George R. R. Martin – Dreamsongs, Volume I
86. Dreamsongs, Volume 1 by George R. R. Martin (2006; individual stories obviously earlier)
Read By: George R. R. Martin, Adrian Paul, Mark Bramhall, Roy Dotrice, Kirby Heyborne, Scott Brick, Barry Mendenhall, Claudia Black, Kim Mai Guest
Length: 14h 52m (The audiobook volume 1 covers up through p. 357 of the hardcover edition of volume 1)
Genre: Short Stories; Science Fiction/Horror
Started: 28 June 2008
Finished: 09 July 2008
The Dreamsongs books are a compilation of George R. R. Martin’s best known short stories and novellas. The span a variety of genres, often blending science fiction, horror, and fantasy. The books are broken into two volumes; the audiobooks are broken into three volumes, and are labelled “Unabridged Selections” (there are a few stories which are not recorded, although those are in audio Volumes II and III). The stories are organized roughly by time written, with an introductory bit to each section read by the author himself.
Part 1: A Four-Color Fanboy – introduction read by George R. R. Martin about his start publishing in comic fandom.
Only Kids Are Afraid Of The Dark – read by Adrian Paul. Dr. Weird (a spirit superhero) fights Sagel, a demon who is the Destroyer of Souls. Comic books just aren’t my thing, and I probably would have liked it more had I been alive during the golden age of superhero comics, but it’s still probably better than most of the stories I wrote when I was 17.
The Fortress – read by Mark Bramhall – Tensions rise to the point of mutiny when an Admiral seeks to surrender a Finnish fortress without waiting for the aid of the Swedish. Pretty specialized audience – most people probably don’t know the importance of the incident to Scandinavian history. I had a hard time keeping the characters straight, as well.
And Death His Legacy – read by Scott Brick – A dying man conceives a plan to assassinate a dangerous religious/political leader. Not entirely effective as a story – I didn’t quite get the connection between the two men – but painfully applicable to the world today, considering it was written 40-odd years ago.
Part 2: The Filthy Pro – read by George R. R. Martin – Introduction to his first stories as a “real” Writer.
The Hero – Read by Roy Dotrice – A war hero asks to be decommissioned at the end of his term of service so that he can leave the War Worlds and go live on Earth. Pretty obviously of the Vietnam generation; didn’t do much for me.
The Exit To San Breta – Read by Scott Brick – In a future where cars are collectibles and highways are falling apart, a guy gets in a wreck with a ghost car. Pretty standard urban legend-type stuff.
The Second Kind Of Loneliness – Read by Barry Mendenhall – A man, nearing the end of his four-year solo term of duty aboard a deep space station awaits his replacement, although he can’t quite reconcile himself with returning to the things he ran from on Earth. Emotionally much stronger than the other stories so far, and although the ending was relatively easy to see coming, a very honest and powerful story.
With Morning Comes Mistfall – Read by Claudia Black – Scientist-explorers come to Wraithworld, a planet shrouded in mists, and potentially home to the mysterious wraiths, tall ghost-like figures linked to several deaths since settlement. The expedition’s goal is to conclusively prove (or disprove) the wraith’s existence – but at what cost comes knowledge? I liked this one, although I think I might have liked it more if things had been left a little ambiguous and its point hadn’t been hammered home quite so loudly.
Part 3: The Light Of Distant Stars – Read by George R. R. Martin – talking about early science fiction novels he read that influenced his work. All six of the stories in this section are part of his “future history”, all set in the same universe, although each on a different planet.
A Song For Lya – Read by Mark Bramhall – Two telepaths are sent to a planet where humans are converting to the local religion… a religion which includes a ritual suicide. This one wavered between being legitimately emotionally moving and seeming like the existential angst about loneliness and connection and love that everyone goes through as a teenager. Still, that teenage angst made it very recognizable and relatable. The best so far.
This Tower Of Ashes – Read by Kirby Heyborne – A loner and naturalist gets a visit from his ex-wife and her new lover, and takes them into the forest of the Dream-Spiders to prove something to them and to himself about the value of the forest and the choices we make for love. Not bad, but coming off of A Song for Lya it seemed a little weak. Also, the ending was somewhat confusing – I thought I had a bead on his message, but then I wasn’t quite sure.
And Seven Times Never Kill Man – Read by Roy Dotrice – The Steel Angels, humans of a militant religion, are systematically wiping out the Ja’en-shi, an animal-like but intelligent race, in what seems to be a holy war, while a trader in alien artifacts is trying to convince them to fight back. Was kind of ambivalent about this one. There wasn’t really a protagonist with whom I identified, and I had a harder time picturing and slipping into the world he created.
The Stone City – Read by Adrian Paul – Tells the story of a human traveler/explorer, stranded on a far-flung world, unable to get a berth on a ship that going anywhere exciting. I had a hard time following what was happening in the story and what was happening in flashback, and so I think I missed the point of the story.
Bitterblooms – Read by Kim Mai Guest – On an ice world, a young girl stranded outside gets taken in by a witch. I thought this story was pretty predictable. Not unentertaining, but not one of the better ones in this collection.
The Way Of Cross And Dragon – Read by Roy Dotrice – A Knight Inquisitor of the militant order of the interstellar Catholic church is sent to investigate a heresy involving Judas Iscariot. I liked this one – not much really happened in terms of story, but there were some interesting musings on the nature of faith and reason and belief and truth. It would have felt right at home in my “Belief in Question in Modern Literature” English class in high school, but I suspect that my teacher didn’t read enough science fiction to put it on the syllabus.
Recommendation: Like almost every collection of short stories, there are some hits and some misses, but the gems are good enough to make the whole thing worthwhile. 3.5 out of 5 stars.