Dreamsongs: Volume I

By George R. R. Martin

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
joyce zaugg
I bought this book hoping to read about the Tales of Dunk and Egg which are based in A Song of Ice and Fire series. This book did not include this particular series but other stories instead. They're different ones from sci fi ones to darker stories. I'm not too fond of it but they were still written well enough. I found myself skipping through parts of the book though.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sky zajd
The stories in Section 1: A Four-Color Fanboy are thoroughly adequate but not particularly noteworthy. While this section is fascinating from an academic sense, the entertainment value is limited. The autobiographical bits were a lot more engaging than the fiction. I really dig GRR Martin’s fanboy roots.

The stories in Section 2: The Filthy Pro were a definite step forward from his early fandom fiction. I enjoyed “The Exit to San Breta” the most, with its Twilight Zone trappings and comfortable ghost story. “With Morning Comes Mistfall” is a sad meditation on the removal of wonder from our lives.

The stories in Section 3: The Light of Distant Stars seem to expand from Dying of the Light (or set up its construction) but few grabbed me as much as the novel. I liked the themes explored by Seven Times more as Speaker for the Dead.

The Way of Cross and Dragon was a fascinating cynical view on belief through the lens of the colonialism of the Catholic Church to the stars. The religion of Saint Judas was delightfully constructed.

A Song for Lya carries many of the trademarks of the brand of existential horror where we struggle with being just bags of meat. Yet here there is hope whereas in Ligotti there is despair. But the hope is still spurned. Rather grim. It could have benefitted from some judicious trimming, though.

Bitterblooms was the standout from this set. This was crafted in a fascinating fashion. It’s got that Expedition to the Barrier Peaks vibe with distinctly less death. It’s also got the dangers of being captured by the fae and is tied into the whole Arthurian myth.

The Heirs of Turtle Castle (Section 4) explores some of Martin’s early fantasy short fiction.

“The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr” seems strongly influenced by Vance’s Dying Earth, but distinctly more melancholy and less cynical. The sting at the end is quite nice, but clearly structured to be the beginning of a serial. “The Ice Dragon” is a sweet meditation on the loss of innocence, while also showing an early propensity towards establishing personality type by season of birth.

“In the Lost Lands” is a wonderful story. It explores the dark side of desire and what makes the monstrous. It delivers a solid take on “be careful what you wish for” through an action-driven werewolf story. White Wolf broke me of thinking of werewolves as scary, but this puts some of the edge back in, and is one of the few werewolf stories I’ve really enjoyed in a decade. This story also provides a great transition to the next (and best) section of the collection: Horror.

Hybrids and Horrors (Section 5) is a truly fun section of this book, and the portion of Martin’s oeuvre closest to my heart.

“Meathouse Man” was not what I was expecting. This setting focuses on operators of crews of brainless meat puppets. I would have liked a little more corpse operator bits and less romantic lamentation. While structurally solid, with every piece building to the ending, it felt like the punch was pulled just a bit. I don't want punches pulled with potential Dangerous Visions.

“Remembering Melody” was an uncomfortable view of the toxic relationships that we allow to curse our lives. It was also a fascinating viewport into the late 70’s/early 80’s high-power-party-cocaine culture.

This part finally starts kicking ass with “Sandkings”. The full spectrum of reprehensible humans is on display while they channel the cruel divinity of the Greeks. This story evokes the psychological horror borne on cruelty, fear of the bogeyman, as well as entomophobia. Then to top it all off, The Maw is a monster birthed from the uncaring cosmos which only becomes more terrifying when driven mad by an uncaring god or when it adopts a primitive god consumption mythology. The ending is very evocative of “The House on the Borderlands” and the creatures dancing around the house in the dream realm. And all they want to do is love. Or consume. Or both. This deservedly won a Hugo.

“Nightflyers” was an interesting take on the ghost ship concept. I can see how it was made into a film, and GRRM’s screenwriting chops were applied here, as there are a number of truly cinematic scenes. The memory jewels reminded me strongly of those used in the Dying of the Light, but apparently these are not set in the same universe considering the remainder of the technology. The most fascinating part of this was the use of the Elder Gods as peripheral motivation for the story. They are giant, unknowable, gorgeous creatures of endless hunger traveling through space and are absolutely unconcerned with the incidental problems faced by the crew of this scientific expedition.

“The Monkey Treatment” had some truly horrific imagery, but the ending deflated the dread. Happy endings have to be used sparingly in horror, and this one felt less like a relief of the cessation of pain, and more a return to an indulgent past. I’m not sure there was a lesson learned from all the torture.

“The Pear Shaped Man” really wanted to show me his things. This tale of relentlessly passive obsession had tendrils of the supernatural creeping in at the edges. This is the modern slasher monster that stands on your lawn and stares into your windows, but instead of waiting for you with a knife, there is a fistful of cheese doodles and a moist lower lip. I love the resonance this story has with the Chambers classic “The Yellow Sign” and the spoiling of the art once the monster appears outside the window. This story could be uncomfortably renamed “The Orange Sign”. This deservedly won the Stoker for Long Form, with its uncomfortable creep towards thralldom and doom.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
rebecca wilson
I'm giving this 5 stars just based on the following stories alone:

A Song For Lya
Sandkings
The Way of Cross and Dragon
The Ice Dragon
In The Lost Lands
The Monkey Treatment
The Pear-Shaped Man
The Skin Trade
The Glass Flower
The Hedge Knight

This is a 40 hour compilation. There are some mediocre stories in here, even a couple that I was not impressed at all with. But the ones that shine will put your jaw on the floor, captivate you, transport you to another world. There's horror, there's romance, there's science fiction. Honestly I think some of the short stories I listed above are even better than A Song of Ice and Fire.
Dying of the Light: A Novel :: The Dragon Songs Saga: The Complete Epic Quartet :: Witch's Reign (Desert Cursed Series Book 1) :: Dangerous Women :: Alone (The Girl in the Box Book 1)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
rupert
Two things before I start the review: I am a big fan of Mr. Martin's 'Song of Ice & Fire' saga (like many fans, I'm eagerly awaiting the release of 'A Dance With Dragons'). The second point is that I have never been a fan of short stories. Well, up until now.

When I first heard about the release of Dreamsongs, I wasn't too thrilled. I knew Martin as a brilliant epic storyteller, but I was not sure whether his talents in creating complex, deep characters, exciting storylines, and magnificent settings could fit into the small world of short stories.

Suffice to say that my worries about Dreamsongs almost kept me from being exposed to some of the best stories that I have read. Dreamsongs is a collection of short stories written by Martin throughout his career as a writer. These tales cover a spectrum of genres including fantasy, science fiction, and even horror. I would like to emphasize one point: Every signature element that brought Martin to the pinnacle of fame that he has today is present in this collection of his earlier works.

Stories: Original, deep, and engaging are the words that come to mind when describing the tales in Dreamsongs. What I found surprising was how personal some of these stories were. From the fight for honor and country in 'The Fortress' to the very depths of human needs and emotions in the touching 'A Song for Lya'; From socio-political issues in 'And Death His Legacy' to war and propaganda in 'The Hero', I was hooked and pulled into the story every time. The tone of these tales can be commonly described as dark. I found myself thinking about these stories afterwards the way I thought about some of the Twilight Zone episodes: The stories are fiction, but there is always an underlying message in every story that rattles the reader a bit.

Settings: as Mr. Martin takes you away on a journey through planets, deep space, ancient temples, alien cities, lost highways, and mysterious jungles, he masterfully places you right in the middle of events. Fans of 'Song of Ice & Fire' will immediately recognize Martin's skill (which he apparently possessed from even his earliest of stories as a teenager) in making the settings come to life in the reader's mind.

Characters: Vulnerable, introspective, possessive, cowardly, mad, illogical, heroic, tired, fearful, lonely, and brave. You will come to know the characters in these stories as if they were real people. One thing that I found absolutely amazing was how the author could masterfully develop these characters in a few pages in a way that he did with the amazing cast of 'Song of Ice & Fire' within volumes of books.

I would easily recommend Dreamsongs to any fan of Geroge R.R. Martin or any fantasy/sci-fi reader who has been so unfortunate in life as to have never read any of his books. Ladies and gents, you are in for a treat.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
joan albano
(My thoughts on all three volumes)

A Game of Thrones (and its followups) made Martin a household name among fantasy nerds, but not many of us knew he had been writing for so long.

Those who enjoyed that series but haven't checked out his back catalog are missing something special. Going back to his early 20s, it's clear that he had obvious gifts and a love for the craft, even in the face of the thankless job of writing for fanzines and short-lived monthly periodicals. Check out a story he wrote in college, set during the Swedish-Russian war of 1808, which offers crisp characters and a delicious sense of the divisions war can create among allies.

As a fantasy writer, Martin gives readers what most readers are looking for: exotic worlds populated by characters both colorful and familiar. Yet, Martin's stories tend to be darker and more ambiguous than the norm. The Hedge Knight novella is a fine example of this, taking the reader into a Knight's tournament in the Ice and Fire universe through the eyes of the likable but clueless young bumpkin, Dunk. Soon, he's in over his head with dangerous games of skill and equally dangerous intrigues between powerful lords. Sadly, many fantasy pieces offer too brief of a visit to the worlds Martin created for them -- as he acknowledges in his commentary, he'd often start a series, then never return to it.

And those who only know Martin for fantasy may be surprised to find that he's an accomplished science fiction writer. These pieces offer atmosphere, exotic worlds, and human drama, but with more reflectiveness than the fantasy pieces and a dark, speculative edge. Many of them feel surprisingly fresh and undated. The horror stories fare a bit less well. Martin deploys some tongue-in-cheek humor, but the pieces, with their cultural references, can't help but feel like products of the 1980s.

Then there are the commentary pieces, revealing a man who's just as much of a geek as much of his readership. He even sounds a bit like the Simpson comic store guy!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
elleonora tambunan
Twenty-two terrific, highly readable stories, accompanied by five very entertaining autobiographical essays by the author (each essay introducing a group of stories and discussing what the author was doing in his life at the time he wrote the stories in question). There's also a nice little initial introduction to the whole package by Gardner Dozois.

What I liked a lot about these stories is the skillful, artful balance between clarity and ambiguity. Plot points and story developments are always very clear, so the reader knows exactly what is going on; yet Mr. Martin often chooses to pull back and let the reader decide the implications of characters' decisions rather than hit us over the head with an obvious "lesson".

It's funny, though. Mr. Martin's developed his writing craft much quicker than he accumulated life experience. The result: several stories ("The Second Kind of Loneliness" and "Meathouse Man" chief among them) that are highly polished in their craft but about little more than a young man's fear of talking to a pretty girl or depression when a relationship with said girl doesn't work out. Make no mistake, with their imaginative science-fiction, horror, or fantasy trappings, they're very interesting stories; I just thought it was amusing how, in certain particular stories, the writing was very sophisticated but the human/emotional themes were so basic. But even some of these stories feature the sophisticated ambiguity mentioned previously.

Highlights of the book? I particularly enjoyed the long "Nightflyers" (it's pretty much a novella); it reminded me of a really good Arthur C. Clarke story. "Sandkings" was a great SF/horror hybrid. And the out-and-out fantasy entry, "The Ice Dragon" was wonderful, too. In fact, there's not a clunker in the bunch, even among the early "fan fiction" stories ("Only Kids Are Afraid of the Dark", "And Death His Legacy", etc.) also included by Mr. Martin.

When posting a positive review of an entry in a multi-part series, I try to avoid a trite closing sentence along the line of "this installment was great, and I'm certainly on board for the next volume." But, uh, there's really nothing left to say but... this installment was great and I'm certainly on board for the next volume.

Well, I do have ONE more thing to say. Maybe my new the store Kindle will arrive in time for me to purchase the also-hefty "Dreamsongs, Volume 2" via that handy electronic device. Like Mr. Martin's also excellent "A Song of Ice and Fire" fantasy novels, these suckers are BIG books and a bit of a pain to lug around. Get working, the store!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
johnna hart
DREAMSONGS VOLUME I BY GEORGE R. R. MARTIN: The two great mysteries of this world are when scientists will come up with a unification theory for quantum mechanics and relativity, and when George R. R. Martin will release the very long-awaited fifth book in his "Song of Ice and Fire" series, A Dance With Dragons. With a hopeful but doubtful release some time next year, for the time being there is thankfully Dreamsongs, a two-volume collection featuring George R. R. Martin's short stories and novellas spanning his career.

This first volume is split into five parts, separating periods of Martin's life from the sixties and on through the seventies. At the beginning of each part, Martin gives an introduction, telling his life story at this particular moment, and what were the circumstances that led up to each particularly story and how they were published. He begins from the beginning, writing and publishing at a young age, when one would expect the work to be simple and undeveloped, and yet it is clear that George R. R. Martin was a talented writer from the start. In each story are unique and memorable characters that stick with the reader long after the story is over. In "The Exit to San Breta," the main character is driving his classic, ancient Jaguar along the old and disused freeways of North America. It is on a particular road in Arizona that he runs into an even more ancient Edsel in incredible condition riding a perfectly flat and unblemished road. Soon he becomes part of a horrific haunting accident set to continuously play itself out for all eternity.

In Martin's science fiction, he establishes himself in a unique way, using the same world each time, but different planets, an distinct plot, and unforgettable characters that just add much more meaning to the story. In the last two parts, Martin reveals his love for first fantasy and his development as a fantasy writer, and finally as a horror writer. His most well-known story that won him the most prestigious science fiction awards involves a combination of these genres, in "Sandkings." Kress is a collector of the unusual, whatever the cost, until the day he buys a terrarium of sandkings: small insect-like creatures that form alliances and coalitions, fight wars over land and food, live in peace when able; even worshiping their owner, if he feeds them and takes good care of them. Kress seeks to control and make them his playthings, until they become too intelligent and powerful, breaking free of the terrarium, increasing in size, until Kress has no form of escape.

In this first collection, one sees where the writer George R. R. Martin came from, and what events and stories led him to becoming an important writer in the growing science fiction genre, the barely-begun fantasy genre, and the growing popularity of the horror genre. It is in these stories that one sees the beginning characters and story complexities that would later lead to the epic "Song of Ice and Fire" series. In Dreamsongs Volume I, Martin confesses that he would never be able to write as well as one of his childhood idols, J. R. R. Tolkien, and yet has now been labeled as the "American Tolkien" of our time. Clearly, Martin is destined to become one of the most important fantasy (as well as science fiction and horror) writers of our time.

[...]
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
tess bonn
This collection, whether in its 2003 limited-edition single-book format or in this new two-book one, showcases the career of a true master. Most fantasy novelists can't write prose well enough to succeed at the short form, and most fantasy short fiction stars can't write plots entertaining enough to attract fans to their novels. Perhaps it's Martin's cross-genre skill, equally adept at fantasy, science fantasy, and horror, that enables him to master both the short and novel formats, or perhaps it's the writerly training of that bygone era when short fiction was more common and more populist. Regardless, his classic award-winners like "Sandkings" still shine opposite early works like "The Fortress" and recent ones like "The Hedge Knight."

The other bounty in this collection is Martin's introductions to each chronological section, describing where he was at that point in his life and career, then detailing the genesis of all the stories. These commentaries offer insight into the man and the evolution of his craft.

Perhaps after he finishes his current saga, he'll dip back into short fiction, or write shorter pieces in between his longer projects like Stephen King does. That would surely offer great reads, and it might bring some fan attention back to the forgotten short fiction format.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
suzanne galbraith
With a diverse range of genres and characters George RR Martin traces his roots back to some very humble beginnings. It alternates between sets of stories united by a common genre and autobiographical chapters outlining his evolution as a writer (completely skippable if you're not interested, but those chapters are much shorter than the stories themselves). A Song for Lya and Sandkings are must reads, even in the bizarre and memorable sci-fi backgrounds he sets his stories in they're first and foremost about people, as he said "the human heart in conflict with itself is the only thing worth writing about." this is consistently reflected in his work.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
jon haupt
Like most readers I discovered Martin in Game of Thrones. Unlike most perhaps when the series came out I was very nearly done w/the 2nd to last book. My feeling were mixed. On the one hand it was, 'yah, isn't he great, been reading is stuff for months already'. On the other hand he had become so instantly popular that it was over a year before my local libraries could provide a copy.
This book has some gems. Unfortunately not all are of a kind that interest me. Also, reading a story written by a young twenty-something might be enjoyed by friends and parents but can be excruciating for the rest of us.
The thing I like most about this collection is that it may very well convince readers that, 'hmmm, if George can do it perhaps I can too! My writing is better than his used to be". Yeah, time to get started on the novel I've been thinking about...
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
nicole paterson
I loved this book, but it's probably not for everyone. If you want to find out how George R. R. Martin got to where he is now, or are interested in the writing process itself, you'll enjoy this collection of short stories interspersed with Martin's recollections of his life and career.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
gish
Interesting narrative by Mr. Martin about his early history and the stories behind the tales presented in this anthology. I remembered some of them and for others it was a first time read for me. I thoroughly enjoyed both the martin narrative and the associated stories. They have encouraged me to start his Song of Fire and Ice Series. I am also waiting to check out the Volume 2 of this series.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
john angus
I read most of this book, but I wasn't able to finish it before it was due back at the library (even with an extension). It just didn't hold my interest. I felt about most of these stories the same way I felt about GoT – good ideas, but the execution wasn't the best. I guess I'm just not a GRRM fan.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
darren wood
I've been a big George R.R. Martin fan since reading "Fevre Dream" when I was a bit younger; although many of his fans seem to only be familiar w/ Song of Fire & Ice, I can assure you that most of his other works are just as good. I was absolutely thrilled when I heard that many of his early and lesser known works were being collected and published in one volume, and I was quite upset when the original release date was changed(the release date for the US Dreamsongs was originally announced over a year ago at the same time the UK version; it was then scrapped and split into the 2 volumes for release here).
The fact that so many of the selections were award winners/award nominees speaks highly of the book to begin with, and although many of the stories in the first half of the book were written by a very young Martin (and it shows), the entire collection is filled with stories that grab hold of you and characters that you can really care about (a Martin specialty, imho). And though I've never been a big fan of anything that falls into the horror genre, I read and thoroughly enjoyed each and every story in the collection. The intros to each section are particularly enjoyable to read, as Martin discusses his sucesses and failures and the variety of influences on his early works, as well as some interesting anecdotes from his childhood.
My favorites from this volume 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", and of course, "Sandkings". I highly recommend picking up a copy of Dreamsongs, even for those who are not fans of short stories (I'm generally not); it is also a great introduction to Martin for those who are unfamiliar with his works - just don't judge the whole book by the first few stories!
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
judy cole
I couldn't get this book off my Kindle fast enough! Even if I were a fan of this author's (and I'm still willing to give him a try), I felt that this book was an absolute cheat. Who could ever, except perhaps a reviewer/historian, possibly be interested in the history of this man's writing from about age 6 to age 20 or so. So he began by writing for mimeographed comics. So he wrote for amateur publications that disappeared after 1 or 2 issues. So who cares? There were pages and pages of another person's year by year reviews of mimeographed (do you remember the purple copies we had 50 or 60 years ago?) early efforts by this author, as well as the author's own recollections of his very early work. Yuck!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
arijit
I enjoyed this book. It was great to have intros throughout the book by Mr. Martin, letting you into the background into his life and how he came to writing certain tales. It's also fascinating to read as a time sequence to see how he found his voice over time. While not all of the stories are fantastic, the vast majority are above average and should capture your imagination. I highly recommend it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jenn quinn
This gives the reader a great look at some of George RR Martin's early work, including his expansive sci-fi work. Much of the sci-fi and some of the fantasy takes place in the same universe, and so despite being a collection of short stories it has a big vein of continuity running throughout.

Some of the very earliest stories are uneven or downright terrible, but the balance of the book is very good.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dennis d entremont
This book is full of Georges short stories he published throughout his career. Many incredible sci fi short stories and personal revalations about his writing are revealed here. A must have for Martin fans, and some good sci fi for fans of the genre.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
maruthi
The Dreamsongs volumes are not a complete collection of GRRM's stories. They provide a selection of work from throughout his career, with each section introduced by an autobiographical essay telling about a little of his life at the time, and how he came to write these particular stories. As the subject says...those alone were worth the price to me. The stories themselves are the bonus.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
nabeelah
I picked this book up at the library since the Game of Thrones wasn't in. Hoped it'd give me a little idea what the "American Tolkien" wrote like. There are some good stories and there is a pretty creative mind behind them, but I was less than impressed. I couldn't finish the book. The pornographic aspects of every story I read were immensely unnecessary and really, to me, undermined the stories. Those stories that were entirely based on this porn were ridiculous. I still plan to try the first of the Game series. We'll see. Definitely nothing like Tolkien so that claim is, based on this book, misplaced and an insult to J.R.R. Tolkien.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
emin
A little difficult to get into if youre fresh off a GOT binge because it only partly follows some of GOT...but that being said this is a compilation of short stories so you can easily skip around if your not into one of them
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
aminata
So, the store, you put up an Audible sample of the book and it's the foreword about George RR Martin, not a sample from the actual story? Nobody cares about that part of the book and skips over it anyway. Get it together.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
debra chiplin
I have thus far greatly enjoyed The Song of Ice and Fire series, and gladly snapped up this offering, Dreamsongs Volume 1. I was frankly underwhelmed. This book, a collection of short stories divided into sections with prefaces by the author smacked somewhat of a vanity project, and one guaranteed to profit everyone involved now that GRRM is well and justifiably established as a high fantasy author. I don't object to author content at all, but this was content about the author as an author, which is not overwhelmingly of interest to me. Let me summarize: I've written lots of different stuff in multiple genres since I was little and here's some of it.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
dustin long
...This is just an absolute ripoff to the fans that want a COMPLETE set of all GRRM's short stories. Why not release a 3rd volume to completely cover all of Martin's short stories? Why should I have to try to hunt down all of his old out of print expensive books just for 1 or 2 short stories that were not included in this set?
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
kaora
I can only wonder what book the other reviewers were reading?
I'm a fan of the Ice and Fire series (despite their obvious flaws of character and plot and being sooo loong and seemingly never ending). The imagry is quite good, and I actually care about some characters.
The stories in this compilation are mostly pointless and awful (with minor exception).
I'm a little older than Martin and grew up on SciFi; but never read his work until this year.
I probably won't start Volume 2.
I will read books 6 and 7 of Ice and Fire. Only because I have so much time and energy invested already.
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