duelists must decide on the weapons used, the location, the mode, and whether or not they fight with a teyn. The challenged gets the first choice, any of the four, followed by the challenger, the challenged again, and finally the challenger. The dueling code also covers special circumstances, such as if one party is young, sick, or without teyn.
  • Enemy Civil War: Bretan goes berserk after Chell dies, killing every high-Larteyn he can find.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Chell, Garse, Lorimar, Bretan... everyone present disapproves in some way when Jaan murders Myrik.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional: Arkin Ruark, mocking Dirk's idea of going to the duel and announcing that he won't fight:
    Jesus Christ and Socrates and Erika Stormjones and now Dirk t'Larien, great martyrs of history, yes. Maybe the Redsteel poet will write something on you.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: Ubiquitous among the Kavalar. It adds to the seventies feel of the novel.
  • The Fundamentalist: Braith is a rather conservative holdfast, and ones that travelled to Worlorn are Fundiest Of All.
  • Gendercide: Only Fatal to Adults
  • The Ghost: Kirak Redsteel.
  • Glass Eye: Bretan Braith's glowstone eye. It actually makes Dirk less scared of him, as he had to have specifically chosen it for that effect.
  • Hidden Depths: Bretan Braith, despite the fact that the other entries on this page make him out to be a frothing lunatic. He was a true teyn to Chell, and, unlike every other Braith in the novel, recognized that Dirk was a human being. By his culture he had perfect right to kill him on sight after he ran the first time, but was still willing to duel him in Challenge, and then outside the spaceport. This is foreshadowed early on, after Garse points out to Dirk that the proper address for him is "Garse Ironjade", and even that is being generous. When Dirk nervously calls Bretan by just his first name, Bretan sharply tells him that it's "Bretan Braith."
  • He-Man Woman Hater: The Kavalars, except Jaan Vikary.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The killing of mockmen in general. The most notable instance is when Pyr and his teyn hunt Dirk. It's not so much fun when the prey gets to a rifle.
  • I Know Your True Name: The effects of names on things is a recurring theme.
  • Info Dump:
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Bretan and Chell. Subverted in that Jaan and Garse speculate that Bretan's only in it for Chell's money. They are wrong.
  • Jerkass: Several. Even if he's a Jerk with a Heart of Gold raised on a different world, Garse still verbally abuses Gwen every chance he gets. And that's not even getting started on the Braiths. Or Ruark.
  • Last Episode New Character: The oft-discussed Kirak Redsteel shows up to chat with Dirk, and to arrange a duel with Bretan.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Dirk. And, amusingly, Manipulative Bastard Arkin Ruark. His plans, (see Near Villain Victory) didn't take into account the fact that there were a renegade group of fanatics hunting people on Worlorn.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Arkin Ruark.
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Pretty soft.
  • Near Villain Victory: Of a sort, Gwen suspects that Arkin's plan was for Dirk to help Gwen escape, then catch her on the rebound when they break up. He did succeed in getting Dirk to Worlorn, and in convincing Gwen to leave Jaan, when Bretan Braith and Dirk collided.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: Subverted with Kimdiss. Despite how they present themselves, they're far more fox than dove.
  • Planetary Romance:
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Kavalar.
  • Punctuated Blasting: "And you do not duel. You... do... not... duel!"
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: The decision to hide in Challenge. Jaan calls the choice unintentionally subtle in that there were better places to hide, and thus no one would have looked for them there. Also, Garse's distrust for Ruark was right on the money, but based on racism.
  • Serial Killer: Obviously, the hunters, but especially Pyr. As opposed to the fanatical Lorimar, Garse comments that Pyr only cared about taking mockman heads.
  • Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!: Dirk learned this the hard way in the seven years before arriving on Worlorn. It's also one of the major themes. The importance of having ideals is touched on near the end of the story, when a Kavalar recalls the first time he heard of mockmen as a boy. The eyn-kethi telling the story claimed that mockmen weren't supernatural at all. Rather, they are all just men, but men who forgot their codes and bonds and thus are shapechangers of a sort: Illusion of humanity, with no substance within.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Or, "Stay In The Rape Closet", for the less charitable.
  • Start My Own: A couple holdfasts got their start by splitting off from old ones. Lorimar leads his handful in starting one on Worlorn. It's clear to the reader, and to Garse, that Lorimar is out of his mind.
  • Straw Nihilist: When your race decides to fly a black flag, and build a city designed to constantly play depressing music, there may be a problem.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Dirk and Gwen.
  • Tracking Device: This is how Chell and Bretan trace Dirk to Challenge. Arkin planted a wildlife tracer on Dirk in exchange for Bretan protecting Gwen.
  • Two-Faced: Watching Bretan Braith pace about, Dirk is struck by how different he looks from different angles.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Jaan shoots Garse down, not knowing about his Heel-Face Turn.
  • Ungovernable Galaxy: As with Rome, size is where the Empire ran into trouble.
  • Verbal Tic: Ruark's "eh?" He says it all the time, utter truth.
  • Weapon of Choice: When people start to turn up dead by firearm, Jaan realizes that Bretan is about.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Myrik.

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