Dreamsongs: Volume II by George R.R. Martin.Review by Andrea Johnson
Readers looking for "A little of everything" will get immense satisfaction out of the variety of stories in Dreamsongs, Volume II. We've got screenplays, Wild Cards, short stories, novellas, a Hugo nominee, a World Fantasy Award winner, werewolves, madmen, freaks of nature, angels, time travelers and aliens. How can you go wrong with that?
Each section again has an essay written by Mr. Martin about his inspirations and his trials within the publishing and screenwriting world. The Armageddon Rag had great reviews, but didn't sell worth a darn, and had lasting implications for additional novels Martin was trying to sell at the time. Luckily, the reviver of the mid 80s The Twilight Zone was a huge fan of Martin's, and loved his successful and not so successful novels alike. They became fast friends, and Martin found himself employed in Hollywood, first working on The Twilight Zone, then Beauty and The Beast, then concepts for his own television creation. And somewhere in there, A Game of Thrones was born.
There are two screenplays in this collection, and the style took a lot of getting used to, because they are in their original script form, with some stage direction. The Twilight Zone story is the original filmed script, before it was chopped down to fit a 30-minute show, and Doorways was for a new series, which unfortunately, never made it into production. It's strange to read Doorways, because it feels so "un-Martin." Doorways fits that perfect 1-hour Quantum Leap or Sliders style TV show so well, with the attractive female alien, and the attractive male human who helps her and gets involved in her struggle, always escaping through a door, into a new world, a new adventure, the bad guys always one step behind. A fun, action packed concept that's nothing new. I've been spoiled with George R.R. Martin, so I have high expectations. Maybe the scripts would have been more enjoyable had I not known ahead of time they were specifically designed to be a certain length, and sell to a certain audience. But, if they weren't designed specifically for TV, they would be stories or novellas, not scripts.
"The Skin Trade" - If forced to pick any Martin story out of this collection that would make a great TV show or movie, it would be this one. This short story was originally published as part of the Dark Harvest horror anthology, and won the 1989 World Fantasy Award for best novella. Remember those scary werewolf stories your grandmother told you? That they can only change at night, during a full moon? That wasn't for your protection, it was for the protection of the werewolves, who can change any place, any time, day or night. Action packed from the get go, when Private Investigator Randi Wade starts working on a case involving flayed corpses with her friend and confidant Willie Flambeaux (who happens to be a werewolf), the story showcases Martin's flawless ability for humor in dark situations. Willie sees a pattern, when his friends start showing up dead. He's got to risk more lycanthropes dying, or reveal the secret to Randi. Of course, he tells Randi everything, and she promises to help him. The local political family, who practically owns the town, also has a secret. Their young heir, Steven, is not only mentally disturbed, but he can't properly change into his lycanthropic form like the rest of his family can. An outcast, Steven is seduced by the idea that if you are a failed werewolf, perhaps you need something of a true werewolf, to become true yourself. "The Skin Trade" suffers from that wonderful ailment of un-put-down-ability.
"Portraits of his Children" - a lonely, sad story, that on the surface, doesn't appear to fit this collection. At the emotional expense of his wife and daughter, author Richard Cantling cares more for his story book characters than he does for his family. For Richard, his first published novel was his first born child, with siblings coming every year or so after. Through a series of paintings, Richard is visited by his favorite creations, his children. Edward Donahue, his first born from his first novel "Hangin' Out," Cissy, the strong, sensual female protagonist of "Black Roses," among others. Through Richards conversations with his "children," he starts to wonder if they are truer children to him than his daughter Michelle, truer than his ex-wife Helen. His daughter Michelle was attacked, assaulted, and spent weeks in the hospital, with months in recovery. Cantling's next book is "Show Me Where it Hurts," about Nicole, a young woman who is raped, assaulted, and left to die. It's too close to home for Michelle, but for Cantling, it was great inspiration. Midnight visits from imaginary characters, a failing attempt to come to grips with the reality of what his family went through during his career. Is this madness? Or what every writer must eventually face? This is not science fiction, it isn't fantasy, it doesn't take place in the future or the past. It's just a story, about a person. Which perhaps, is why it does fit the Dreamsongs collection perfectly.
Andrea Johnson lives in beautiful southwestern Michigan with her husband, and spends as much time as possible reading and enjoying science fiction and other speculative fiction. She is an administrator and book reviewer at Worm's Sci Fi Haven and an official reviewer at Multiverse.