Saturday, August 13, 2011

Review: Dreamsongs

Title: Dreamsongs: A RRetrospective
Author: George R.R. Martin
Pages: 1059
ISBN: 9780575081482
Published: 2007
Genre: Fantasy

Buy it from The Book Depository:
Dreamsongs Volume I
Dreamsongs Volume II

George R.R. Martin is one of the most exciting storytellers of our time, a stylish, elegant writer who combines riveting plots with superb characterisation.

He writes with equal verve and fervour about werewolves as he does spaceships, wizards and vampires, and he has won virtually every award in the fields of fantasy literature.

This massive collection features the very best of George R.R. Martin's short fiction from the last thirty-some years.

I’m a complete newcomer to George R.R. Martin’s work. After reading A Game of Thrones earlier this year (which I loved) I wanted to explore some more of his work. As luck would have it my local library had Dreamsongs: A RRetrospective sitting on their shelves. It’s a good thing that I like reading hefty tome, since this one clocks in at an intimidating 1159 pages in trade paperback format (which might explain why it was only borrowed twice before I got my hands on it).

Dreamsongs is a veritable treasure trove of George R.R. Martin’s short fiction and contains a collection of 34 short stories, novellas and teleplays. The book is divided into nine sections each starting with commentary from the author sharing background or thoughts on the tales that follow.

Martin has written horror, fantasy and science fiction and he shines in each genre. I quite like his ‘furniture rule’ when it comes to genre classification.
‘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.

The House of Fantasy is built of stone and wood and furnished in High Medieval. Its people travel by horse and galley, fight with sword and spell and battleaxe, communicate by palantir or raven, and break bread with elves and dragons.

The House of Science Fiction is built with duralloy and plastic and furnished in Faux Future. Its people travel by starship and aircar, fight with nukes and tailored germs, communicate by ansible and laser, and break protein bars with aliens.

The House of Horror is built of bone and cobwebs and furnished in Ghastly Gothick. Its people travel only by night, fight with anything that will kill messily, communicate with screams and shrieks and gibbers, and sip blood with vampires and werewolves.’
The tales included in Dreamsongs range from Martin’s earliest work up to the present and you get a clear sense of how his proficiency as an author has evolved over the years. I’m not going to rate each story. Some of them are average some exceptional, but all are enjoyable.

I have to highlight a couple that stood out for me. A Song for Lya is a great science fiction tale that deals with alien religion, love and loss. The Ice Dragon has elements of what later became the Song of Ice and Fire series. Meathouse Man is a truly macabre tale where corpses are used as part of the workforce. Nightflyers is riveting blend of sci-fi and horror that deals with a haunted spaceship. The Monkey Treatment is for all those dieters out there, after reading this one you’re bound to be far happier with your weight. The Pear Shaped Man is a creepy tale that will change cheese curls into objects of horror forever. The Skin Trade is a great werewolf story with a twist. And finally, to round things off there’s the excellent Hedge Knight, a prequel of sorts to the Ice and Fire series.

The Verdict:
This is an absolute must read for any George R.R. Martin fans or anyone who wants to see if they would like his work without committing to the Song of Ice and Fire series. I don’t generally read short fiction, but I completely lost myself in this collection for the past week.

The Rating: 8.5/10

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