CLUBHOUSE: Review: Dreamtime (Anthology) by Mark Le Dain

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OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.

Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Press very kindly sent me this newly published book for review, so here are my thoughts and impressions.

A note on the Author:

Mark Le Dain has a Bachelor of Commerce (Honors) from Queen’s University and completed an exchange at the Rouen School of Business in France. Mark currently works as Director, Strategy at an AI company and previously worked as an investment banker. He is a proud volunteer with Social Venture Partners.

DREAM TIME: First Fantastic Collection of Completely Fractured Fiction

Published by Edge-Lite, an imprint of Hades Publications, Inc., Calgary, Alberta, Canada, April, 2019.

Environment

Premise:

Nelson awakes to terrifying news. His daughter Madison borrowed the car and exceeded the household’s carbon threshold. All he can do is wait for the police.

Review:

This story will divide readers according to their beliefs about the consequences of climate change and the presumed need for preventive countermeasures. In that sense the story is intensely political and may be judged by some solely on that basis. On the other hand, logical extrapolation (perhaps I should say “exaggeration”) of topical trends for purposes of satire is one of the best and finest traditions of science fiction literature. Really, when you get right down to it, the point of this story is that it is unhealthy to take anything too seriously including, of course, itself. A classic piece, this.

While We Dream

Premise:

The problem of limited resources has been solved. At any given time half the Earth’s population is stored in hibernation. People live one year on, one year off. Of course the shifts are staggered to maintain continuity of services. Naomi and Roy are so far apart in shift they have very little time together. They figure out a way to synchronise their shifts. What could go wrong?

Review:

Another popular trend today is simplistic solutions to every problem. But as one politician put it a few years back “There are things we don’t know that we don’t know,” which is another way of saying “We can’t predict unforeseen consequences.” Our culture tends to dumb everything down to create a false sense of control but in fact reality is hideously complicated and liable to spring unanticipated surprises, as Naomi and Roy discover. Bit of a life lesson, this.

Friend of the Family

Premise:

Denise and Mike aren’t quite happily married anymore, in part because a lawsuit against one of his clones threatens to bankrupt the family. Mike does something which complicates matters considerably. This forces Denise to take drastic action almost beyond her ability to conceive she was ever capable of doing. Uppermost in her mind, the security of her family, especially future prospects for her young daughter.

Review:

It is probable human clones will someday be ubiquitous, at least when and where permitted by law. Chances are they will be tightly regulated. How, then, will it be possible to manipulate and exploit their legal status? Rest assured, people will try. This story explores some possible solutions to the question, with somewhat eerie results. One thing’s for sure, a whole new field of law (and crime) will open up. Lawyers have every reason to look forward to the future.

One Simple Thing

Premise:

Molly and her daughter Allison willingly take part in an experiment to discover if ghosts exist. After all, it pays well and will probably be a hoot to experience. Unfortunately, neither of them anticipated that Mr. Lawrence, the surveyor conducting the experiment, had figured out a way to make their task easier.

Review:

It doesn’t resolve the way you might expect. A cheerfully creepy little tale.

Creo Cube

Premise:

Jimmy, Collin and Rob are home from school and playing in Rob’s house. Rob’s parents are still at work. The kids get hungry and go to the Creo Cube in the kitchen to tell it to make Candy. Then Rob gets the bright idea to put Collin in the Creo Cube so they can program it to make copies of Collin when something else is requested. A neato prank to play on Rob’s parents. What could possibly go wrong?

Review:  

Let’s just say this confirms Dr. McCoy’s aversion to stepping into matter transmitters. Food duplicators are just as bad, but in a different way.

Companion

Premise:  

A dedicated scientist is on a mission to a part of the universe which appears to contain absolutely nothing. This is regarded as very suspicious. He is on a mission to find out if anything is hiding there. As time passes he is feeling very lonely and starting to get paranoid. Radio communications with his wife beginning to get complicated and weirdly variable. The success of the mission may be at stake.

Review:

Love the concept behind the mission. Seems very Philip K. Dickish in its underlying paranoia. The ending took me by surprise and at first I didn’t understand what it meant. I think I get it now. Main thing is, going off to explore nothing because the lack of anything implies a hidden threat is a wonderful and delightful concept. Mentality of the human race in a nutshell.

Capital Markets

Premise:

In the free market every citizen is assigned a variable value based on their ongoing debts, income, and assets. Christian has a good office job. He’s worth five million. Unfortunately someone wealthier than him has bid four million for the right to murder him. Since this individual is increasing the bid by one hundred thousand a day, Christian has not long to live.

Review:

What would you do in a situation like this? Ask for a raise? It is to laugh. Ultimately Christian is driven across the orange line in search of a risky solution, one that seems the stuff of a typical action-adventure film and not particularly original. Except that it doesn’t go as planned and leads to a resolution that does strike me as original and also very satisfying. Furthermore, as a satire on one’s credit rating and the “alleged value” of a totally free market system it is most pleasing. Enjoyed it I did.

Auto

Premise:

Derek is teased into choosing “Auto,” a mind-control program that enables recipients to focus better on specific tasks. He wants it in order to get through final exams in high school. Afterwards, the specialists will reverse the process and he won’t remember a thing. Trouble is “Auto” is normally used for military purposes, and it sometimes exhibits unwanted side effects.

Review:

A satire on the normal sort of mind-control programming one finds in every human culture. Most kids figure father does NOT know best. But sometimes he does. It’s often impossible, or at least extremely difficult, to pass lessons learned on to the younger generation. Almost always a source of conflict. Thought-provoking story.

Fear Class

Premise:  

In the past people often died from stress-related diseases. Science has discovered that annual computer-induced hallucinations causing fear release people to live longer and happier lives. But Jeremy is reluctant to undergo fear class because his hallucinations are much worse than the ones his classmates experience. However, fear class is mandatory. There’s no escape.

Review:

FDR said “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” He wasn’t kidding. And we all know from our own experience that it can be self-perpetuating, that it can be an endless trap. Fear as therapy not necessarily a good idea.

Noah’s Secret

Premise:

Back in the good old days, when books were on paper or electronic, as opposed to being uplinked in your mind, books were not interactive. The reader was stuck with what the author had written. You were trapped in the writer’s imagination. “Noah’s Secret” was the last such book, written as an act of rebellion against the universal conversion to uplink. The book is forbidden, banned, and long thought to no longer exist. But a friend of the narrator has acquired a copy to uplink. They both start “reading.”

Review:

It’s a terrifying thought that super-duper-advanced technology will turn our tastes and minds toward the lowest common denominator. But isn’t this what is happening already?

Scorpio Motors

Premise:  

The Scorpio 6000 is hideously expensive. It has the most advanced auto-driving program in the world. It doesn’t just drive carefully to protect the car’s occupants, it is programmed to pay attention to the safety requirements of the car’s registered owners over and above anyone else’s needs. Gillian buys one but isn’t sure her husband will approve.

Review:

The car is worth every penny, especially to someone willing to take advantage of its programming. We all know that every invention is put to the use intended but also to perverted uses the inventor never wanted or had hoped would be avoided. Lets just say users can be even more inventive than the inventors. All part of human nature.

The Importance of Goals

Premise:

Jason, Doug and Ryan are ordinary guys who haven’t accomplished a damn thing since graduating high school. They drink beer and shoot the breeze. That’s about it. Finally, fed up with their dull, meaningless lives, they go to a clinic and get motivational implants that will cause pain unless they actively work toward their stated goals. Nothing like a little prod now and then, eh?

Review:

Be careful what you wish for. There’s an immense amount of hype in this world to the effect that if you try really hard enough you’ll get what you want. But what if that’s a lie? Then what?

Boot Camp

Premise:

Harry and Margot sent their out-of-control son to a private school to deal with his anger and learn how to behave. One month later he comes back very much in control and very polite, but somehow subtly not himself. The training cost Harry one million dollars. He’s not sure he got his money’s worth. He goes to the school to investigate.

Review:

Years ago National Geographic Magazine used to have page after page of ads for private military schools. Gave me the creeps. Then there was a TV program where Pat Boone played a parent conducting a similar investigation only to discover the academy was a truly horrible, monstrous place. Going against the singer/actor’s typecasting, the shock ending had Pat Boone signing a contract to keep his kid in the school forever. Also very creepy.

This story harkens back to age-old horror traditions of educational/reform institutions that only appear to deliver what is promised. There are reasons why it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a school, a prison, and an asylum. Private schools and academies make me shudder. At least public schools have parent/teacher associations and some accountability. Shades of everything from Dr. Caligari to assorted mad scientists to Fascist Academy Commanders flitted about my mind as I read the story. Definitely enhanced my paranoia about this type of institution. Most readers might find it merely interesting and intriguing. Scared the hell out of me, though. One of my buttons pushed.

The Icarus

Premise:  

The most clear-cut extrapolation of over-population combined with runaway climate degradation is that our planet will become uninhabitable. Since leaving the Earth can benefit only a small number of people, how do we save the teeming billions who remain? There is a solution, but at what price, and does it not contain within it the seeds of its own destruction? How far into time can we survive on hubris?

Review:

The solution proposed is absolutely impossible in light of today’s technology, but who knows a century or two down the road? We then become dependent on our own definition of ourselves. Is that a problem? Seems to me it is ALWAYS a problem. Solutions are tricky.

Ethics Score

Premise:

Gordon Cole is on trial for the murder of Leslie Sims. Being on the Board of the company that invented the now ubiquitous Ethics Score, he refuses to testify in order to force the jury to base their decision purely on his Ethics Score which, under law, counts for much more than mere evidence. His lawyer thinks this tactic is a mistake.

Review:

This is one of those concept stories where the concept dominates to the point of reducing the story element to a mere vignette. No problem. There’s a moral lesson here, or, at least, a moral question. We are already familiar with our credit rating which can, at its worst, deny us a major purchase, an apartment rental, or even a job. China has recently introduced a universal rating based on social behaviour and loyalty to the party. A low score has severe consequences. So, what if there was a program that takes the combined aggregate of all information recorded about you and assigns you a number representing the totality of your ethical nature? We demand our politicians be saints (to no effect, needless to say). What if we allow a system that punishes anything less than sainthood on our part? Interesting question. One that politicians would love to answer by putting in to action.

Thank You for Sharing  

Premise:

Apparently aliens have conquered the Earth. No big deal. Doesn’t influence our daily lives much, unless we want to improve our lives. Then the aliens shell out big bucks to experience our emotional turmoil. As typical of our nature, every human seeks to profit from this intrusive symbiotic relationship one way or another.

Review:

How much are you willing to sacrifice to set your family up for life? Think before you sign the contract. I beg you. 

Verdict

Premise:

Medical science guarantees everyone lives to the legally required life span of 300 years. Applying to a court to die early at the age of 264 is unprecedented and socially unacceptable. Nick Vale thinks he has a sound argument to justify his request to the five judges reviewing his case. How will they rule?

Review:

The option of medically-assisted suicide is one of the newest progressive causes these days. But what if the combination of medical advances and the need for citizens to work through the national debt created by past generations renders suicide illegal again? Such that ALL your living relatives will be executed if you selfishly choose to kill yourself without legal permission? Quite a conundrum. 

The Last Sacrifice to Freyr  

Premise:

Lang Cooney was the administrator who organized and sent off thirty-one manned expeditions searching for intelligent life on habitable planets in nearby star systems. Turns out he knew none of them would ever reach their goal. Now he’s on trial for his life.

Review:

I can remember when many scientists habitually denied there were any planets circling other stars. In the last decade we have discovered more than a thousand of them, a very few potentially capable of harbouring life. Consequently, manned interstellar exploration, pending necessary technological development, has become a hot topic again. But, what if, because of other recent discoveries, interstellar travel turns out to be impossible? And what if we need the promise of interstellar travel to remain psychologically healthy as a race? Are we screwed?

Just so you know, Freyr, simplistically put, was the old Norse God of happiness and mental health.

Unlocked  

Premise:

John Augur is the product of billions of years of evolution. Turns out it was an artificial process designed by aliens specifically to produce him. They need him to open a genetic lock only he can open. If he refuses, they’ll wipe out all life on Earth and start from scratch all over again. Turns out all his predecessors refused to open the lock. He thinks he knows why.

Review:

Kind of humbling to learn that our entire existence is predicated on the need of an alien race to open their equivalent of a locker at a Greyhound bus terminal. So much for our high opinion of ourselves. What do you think about starting all over again? Good idea or no? Especially if all it does is reproduce the same result? Well, one thing for sure, it would be an ego trip to play God for a moment or two. Or would it? 

One Month  

Premise:

Robert’s mother has arranged for him to go to Temple City to undergo a month of aptitude tests to determine his future career. No one else from his working class city is going. He doesn’t want to go either, but he has no choice. What he learns about himself is truly shocking.

Review:

I took an I.Q. test once. My high school counsellor wouldn’t tell me my score. “It’s not too high … not too low … don’t worry about it.” All I know is I would fail each and every test described in this story. Bugger.

Add to this I am vaguely aware there are many stories and even movies dealing with similar themes, even though I haven’t read or seen many of them. Well, the classic one where the simulated space battle tests turn out to be real. Was that Orson Scott Card? Or Heinlein? Can’t remember. Getting old.

Point is, as a critic, I couldn’t help but wonder how original everything in this story is. To tell the truth it reminded me somewhat of Tom Corbett’s first day at the space academy, if only because that was the Ur-story of this type in my reading experience. However, I quickly lost myself in the story, was at one with Robert’s frustrations, and eagerly looked forward to the revelation of the next diabolical test. Above all, the ending took me completely by surprise and I found it very satisfying. Yep. I enjoyed this one a lot.

CONCLUSION:

Don’t let the plain, crystal clear, transparent glass window writing style of this anthology fool you. It enables you to plunge immediately into the imaginative visions of a writer dealing with questions that, in most of these satires, are quite complex, even profound. The stories may be old-fashioned in style, spare and sparse in descriptive detail, but are thoroughly modern in concept.

The title “Dreamtime” is quite revealing. It refers to the Australian aboriginal belief that at the beginning of time spirit ancestors brought everything into being in a process that never ends, implying that mundane reality is based on a spiritual, trance state or, in modern terms, what we perceive as real is in fact a dream, or a nightmare. Or, to put it another way, we are only dreaming if we think we know for certain what’s really going on. There are shocking revelations lying in wait for us anywhere and everywhere we look. In this there are strong echoes of the early Philip K. Dick where things are not what they seem and you have every right to be paranoid. Have I mentioned that Philip K. Dick is my favourite SF writer?

To sum up: This anthology is my preferred type of SF, namely a thought-provoking and entertaining mix of concept-driven fiction. I had a whale of a good time reading this.

Check it out at: < Edge Books >

 

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