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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Dreamsongs: Volume 1 by George R.R. Martin

Dreamsongs: Volume 1 by George R.R. Martin. New York: Bantam Books, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-553-80545-1

Once an author becomes (presumably) rich and famous, and publishers are hanging onto his every word—or so it seems, sooner or later the author feels the need to publish all of his or her work, early, late and middle—good, bad, or indifferent, in a collection. Short stories, and some not so short; anyway, the kind of thing that can be readily anthologized. And for some odd and unknown reason, recently I've been awash in these self-selected collections. I've just finished (look back on the blog!) reading and reviewing collections by Orson Scott Card, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and Neil Gaiman. And I've already finished reading, but haven't yet gotten around to blogging a similar collection from David Gerrold.

So here's the first of two, not just one, mind you, from master fantasist, George R.R. Martin, whose “Song of Ice and Fire” cycle has all of his fans twitching in anticipation for the next and fifth volume, A Dance with Dragons, due for release in September. Martin must be extremely and exceptionally prolific in the short story genre, since his “Books by” page lists no less than seven (7!) previous short story collections by him.

This is the first that I've read, I must confess, at least so far as I can recall. At least, none appear on my blog, which covers pretty much everything I've read since August of 2003, including Vol. 4 of the “Song of Ice and Fire,” A Feast for Crows.

What makes this volume interesting is how it showcases Martin's work from its earliest feeble beginnings (said with tongue firmly in cheek, since none of them are particularly feeble), on into his maturing in his craft as a writer. His introductions are an essential part of this journey, explaining as they do how he first got started by telling himself stories as a child, reading the “funny books” (comics), and then starting to write for the fanzines of the early sixties.

Interestingly enough, even these very earliest stories, while admittedly somewhat naive in their conception at times, are well written, and entertaining to read. Even when the ideas behind them are a little on the shallow or trivial side, they still keep you turning the pages. What's amazing to me is that by just the second batch of stories, Martin already pens one, “With Morning Comes Mistfall,” that get nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards! It didn't win, but it got nominated. I'll admit it's a good story, but I wouldn't have thought it was THAT good, personally.

By the third batch, he actually DOES win a Hugo, this time with “A Song for Lya,” which, again, was nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo, but only won the Hugo. And it IS a darn good story, even if I knew what was going to happen well before it actually came to pass. Can't be helped, I suppose. This section also has “And Seven Times Never Kill Man,” which is a truly disturbing story. Aliens against human religious fanatics, with an ending in this case NOT anticipated, at least not by me. Martin is really catching his stride with stories of alien worlds, alien artifacts, aliens embracing human religions, humans embracing alien religions, and more.

Next comes a section of fantasy stories, and these are very well done also. I think I actually liked them better than the SciFpi stories. Then come the horror stories, and these I don't like quite as well, but I can't deny their power. I'm just not a horror fan, even though these stories can also be considered fantasy, or in the case of the often-anthologized “Sandkings,” science fiction. I think “Sandkings” is the only story that remember reading before, and probably more than once, but then, it's a story that once read, is not likely to be forgotten. The stories in this section are also some of the longest in the book. “Nightflyers” is another SciFi horror tale, involving as it does, interstellar travel, and a most strange alien lifeform.

Well, I've already written way more about this book than I intended, while probably not saying all that much that is really helpful to the potential reader. I definitely recommend this collection for anyone who is a fan of Martin's work, and for that matter, for anyone who wants to read elegant, evocative, slightly twisted tales of wonder and the macabre.

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