George R. R. Martin – Dreamsongs, Volume 3
152. Dreamsongs, Volume 3 by George R. R. Martin (2006, individuals stories obviously earlier)
Read By: George R. R. Martin, Adrian Paul, Claudia Black, Roy Dotrice, Kirby Heyborne, Erik Davies
Length: 19h 54m (all three volumes equate to 1284 pages, I’m not sure what the exact breakdown is by volume)
Genre: Short Stories; Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror
Started: 18 October 2008
Finished: 04 December 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 contain the full text of the books (with the exceptions of the two TV scripts in part 7, below – I got the book form out of the library and read them in print form for the sake of completeness).
Part 7: The Siren Song Of Hollywood – Read by George R. R. Martin – Talks about how he became a TV writer, and the ups and downs of that part of his career. Seemed kind of out of place in the audio version, since the actual stories in this section weren’t recorded.
The Twilight Zone: The Road Less Traveled – text version only – The script for an episode of the TV show that GRRM wrote, involving a draft-dodging college professor whose family is being haunted by visions of a strange man in a wheelchair. I understand why these were cut from the audio version – and why we normally watch TV instead of read it. I imagine it could be done properly spookily on film, but reading it felt kind of flat.
Doorways – text version only – The script for an unaired pilot of a series about a girl who moves through dimensions, fleeing the Darklords who want to capture her. She picks up a doctor from our version of Earth, and the dimensional doorway dumps them out on an iceworld. A little better than the previous one, although I still would rather have been watching it than reading it… it’s a shame it never got filmed.
Part 8: Doing The Wild Card Shuffle – Read by George R. R. Martin – A history of the Wild Card books, his shared universe superhero anthology series, where the Wild Card virus was introduced to New York City, creating both Aces (people to whom the virus gave super-powers) and Jokers (people to whom the virus mutated or deformed).
Shell Games – Read by Adrian Paul – Part of the Wild Card series, tells the story of two people with superpowers: Dr. Tachyon, an alien telepath who’s been existing in a dissolute alcoholic stupor after ruining the mind of someone he loved, and Tom Tudbury (a.k.a. The Great and Terrible Turtle), a New Jersey loner who discovers he has telekinetic powers, and builds a bulletproof metal shell to protect himself while he’s fighting crime. Tom is just coming into his powers, and Tach has convinced himself he’ll never use his again, but they must work together to save a captured friend from torture and death. Hard to evaluate when it’s not put into context with the rest of the stories in the series, since Martin doesn’t really explain who the Aces are, who the Jokers are, why these various types of people exist, etc., etc. It’s a pretty basic superhero/mutant story, which is fine, although 1) I’ve been known to curse like a sailor, on occasion, and this story had enough swearing to make even me uncomfortable at times, and 2) for a story set in a noir-ish NYC, why would you pick a narrator with a pronounced British accent?
From The Journal Of Xavier Desmond – Read by Roy Dotrice – Set about 25 years after “Shell Games”, this is the interstitial narrative from one of the Wild Card books, but is mostly a story in its own right. It’s presented as a series of journal entries from a Joker representative to an international goodwill and ambassadorial mission, sent to learn about the status of Jokers and Aces in foreign countries worldwide. This was interesting enough on its own, since it actually delved a little deeper into the history of the Wild Card virus, but it was weird not having the intervening stories. Frequently, oblique mention would be made of something that had just happened… except since we’re just reading the interstitial narrative, we didn’t actually get to see it happen. I wasn’t blown away, but I am sufficiently interested in the Wild Card universe to try reading one of the actual books.
Part 9: The Heart in Conflict – Read by George R. R. Martin – Talks about how his work usually crosses genre lines, and how stories are just stories, whether they’re dressed up as fantasy, science fiction, horror, westerns, etc.
Under Siege – Read by Erik Davies – A reworking of the story “The Fortress” from Vol. 1, only this time with a mutant time-traveling dwarf from the future trying to save the world from cataclysmic war – in which the siege of a Swedish fort is a turning point. This story works better with the dwarf, but having them both in the same collection works to their detriment – the second one feels stale, since we’ve heard it before, and the non-time-travelling one seems boring by comparison.
The Skin Trade – Read by Kirby Heybourne and Claudia Black – When a young woman is found murdered and brutalized, Willie – an asthmatic collection agent and one of her friends – hires his longtime friend Randi to investigate. But Randi’s got her own history: when she was twelve, her policeman father was killed “by some kind of animal”, and as much as Randi thinks she’s over it, strange connections in the current murder seem to be coming back to haunt her. I liked the characters and the story on this one, but it was too much CSI-style for me to really get into it. Also, while I figured out most of the twists and turns fairly early on, the ultimate answer to the mystery was severely random, didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and wasn’t figure-out-able from the clues we’d been given.
Unsound Variations – Read by Adrian Paul – Ten years out of college, three members of the Northwestern chess team are invited to spend the weekend at their teammate’s remote mansion. Unfortunately, he’s still bitter about his loss in a crucial game a decade before, and determined to take it out on his teammates. A very interesting and suspenseful story nearly ruined by wholly unlikable characters. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Martin misogynistic, but he can definitely be unsympathetic towards his women characters, and it really grated here. There’s also a fair bit of description of chess play here, which makes sense given this story’s origin, but gets a little tedious for non-chess fans.
The Glass Flower – Read by Claudia Black – The Game of Mind is a place where people can – for a price – compete to win a new body, thus ensuring a form of immortality. Cyrain, the ruler of the Game, thinks she has seen it all, until a cyborg claiming to be an eight-hundred-years-dead hero shows up, wanting his chance to play. This story was another one that was neither here nor there for me. It was interesting, well-written, and kept me paying attention, but I wasn’t really involved in the story, and I thought some of the symbolism was overly obvious.
The Hedge Knight – Read by Erik Davies – This is a novella set in Westeros a few hundred years before the A Song of Ice and Fire series, when the Targaryens still held the Iron Throne. Dunk was a street boy who had been picked up and trained as a squire by a hedge knight – a knight not from or sworn to any noble family. When his mentor dies, he becomes a knight, but must compete in a tourney if he is to have any chance of earning enough money to continue on his path. On his way, he picks up the urchin boy Egg as his squire, but they are both soon to find out how much trouble can be found by mixing with the nobility. This was by far my favorite out of all of the stories in the entire Dreamsongs collection. It may be because I’m familiar with the world – although it’s been so long since I’ve read A Feast for Crows that some of the family names were familiar, but not much else was – but I think it was because it’s the one story that’s not a hybrid, but is pure high medieval fantasy. And as much as Martin tried to make the point in the introduction to this section that stories are stories, no matter the trappings, I guess in my case, the furniture rules: I just plain-out prefer fantasy. Plus, Dunk and Egg are both fantastic characters – and likeable ones, which was a nice change of pace after several of the preceeding stories.
Portraits Of His Children – Read by Roy Dotrice – An author starts receiving paintings of his characters from his estranged daughter – paintings which are so life-like it’s almost as if they characters could come alive. This one was pretty good, nice and creepy and suspenseful, and clearly building to a great climax… and then it kind of fizzled out, and instead of a climax, just had three sentences of denouement, and then just… ended. This one also had a lot of angry screaming and crying that got a little bit grating in audiobook format.
Recommendation: Most of Martin’s fans probably know him best (or only) through A Song of Ice and Fire, and these people should definitely read The Hedge Knight, if nothing else. For everyone else, there are some interesting stories here, and it’s not a bad read, but there’s nothing that would have converted me if I weren’t already a fan. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Other Reviews: Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.