As a reader: Epic fantasy is my home genre as a reader, so I’m automatically more comfortable perusing and enjoying and judging myself against it because I have a good frame of reference. He wrote an absolutely fantastic series that, despite the frequent death of characters of personal importance to my heart, still inspires me to read on.
As a writer: His sentence craft is simple and direct. There are occasional lines that I highlight in my Kindle app (I’m rereading an ebook version six years after I originally devoured the paperback versions from a library) because he’s created a subtle double-entendre, or just made a sentence glow off the page with awesomeness, but the vast majority of his sentences themselves are easy to make and easy to read. They deliver the information needed to move us along, and then they get the fuck out of the way so the next sentence can do the same. As a writer, it pushes me through some of the trepidation I feel about starting to write something when I explore someone like George R.R. Martin’s work and find simple and direct sentences as the core of said work. It repeats to me what my mother, my teachers, and my friends have told me for many years: “you can do this. This man created a masterpiece of epic fantasy literature by stringing together this type of sentence, one after another after another.” Obviously I know there’s hours more work that has nothing to do with the physical sentence craft of a worldbuilding project of this scale (for those who don’t know me, my senior project for my B.A. in Creative Writing was a novella encompassing a worldbuilding project), but I find the creative worldbuilding process much easier and much less punishing than the writing process, so it’s nice to see someone wed the two so successfully, and use simple writing techniques to sew it all together. It’s definitely a “you can do it” message.
As a worldbuilder: As I mentioned, I understand just how much love and detail and logic work goes into creating a functioning world that could live if set free. Mine is a roof-pile of notes like autumn leaves resting atop the shaky pillars of a mere handful of edited stories. Each time I return to the project, there’s still a roof over my head, but the less time I spend there the more it threatens to fall into chaos. All that aside, the reason Martin is inspiring as a worldbuilder rather than intimidating requires a look at the underpinnings of his plot and mythology. I happened to take a course in English History while still in college, and discovered that the houses dancing around one another and usurping castles and King of England status was remarkably like the battles I’d read about in A Song of Ice and Fire. At one point I believe I had found a scenario that directly correlated to what happened in the series, though I seem to have banished it from memory (preferring to live purely in the fictional realm just a bit longer). His houses and much of their structure and movements come from English history, though obviously the details and trappings are entirely his own. I don’t mean to intimate in any way that his masterpiece is a sham by pointing out this correlation. It doesn’t diminish his achievement in my eyes; rather, it reminds me that artistic theft is necessary to many projects. It gives us the logic and structures of the world we live in while delighting our fancy with the flourishes and trappings of fantasy. Would George R.R. Martin been as successful had he done a true-to-history recounting of English events and people instead of an epic fantasy series? Probably not. This is why genre writing is so powerful. Not because teenage girls like sparkly rapey vampires, or because teenage boys delight in the gore of zombies: because good fantasy and science fiction recount to us that history we must educate ourselves to avoid repeating in a package we readily accept and in fact devour. Artistic theft, especially in genre works, makes the piece more powerful to the reader and more accessible/inspiring to the worldbuilder. I didn’t discuss his mythology in detail, but I believe there are correlations to our world history there as well.
To conclude, George R.R. Martin inspires both awe and work from this reader-writer-worldbuilder. He lets the reader in me enjoy the ride even as the writer-worldbuilder in me goes, “hey, we could do that.”