This illustrated novel tells the tale of a dystopian future where, following a war that nearly devastated humanity, the survivors partnered with Artificial Intelligence to create a brighter future. The people enjoy a virtual utopia every night by using interactive dream technology, but their computer-generated dreams are the only source of entertainment available. The AI determined that the root cause of all harmful human behaviours was uncontrolled emotions, but balanced, harmonious emotions are an integral aspect of wellness. It concluded that the only way to reliably achieve that was to eliminate emotion while a person was awake, then provide a safe way to experience the complete range of human emotions while engaged in dreaming. The story follows a man who struggles to hide the fact that he can still feel a low level of emotions during the day. He must keep his secret emotions and his mind strictly controlled-through the use of meditation-but he continues to make that harder and harder to accomplish when his life is on the line.
Science Fiction / Dystopian
Includes 50 Film Noir inspired illustrations by Melinda Maria Lack.
I read a digital version of this book kindly provided by the author in exchange for an honest review, thank you very much!
In her post apocalyptic, illustrated novel, Dreaming Your Dream, author Starwing paints a bleak picture of the dystopian future on Earth after “The Rage War”:
After the final war, the buildings remained abandoned and everything fell into disrepair. Wooden materials were weakened or burned during the war, concrete and mortar were damaged by environmental effects, and metal continued to slowly rust away. Finally, a moderately strong earthquake delivered the conclusive blow that resulted in partial or complete cave-ins to most of the buildings—especially the newer constructions.
Everyone must now wear gas masks outdoors due to the lack of atmospheric oxygen, and all buildings must be entered via an airlock. Everyone’s lives are run by an AI in their homes named Celeste. She turns on lights, boils water and is hooked up to their DreamSoft dream selector device, constantly monitoring everything they say, do and even dream.
Since the war, most people have had their emotions inhibited and only experience feelings in dreams. Anyone displaying emotions is declared mentally ill and the mentally ill are ‘removed’ from society and euthanized in ‘sleep pods’.
The novel is entirely written from the point of view of the main character, John, a very likeable 34 year old single male, who lives the life of a loner in City 9, one of many newly built cities surrounded by the ruins of the war. He is one of the few who are able to experience emotions when not dreaming and has to be very careful not to give himself away during his daily life, working as an electronics repairer.
One day, while walking among the ruins outside the city he saves 16 year old Kira from being raped by their mutual drug dealer. Kira is also able to feel emotions and they use the drug “soap” to enhance their feelings. John and Kira develop a cautious friendship after running into each other again on the bus.
There is a wealth of imaginative dream sequences in this book, which give the feeling of stories within a story. Sometimes these dream sequences foreshadow events which happen soon afterwards and sometimes they give us insight into John’s character and behaviour. The author has obviously done a lot of research into dream psychology and spirituality, including shamanism and it is clear from her writing that these are subjects close to her heart.
John always chooses random dreams from his DreamSoft device for fear of discovery that he is an emotional person if were to show a preference for a particular type of dream. One night in a random dream he goes to investigate some ruins and comes face to face with a Ruiner – criminals or insane people cast out of the city by taking away their citizen identifying number. They have no way to get indoors so are forced into the ruins and become scavengers and even cannibals to survive. These are childhood stories used to scare kids away from the ruins. This dream is different to the others however, as his AI, Celeste tells him the nightmare had been a mental health check. This worries him that it will be discovered that he is emotional and he will be removed.
Soon after this dream he learns from a news report that a girl matching Kira’s description has been removed. He rushes to her building and eventually finds her guardian who explains that the Ministry of Mental Health and Welfare came for her while she was sleeping. Her Guardian clearly doesn’t care, as he has no emotion. In this stark, unemotional world children are separated from their parents at birth and given to uncaring guardians instead. Kira’s removal deeply affects John, since she was the first friend he ever dared to make.
Shortly thereafter, a new colleague for John appears at his work. He is called Alex and is also emotional, and they start to become friends. One day when John has a headache he mentions to Alex that his AI prescribed medication for him the previous day, which they both find peculiar. This acts as a catalyst for them to start to realize just how much influence their AIs have over their lives.
Alex tells John he has a neighbour, Ryan, who is an expert hacker and John wonders if Ryan could access the Ministry records to find out who authorised Kira’s removal.
Ryan makes a shocking discovery that an AI made the decision to remove Kira and that other Ministeries are controlled by AI. In fact every government agency is now controlled at the top by AI – there is no longer a human government. Ryan and his friend Marko have formed an underground rebellion against the AI government and Alex and John agree to help them. Ryan wants them to find ways to take back control from the government, and tells them that small rebellion groups have formed in every city, aiming to put back a human in charge over the necessary AI systems.
“There should always be human beings involved in decisions regarding the lives and deaths of any of us.”
On Celebration Day, a holiday celebrating the partnership between humans and AI, John hears that resource management and mining operations have begun on Mars to prepare for colonization. This will be the first colonization of another planet, however, life on Mars will mean underground living which does not appeal to John.
Through hacking, Ryan locates the death facility in City 9 and they plan to hack into the sleep pods to stop them from functioning. It seems that the sleep pods don’t always kill people, sometimes people go into stasis, or “the long sleep” instead. They also discover that all of these AIs are actually one and the same: Celeste.
Is Celeste maliciously trying to eradicate the population by putting hidden messages into their dreams and inciting riots, or is she trying to improve humanity in her own misguided yet well-meaning way? Will the resistance be able to take back control of humanity from Celeste? You’ll need to read Dreaming Your Dream to find out!
The 50 illustrations of artist Melinda Maria Lack play a large part in setting the dystopian tone of this novel with their stark black and white tones and the almost constant presence of dehumanizing gas masks.
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About The Author
Starwing is an author living in Finland, who was born and raised in Canada. Her debut novel, Dreaming Your Dream is dystopian science fiction and is the first book in the Machine Dreaming series. In addition to writing, Starwing also manages an indie record label and is a team member of the industrial rock band, The Fair Attempts. Dreaming Your Dream has a companion album called Dream Engine.
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