Spoiling George R.R. Martin: some cautionary advice

No spoilers here: The land north of the Wall, from "The Lands of Ice and Fire" (Bantam) I'm well into "A Feast for Crows" -- book 4 of George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" epic -- and I've lost my breath and had my heart broken countless times by this series. Oh, I know, there's plenty more to come, but I need to be careful: The surprises can be ruined if you don't watch out.

If you relish this series, you'll find it difficult not to buy everything else connected to the series, and that can only mean one thing: Read related works at your own risk for spoilers abound. Here are a few Martinesque items to consider for your bookshelves ... along with my advice:

"The Lands of Ice and Fire" (Bantam):  Even imaginary landscapes need to be treated like real places -- J.R.R. Tolkien demonstrated that with his sketches of scenes and maps for "The Hobbit." The same is also true of George R.R. Martin's tale. Until now, the only maps of Martin's heroic world have been mostly simple: black-and-white sketches included in the volumes of the series. Or else you might check out images of Norway -- kindly supplied at Ajaytao's blog -- to get some idea of what the frozen country located to the north of the Wall is really like for Jon Snow and the rest of the Night's Watch

This is  a lovely collection of maps that gives us Westeros along with the rest of the surrounding continents in vivid, topographical detail. I'll admit that I picked up one of the maps, "Beyond the Wall," hoping for some additional clues about The Others. No luck. While this map doesn't reveal any of Martin's secrets, one thing is certainly true: It's too bad Lord Snow didn't have this one in his pocket when he went out in search of Wildlings!

Verdict: Dig up every gold dragon that you can find and buy this!

"Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R. R. Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' " (BenBella Books): I wish I could say the same thing about "Beyond the Wall," but I can't.  It has nothing to do with the quality of this book: Editor James Lowder has assembled a great collection of essays by a variety of authors who celebrate Martin's saga.  But this book is the dessert once the main meal has been eaten -- if you're not finished with Book 5, this book is liable to ruin your experience of getting there.  I grabbed a copy of this book, opened to its table of contents and felt my heart skip a beat.

Verdict: Ok, buy this book, but shelve it ... and be patient!

"A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official 'Game of Thrones' Companion" (Bantam): I love this book because it shows us how to make all those wildly strange dishes digested by kings and queens, bannermen, maesters and simple folk. The authors present us with a superb collection of recipes so that you can bring the meals of Westeros into your own home.

Verdict: A great book, but be careful -- each recipe is accompanied by a quotation selected from books 1 - 5.  These aren't lethal spoilers, but they can sometimes drop hints that you wish you hadn't seen.

"Epic: Legends of Fantasy" (Tachyon): This collection of stories by epic novelists -- including Rothfuss, Le Guin, etc. -- includes a story by George R.R. Martin called "The Mystery Knight."  Martin gives us an extended story of Westeros that precedes our introduction to Lord Eddard Stark and his wolf clan.

Verdict: No spoilers here, but a great tale to occupy your time as you await Book 6.

Any other books that we should know about? All you citizens of Westeros -- please, let me know!

Ancient H2O: new in bookstores

Realms like Westeros, in George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire," or Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast are imaginary landscapes -- places that exist only in the reader's mind. Until about 80 or 90 years ago, you could have added my Southern California to the list of imaginary topographies.  More than 22 million people consider my region their home today, but that number would have stunned scientists in the early 20th century. This land lacked a single element to support such an enormous population: Water.

But sunny SoCal is hardly the first region to ever grapple with natural resources: Steven Mithen's "Thirst: Water and Power in the Ancient World" (Harvard University Press) supplies a marvelous tour of long ago civilizations whose fates rested on water and making it available to their populations.Request Feedback

That marvelous face on the cover says it all, doesn't it?

Sumerians, Nabataeans ("masters of the desert," says Mithen), Minoans, Mayans, the Hohokam--Mithen's book is a fascinating survey of the many civilizations affected by a resource that we take for granted.

Find a comfortable chair, pour yourself a tall glass of water if you're thirsty, and spend a few hours reading about ancient efforts at hydraulics and irrigation described with evocative, often personalized prose. Then, once you're finished, take a sip and remember how lucky you are.