Dreamsongs, Volume 1

Before I begin this book review, I feel the need to point out the fact that I'm not the most conversant of readers when it comes to short fiction. I wish I could read more novellas and short stories, but SFF anthologies have seldom managed to really satisfy me. The main problem with anthologies is that they're too much like Beastie Boys albums (barring License to Ill), meaning that they habitually contain a couple of gems that are worth your while. And yet, inevitably, these gems are buried underneath lackluster and uninspired works, which naturally kills the anthology for me.

As was the case with the bulk of fantasy readers, I was a bit taken aback by the buzz surrounding Martin's A Game of Thrones when it was initially released. Like most, I was unaware of GRRM's award-winning body of work in terms of short fiction. To me, he was simply the "Wild Cards guy." Yes, in retrospect, I was an idiot. Incidentally, many contend that I still am, but I digress. . .

Hence, Dreamsongs appeared to be the perfect opportunity for me to get better acquainted with the material which allowed George R. R. Martin to win every possible speculative fiction award, or so it seems. But still I was reticent, wondering if this collection of short fiction was for me. Well, I'm sure glad I elected to give this one a shot!

As a compendium of GRRM's early work, Dreamsongs is a veritable journey through the author's long and celebrated career. Each section begins with an extensive and insightful commentary that permits us to learn quite a lot about the man and his stories. As good as the material is -- and believe me, anthologies don't get much better than this! -- I found Martin's commentary to be at times as fascinating as the tales themselves.

As a matter of course, detractors and haters will bitch and moan about the fact that, once again, this is not A Dance with Dragons, that GRRM is spending too much time working on various other projects instead of focusing on his bestselling series. In all honesty, this might not be the next ASOIAF installment, yet I believe that it's the next best thing. In many ways, I was more impressed by Dreamsongs than by what I've read thus far of the ASOIAF saga. This collection demonstrates just how talented and versatile an author GRRM truly is.

While some stories are better than others, I think that every piece which was selected to comprise this anthology belongs within its pages. Indeed, it allows the reader to grasp how GRRM's career and writing style evolved over the years. My favorites include The Exit to San Breta, The Second Kind of Loneliness, With Morning Comes Mistfall, A Song for Lya, The Way of Cross and Dragon, The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr, Remembering Melody, and Nightflyers.

Only rarely does a book make such an impression on me. Truth to tell, I really feel like a dumbass for ever referring to GRRM as the "Wild Cards guy." I've been reading and appreciating speculative fiction for more than two decades, yet I've only just discovered what made Martin the writer he has become today.

Dreamsongs is a book to own, no question about it. I received ARCs of both volumes, but I'm buying copies of the finished edition for my permanent collection.

Dreamsongs is as engrossing and satisfying as any novel you are likely to read this year. If it's not there already, add this one to your Christmas present list.

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

5 commentaires:

Michael Natale said...

Couldn't agree with you more, though I am an ASoIaF junkie, I am SO glad I decided to dive into his short fiction while waiting for ADWD.

This body of work also underscores something he said at World Fantasy while on a panel about "When Fantasy Becomes Science Fiction and Science Fiction becomes Fantasy".

Martin contended that "a story is a story is a story" and that whether the characters found themselves in a spaceship or in a castle was just "furniture".

A few of the panelists disagreed with him but its obvious after reading such gems as A Song for Lya and The Second Kind of Lonliness that he knows what he's talking about.

I do think not everyone can pull that quality of storytelling off without relying on the 'furniture' like crutches, but Martin certainly makes it look easy.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Just a note:

An anthology contains stories by many different authors, edited by some particular person or persons.

A collection contains stories by one writer or writing team (though, occasionally, it can also be edited by someone else).

Dreamsongs is a collection, not an anthology.

Anonymous said...

Good review! I've the same initial hesitation you described despite being a fan of his series, so this tells me exactly what I needed to know. I'll keep an eye out for this.

Incidentally, on his web site Martin indicates that this collection was previously published quite some time ago in UK; this is just the first US/Canada edition. To me, that suggests that releasing this "project" hasn't done much to draw him away from his current work.

Adam Whitehead said...

It was originally published as a limited, illustrated edition in the USA way back in late 2002/early 2003 (which is why The Sworn Sword is not included and why the bibliography doesn't include The Ice Dragon, AFFC or the new Wild Cards books). Then the big mass release came in the UK about a year ago and now it's being re-released as a mass market edition in the USA.

Robert said...

Pat,

I noticed that you haven't actually reviewed Storm of Swords yet. I understand that Dance is a long way off and that you may be pacing yourself... but if you haven't read it, you really are missing out on one of the best fantasy books ever.