Kings Without Thrones: George R. R. Martin’s “Sandkings”

Everyone has Game of Thrones fever right now and while I’m probably not the best person to explain why the Night King was actually the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, I can at least provide a bit of George R. R. Martin arcanum. Because God knows there’s nothing Thrones fans love more than lore.

Despite the cumulative page count for A Song of Ice and Fire approaching nine-digits (probably), the world of Westeros is far from the only one that Martin has created. Long before he was making incest a common point of discussion in polite society, Martin was creating a series of briefly-explored science fiction and fantasy landscapes through his short stories, novellas and script writing. A lot of that early non-Thrones material can be found in a two volume collection named Dreamsongs.

The cover art is … on brand.

Some of the stories in Dreamsongs are clever and some are trite—Martin boldly included one of his first ever stories, written when he was literally just a child—but one stands out as being among the best things he’s ever written. “Sandkings” is set in the distant future on a distant planet and despite its far-fetched, fairly stereotypical setting, the story and its characters feel acutely real, especially in a time when “being rich and oblivious” is having a bit of a moment.

See, at the center of “Sandkings” is Simon Kress, a rich douche who throws elaborate dinner parties that prominently feature the space-faring equivalent of dog fighting. Except that, instead of dogs, the participants in these battles are the titular sandkings, little alien creatures who grow as large and violent as their circumstances allow and who come to worship Kress as something akin to a god. Martin’s narrative is gripping in part because the unbearable Kress is immensely life-like and in part because of a series of twists and turns that are horrifying like the best of Poe and perfectly paced like the best of Rowling.

So take a break from binge-watching Martin’s more popular works and spend a few minutes with what might be his best. (Yeah, I said it.) Conveniently enough, you can read the entirety of “Sandkings” here.

2 thoughts on “Kings Without Thrones: George R. R. Martin’s “Sandkings”

    1. Thanks! Sandkings is certainly less epic than Game of Thrones or a lot of his other stories but it’s just as long as it needs to be and it does so much in the short amount of space it occupies. I think the argument that it’s his best is a strong one.

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