George R. R. Martin – Dreamsongs, Volume 2
113. Dreamsongs, Volume 2 by George R. R. Martin (2006; individual stories obviously earlier)
Genre: Short stories (fantasy, sci-fi, horror)
Started: 23 August 2008
Finished: 16 September 2008
Short stories range from
sci-fi to horror. I liked
fantasy ones best.
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. Volume Two of the audiobook contains the end of Volume One of the print version (labeled as parts 4 & 5, below), as well as the beginning of Volume Two of the print version (part 6, below).
Part 4: The Heirs of Turtle Castle – Read by G. R. R. Martin – How he got his start writing fantasy.
The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr – Read by Kim Mai Guest – Shara, the girl who can “travel between the worlds” in search of her lost love, arrives on a world inhabited by a solitary man, kept alone there by the gods as punishment for a long-ago crime. Interesting, and believable characters and pathos, even if it’s not a particularly original story line (I found it very Beauty-and-the-Beast-ish). Also, the writing was fairly un-subtle, but it’s one of Martin’s earlier stories, so that’s understandable.
The Ice Dragon – Read by Emily Janice Card – Adara is a winter child, feared and isolated from the villagers and even from her own family. She also befriends the feared ice dragon, who breathes cold instead of fire like the dragons of the king’s army… an army which is slowly losing its war. The course of this story was a little predictable, but the ice dragon itself is a cool (heh) creature, and I thought Martin did a nice job with the perspective of a very young girl.
In The Lost Lands – Read by Claudia Black. “You can buy anything you desire from Grey Alys… but it is better not to.” A messenger from the queen comes to Grey Alys, asking to buy the power to shapeshift. Grey Alys accepts, and so must go into the Lost Lands to hunt a werewolf… but the price of the request is one that no one expects. I liked this story – the idea of the cost of magic being high, and the “be careful what you wish for” message are not new, but it was told well – although I thought some of the accents in the narration were unneeded overdone.
Part 5: Hybrids & Horrors – read by George R. R. Martin – an introduction to his horror works, including the “hybrids” of horror with other genres, mostly sci-fi.
Meathouse Man – read by Kirby Heybourne – A tale of love and relationships set in a world where corpse-handlers – people who can link to brain-dead bodies and control their movements – comprise most of the workforce. I was sufficiently grossed out by the premise of the corpse-handlers and its implications, so if that was the intent, bravo. On the other hand, the main character was angsty and not particularly likeable, so it made getting involved in the story a little harder.
Remembering Melody – read by Scott Brick – A successful lawyer gets a visit from a college friend who is has let her life fall apart: drugs, suicide attempts, borrowing money, etc…. except this time, something’s different… I don’t read much horror, because I would tend to get scared and have nightmares, and crawling into your parents’ bed in the middle of the night is no longer really an option when you’re a grownup. So, either I’ve gotten better at not being so easily creeped out, or this story just wasn’t that scary. Also, I didn’t like either of the main characters (one too whiny and one overly harshly mean), and the ending was a little predictable.
Sandkings – Read by Mark Bramhall – A collector of exotic pets buys a tank of sandkings, semi-sentient colonial-insect-like creatures who engage in warfare and a primitive religion with their owner as their god. However, playing god often comes around to bite you in the ass… in this case literally. I don’t know why I’m not finding these stories more scary. Part of it is that I think you have to identify with the protagonist, so that at least part of your brain is imagining these horrible creepy things happening to you. Watching characters I don’t really care for or care about get their comeuppance – even if it’s gruesome and horrible comeuppance – just doesn’t rank as that scary.
Nightflyers – Read by Adenrele Ojo – A group of scientists book passage on a ship to study the Vollkryns, ancient star-travelers of legend. But the ship is not a normal ship – their captain stays behind a sealed bulkhead, and only communicates via intercom and hologram. Over the course of their journey, suspicion and paranoia builds… until it explodes. I didn’t really care for this one – too long, too many characters (each given rather outrageous and distracting accents by the narrator), too much like the script for an action movie in parts (and apparently it was actually made into a movie), and enough disparate elements and themes that the main focus kind of got lost.
The Monkey Treatment – Read by Kirby Heybourne – Kenny Dorchester is constantly on the lookout for new diets, but when he tries The Monkey Treatment, his addiction to food is no longer just a figurative “monkey on his back”. While this story kept my attention better than the previous one did, it seemed a little too straight-forward. A little more subtlety around the metaphor would have moved it from “gross” to “creepy”, although perhaps not all the way to “disturbing and scary.”
The Pear-Shaped Man – Read by Roy Dotrice – Jessie is concerned by her downstairs neighbor in her new apartment building – pear-shaped, sweaty, addicted to cheese doodles, and no one seems to know his name. Furthermore, he keeps staring at her, and offering to show her his “things”, and even her dreams are plagued with visions of him. At last, an actually scary story! Usually, real-life scenarios of human baddies don’t scare me nearly as badly as more supernatural things, (which is a stupid position to take, since I’m much more likely to encounter a rapist or serial killer than a vampire or angry poltergeist.) In this case, however, the Pear-Shaped Man combined enough supernatural elements with a very familiar real-world sense of uncomfortable and unexplainable fear to make the result horribly creepy, with the bonus that Jessie seemed like an everyday person, and was therefore much more sympathetic as a narrator. There were a number of elements that weren’t explained fully (or at all), but I was so pleased to finally be creeped out by a supposed horror story that I didn’t much care.
Part 6: A Taste Of Tuf – Read by George R. R. Martin – An introduction to the next two stories, which are taken from a larger series of short stories featuring the same protagonist, Havilon Tuf, an ecological engineer and owner of a “seed ship” – a DNA bank and cloning facility containing millions of species from thousands of worlds.
A Beast For Norn – Read by Roy Dotrice – Tuf is contacted by one of the noble houses on a world where animals are pitted against each other in Roman gladiator-style combat. They want to buy a fighting beast that will let them win against the other houses and regain their honor. While Tuf fills their request, they also get more than they bargained for. I like the character of Tuf, and the story moves along quickly and well, but it’s quite predictable, a standard pride-goeth-before-the-fall tale of hubris and arrogance. Also, the morality is a little bit strange: fighting animals to the death is bad, but completely devastating an entire planet’s ecosystem to teach the humans a lesson is okay?
Guardians – Read by Roy Dotrice – Tuf encounters a world where the humans are fighting a desperate – and losing – battle against giant sea creatures. The guardians on the surface enlist his help, but no one is prepared to face what the real problem is. I spotted the end of this one pretty much right from the beginning, but it was still a decent story. Not quite as good as A Beast for Norn, since there was more talking and less about the creatures on Tuf’s ship, but I really like Tuf – and his cats – as a character.
Recommendation: All of the stories are pretty well-told; they mostly only vary in how much I liked the story being told. I liked the Tuf stories, and most of the fantasy stories, better than the average of Volume 1, but I liked most of the horror stories less. Overall, it’s worth checking out if you like Martin’s work or enjoy fantasy/horror/sci-fi short stories, but probably not otherwise. 3 out of 5 stars.
Other Reviews: A Chain of Letters