Dreamsongs Volume I is more of an autobiographical collection than a collection of short stories. That’s an important difference for anyone buying the book to read some great short stories. Dreamsongs Volume 1 has a roughly 3/4 to 1 ratio of stories to biographical essays about his own life by Martin. The stories are arranged in biographical order beginning with Martin’s efforts as a teenager. 5 or 6 of the stories are from his fanzine days or his earliest work and are not up to the quality that’s worth paying for.
Most of the best stories in Dreamsongs are also Martin’s better known pieces, like Sandkings, The Way of Cross and Dragon and Stone City, and they’re already available in his Sandkings short story collection. The collection is out of print but you can easily find copies for only a few dollars. Diehard fans of George R.R. Martin might find Dreamsongs worthwhile, but I still have to question the ethics of including fanzine work in a 27 dollar volume. Or the point of padding out Martin’s decent body of short stories with so much biographical material.
What’s odd about Dreamsongs is that George R.R. Martin is a reasonably talented writer, but much better writers didn’t receive this kind of multi-volume biographical series for their short stories. Isaac Asimov was the only writer I can think of that had anything close to this, and those volumes collected virtually all of his short stories. Dreamsongs doesn’t do that. It skips over some of Martin’s pro work to showcase a college age story about the fall of a Swedish fortress or his unlikely first sale, Hero, to Galaxy, about as cliched and flat an anti-war story as you could find. Dreamsongs’ setup only make sense if you think that George R.R. Martin is so compelling that you care more about gaining insight into him, than reading his stories.
I’ve often said that a short story collection focusing on a single writer doesn’t do them much of a favor. Seeing those stories piled together, instead of separately, makes it all too easy to spot the common denominators. To go, “Tower of Ashes is just Morning Comes Mistfall and A Song for Lya. Or look at Seven Times Never Kill Man, and realize that Martin sure does write a whole lot of stories about alien gods and myths that seduce human arrivals. It’s not a completely fair assessment, but reading Dreamsongs can make you think of Martin as a cross between V.E. Van Vogt and H.P. Lovecraft, or with the context of his fanzine work, make you think that Martin is a decent worldbuilder who does mood pieces that are inspired by comics and serials.