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Dreamsongs: A Retrospective
George R.R. Martin
Victor Gollancz, 1185 pages

Dreamsongs: A Retrospective
George R.R. Martin
George R.R. Martin was born in 1948 in Bayonne, New Jersey. He attended Northwestern University, graduating with degrees in journalism. Martin refused active service: instead he served with VISTA, in Cook County, Illinois. In addition to his writing credits, Martin has served as Story Editor for Twilight Zone, and as Executive Story Consultant, Producer and Co-Supervising Producer for Beauty and the Beast, both on CBS. He also was Executive Producer for Doorways on CBS. At 21, he made his first pro sale to the magazine, Galaxy. Martin now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

George R.R. Martin Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Armageddon Rag
SF Site Review: A Game of Thrones
SF Site Review: The Hedge Knight
SF Site Review: Windhaven
SF Site Review: A Storm of Swords
SF Site Interview: George R.R. Martin
SF Site Review: A Clash of Kings
SF Site Review: A Game of Thrones

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

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"You can take the boy out of Bayonne, but you can't take Bayonne out of the boy. The same is true of funny books. I admit it. Cut me and I still bleed four coloured ink."
As some readers might have spotted from the page count, this collection is a mighty tome. You don't have to be a body-builder to read it, but strong wrists are essential. What you get here is a whistle stop tour through George R.R. Martin's career, from fanboy to a best-selling author, who has been called the American Tolkien. Something I feel is an unfair comparison. Tolkien was a crusty old codger, who kept rarefied company, and wrote his master-work as an academic exercise. Whereas Martin has always been in close touch with the needs of his audience, and the real world. Fortunately for that audience, Martin is also in close touch with umpteen imagined worlds.

Dreamsongs is partly biographical anthology, containing insights into Martin's inspiration and aspiration as a preface to each work. Like most writers, he began trying to entertain himself and his friends, submitting short stories and comic book scripts to various fanzines.

Every stage of his career, thus far, is entertainingly explained, from the excitement of seeing his name in amateur publications, right up to the giddy heights of international stardom. Not that Martin regards himself as a star, aloof and above mere mortals. Indeed, he seems to have retained a refreshing humility, and gratitude that people -- lots of people -- happen to like his many varied works. Martin's innate understanding of what people want is at the heart of his talent as an author and editor. The introductions, which I enjoyed almost as much as the stories, are related with openness and honesty, revealing the twist and turns of life that led him to develop now celebrated works such as "Sandkings," "The Skin Trade" and the long running Wild Cards series.

On display here is his mastery of more than one branch of fiction. Most authors who are successful cannot match this trick. Some try to step outside of their comfort zone, and more often than not fall flat. Not so with George R.R. Martin, who glides in what appears to be effortless fashion between genres, sub-genres, styles and media, almost always producing something above average. SF to horror, television to Hollywood, and back again, Martin has succeeded in all areas, and now rests comfortably though not complacently, among the short list of fantasy authors whose name alone can generate a best-seller.

There are nine sections to the book, grouped at first in chronological order, and then by theme. Beginning in the 60s, two previously unpublished works, plus one that first saw light as a comic book script, are presented warts and all. They show that even at such an early stage of his career, what Martin lacked in polish he more than made up for with characterisation. Section two samples the author's early professional sales to magazine such as Analog, and includes the Hugo and Nebula award nominated "With Morning Comes Mistfall." It is here that Martin's ability really starts to shine brightly. Stories continue to run chronologically from section two across section three, loosely linked by what Martin calls his Thousand Worlds universe. Dead planets, lost loves, religion and high tech science all fit together like a glorious jigsaw. In section four, the thematic ordering begins, encompassing Martin's fantasy work of the 70s and 80s, and including his bitter but lovely tale of "The Ice Dragon," and a brilliant example of how to start a story, called "In The Lost Lands." The former is told from the perspective of a child, who witnesses a family struggle to keep living their normal lives, even as the world crumbles around them. The latter, opens with a great example of a George R.R. Martin sure fire hook line, "You can buy anything you might desire from Gray Alys. But it's better not to." Section five takes us through the author's winning cross-breed of SF and horror, which occupied much of his time between the end of the 70s and middle 80s. It's here that we're treated to one of Martin's most respected and powerful works; "Sandkings," a story which appeared as a double episode of The Outer Limits TV series. In section six, "A Taste of Tuf," the author showcases two examples from his Haviland Tuf series, about a pasty-faced, overweight space trader, who just happens to be master of Ark; an ancient 30 kilometre long warship! Moving into section seven, Martin gives us a taste of his Hollywood career, including "Doorways," a script for a TV pilot not unlike Sliders. Section eight features a couple of stories from Wild Cards, beginning with "Shell Games" which introduces Martin's intriguing insular superhero, The Great and Powerful Turtle. It was here that I found my only cause for complaint. Wild Cards is such a rich and diverse alternate world, I was a little disappointed with the minimalist explanation. At seventeen books and counting, there was a lot more to say. The last section, nine, is also the longest. Here, among other stories, we find "The Hedge Knight" which is set in the same world as A Song of Ice and Fire, "The Glass Flower," which revisits the author's Thousand World universe, and Martin's celebrated, novella length take on werewolf culture; "The Skin Trade."

Dreamsongs covers an immense 40 years in George R.R. Martin's working life, and rolls like a safari though the fantastic land of his imagination. Included are almost a hundred pages of autobiographical detail, covering thirty-four works, in a master class of slow burn, subtlety, and an instinctive ability to truly connect with both characters and audience.

Copyright © 2007 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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