Fiction Review

Dream Songs

(2006/2008) George R. R. Martin, Gollancz, 8.99, pbk, 717pp, ISBN 978-0-75289-0-098

This book is the second volume of a collection of Martin's stories from 30-odd years, covering the full range of SF/fantasy/horror. It consists of four sections with a prologue to each:-

"A Taste of Tuf" (2 stories): Haviland Tuf is a character which the author admits is inspired by Nicholas van Rijn, created by Poul Anderson. Personally I don't particularly like either of these characters, though I can appreciate that Tuf is an endless source of stories.

"Siren Song of Hollywood" (2 filming scripts): I did not know anything about Martin's years of writing for film and (mainly) TV in America; Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast especially. His experiences with the studios/TV networks are quite depressing... I loved the quote from Heinlein after his own Hollywood experience: "If you let them piss in the soup, they like the flavour better!" I can see that, for an author, it could be quite soul-destroying to have your work messed with, and even not used in the end.

"Doing the Wild Card Shuffle" (2 stories): Looking at the bibliography at the back of the book, it would seem that the Wild Card stories, games, etc, was a prolific and profitable time for Martin. A number of authors created comic book hero characters and each contributes a number of stories using their own characters, plus those of other authors, using a slightly alternate 20th century history. I found the Xavier Desmond journal quite good; it's really rather serious and you feel it's Martin allegorically expounding upon universal themes, such as race and disability, e.g. tolerance vs. bigotry on both sides.

"The Heart in Conflict" (6 stories): His stories for Analog and other magazines in the '70s, under its new era editor Ben Bova. Still quite hard science, but not so puritanical as in earlier times (which appears to mean, literally, just an increase in sexual content). I found 'Skintrade' a good werewolf story, though the graphic horror stuff felt a bit gratuitous to me, but then I am not into horror/gore myself. My favourite story was 'The Glass Flower'... In the classic way of successful short stories I wanted more; a whole book would have been fine by me! The prologue to this section tries to discuss definitions of SF, fantasy, etc.  Martin feels in the end that all genres have at their core 'people' and "the human heart in conflict with itself." The rest (setting, genre, whatever) is furniture. In the time-honoured tradition, it's all just stories.

As a 'greatest hits' collection, I do not know quite who the book is aimed at, other than perhaps to revive or indeed engender interest in his back catalogue. If you know and love this author, you probably already have these books. Not being familiar with his work, other than 'Hedge Knight' from Legends, I actually found his prologues to each section the most interesting part of the book, in an autobiographical way. I learnt quite a bit about him and his philosophy, and enjoyed the section four prologue in particular about the issues re definitions. It struck me as similar thinking to other authors, e.g. Brian Aldiss. Odd, isn't it, that in literary terms SF and fantasy still suffers from not being taken seriously, at the same time as it almost dominates movies and games these days?

Susanna Witch

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