Saturday, September 8, 2012

Perchance to Dream - Peter Lukes

This book is one of the last review copies I accepted before I closed the shop for a bit. Life is keeping me pretty well occupied at the moment but I made a promise and so I have read Perchance to Dream last week. The review is even more or less on time. I've never read anything by this author before and the publisher, Urania, which is an imprint of Musa Publishing, was unknown to me as well. It looks like a small publisher, they cater to all kinds of genres and niche markets and haven't been in business that long. Judging by the e-book I received for review, they know what they are doing. It was mostly free of the annoying formatting errors that plague so many digital publications and a decent amount of attention had obviously been paid to editing the novel. I'm less thrilled with the cover art, but let's focus on the content; that is what counts most after all.

Perchance to Dream is a science fiction novel, but one that explores the inner universe of our subconscious mind. Manuel Corr is an officer with a highly specialized unit within the police force. Where his colleagues serve and protect in the every day world, he invades criminals' subconscious minds through their dreams and gathers information that can help investigations in the real world. His exploration of this dream world is supported by an array of computers and various drugs, giving him superior control over his environment. Corr is the best of these specialized officers. His control of the Sub-Net is almost intuitive. Corr was under the impression his department was the only group active in this largely unexplored territory. When one of his expeditions into the mind of an influential corporate criminal goes awry, he is forced to reconsider this belief. What is worse, the competition seems to be several steps ahead of him. Corr is dragged into a deadly game of hide and seek in a world where the rules are not fixed and control is often an illusion.

The premise of this novel is a disturbing one. To look into someone's subconsciousness; a place where things lurk that we don't even want to admit to ourselves - let alone share with the world - sounds like the ultimate invasion of privacy to me. It goes way beyond wiretapping or hacking someone's mailbox, and that is not even getting into the question of whether dreaming of a crime is permissible evidence or punishable in itself. In fact, the idea sparks associations with Orwell's concept of thoughtcrime, one of the many disturbing things in his brilliant novel 1984. It would have been nice if the author had gone into the ethical and legal implications of what this unit is doing, or how reliable the information gathered this way is. I understand Lukes is an attorney when he's not writing. I'm somewhat surprised to not have these issues come up in the novel at all.

Instead, Lukes plunges into the action right away, showing us Corr getting into trouble from the start of the novel. Perchance to Dream is a fairly short work, at 54,000 words it is barely novel length. I think the story could have used a few more words to flesh some aspects of it out a little. Corr is in trouble from the very first pages for instance. The reader never gets to experience the way Sub-Net usually feels for him. In the very first meeting with this strange world, the reader sees Corr's certainties collapse but never actually experiences the wrongness of the situation. The reader's introduction to Sub-Net is chaos right from the start. There is no sense of what a regular day at the job looks like for Corr and because of that, all contrast with the situation in the book is lost. The same is true for the rest of his unit, the interpersonal relationships, Corr's past romance with one of his colleagues and a number of other things. None of these things are developed beyond the basic outline, causing most of the characters to lack depth. The story hits the ground running but at times I felt Lukes is galloping ahead when a little reflection might have done the story good.

The novel is marketed as science fiction, which makes sense in a way. The application of science mentioned in the novel is not currently possible and may very well never be. The author doesn't go into much detail on how the system that supports Corr actually works. A generous measure of handwavium is applied to the more technical aspects of the novel. It works and that is what we need to know for the story to progress. As the story progresses, more and more possibilities of the the inner world are revealed until the whole takes on proportions of Robert Jordan's Tel'aran'rhiod. Just about anything appears to be possible as long as the character can figure out how to do it. Lukes' world of dreams becomes reality in the closing stages of the novel. The true extend of the Sub-Net's possibilities as well as Corr's talents remain unclear though.

To say I have issues with this novel is stating it mildly. I feel the idea has great potential but translating the concept into a story that is both entertaining and does a complex idea justice proves to be a challenge. Invading someone's dreams raises all manner of interesting questions on which a novel could be based but Lukes rushes right past them, in favour of a more action packed story. This approach may appeal to some readers, I think fans of a good thriller might enjoy it. With me, the novel mostly left the impression that, while it wasn't a bad read, it could have been much more. Ultimately the lack of development of the concepts and characters that are the basis of this novel left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied after finishing the book.

Book Details
Title: Perchance to Dream
Author: Peter Lukes
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Pages: 163
Year: 2012
Language: English
Format: E-book
ISBN: 978-1-61937-171-2
First published: 2012