Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dreamsongs: Volume II, by George R. R. Martin

Dreamsongs: Volume II
George R. R. Martin

Dreamsongs: Volume II was originally the second half of the limited edition GRRM: A Rretrospective from Subterranean Press. Dreamsongs collects a wide range of George R. R. Martin’s short fiction, including some never before published work as well as his juvenilia.

Volume II opens with two of GRRM’s Haviland Tuf stories, "A Beast for Norn" and "Guardians". The first story was a bit of a slow opener as I tried to work out why GRRM was so enamored with this characters and what about Tuf would merit a series of stories as well as a published collection of Tuf stories. "A Beast for Norn" was similar to some of Martin’s earlier SF work, which evinced a coldness of tone and setting. Tuf brokered deals to sell exotic beasts to various sects on a planet, to catastrophic results. “A Beast for Norn“ did not quite get into the head of Haviland Tuf or really get into his motivations. But, it was interesting enough. “Guardians“, however, was a much stronger story. This time our intrepid ecological engineer maneuvers his way into assisting a planet under siege by never before seen sea creatures. Finally we understand who Tuf is and how he acts, though there is an untold backstory just waiting to be explored. “Guardians“ was a much stronger, richer story than “A Beast for Norn“ was.

The next section contains two screenplays. The first is an unaired Twilight Zone episode written by GRRM, the second the original version of the pilot episode to a show called “Doorways”. The Twilight Zone ep was interesting enough. It contained some chills with the thought of a mysterious man in the daughter’s room that nobody else can see, and the by the end we get what felt like a typical Twilight Zone twist, but the screenplay was a short, decent read. I think I would rather read a story treatment of this ep instead of the ep itself, but the chance to read some of Martin’s Hollywood work is a treat.

Better still is the original pilot to Doorways. The episode was filmed, but not this original version. Think of a different, less campy version of Sliders and you’ll have an idea. There are doorways between alternate realities, which is always entertaining, only this time there are men hunting another (the woman, Cat) first into our reality, and then across others. In this episode we see the Cuban Missile Crisis gone far wrong, and another where America has devolved into warring states. There are so many options, but Martin tells a tight story, keeps things focused, and really delivers with this pilot to “Doorways”. Well done, sir.

Section IV is two excerpts from the Wild Cards mosaic novels, one about The Turtle, another from Book IV, the Journals of Xavier Desmond. I’ll confess that I skipped this section. I’ve read the Turtle story from Wild Cards I and I plan to read Wild Cards IV soon. The Turtle story is a good one. I’ll say that much.

Martin closes out the set with the fourth and final Section which he introduces as stories of “the heart in conflict with itself”. Overall I was less impressed with this set than some of Martin’s earlier work, except for two stories. Not surprisingly, I was impressed with “The Hedge Knight”, the first Ice and Fire prequel story. “The Hedge Knight” was originally collected in the Legends anthology, but I had not read the story before (despite having read most of that anthology), and revisiting Westeros in an earlier time was a treat. I want to know more of Dunk and Egg. The second story I wanted to note was “The Skin Trade”, Martin’s werewolf story which is less about werewolves and more about identity – mixed in with violence and brutality. The other stories, even the odd painting story to close out this volume, were less memorable to me.

Overall, the two volumes of Dreamsongs should be required reading for anyone who only knows George R. R. Martin as the guy who writes the Ice and Fire novels. The man’s career is much deeper and broader than that. So many of his stories are worth the time to read and there is no better chance than the Dreamsongs collections as his previous short story collections are difficult to find and this is a career retrospective containing his best and more representational work. It’s damn good.

With that said, I think Volume I is a stronger set than Volume II. There is more fiction, and the stories stand out more in Volume I than in Volume II. I enjoyed Volume II, but I am more likely to pick up Volume I to re-read and if I had to give a recommendation for only one, it would be the first. But find them both, if possible. It’s quality reading. Good Mr. Martin is quite a damn fine writer.

Whenever GRRM finishes Ice and Fire, I would love to see what he writes next. Whatever it is, it’ll be something none of us expect. Science Fiction, Horror, Fantasy...most likely it’ll be a blend of all three. And more.

Thoughts on Dreamsongs: Volume I

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