'Game of Thrones' author draws faithful crowd at Balticon 50

Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin was the guest of honor at this weekend's 50th annual Balticon.

The one question you're not supposed to ask George R.R. Martin remained unspoken Saturday as the "Game of Thrones" author greeted hundreds of fans — he did not give any hints as to when his next book might come out.

Martin was the guest of honor at this weekend's Balticon 50, the annual convention celebrating science fiction and fantasy literature, art and community at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, and he left fans wondering what's next in his unfinished series that has since become a hit HBO show.

Still, fans lined up early for a chance to get Martin's autograph and hear him speak. Though most fans brought books for Martin to sign, others were armed with costume pieces, artwork and other memorabilia they wanted him to autograph.

Tarisa Walker, who traveled from Reston, Va., to Balticon, had Martin sign a part of her costume. The 34-year-old planned to dress as "Game of Thrones" character Sansa for the Balticon masquerade party Saturday night, and Martin signed a feathered piece that covered her shoulders.

"We're doing a 'Game of Thrones' skit," she said. "We're watching the show before we read the books so that we don't get angry."

The wildly popular HBO series has gone beyond the plot lines of Martin's books, though more are in the works. In an afternoon interview with Mark Van Name, Martin said he never anticipated that the unfinished book series would end up as enormous as it has become. When he sold it in 1994 with 100 pages written, he pitched it as a trilogy. That quickly became a "four-book trilogy," he said, then a five-, six- and seven-book series. The sixth and seventh books have not yet been published.

"It hit 800 pages and I wasn't close to the end," he said of writing the first book, "Game of Thrones," the show's namesake, which was part of a larger series, "A Song of Ice and Fire." Then "Thrones" became "1,400 pages and there was no end in sight. At that point I kind of stopped and said, 'This isn't going to work.'"

Though Martin didn't speak in detail about the books, he said the Vietnam War was part of what shaped his writing and the complexity of his characters.

"We have the capacity for great heroism. We have the capacity for great selfishness and cowardice, many horrible acts. And sometimes at the same time. The same people can do something heroic on Tuesday and something horrible on Wednesday," he said. "Heroes commit atrocities. People who commit atrocities can be capable later of heroism. It's the human condition, and I wanted to reflect all that in my work."

Andreas Sofocleous, a Baltimore resident, said he has read the entire series to date. He waited in line for Martin's autograph and attended the sessions later in the day to see him speak.

"I've met him a couple times; he's always very friendly," the first-time Balticon attendee said.

Veteran Balticon attendees turned out to meet Martin as well, including Inge Heyer, who has been going to the convention since 1993. Heyer, a visiting assistant physics professor at Loyola University Maryland, had Martin sign a triptych — a compilation of three separate photos of program covers for three local conventions: Farpoint, Balticon and the upcoming Shore Leave. She's collecting signatures of all the guests at each convention, and the piece will be auctioned off following the July Shore Leave convention, with proceeds going to the Maryland Science Center.

Charles County residents Antonio and Stefanie Barone, 32 and 33, respectively, attended Balticon as their "babymoon." The couple is expecting their first child, and they arrived in Baltimore on Friday night for the weekend's events. They watch "Game of Thrones" every Sunday with a group of five to seven friends.

"There would be moments when I would just scream," Stefanie Barone said. "We're just very into the lore of the show."

Antonio Barone said he was impressed by his first Balticon, which was relocated this year to downtown Baltimore from Hunt Valley after outgrowing its former home. The Baltimore Science Fiction Society expected 3,000 people to attend throughout the weekend. As of Saturday afternoon, about 2,200 people were there, many in costume.

"This world is very accepting and free of stigmas," Antonio Barone said. "Everybody accepts everybody the way they are."

smeehan@baltsun.com

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