George R.R. Martin has become relatively famous in fantasy circles over the last decade or so, but he had already been writing for about 25 years before his excellent A Song of Ice and FIre fantasy epic began. Dreamsongs Volume 1 is the first of two collections of short-form fiction that Martin wrote before A Game of Thrones hit the shelves. I’d already read a good portion of this material in the original collections which I bought directly from the author when he was selling them (out of print at the time) on eBay and Amazon Auctions. Still, it was good to re-read them again, not in the least because the book also contains five short autobiographical introductions describing how Martin started writing, how he sold his first stories, and so on. These short bio’s are well-written and funny, and show that Martin isn’t afraid to make fun of himself and the publishing industry. If you’ve ever met the man, it’s hard not to imagine Martin’s distinctive voice when you read them.
Dreamsongs Vol. 1 is divided into 5 sections focusing on different phases of the author’s career. The first section contains stories he wrote for fanzines (etc) in the early seventies. A couple of them are hilariously bad. If you’re new to GRRM, don’t let them turn you away, because I’m sure they were only included for completion’s sake.
The second section (“The Filthy Pro”) contains the first stories he sold, and it’s here that you start to see signs of the amazing talent he has. Especially the latter two stories in this section (“The Second Kind of Loneliness” and “With Morning Comes Mistfall”) are very good.
The third section contains stories set in Martin’s SF universe (same as his SF novel Dying of the Light). All of these are excellent, especially “The Stone City,” which has a Jack Vance-like quality I really enjoyed. Reading these stories makes me wish he’d write more material set in this universe — except that would delay the next volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire even more…
Section 4 contains some of his earlier fantasy stories. I found these disappointing. In the intro to this section, he explains that many people seemed to think he started writing A Song of Ice and Fire to jump on the commercial fantasy bandwagon. It’s hard not to think that he included these stories only to show that, yes, he did write fantasy back in the seventies. The stories are charming, but there’s just not a lot of depth to them.
In the final section, Martin includes six of his horror stories. I’m not a horror fan at all, but I enjoyed these stories tremendously. Of course four of them are technically more SF stories with horror elements, so that might explain it. This section includes what’s probably his most famous short story, “Sandkings,” which was adapted to become the pilot for “The Outer Limits” (a show Martin wrote for). This story is just as chilling as the first time I read it, years ago. A couple of the other stories are set in the “manrealm” SF universe, including “Nightflyers,” which was adapted to an (apparently horrible) feature-length movie. The last two stories are horror stories without SF elements, both also very good.
All in all, Dreamsongs Volume 1 is a great collection for people who want to explore Martin’s pre-Game of Thrones works (in which case, also make sure to check out Dying of the Light, Windhaven, and especially Tuf Voyaging). If you’re already familiar with some of the stories here, the bio information at least makes it worth checking out from the library. And if you’re new to George R.R. Martin and have any interest in fantasy, read A Game Of Thrones right now.