When I read and reviewed Dreamsongs, Volume 1 (Canada, USA, Europe) way back in 2007, George R. R. Martin told me that the second volume was even better. Hard to believe, I thought. After all, as a compendium of GRRM's early work, the first installment was a veritable journey through the author's long and celebrated career. What I enjoyed the most, and it's the case in this second volume as well, was that each section begins with an extensive and insightful commentary that allows readers to learn so much about the stories behind the stories. As good as the material is, I often found Martin's commentary to be as fascinating as the tales themselves.
For all you GRRM fans out there, the collection of short fiction found within the pages of both Dreamsongs volumes is the perfect opportunity for you to get better acquainted with the material which allowed George R. R. Martin to win every possible speculative fiction award out there. And believe me when I tell you that at times it gets as good as A song of Ice and Fire. Indeed, in my opinion Dreamsongs, Volume 2 is second only to A Storm of Swords in terms of quality. So for all those clamoring for The Winds of Winter, if you need a GRRM fix, then look no further. Taken as a whole, the Dreamsongs books offer nearly 1500 pages' worth of GRRM awesomeness.
Martin never much liked labels. For him, it's about writing good stories. Maybe this approach is the reason why he somehow managed to work his magic regardless of the genre he's writing in. In Dreamsongs, Volume 2, GRRM comes across as a veritable master storyteller, be it in fantasy, science fiction, horror, urban fantasy, or whatever other label you'd like to attach to any of the tales found between the covers. Yes, it's that damn good!
Here's the blurb:
Dubbed “the American Tolkien” by Time magazine, #1 New York Times bestselling author George R.R. Martin is a giant in the field of fantasy literature and one of the most exciting storytellers of our time. Now he delivers a rare treat for readers: a compendium of his shorter works, all collected into two stunning volumes, that offer fascinating insight into his journey from young writer to award-winning master.
Whether writing about werewolves, wizards, or outer space, George R.R. Martin is renowned for his versatility and expansive talent, highlighted in this dazzling collection. Included here, in Volume II, are acclaimed stories such as the World Fantasy Award-winner “The Skin Trade,” as well as the first novella in the Ice and Fire universe, “The Hedge Knight,” plus two never-before-published screenplays. Featuring extensive author commentary, Dreamsongs, Volume II; is an invaluable chronicle of a writer at the height of his creativity—and an unforgettable reading experience for fans old and new.
In the first section of this collection, "A Taste of Tuf," we are introduced to Haviland Tuf, an eccentric ecological engineer. Not the most endearing of fellows, but nevertheless a very interesting protagonist. Both "A Beast for Norn" and "Guardians" may not be as great as some of the other material that comprises this collection, yet they set the tone and demonstrate how multilayered GRRM's talent truly is. It will become much more evident later in the book, but you immediately realize that Martin is as comfortable writing science fiction stories as he is with fantasy. Having said that, "Guardians" offers a few unexpected surprises that were quite satisfying.
The "The Siren Song of Hollywood" section contains two scripts from two projects GRRM worked on; Twilight Zone and Doorways. When it was aired, The Roads Less Traveled was cut and edited in such a way that it never reflected what the original script was all about. Here we have the full script, so those who saw the show years ago can now discover how it was always meant to be. A pilot was filmed for Doorways, but ABC pulled the plug and production ceased afterward. Again, the full script is found here. Martin refers to Doorways as the great "what if" of his career and it's easy to understand why.
The "Doing the Wild Card Shuffle" section has to do with the Wild Cards project and how it came to be. Since nowadays GRRM edits but doesn't write in the Wild Cards universe, it's interesting to read some older material from him. "Shell Games" features the Great and Powerful Turtle and Dr. Tachyon, and is a good introduction to the Wild Cards universe. But "The Journal of Xavier Desmond" is a powerful tale of a man dealing with cancer and approaching death. To a certain extent, it's also a study of America's foreign policy around the world through the 70s and the 80s and the impact it had on this alternate history. This one contains a number of poignant and touching moments, and was one of my favorite reads.
"The Heart in Conflict" is the section that literally blew my mind, however. Basically every single story found within was incredible! "Under Siege" is about time travel and an attempt to prevent the creation of the USSR. In a nutshell, "The Skin Trade" is a werewolf tale. But it's so much more than that. Essentially, it might be the best thing GRRM has written as far as short fiction goes. It's scary and awesome, and I for one would love to read more about PI Randi Wade and Willie the werewolf collector agent. Hands down the best piece in this collection. "Unsound Variations is an interesting chess and time travel tale that was also surprising.
"The Glass Flower" explores GRRM's science fiction future history. It's got a weird vibe at times, but is also an engrossing read. Most people reading this review are already familiar with "The Hedge Knight," the first tale featuring the unlikely duo Dunk and Egg. If you're not, then know that there are a few more ASOIAF stories out there! The novelette "Portaits of His Children" caps off the collection with a bang. It's a disturbing story about the price paid by writers when they put their ideas on paper.
Fascinating and unforgettable, Dreamsongs, Volume 2 is an amazing collection of short fiction from a man who has become a master of essentially every single sub-genre of speculative fiction. This book deserves the highest possible recommendation. Looking for the best possible Christmas present for GRRM fans everywhere? These two volumes have to be it!