This book is a great compilation of short stories from and incorporating a mix of genres by a fantastic writer, with a commentary/autobiography between different periods in his writing. The stories themselves are fun to read, but the book was so enthralling for me because of the autobiographical sections, which made the stories more engaging because of the insight into the writer's life, which in turn caused certain stories to be written.
Highly recommended for people who enjoy short stories, but beware if you think every story will be a small version of "A Song of Ice and Fire," the genres are more diverse than that, including horror and science fiction, as well as more traditional fantasy.
First published in 2006, DREAMSONGS is the first volume of an anthology of George R. R. Martin’s short fiction (including short stories and novellas). It’s divided into four sections, each prefaced by a short introduction from Martin who provides context to the selected work.
ONLY KIDS ARE AFRAID OF THE DARK is one of Martin’s earliest works – a Dr Weird story written for Star-Studded Comics in the mid-60s. It’s brave to include it here because the story itself is raw with a two-dimensional villain and enough purple prose to sink a battleship, but it does show Martin’s early love of comics and fantasy.
THE FORTRESS is a story that earned Martin his first rejection letter and was written for a class he took in Scandinavian history. Based on a real military surrender, it shows more promise although the dialogue is a little stilted.
AND DEATH HIS LEGACY was a story that Martin wrote as part of a university course in creative writing. It started out as an homage to James Bond but became a more political story about the problems in stopping an ideology. The story’s a little simplistic but the pay off is a nice twist.
THE HERO was Martin’s first pro sale, which that set him on a course to becoming a professional writer. It’s a SF story about a soldier nearing the end of his tour of duty and determined to retire to Earth where he can live the good life.
THE EXIT TO SAN BRETA was Martin’s second pro sale – a ghost story with an obvious twist but a creepy futuristic vibe to it and a real nostalgia for the motorcar.
THE SECOND KIND OF LONELINESS was a sale to Analog and the first of Martin’s work to get cover art. It’s another SF story and the first of the collection that I really enjoyed given the twist at the end (which is really tragic).
WITH MORNING COMES MISTFALL was Martin’s second sale to Analog and another SF story, albeit one that laments how scientific truth can rob the world of much needed romance and mystery.
A SONG FOR LYA was Martin’s first novella. Another SF, it looks at the need of people to be part of something more, although I wasn’t convinced by the depiction of the alien religion.
THIS TOWER OF ASHES spun out of a couple of disastrous love affairs and is a SF about a man who secludes himself on an island following the collapse of a love affair. I found the ending rather weak and the emotions a little trite.
AND SEVEN TIMES NEVER KILL A MAN was nominated for the Hugo for Best Novlette and is a sophisticated, creepy story about religious hatred and how it can be used against those who practice it. There’s a lot of skill in the depiction of the main characters and in the construction of the main religions within it.
THE STONE CITY was published in an anthology of John W Campbell award nominees edited by Martin. It’s another SF story set in a Kafkaesque world that the main character cannot escape. I really loved the character’s increasing desperation and how his reaction contrasts with those of his ship mates plus it has a thought-provoking pay off.
BITTERBLOOMS marries fantasy with SF to mixed effect – mainly because I didn’t really believe in the main characters or the rationale for their actions.
THE WAY OF CROSS AND DRAGON is a SF imagining of the future of the Catholic church as man advances across the stars. Nominated for the Nebula and Hugo, I found it a little too cynical for my taste, although I did enjoy the solution to a dissenting branch of the church.
THE LONELY SONGS OF LAREN DORR was Martin’s first pro sale fantasy story and was intended to be the first of a series featuring Laren. It’s elegantly written but thin and I found Laren to be underdeveloped – it’s a shame Martin didn’t continue with the series though because it had potential.
THE ICE DRAGON is a much more satisfying fantasy story and claims the distinction of being the first fantasy tale to feature a dragon made of ice. I enjoyed the friendship that lies at the heart of it and the main character endures a satisfying emotional arc.
IN THE LOST LANDS was one of my favourite stories in the collection and is a fantasy based on that old idea that the only thing worse than wanting something is getting it. It’s another elegantly constructed piece that’s precisely bookended and you can really see Martin’s craft shining through.
MEATHOUSE MAN is the last of Martin’s corpse handler horror tales and is a strangely emotional tale about a man looking for love in all the wrong emotional places.
REMEMBERING MELODY is a horror about the needy college friend who never really lets you go and was the first of Martin’s work to be adapted for television.
SANDKINGS is apparently one of Martin’s best known works (although I confess it was new to me) and won both the Hugo and the Nebula. A SF horror about the perils of tyranny, I really enjoyed the creepy vibe and the pay off is tremendously satisfying.
NIGHT FLYERS is another SF horror that won the Locus award and was the first of Martin’s works to be turned into a film. I personally found that this had dated quite a lot although the underlying ideas are creepy and effective, I didn’t believe in the cast of characters.
THE MONKEY TREATMENT was one of my favourite stories in the collection and got nominated for the Nebula and Hugo. It’s another work in the ‘be careful what you wish for’ vibe but the monkeys themselves are completely sinister.
THE PEAR-SHAPED MAN won a Bram Stoker Award and is a really sinister, nasty story about the creepy guy who lives in your apartment building that made me shudder long after I finished reading it.
As someone new to Martin’s work, I was surprised at the amount of SF in here but on the whole I enjoyed the stories offered up and think it’s very brave of him to include his earliest, least polished work because it shows how he progressed. I have to confess though that I found the short introductory sections written by Martin to be the most interesting part of the book because that’s where he talks about his background and his influences and the history behind the selected stories, which adds a lot more to the reading experience. On the basis of this book, I would definitely check out Martin’s other work and am kicking myself for having left it so long to do so.
Agree with Big Jim, I have read A Song for Lya years ago, probably in Omni. There's a really good SF ghost story and the wonderful Ice Dragon is typical GRRM with sacrifice & hope. For fans of A Song of Ice & Fire, this a great time filler and you can see how he has recycled many ideas from previous works to create the stunning tapestry that is enthralling us all.
Firstly let me say that I cannot compete with Blue Tyson's in depth review of the Red covered edition. As I have only purchased the blue covered book 1, I can only comment on that so here goes,... Short stories - you either love them or hate them. I must admit that I am surprised that a book by an author with such a legion of fans hasn't had more reviews, even allowing for the confusing number of editions out there. Still, if you are a fan, you know that GRRM has turned his hand to many genres in the past, and that is exemplified in his shorter fiction. To be fair, his early published work is a bit clunky, but it is interesting to see how he has developed, and his between section summaries and biography are more interesting than I might have expected. If you had asked me if I had read any of GRRM's short stories before getting this book I would have said "No", but on reading some of these, for example "A song for Lya" I realise that I must have done because they appeared in the various SF magazines that were ubiquitous in the late seventies/early 80's such as Omni and Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine - which are sadly now either defunct or incredibly difficult to get hold of. So all in all an eclectic and interesting collection well worth devouring in one hit or dipping into between other books.
First of all, I bought this book because I wanted to read "The Hedge Knight", a short story set in the world of Song of Fire and Ice. Therefore I was quite disappointed when the actual story wasn't in this book but in the 2nd half. Fortunately this book also had few very good stories so I don't feel I wasted money. Book is divided to five sections, each of which begins with GRRM's introduction about the time that chapter's books were written. First chapters cover his earliest works, which I fould fairly weak and boring. The last chapters, on the other hand, were great. Basically the book was very good as long you just ignored first half.
A revelation to me. George RR Martin's a great short-story writer From the cheesy comic book stories of his youth, a fine attempt at historical fiction through his many wonderful science fiction stories set in the 'Thousand Worlds' milieu, to genuinely creepy horror stories and haunting fantasy, this career retrospective reveals him as an artist of great skill.
I hadn't come across G R R Martin before reading "A Song of Ice and Fire". This collection of short stories and novellas revealed a versatile and talented author I had not been aware of. Can't wait to get to grips with vol 2.