Dreamsongs: A RRetrospective: Book Two (Dreamsongs, #2)

By George R.R. Martin

Rating: 4 stars

I came to this collection having never actually read any George R. R. Martin before. I’ve heard of A Song of Ice and Fire but have never read it, but I had read good reviews of this retrospective (or Rretrospective as the book itself puts it) and wasn’t disappointed. This volume contained fewer but longer stories than its predecessor but held the same format of grouping stories by theme, each with an introduction by the author. The first and third sections are single universes where Martin wrote several stories, the first being the Haviland Tuf series and the other being the WildCards superhero series. I enjoyed both of these and would certainly like to read more. Luckily for me, this is possible since the Tuf stories are collected in Tuf Voyaging and there are many books in the WildCards shared universe, which, we learn in this book, Martin created with a group of friends while roleplaying.

The book also contains a couple of screenplays that Martin has written during his Hollywood years, the first being a Twilight Zone episode that got mangled and the second being a pilot for a Sliders-esque series that never really went anywhere.

The final section is possibly the most interesting, Martin admitting that there’s no real ‘theme’ to them, and they’re just stories that he likes. They include the Song of Ice and Fire prequel The Hedge Knight and the eerie Portraits of his Children which rounds off the collection in a suitably weird and somewhat creepy way. This section contains stories that don’t follow any particular pattern, from the fantasy/imagined history of The Hedge Knight to the hard SF of The Glass Flower to the werewolf/detective story The Skin Trade.

A good collection to get a flavour of the later part of Martin’s career and should certainly be read in conjunction with Volume 1. If you only know of Martin through Ice and Fire, this will show that he’s done so much more than that.

Book details

ISBN: 9780752890098
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Year of publication: 2003

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Rating: 4 stars

I’m not very good with poetry so I was a bit wary when I approached this short volume, but the Rime itself was remarkably easy to read. It was full of beautiful and evocative imagery without having the density of language that makes poetry so difficult for me.

I can’t say the same about the other poems included in this volume. I don’t really think I understood any of them, although both Kubla Khan and Dejection: An Ode had some great images.

Book details

ISBN: 9780785823407
Publisher: Chartwell Books
Year of publication: 1798

Old Man’s War (Old Man’s War, #1)

By John Scalzi

Rating: 4 stars

In the far future, humanity has reached the stars to find them already occupied. It turns out that there are numerous alien races out there and competition for habitable planets to colonise is intense in an alien-eat-human (sometimes literally) world. The Colonial Defence Force exists to protect human settlements and to aggressively attack other races to gain new territory.

They recruit from an Earth that is shielded from this war and also not given access to the alien high technology that the CDF acquires (saying they should discover it themselves), but it’s their method of recruitment that forms the kernel around which this story is told. Rather than recruiting young people with no experience of the world, the CDF only recruits people over the age of 75, who are given new, young bodies and never allowed to return to Earth, but once their tour of duty ends are resettled on a colony world. Thus the CDF gains the experience of age and experience and ensures that a breeding population remains on Earth.

I had a bit of an issue with the concept behind this book: that diplomacy in interstellar space is impossible because of the demand of each race to propagate and expand, but I was able to mostly get through that because unlike, say, Robert Heinlein, it felt like he was using that background to tell an interesting story, not because he believed it :). There are also some great flashes of dark humour throughout the book, such as when an alien invasion force takes a Human colony, they bring a celebrity chef with them to describe the best way to cook Humans.

Our protagonist, John Perry, is likeable and a good narrator, although perhaps a little too competent, in that Heinlein-esque sort of way. He is the only one to be drawn out in any depth, with the other characters being mostly there to drive the plot forward or provide exposition but it never felt forced and you still feel a little sad at the inevitable deaths that a war-story will bring.

An enjoyable story set in an intriguing universe and I look forward to getting hold of the sequel(s).

Book details

ISBN: 9780765348272
Publisher: Tor Books
Year of publication: 2005

The Scarlet Pimpernel

By Emmuska Orczy

Rating: 4 stars

In France the revolution is well under way and Madame Guillotine’s thirst is great for the blood of aristocrats, whether they be men, women or children. And yet, amidst all this bloodshed, some aristos are escaping from under the nose of the guards. Rumour has it that a band of bold and daring Englishmen, led by the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, are helping those condemned to flee to England. The villainous Chauvelin vows to track down the Scarlet Pimpernel and introduce him to Madame Guillotine himself.

This is a rip-roaring adventure story without any pretensions to social commentary or historical analysis. The story is mostly told through the eyes of Lady Marguerite Blakeney, a clever French former actress now married to one of the richest (and apparently stupidest) men in England. Despite her initial shallowness and contempt for her husband, we quickly warm to this woman and allow her to take us with her on her journey of self-discovery and adventure as she realises the truth about her husband and the danger that she has inadvertently sent him into.

A very entertaining book and, having read an abridged version when I was a child, I’m glad I have been able to read the full thing.

Book details

ISBN: 9780812966114
Publisher: Modern Library
Year of publication: 1905

The Old Masters

By Brian Davis

Rating: 5 stars

This anthology showcases some of the leading lights of the golden age of science fiction including John Wyndham, Damon Knight, James Blish and Arthur C. Clarke. The stories are all blazing with the shining optimism and sense of wonder of the age; after the atom had been split but before we discovered just how terrible the price for it was. It’s hard to pick any particularly outstanding stories, but at a push, I’d say that A. E. van Vogt’s The Monster about a group of aliens who resurrect a man after the race is dead in the far future and Tiger Ride by Blish and Knight, about a group of scientists experimenting with a strange form of matter on a deserted world on the edge of known space, stand out in my memory.

If you’re not not keen on golden age work and all that implies — little characterisation, almost complete absence of women, etc — then this won’t change your mind. But if it’s the ideas that get you going and you don’t mind your stories to feel a little dated, then these classic stories still stand bright.

Book details

ISBN: 9780450005978

The Third Policeman

By Flann O'Brien

Rating: 4 stars

This is a story of life, death, bicycles and policemen. And policemen obsessed with bicycles. Our narrator takes us on a surreal, fantastic journey as he murders a man and then tries to find his victim’s black cash box that his accomplice has hidden. On his journey he finds the three policemen of the title, has long and meaningful conversations with his soul and a brief but oddly poignant love affair with a bicycle.

I loved the surrealist, fantastical bent to this novel and found the protagonist sympathetic, despite his murderous tendencies. The way he blunders from encounter to encounter made him endearing in my eyes, and I was willing him to succeed all the way through.

The footnotes are voluminous (the longest covers about four pages) and almost all reference the ‘savant’ de Selby, who the (never named) protagonist is obsessed with and who he aims to write a definitive commentary on. The footnotes refer to some of the eccentric de Selby’s work, and refer to other commentators, such as Hackjaw, Kraus and the villainous du Garbandier and are often hilarious.

The conclusion of the book is poignant and oddly satisfying. Certainly recommended.

Book details

ISBN: 9780007247172
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Year of publication: 1967

When It Changed: Science into Fiction

By Geoff Ryman

Rating: 4 stars

This anthology’s USP is that it brings together SF authors with scientists and the resulting book collects the stories that were sparked by the meetings and discussion. It’s a good collection, with each story having an afterword by the scientist that the author was in discussions with, although it doesn’t start particularly well with Justina Robson’s Carbon being a story that completely failed to gel with me. Most of the other ones hit closer to the mark though, with Ken MacLoed’s Death Knocks, about a reporter searching for the connection between recent army suicides, and Adam Roberts’ Hair, about a genetic scientist who develops a way for humans to photosynthesise through hair, being the most evocative.

An interesting experiment in collaborative fiction that has resulted in some great stories, and I’d like to see more of the same.

Book details

Publisher: Comma Press
Year of publication: 2009

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