Sunday, August 03, 2008

Songs (Not of Ice and Fire)

Still no word on when George R.R. Martin might get around to finishing the next book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Desperate in the interrim to print things with his name on them, his publishers have released a two-volume compilation of selected short stories from throughout his career. See, before he was the author of a great but neverending epic fantasy saga, before he was even the author of any novels, he published hundreds of short stories in various magazines -- science fiction, fantasy, horror, and hybrids of all those.

I recently finished reading Dreamsongs, Volume I. Overall, it's not as entertaining as even some his stand-alone novels (such as Fevre Dream). Still, I'd say it's worth a read, because some of the stories are quite good. It is a nearly 700-page tome, though, so for those of you who might not want to go cover to cover, here's a quick rundown of the best selections.

"And Death His Legacy" is an interesting tale with perhaps some passing similarities to Stephen King's novel The Dead Zone. It's purely coincidental, though, as Martin did write his short story nearly a decade before King's novel, but never actually sold it -- this is one of two or three stories in the collection that was never previously published.

"The Exit to San Breta" is a nice little supernatural tale you might tell around a campfire. While not hugely original, it's well-crafted and worth a look.

"With Morning Comes Mistfall" is a melancholy story of technology sapping the wonder out of classic folklore.

"The Way of Cross and Dragon" is a great examination of the difference between faith and organized religion, with a tasty little bit of blasphemy as the central conceit.

"Meathouse Man" is a wonderfully disgusting sci-fi/horror premise of a world in which people are able to control corpses and use them for various forms of labor.

"Sandkings" is a classic horror setup of a flawed man being given specific rules to follow, ignoring those rules, and getting himself into a heap of trouble. This is another story in which you can guess pretty much every beat of this story as you read it, yet again it makes the reading of it no less fun.

"Nightflyers" is the story of a doomed spaceship, in the vein of 2001, Alien, or Sunshine. It's a full length novella in the midst of these short stories, and thus somewhat out of place. But for my money it's the most "cinematic" of the entire collection -- you could easily imagine a film of this story, and expect that not much of it would need to be cut, since it isn't a full length novel.

Several other stories in the collection may be worth the read, even if they aren't among the best of the tales -- "A Song for Lya," "The Stone City," "The Ice Dragon," "In the Lost Lands," "Remembering Melody," "The Monkey Treatment," and "The Pear-Shaped Man." If you were to keep score, that leaves only about one-quarter of the book made up of inferior bits of fiction.

So, taken as a whole, I'd rate Dreamsongs Volume I as a B. It's no substitute for a full-fledged book by George R.R. Martin (Ice and Fire or otherwise), but if you're looking for material by him you haven't read yet, you might not have many other places to look.

1 comment:

Major Rakal said...

Well, crap! "A Dance With Dragons" was listed on Amazon a couple months back to be published September 30th... and now I see it has disappeared completely. To say I'm disappointed is a vast understatement.