George R.R. Martin has been writing award winning science fiction and fantasy since the 1970s. You can see a list of his awards here at Locus Magazine. He also served as a writer/producer for television shows such as the 1980s revival of "The Twilight Zone" and "Beauty and the Beast". However, he is likely best known for his popular fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
The first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, is the basis of a new television program set to air on HBO April 17th. You can read more about the television version of A Game of Thrones on HBO's website. There are also promo videos available for viewing on youtube.
The series is a variation on epic fantasy, though much darker than predecessors such as J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. This is due in part to the setting in a world where seasons can last a generation, and the characters are moving into what might be a long winter. The tension is increased by the fact that characters, even popular heroes, can and do die. The plot is loosely based upon the events of the Wars of the Roses, but with dragons, creatures that are a cross between a zombie and a vampire, and other things not common to 15th century England.
The books feature a revolving cast of narrators, which gives readers insight into the many and complex events of the plot and the even more complicated motivations driving their actions. The many details of the characters and their relationships can be difficult to keep track of at times, but the richly detailed world is equally absorbing for most fans. Though at first I was annoyed with how often I had to check the character guides, I quickly developed favorites among the cast of narrators and the anticipation of their chapters made it very difficult to put the books down.
The series is equally known for the delays between volumes. What was first projected as a trilogy has grown to seven volumes, in part because the fourth book was so lengthy it needed to be split into two. When I first picked up A Game of Thrones, I was warned to wait a few months before reading A Clash of Kings because of the years between publication dates. Happily, a publication date of July 2011 for the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, was recently announced. This is not the first time a release date has been mentioned, but this should be the real deal (Mr. Martin's website includes a countdown timer).
You might be interested to know that the author has a Dubuque connection. From 1976-1979, George R.R. Martin was a journalism instructor at Clarke University. You can read more about how his time in Dubuque influenced his writing in this interview with the Chicago Tribune.
Edited to Add: For Read Alike suggestions see this post.
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