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Dreamsongs: A Retrospective – Book Two by George R. R. Martin

Dreamsongs: A Retrospective – Book Two by George R. R. Martin
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Book Name: Dreamsongs: A Retrospective - Book Two
Author: George R. R. Martin
Publisher(s): Bantam
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Anthology / Short Stories
Release Date: November 27, 2007

Slightly worrying for all of us A Song of Ice and Fire fans, it turns out George RR Martin has a track record of abandoning series of books and stories. As I said last month, one of the best things about this collection of his shorter fiction is the frank and honest introductions to each section, and in introducing Tuf Voyaging, Martin admits that he meant to write many more of these tales to make it an ongoing series in the vein of say Moorcock’s ongoing series of Elric of Melniboné, but Hollywood came calling and Martin has never found the opportunity to return. This is a real shame as the two tales here, “A Best for Norn” and “Guardians”, show just how well written and thought provoking the (mis)adventures of Haviland Tuf are.

Tuf is a solitary space trader and captain of the Ark, a very powerful warship with advanced ecological engineering capabilities, who travels the galaxy, offering his services to worlds with environmental problems, and sometimes imposing solutions of his own. I said last month just what a great science fiction writer Martin is, and here is yet more evidence of this, though the stories themselves are in effect environmental morality tales, they are underpinned by clever and memorable concepts and Tuf himself is a very striking character.

Next up is George RR Martin’s initial foray into the world of SFF TV, and based on the script for the pilot of Doorways here, it’s no real surprise that his initial forays were on the whole unsuccessful. The show bears a strong resemblance to the popular 90s TV series, Sliders, and the characters themselves are rather bland and unappealing. I can see why the studio passed on the script. Martin was slightly more successful in writing for The Twilight Zone, and the scripts presented here would seem to have led to quite chilling TV (sadly I have never actually watched The Twilight Zone episodes scripted by Martin), but overall my verdict is that I much prefer Martin writing novels, novellas and short stories than TV scripts.

The “Wild Cards” is George Martin’s personal pet project as anyone who ever visits his blog will know. It is a series of anthologies of science fiction and superhero stories set in a shared world all penned by New Mexico writers (though mainly championed by Martin himself), though has had limited popular appeal, and is now onto its fourth publisher. The stories are based on the comics the writers all loved as children, and probably the closest comparison I can make is with the TV series Heroes, but again I have to admit I am simply not a fan, and have felt no desire to track down the complete anthologies (of which there are now nearly 20 volumes!).

If the quality of the first half of this volume is rather uneven, showing Martin’s weaknesses as a writer along with his misguided dedication to vanity projects, more than his strengths as a writer, the second half more than makes up for it, with a collection of some absolutely brilliant short stories and novellas, which he describes as, “Some stories that I wrote. A little of this with a little of that. Weird stuff, folks, just weird stuff.” I’m afraid I can’t beat that definition, but one further comment before discussing the stories themselves, the introduction to this final section is absolutely brilliant. Martin rants about the obsession publishers have with neatly labeling stories as being one genre or another, and explains the quite brilliant ‘furniture rule’:

“We can make up all the definitions of science fiction and fantasy and horror that we want. We can draw our boundaries and make our labels, but in the end it’s still the same old story, the one about the human heart in conflict with itself.

The rest, my friends, is furniture.”

And I for one couldn’t agree more.

“Under Siege” is a fascinating time travel tale and for readers of the first volume, they will notice how Martin has recycled an old tale from his juvenilia. The lesson to all aspiring writers is never delete or throw away an unsuccessful story, you never know when you might be able to revisit it! “The Skin Trade” is one of Martin’s most famous novellas, a detective noir tale of werewolves, and well deserving of all the love it gets.

“Unsound Variations” has an amusing conception in that it came about because of a challenge between him and Roger Zelazny in which the two of them were coming up with short stories that would be eligible for anthologies on chess, time travel and bizarrely unicorns. Martin’s tale “Unsound Variations” covered both chess and time travel, whilst Zelazny managed to get all three bases covered in his story! It is actually one of the most convincing tales I have ever read on time travel, and does not leave with all the plot holes and unanswered questions that most time travel tales leave you with.

“The Glass Flower” is another of Martin’s sci-fi and horror hybrids, and probably the weakest in this section, though slightly harsh on it considering the competition! “The Hedge Knight” is worth the book price alone, a novella written as a prequel to A Song of Ice and Fire, it’s the story of Dunk the Hedge Knight and his squire, Egg who is more than he first seems. Martin has since written two more of these prequels, and I honestly find myself anticipating new Dunk and Egg tales more than I do A Song of Ice and Fire novels.

The final tale “Portraits of His Children” is a fitting conclusion to a retrospective of writing, which is not merely a collection of short stories, but also a biography of a writing career. Whilst I am sure that Martin has not made the literal sacrifice Richard Cantling has for his success, the metaphor is fitting for all successful writers. Martin might be one of the most successful writers on the planet now, but it has not always been so for him, and this retrospective is so interesting because it highlights his failures as much as it highlights his successes, both through the introductions he writes for each section and the writings he chooses to include.

The other thing the two volumes of this collection really highlight for me is how he is so much more than just the guy who wrote A Game of Thrones. I find myself hoping that he one day finishes A Song of Ice and Fire, not just so I can finally get closure on the series, but that I might one day read some more sci-fi and horror tales by him (hopefully in hybrid form!).

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Rating: 9.8/10 (6 votes cast)
Dreamsongs: A Retrospective - Book Two by George R. R. Martin, 9.8 out of 10 based on 6 ratings
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6 Comments

  1. Idlewilder says:

    Are you planning on doing Fevre Dream, Dom?

  2. Khaldun says:

    The Skin Trade was great, and while I thoroughly enjoyed Unsound Variations, I think that the Dunk & Egg story is the best of the bunch and, as you say, worth the price of the book alone. The two other prequel novellas are also fantastic. I own the first two in graphic novel form as well, and the art is wonderful.

  3. Dominic Stevens says:

    Would need to read Fevre Dream first!

  4. Captain Tripp's Variety Show says:

    Hi, but I am sorry to say but for Sliders is the one that holds a strong resemble to Doorways. As well as the fact that it was very close of being made, but it did not get greenlight because of executives shift.

    Sliders was, and always will be a terrible remake of Doorways and a terrible show with limited imagination. I recommend that you reread Martin’s commentary on it; I thought he expressed himself quite well on it.

    Also, comparing Wildcards to NBC’s Heroes is really, really erroneous; you should compare it to Watchmen, because both series are a well-thought out Alternative History series. Wildcards is pretty great, I think you should read it. I take it you are not a comic book fan?

  5. Dominic Stevens says:

    Ummm, To be honest I didn’t grow up reading comics aside from Tintin and Asterix, but have read since then many seminal comics such as Watchmen, Batman Year One, The Dark Knight, the Complete Sandman series, The Killing Joke, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Long Halloween, and many Judge Dredd stories.

    I liked Sliders personally, not the greatest series ever, and lost interest when most of the original cast had departed, but the original characters were likeable, and my issue with Doorways was that I just found the characters bland. And the big bad seemed it could get dull rather quickly if each episode it simply pursued the heroes across the world they had jumped into before they narrowly escaped at the end of the episode. I got the impression that Martin came up with the concept for Doorways about the same time the writers of Sliders came up with their concept, but please correct me if I am wrong.

    Wild Cards – I will have to take your word for. I can concede your point about the alternate history and I didn’t consider that in writing my review. But the problem with this anthology is that it is such a small taste of Wild Cards, and the taste given just didn’t inspire me to read further.

    Thanks for your feedback though – nice to have some intelligent criticism to consider. 🙂

  6. Did you ever see Doorways? Actually the pilot was produced and ABC ordered six more scripts. Then came the management shakeup and the dropping of existing projects. And yes, Doorways did precede Sliders.

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