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Literature / Dying of the Light

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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 its 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.


  • Ahem: Right before Dirk asks Gwen why she sent the whisperjewel, Manipulative Bastard Ruark coughs and Dirk is distracted by it momentarily. He does not ask about it again during the scene, and in fact, not until MUCH later in the novel. This prevents the early revelation of Ruark’s deception, as Ruark sent the whisperjewel, not Gwen.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: A High Kavalaan banshee, a creature like a flying manta ray with its underside covered with tiny mouths, imported to Worlorn by the Kavalars, saves Dirk from a Braith hound when he's being hunted.
  • 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 Mc Coolname: Jaantony Riv Wolf high-Ironjade Vikary. Kavalars partially name themselves.
  • Bathos: The reason Bretan Braith challenges Dirk to a duel? Dirk accidentally locks Bretan out of his aircar. To elaborate, Dirk was looking for some transportation, mistook Bretan's aircar for a derelict left by long-gone festival attendees, climbs inside and realizes since it's fully powered up it can't possibly be a derelict, and when he hears Bretan and Chell approaching, he hops out and hides while the canopy snaps shut and locks (if the car is powered up, it can only be unlocked from the inside). When they find him, Bretan and Chell promptly accuse Dirk of trying to steal their property. What might be a comedic misunderstanding for most people is deadly serious for the Kavalars.
  • Batman Gambit: Concocted by Garse in order to give Dirk a chance to escape the Braiths, and allow Garse to join with them to hunt down Jaan and then turn on them when they find Jaan. Garse brings Dirk to the Braiths as a "blood gift" and as expected they strip him naked and send him running through the woods before giving chase with their hounds. Unbeknownst to them, Garse and Dirk hid a laser rifle and a coat near a wrecked aircar, which Dirk heads straight for once he's set loose.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: The reason Bretan became Chell's teyn was because Chell never treated him differently because of his scarred face.
  • Berserk Button: For Jaan, hurting Gwen, as Myrik finds out.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Arkin Ruark. See Manipulative Bastard.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Every character has faced their worst fears, one way or another, but nearly the entire cast is dead, Jaan can never know the Awful Truth about his killing of Garse, and the novel ends bleakly, with Dirk, finally over losing Gwen, possibly about to die at the hands of Bretan Braith. At the very least, he doesn't seem too bothered about it.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The story ends before we see the duel's outcome.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Conversed and ruled to be a bad idea in Kavalar laser duels. In the mode of dueling being discussed, the two teyn pairs participating take positions at the four corners of a square chalked on the ground. Because they are using dueling lasers which can only fire one burst every fifteen seconds, a miss can mean death if the opponent is of a mind to kill you (and Garse is quite sure that Chell and Bretan intend to kill him and Jaan in the duel challenge they have issued), so trying to shoot to wound or disarm lowers your chances of scoring a hit and increases the chances of being killed.
  • 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.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": The Braith "hounds" are four-legged, hairless creatures with ratlike faces and red eyes, and they're nearly the size of horses.
  • Car Fu: Dirk and Gwen are stumped by Jaan's comment that they have a weapon, until they remember their aircar.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The story about the Banshee.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: A theme of the book. Also, the title comes from the poem.
    • A building is doing this on Worlorn: ai-Emerel's city created for the Festival is one massive skyscraper, dubbed Challenge. It is fully automated and the Emereli claimed it would remain functional and active forever, even as Worlorn drifts back into the cold of deep space.
  • 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. The trope is actually subverted as the duel does not have to end in death. In the most cases, each participant will deal one hit and receive one hit, and honor will be satisfied.
  • Enemy Civil War: Bretan goes berserk after Chell dies, killing every high-Larteyn he can find.
  • Energy Weapon: Ubiquitous among the Kavalar. It adds to the seventies feel of the novel.
  • 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.
  • The Fundamentalist: Braith is a rather conservative holdfast, and ones that traveled to Worlorn are the Fundiest Of All.
  • Gendercide: Only Fatal to Adults. In his history thesis Jaan theorizes that the "Sorrowing Plague" was a genetically engineered bio-weapon strike by the Hrangans, when they returned to find that the human cities on the surface of High Kavalaan were still in ruins from their initial invasion, but the slave races they left to police the planet were all gone. The disease killed 99% of adult women, but left female children untouched.
  • The Ghost: Kirak Redsteel. The others know he's around Larteyn somewhere, but he's never actually on page until he shows up at the very end of the story; he's the one who draws the death square on the ground in preparation for Dirk and Bretan's duel.
  • 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.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: Don't direspect the customs of another culture just because you don't share them. Which would be an entirely uncontroversial Aesop if not for the rider of, "no, not even if they are really, really, really awful."
  • 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; he didn't even really believe in mockmen, though he would use the term as an insult. 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 slaps Dirk and sharply tells him, "I am not 'Bretan' to you. Call me Bretan Braith if you must address me, mockman."
  • He-Man Woman Hater: The Kavalars, except Jaan Vikary.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Any pairs of teyns, who are bonded as “holdfast brothers” for life. Curiously, their bond is considered stronger than the concubine-like bond between a man and his betheyn, or held-wife.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: While the Kavalars themselves, and Garse especially, deny a romantic component to their teyn relationships, Gwen explicitly states at the end of the novel that Jaan romantically loves Garse. Also, the description of their early relationship before teyn-ship is very reminiscent of highschool sweethearts. This makes it all the more difficult for Jaan to deal with having killed him, perhaps invoking Bury Your Gays. Also, romantic love is strongly hinted between the teyns Chell and Bretan toward the end of the novel, and Chell’s death causes Bretan to go on a revenge rampage.
  • 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: Mainly on Kavalars and the Festival of the Fringe.
  • 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.
  • Kill 'Em All: Nearly every character we are introduced to is dead by the end of the novel, with the exceptions of Gwen, Jaan, Kiran, Bretan and Dirk, who is left to an uncertain fate in his final duel with the latter.
  • 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.
  • Loving a Shadow: It turns out that Gwen is no longer the "Jenny" that Dirk has carried a torch for over the years, and in the end she stays with Jaan.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Arkin Ruark, who sought to ultimately get into a romantic relationship with Gwen by playing Jaan and Dirk against each other; this indirectly leads to a number of people ending up dead. According to Garse, this is the hat of the planet Kimdiss, Arkin's homeworld, as they profess to be non-violent but will happily sell weapons to both sides in a conflict or instigate a war between two other worlds if it will benefit Kimdiss.
  • Meaningful Name: Worlorn is derived from 'Forlorn', meaning ''pitifully sad and abandoned or lonely'. Also, one of Dirk’s pet names for Gwen is Guinevere, who was caught in a love triangle between Arthur and Lancelot similar to the one she finds herself in between Jaan and Dirk.
  • 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.
  • Not What I Signed on For: Chell fre-Braith was totally on board with the idea of coming to a lawless world to hunt mockmen, but breaking away from Braith to start a new holdfast with Lorimar as its leader? To Chell, completely loyal to Braith, the very idea was repulsive and he challenged Lorimar to a blades duel. Unfortunately for Chell, he was too old and slow to be a match for Lorimar; he took too many cuts and died of his wounds.
  • Of the People: The more conservative factions of Kavalars refer to non-Kavalar humans as "mockmen".
  • Perfect Pacifist People: Subverted with Kimdiss. Despite how they present themselves, they're far more fox than dove.
  • Planetary Romance: Light on Techno Babble, heavy on descriptions of Worlorn, and the plot is focused on the relationships between the main characters.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Much of the plot is driven by how badly the protagonists communicate with each other. One of the end results is the death of one of them killing another one due to being misinformed about his intentions. The remaining protagonists decide to respond by escalating their poor communication.
  • 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.
  • Self-Deprecation: Kirak Redsteel mocks the quality of his own poetry when he finally appears on page near the end of the story.
  • 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.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Gwen explains to Dirk that this is how she learned to deal with Garse's verbal abuse, by learning to give as good as she got.
  • 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.
  • Troll: In contrast to the other Fringe worlds who wanted to celebrate all their achievements and show the Coreward worlds that they were just as advanced and artistic, Darkdawn deliberately built their city of Kryne Lamiya, with its song of constant sadness from the wind flowing through its spires, to mock the Festival.
  • 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. The Double War, in which the Empire battled both the Fyndii and the Hrangans on separate fronts, did much to hasten its breakup.
  • Verbal Tic: Ruark's "eh?" He says it all the time, utter truth.
  • Violence Is Disturbing: Dirk's murder of Pyr in self-defence. It's a turning point in Dirk's character arc - the first time he uses violence to save his own skin in the novel, rather than running away - but it's also shown that violence is not something to be gloried in. Loving description is given to the horrible way Pyr dies. To wit: Dirk takes him down with a gut-shot, then proceeds to stab him repeatedly in the chest and then in the neck, bursting a major blood vessel and causing him to slowly bleed out. Yes, this is written by the guy who brought us Game of Thrones, could you tell?
  • Weapon of Choice: When people start to turn up dead by firearm rather than lasers, Jaan realizes that Bretan is about.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Myrik.