This is a review off the first volume of George R R Martin’s Dreamsongs compendium where many of his earlier works are catalogued. The review of the second Dreamsongs can be found here.
Every great writer starts somewhere, but there are few who display their first fruits in a compendium for all to read. George R R Martin, author of the soon to be legendary A Song of Ice and Fire series, is one of those few. Dreamsongs, broken into two volumes and those volumes themselves split into several sections, shows the rough and the rougher in the initial part and later the luster when time and experience serves to smooth.
This is not going to be a full review of the collection, but rather a highlight and brief examination of the select few that struck in me a cord. I was only able to complete one story in the first section known as A Four-Color Fanboy, and any attempt at others were met with resignation that it couldn’t be done. That part holds Martin’s dullest stones, but even there, the spark of brilliance dwells. By The Filthy Pro I was immersed, and the author also gives a foreword on each section. His own admission on the first part’s status prompted me to speak of it without impunity for Martin himself recognizes it as his more amateur work paving the epic way.
The stories I shall touch on are as follows:
- The Second Kind of Loneliness
- The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr
- The Ice Dragon
The Second Kind of Loneliness
There comes that moment in a story you are bound to love that you sit up and pay attention. That unexpected catalyst where you know it’s much more than a story you’re reading, because it puts into words something you’ve always known, but never expressed to anyone.
“Lonely? Yes. But a solemn, brooding, tragic loneliness that a man hates with a passion–yet loves so much he craves for more.
And then there is the second kind of loneliness.
You don’t need the Cerberus Star Ring for that kind. You can find it anywhere on Earth. I know. I did. I found it everywhere I went, in everything I did.
It’s the loneliness of people trapped within themselves. The loneliness of people who have said the wrong thing so often that they don’t have the courage to say anything anymore.
The loneliness, not of distance, but of fear.
The loneliness of people who sit alone in furnished rooms in crowded cities, because they’ve got nowhere to go and no one to talk to. The loneliness of guys who go to bars to meet someone, only to discover they don’t know how to strike up a conversation, and wouldn’t have the courage to do so if they did.
There’s no grandeur to that kind of loneliness. No purpose and no poetry. It’s a loneliness without meaning. It’s sad and squalid and pathetic, and it stinks of self-pity.
Oh yes, it hurts at times to be alone among the stars.
But it hurts a lot more to be alone at a party. A lot more.”
There is a meta and an irony to those words. They speak to everyone. We are therefore all together in our soul crushing solitude, and yet, even knowing this it does not entirely ease. Though this was written years before I was born and takes place years after I will be dead, in that range of multitude eons its message still reaches my soul. I understand being in a crowded room and still feeling hollow as if no feast will fill me up for no conversation can ease the despair. Social interactions consistently consist of emptiness filled with meaningless words. You want poetry and you get pop music. You wish to speak of the inner workings of narratives, but you get shallow assessments. There’s so much lurking on your tongue, but you’re afraid to say it because you’ve tried to engage before, tried to access and express higher meaning, but everyone has moved on to the next shinier thing. I think people underestimate the impact of good conversation, of being valued and understood, of having someone catch the shadow below your words without having to explain in minute detail why is seems so dark. The second kind of loneliness is what we except, because the wall around it is too thick for all but the sharpest arrow to pierce.
The end of this story is haunting in a way I’ve never experienced before. It left a hole in the pit of my gut, and yet it was beautiful in its horror. There is a decent review of it done by Vassals of Kingsgrave whom I’ve been listening to for their Dreamsongs’ story reviews as I read them.
The first reviewed of Dreamsongs was my favorite, but the second speaks of loneliness, too…
The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr
Every author has a pattern, but Martin continues to surprise me with his. I think I have what’s happening figured out, but with him I either don’t catch it until so close to the end it no longer matters or I’m utterly wrong in my assessment (I’m happy to report that I seem to be getting to hang of it in his Tuf Voyaging stories per the ones in Dreamsongs: Volume II, but that’ll be discussed when we get there). The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr had that surprise ending that seemed more sorrowful and less shocking at examination. It was another story about loneliness, but split between two individuals, and I can’t lie and say equally. The one character’s loneliness is far more hopeless as they were chosen for a specific purpose where the other character had a hope and prayer (no matter how faint) of achieving her loneliness’ end. Being picked by the gods, especially the cruel ones of Martin’s worlds, is rarely if ever desirable.
Next is the portrayal of one half of the great dichotomy…
The Ice Dragon
Though it is not stated in the title, the “fire” that goes with “ice” is more than represented here. I don’t know if I could call this story a precursor to Song, but if Martin does not use some of the motifs therein, I will be more than disappointed. He’s stated that he was the first person to come up with the idea of the ice dragon, and if someone has a novel idea and different twist on an old trope, I would fully expect it to be somewhere in their magnum opus.
The main character is a little girl called Adara who bears the winter in her skin.
Her mother died in birthing her, the cold too much for her flesh, and though Adara’s father loves her, he also resents her for the death of his wife (sound familiar?), but she and her ice dragon do spectacular things despite her tender age and terrible odds. I truly wonder if a very similar battle will play out in Song and what side the ice dragon will fight on.
The Vassals do a review of this one as well.
Now we come to more novella than short in the section marked for horror, and it does not disappoint…
“‘I am being kept outside until–until–‘
‘Yes?’ prompted Melantha.
‘–until Mother is done with them.'”
Cold as the dark between the stars…which is what the characters are arguably chasing. It may be more accurate to say they are chasing a creature that dwells within that star space and has for nearly the entirety of history. Nightflyers is about the search for an ancient unknown, a wonder that has pursued mankind’s imagination for as long as it’s been pursued.
Initially, the ragtag group of scientists, technicians, and psychics did little to hold my attention. It was the elusive volcryn I craved to see, but the Nightflyer’s strange captain Royd Eris became an intrigue and the personalities of some of the passenger’s began to engage. Karoly d’Branin, the front runner of the mission and Melantha Jhirl, self-described as a “new and improved model,” took center stage with the latter emerging as the definitive main character.
The horror of the story should’ve been plain to me from a key moment, and I’m ashamed of myself for not picking it up. At one point Eris (who only appears as a hologram, but perpetually spies on his passengers even when he’s not seen) tells a story about himself that could or could not have been a lie at the time. Martin has the uncanny ability to drop significance so casually into his stories. I didn’t dismiss it, but this particular tale should’ve set off my radar, and when the bombshell hit, I put down the book and poured myself a glass of wine. It upped the eerie wrongness that had been laid throughout more than tenfold, prompted the creation of an absolutely horrible pun: *spoiler* the literal “mother” ship, *end spoiler* and reaffirmed that Martin knows that the most unsettled kind of horror is that which is found in ordinary, often endearing concepts.
I leave you with the first lines of Nightflyers, because another thing our author is good at is immediately pulling you into a tale, piquing your interest, and despite potential dull points, leaving enough breadcrumbs to stir the appetite, but never satisfy.
“When Jesus of Nazareth hung dying on his cross, the volcryn passed within a year of his agony, headed outward.
“When the Fire Wars raged on Earth, the volcryn sailed near Old Poseidon, where the seas were still unnamed and unfinished. By the time the stardrive had transformed the Federated Nations of Earth into the Federal Empire, the volcryn had moved into the fringes of Hrangan space. The Hrangans never knew it. Like us they were children of the small bright worlds that circled their scattered suns, with little interest and less knowledge of the things that moved in the gulfs between.”
I desperately wanted to find a review of this, but alas I was forsaken. Hopefully soon the Vassals (or Bastards) of Kingsgrave will take it upon themselves to provide.
I give the Dreamsongs:Volume I 4 stars in total. It was full of far more excellence than ennui and showed the earlier machinations of a truly epic mind.