Visions of Paradise

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Dreamsongs, Vol. 2 (continued)

The first novella is “Under Siege,” whose premise is that after a devastating nuclear war, life on Earth is both precarious and dismal. A project is underway to send the minds of six mutants back in time into the minds of historical people who were important figures at the crux of changes which could alter history and hopefully prevent the devastating nuclear war. But five of the mutants have died during their trips through time, so the last surviving mutant is the only hope to prevent the nuclear war and save life on Earth. His chosen event seems somewhat problematic to me, part of a war between Finland and Russia during the Napoleanic Wars, but selecting any important turning point in history is always subject to debate. This is a strong story with an unexpected ending.

“The Skin Trade” is a noir mystery set in a midwestern city controlled by a small group of rich people who are secretly werewolves. Several of them have been murdered by the particularly gruesome method of being flayed while alive. Their deaths are being investigated by a private detective and an insurance investigator, the latter a werewolf himself. Keeping in mind that I generally dislike urban fantasies, this was still fascinating reading which held my interest throughout, even as the wheels kept turning and turning.

I had initial problems with “Unsound Variations” since all the five characters in it were particularly unlikeable. The main two characters were a young couple who do nothing but fight and harass each other. They are attending a reunion of his college chess team, where they meet up with three other unlikeable team members, particularly the team outcast who has become incredibly wealthy and is using the reunion as his chance to finally get revenge against his former teammates. Overall, the story was interesting, and events progressed in a generally good direction with a satisfying denouement.

Anybody who read George R.R. Martin’s early stories, such as “With Morning Comes Mistfall” and “A Song For Lya,” could not miss the influence of Roger Zelazny on his fiction. In one of Martin’s section introductions, he discusses his move to Santa Fe where he became personal friends with Zelazny. So it was not surprising when I reached “The Glass Flower” to find it the most Zelaznyish story I have ever read by any author other than Roger Zelazny itself. It resembled a typical Zelazny story in mood, structure, and plot. The main group of characters were highly-emotional beings with strange powers engaged in dealings which risked their very lives. This might have been the strongest story of the group, except the more I read it the more I felt it was more form than actual story, so determined to resemble a Zelazny story that it was difficult to really appreciate it for its own merits.

Next came “The Hedge Knight,” which is set in the world of his Song of Fire and Ice historical series, which I assume is intended to be an epic fantasy series. However, except for a brief mention about dragons (from the past, seemingly more legendary than factual), there is nothing really fantastic about either this story or the very similar “The Mystery Knight,” also in the same series, and which appeared in the recent anthology Warriors. This is the story of Dunk, the hedge knight of the title, who enters a jousting tournament in an attempt to earn some much-needed money, and his squire Egg, an orphan boy who basically forced Dunk to accept him as a squire, and who seems to know more about the knights in the tournament than Dunk does, thus becoming a valuable source of advice for him. The early portion of the story is primarily concerned with the tournament, and the individual battles which take place in it, very similar to “The Mystery Knight” and also similar to Ivanhoe, an obviously influence on both stories. But once the plot started moving when Dunk fights off an arrogant prince who is attacking a young puppeteer, the story became much more interesting. I liked this story better than “The Mystery Knight,” and it intrigued me to look up more stories in this series (if not yet tackle the 6000+ pages of the novels).

The last story is the Nebula-winning novella “A Portrait of His Children,” a story about the relationship between a writer and his fictional characters, and how that relationship affects his relationship with his real family. Much of the story’s premise is understandable to any serious writer, but I strongly disliked parts of it, since I am not a fan of any story in which rape and violence play such a major role. I can understand why Martin felt he needed to do so, for it made the story’s climax more powerful, but I really wish he could have done it less violently.

Overall, Dreamsongs, Vol. 2 is a major collection covering the second half of Martin’s career, definitely well-worth reading. My immediate thought upon finishing it is that I wish the author had not abandoned most short fiction (except for occasional Song of Fire and Ice stories) in favor of his massive epic series. My second thought was that I wish he would finish the damned series so I can decide whether to read it or not.

1 Comments:

  • The Skin Trade is one of my favorite Martin shorts, and I too am one of those people who are hard to impress with urban fantasy. I've read both Dreamsongs volumes, but I think I might have read them backwards, as I remember more stuff from Vol 1.

    The Hedge Knight I think is meant to be a sort of prequel to A Song of Ice and Fire. If I remember correctly, Martin never even thought about doing an epic fantasy series until he wrote that story.

    You're right, A Portrait of His Children is most certainly not an easy story to read. But it is so very Martin.

    By Blogger Redhead, At 7:19 AM  

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