George R.R. Martin, the best-selling, Hugo Award-winning mastermind of “Game of Thrones,” returns to Kansas City this week for Worldcon’s MidAmeriCon II, the annual worldwide science fiction and fantasy convention.
He’ll also be on hand to launch “High Stakes,” the 23rd volume in the “Wild Cards” series of novels, which are set on an Earth where an alien virus gives a select few earthlings amazing powers and hideously deforms (or kills) others.
“Wild Cards” is a “shared universe” in which dozens of writers create characters and contribute stories. Martin oversees the books with former “Star Trek: The Next Generation” story editor Melinda M. Snodgrass. Earlier this month, “Wild Cards” was optioned by Universal Cable Productions to become a TV series.
Martin is no stranger to KC. He says he made his first trip here in 1972, attended Worldcon’s first MidAmeriCon in 1976 — “It was actually in many ways my favorite Worldcon of all time,” he said — and has visited several times since.
From Beverly Hills, Calif., a few days ago, Martin discussed with The Star the similarities between “Wild Cards” and superhero movies, his writing process and what he has found disappointing and exciting about how the future has turned out.
Q: How did the “Wild Cards” series of books come about?
A: In the early ’80s a group of writers in Albuquerque, we had a little gaming group that got together to play role-playing games. We were all comic book fans, but we were also science fiction writers.
We played the game obsessively for more than a year. Sometimes two or three times a week. We’d start in the evening and still be playing at 3 or 4 in the morning.
At one point, I said, “This is great, but we’re writers. We should be writing. We should figure out a way to write down these adventures we’re having.” So that’s when I took hold and decided we could do it as a shared world anthology.
Around 1985, I put together a package and sold it to Bantam Books. The first book came out in 1986, and the rest is history, more or less.
Q: So the shared universe of the “Wild Cards” books is not unlike what Marvel and DC are doing with their movies?
A: Right, exactly, but there are several differences. “Wild Cards” is owned by the writers, not a corporation. And also, I think our universe is a little more realistic and certainly more time-sensitive.
Spider-Man is always in high school or college — he never really gets older — but our characters age and die and have children and get married and get divorced. They may have superpowers, but they have all the real problems that real people do, and they live in real time. That’s where things with a 30-year-history can really kick in and really set us apart.
Q: Was that the plan from the beginning, to create characters that aged and grew?
A: I love comic books and I love the whole mythos of the superhero, but I never liked all the reboots and the restarts and the fact that the characters never changed in significant ways. I think character change is what good fiction is all about.
The experiences that you have shape you and change you. You’re never the same when you go to war or you lose a loved one or you go to school and you graduate or you have a baby. All of these life experiences change you, and that’s what the “story” is all about. And when you always have to circle back to the initial concept, I think it’s difficult for a writer. It undermines the possibility for real growth and change.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about how the new TV deal came about?
A: “Wild Cards” has been optioned numerous times over the years. People wanted to do it as a feature film. People wanted to do it as a TV series.
The re-conception is a series of interlocked TV series, kind of similar to what Marvel is doing with “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil” and what DC is doing with “The Flash” and “Supergirl.” I think that is actually the right way to handle it. But it’s going to be Melinda Snodgrass and Gregory Noveck who are going to be heading that effort.
I’ve got this show called “Game of Thrones” that’s on HBO, and I have a development deal with HBO, so I’m exclusively working with HBO. I’m not going to be directly involved with “Wild Cards,” unless, by some chance, it goes to HBO, in which case all bets are off.
Q: As a science fiction fan and writer, what has disappointed you about how the future has turned out?
A: Depends on which me you’re going back to. As a kid growing up in a world of science fiction and fantasy in the 1950s, I thought by this point we’d have a city on the moon and we’d have space stations and we’d be going to Mars and Venus and mining the asteroid belt. After all, we got to the moon in 1969, that was a long time ago. Somehow we stopped going, and that’s very disappointing.
And, of course, like all science fiction people, I want my flying car. Where the hell is my flying car? Now by 1976, of course, those dreams were different from the dreams I dreamed in the ’50s. I still think I would have liked to have seen more space exploration.
I think the 1976 me would have been very disappointed to learn that we’re fighting endless wars in the Middle East and are still dependent on oil and that we have people like Donald Trump running for president. That would not have pleased the 1976 me.
Q: What about the future has excited you?
A: Computers are a lot farther along than I thought. In 1976, I was still writing my stories on a typewriter. I never dreamed that anything like the internet would exist. Now, that is exciting, but I think I would gladly trade the internet for a colony on Mars.
Q: Watching the video of your interview with Stephen King this summer, you looked like the biggest fan up there onstage with him. Are you living the dream right now?
A: I’m beyond the dream. I never dreamed this.
Back in 1976, I dreamed I might win a Hugo (science fiction, fantasy writing award) one day. But the kind of stuff here with the hottest show in the world on television and what’s happened to me in recent years is nothing I’ve ever dared to dream of.
Q: Can you share a little bit about your writing process?
A: There’s not much I can tell you. It’s slow. I’m a slow and painstaking writer — always have been. Sometimes I don’t know how the hell I do it. I sit down, and on a good day stories come out. And on a bad day, I struggle and I read my email.
To reach arts editor David Frese, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 816-234-4463. Twitter: @DavidFrese.
Wednesday through Sunday
George R.R. Martin will attend Worldcon’s MidAmeriCon II science fiction and fantasy convention this week at Bartle Hall. For admission rates and a schedule of events, go to MidAmeriCon2.org.
On Friday, Martin, Melinda M. Snodgrass and several other authors will sign and launch “Wild Cards: High Stakes” from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Count Basie Ballroom at the Downtown Marriott, 200 W. 12th St. More information can be found at RainyDayBooks.com.