George R.R. Martin and I were at the same signing table at WorldCon in Chicago this year. His line snaked toward Iowa. Mine had one person in it, and she was looking for directions to the bathroom. George sat for hours and hours and signed a boatload of books. During a pause, I chatted him up. I didn’t have one of his books on me, but seeing that many people get signatures, I felt one helluvan itch. So I grabbed one of my sad, nobody-wanted books and introduced myself.

“You don’t know me,” I told George, “but we kinda circle each other on Amazon.”

George scrunched up his face. Scratched his beard. I could tell that he not only had never heard of me, he doubtless hadn’t been on Amazon to check the rankings of any of his works in over a decade.

“You’re like, one through five on science fiction,” I told him. “I’m number six.”

“Oh.” I think George realized that I was a wannabe writer, not just someone out for an autograph.

“Can I get your autograph?” I asked.

Now he could see that I was a bit of both.

“You want me to autograph your book?”

He indicated the copy of Wool in my hands. I shrugged. I had nothing else. “Maybe you could make it out to #6 or something,” I told him.

George signed the book: “To #6. Keep trying!” And then he graced the inside of Wool with a gorgeous and florid signature full of curls and swoops and confidence.

It sits on my bookshelf right now.

And George? I’m trying.

*(Full disclosure: George is one awesome and gracious dude and far better a writer than I ever hope to become. His status as my nemesis is both lighthearted on my part and somewhat dampened on his part by the fact that he still, to this day, has no idea who I am).

33 Responses to “Me and my Nemesis*”

  1. Louise van Hine says:

    Hugh you aren’t being fair to yourself…. I have read a lot of GRRM’s books, and I can say – as an educated science fiction reader and critic (and yes I have an advanced degree in English too!) that you do not need to put him ahead of you, not in the least. And while I truly enjoyed his first three “Ice and Fire” books, he really has a productivity – and quality problem. Now – if you want to put someone like Gene Wolfe on a pedestal, be my guest. But not GRRM. I’m glad he was nice to you – he’s not quite so polite to some other of his fans.

    • I’m sure we all have bad days. You should’ve seen how he was mobbed. I don’t know how anyone can be so gracious as he was in the face of it all.

      And he strolled around the convention completely devoid of entourage with his cap and suspenders on, just as approachable as can be. But I imagine he’s been gruff with some of the countless admirers. It looked exhausting. I felt a little sad for him, to be honest. I asked him how he found time for any writing, and he said this was why it took so long to get a book out.

      And in my esteem, he’s one of the great prose stylists of our time. But that’s just me. :)

  2. Paddy Cakes says:

    I bet he’s never asked his fans to name one of his characters.

  3. Narciso says:

    Hugh,
    As most everybody, I enjoyed the first three books of “A Song of Ice and Fire”, especially the third. I got a special edition in Amazon in Kindle format with the first four books in a bundle (thats like 4000 pages) and read them really fast.
    A few days ago I picked up one of GRRM’s book in a bookstore, and the praise of the book by some critic said that GRRM was one of the best writers nowadays. But I respectfully disagree.
    In my opinion, GRRM has an incredible imagination. He has created a world that is truly unique and exciting. But in my opinion his world “survives” his writing style. He uses far too many words to describe anything, and you can skip whole pages that talk about dresses, food and the likes.
    There’re a few funny comments about this in Amazon I’m sure you’ve read.
    English is my second language, even if I’ve been learning it since I was 6, even if I’ve read countless books in English, I’ll probably never have the same reading ability than a native. And that might be something important.
    I’ve enjoyed more reading Wool than I did with Song of Ice and Fire. Not just for the story, but because of your writing style.
    While you finish Third Shift, I’m currently reading “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. At the book introduction by the author he precisely talks about the writing styles. He’s being simpler and easier to read to most people, and being criticized for that.
    I think he’s right. I think that it’s smarter also.

  4. OK, lesson learned. If you spend more than a couple of minutes typing a comment, the password expires and you lose what you were typing.

    I’ve read all of the ‘Game of Thrones’ series so far and I enjoy it. I like how a character may go on to become a major player, or might just end up choking to death on his boiled neeps.

    It’s unpredictable.

    George gets flak because some folks come back to a series with specific expectations. I’ve had folks start my series in book two (no idea why) and then go back to book one. Some don’t like how different it is and I get an earful.

    ‘First Shift’ was a departure in the ‘Wool’ series but you’ve handled it very nicely. I’m glad to see you’ve gotten such good reivews!

    The one thing that makes no sense to me is why ‘Game of Thrones’ is sitting in science fiction. Is Tryion actually a mini-bot? Are the ‘others’ really some sort of trans-dimensional beings? Unless the Tleilaxu suddenly show up in the next installment with a Ned Stark Ghola, I’m gonna keep wondering what’s going on with the categorization.

    • Louise van Hine says:

      Because it’s fantasy, and fantasy is still considered a subgenre of science fiction.

    • Narciso says:

      You hit it. It’s unpredictable. But as a reviewer said, the page where anyone can die is missing from book 4.

      This is a bit off-topic maybe, but I might have a clue about why some readers pick a book in a series in one that is not the first: it is not clearly stated anywhere.
      Several of the last sci-fi books I’ve read are in fact series, and although the title in Amazon is sometimes “Title (Series name)” it is not easy to find out what volume in that series are you currently viewing.
      It takes some searching until you find out which one is the first.
      I guess it’s best to put something like “Title (Series name – volume number)”.
      Precisely the way Hugh is naming them :)

  5. I think that’s more of a leftover from the need to shoehorn as many books as possible into limited physical store space.

    Even on Amazon UK, where they have a Fantasy/Science Fiction category, it goes on to separate the two. In the US store, the two categories are treated as being completely separate. He sits in both there.

    Or should SF writers start listing their books in the Amazon fantasy category?

    I understand your point, Louise, but I think it’s a lopsided deal that the fantasy writers get the better of.

    George’s series is fantasy.

    It is known…

  6. Lisa B says:

    I love George R.R. Martin, but I I actually think you’re a better writer.

  7. Matt Parker says:

    I have to agree with the comments above..
    As a boy growing up reading Hienlein, Niven, Asimov, and McCaffery, and more recently Card, David Drake, David Weber for my space opera fix, I have to say that you are BEST new author on the scene and that I so look forward to your books being released.

  8. Darwinfish says:

    The really frustrating thing about Martin is little else compares.

    Hugh to write a Cormac McCarthy inspired epic fantasy after Wool wraps up IMHO.

  9. Jae Lee says:

    And even when you’re recognized as one of the best authors in the world, I hope you keep trying!

  10. Wendy Strand says:

    i have read the first five Game of Thrones novels and in my opinion, you are a much better writer. GRRM has some great ideas and stories to tell, but you have great stories and you write better.

  11. Ruby says:

    Keep trying, lad, keep trying. You’re doing pretty well, so far. And George? He ought to be ashamed to NOT know who you are at this point.

  12. Crystal says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1uunRdQ61M

    I love you both! (but love you more cause you write so much faster)

    You both write A-MAZING characters. I think that’s why I’m so drawn in.

  13. Dan says:

    What a great anecdote, and it won’t be long until the line sways in your favor Hugh, keep up the great work.

  14. Jim says:

    Well if it makes you feel better I don’t think I’ve ever read a book my Mr. Martin. What’s up with the RRs? Sounds like a motorcycle…

    Now quit talking to people and get to work on Wool 8! :)

  15. Jay says:

    He ain’t got nothin’ on you brother. Your book I couldn’t put down. I’ve tried six times to read Game of Thrones and make it to about page 60.

    • Joanna says:

      Same here. My friends kept telling me to read Games of Thrones. I tried, but the writing style failed to really draw me in.

      However I just recommended Wool to one of my friends a couple of days ago and she’s already finished reading the entire omnibus!

    • Louise van Hine says:

      hahahahaha…!

  16. Cleve says:

    I have the coolest kindle in the world. Hugh knows why…

  17. sonate10 says:

    Who is George Martin?

    Hugh, When do we see the next book from Silo 17?

  18. Sonate10 says:

    Who is George Martin?

    Hugh, when do we enjoy the next novel about silo 17 and Juliette?

  19. Batman says:

    lol great story. keep trying bro.

  20. Beth says:

    I actually feel kind of lame saying this but… I’ve never heard of George R.R. Martin. :( I’m not really the type to follow the list of who’s on top and who everyone hates. I just read things as they come at me. Much in the same way that as I was reading Wool I had no idea you were an author that had become explosively popular via the internet, I just randomly happened across the cover of Wool as I was browsing a list of Dystopian novels.

    I guess I was just never lucky enough to come by anything by George R.R. Martin. :P

  21. Jeremy says:

    Hugh- I just want to echo what others have already said above. GRRM novels are like a marathon. After spending years enveloped in A Song of Ice and Fire, I must admit, I am spent. I didn’t even have the energy to finish book 5 despite being so heavily invested in his story for so long. I needed a breath of fresh air.

    Luckily, that breath of fresh air happened to be #6. I just want to say thank you for writing novels that doesn’t stretch and bend your mind to the point of fatigue (I’m looking at you, GRRM). Maybe you should start growing your mangy beard right now, because I’m convinced GRRM is soon to be dethroned as the king of fantasy/fiction. We’re rootin’ for you, #6!

  22. Alan Bellows says:

    Related anecdote: I am an author myself, and about a year and a half ago I was sitting at a rickety wooden table during an “Authorpalooza” event at a Salt Lake City Barnes & Noble. Along with a dozen or so other local authors, including my co-author brother, I was sitting along the store’s inner perimeter with stacks of books, clusters of balloons, and the least salesmannish smile I could produce.

    As the event was wrapping up a fellow came to our table and said “Hey, I know your website!” followed by a handful of complimentary things about our book. He picked up one of the remaining copies and asked me to sign it. I did so, and chatted with him long enough to discover he was also an author.

    “Oh? What sort of stuff do you write?” I asked, only to see my brother’s eyebrows and lower jaw make for opposite ends of his face. Apparently I had failed to recognize the star of the Authorpalooza: famed author Brandon Sanderson.

    I was retroactively flattered of course, and felt a bit bad for having failed to recognize him. But he was super nice about it. Oh well. The notion of “celebrity” never really did much for me anyway.

  23. Zach Besterfield says:

    I think your science fiction is superlative. Your place is not next to RR, it’s next to Asimov and Heinlein. You belong with those guys, the Masters.

  24. tmso says:

    I think you are both awesome. Why does there have to be a competition?

    Anyway, glad you got his signature. :)

  25. MK says:

    I was partway into Game of Thrones when I picked up Wool. I’ve since read and re-read Wool, First Shift, and Second Shift several times… and have yet to go back to GoT*. Clearly no contest…

    *though I intend to pick it back up eventually… probably… I think…

  26. I’ve met GRRM a few times, and I think he gets a bit overwhelmed in crowds. He’s really cool in a quieter setting.

    I hope I get to meet you someday, Hugh. And I hope I’ll share a spot on the best-seller list. I’m still in my 20-years-of-struggle phase, but seeing your success gives me hope.

    And you are both AWESOMELY TALENTED writers. It’s wonderful to see merit-based success in this world.

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