Dreamfarer, by John B. Rosenman [Review]

A sci-fi fantasy adventure needs action, a cause to believe in, and a hero who conquers the odds with his bravery, ingenuity, and the help of his friends. This novel provides all that in a well-written adventure with plenty to recommend it.

John B. Rosenman has created a dystopian future in his novel, Dreamfarer, a century after World War III destroyed most major cities, where world politics, national borders, worries about future aggression, and the race for supremacy in the solar system remain. At the same time, seventy percent of the population is asleep – dreaming their lives away in giant colonies of underground pods. These are the Dreamfarers. The remaining humans keep the economy and government working – except for the unlucky three percent who are “Wakers” – souls who are physically unable to participate in the artificially-induced dream state. Some portion of the Wakers become “wreckers,” who roam the desolated cities and sometimes rise up to attack the normal population. And a very small subset of Wakers have formed a Resistance movement. They think perpetual dreams are not the best evolution of humans and they want to destroy the sleeping chambers, wake all the Dreamfarers, and return civilization to one where dreams come naturally during nightly sleep, not via perpetual artificial fantasy hallucinations. That’s quite a bit of world-building.

Meet Sam Adams. After eight years in the dream pod, Sam’s brain has rejected the dream state. He is now a Waker and must adapt to life in the conscious world. He goes into physical rehab, to recondition his body to a waking future. He meets a girl, Trina, who is also a Waker. (Sam remembers that real sex is different from fantasy dream sex.) Trina introduces Sam to her cell in the resistance movement, which is planning a raid on the San Francisco dreaming facility. Sam links up with the small band of rebels planning the nearly impossible attack on the Death Star . . . er, . . . the dreaming center, and the adventure begins. Without spoiling anything, Sam embarks on an amazing path that, in the course of a month, takes him into the inner sanctum of the national government, has him escaping from several James Bond-like perils, sees him sleeping with two women, and depositing him back into the original plan to attack the dreaming center. Along the way, Sam learns that he has acquired the physical and mental skills of a secret agent and a cowboy hero – which he picked up from his induced dreams while he was in the pod. This “transference” of skills from dreams to reality makes Sam something of a super hero, but one who doesn’t realize his abilities.

The author covers a lot of territory in this story, starting with a condensed synopsis of the state of the world in the first section (the book does not have traditional chapters). The action sequences are strung together in quick succession, with interludes of the romantic subplot between Sam, Trina, and Diana. The romance bits are sometimes strained, the sex scenes PG-13 rated, and the emotional attachments only fleeting. The side adventures often seem cartoonish and rushed, although they certainly provide action. The world-building is incomplete, with no real sense of the political structure, the nature of the waking society, or an understanding of how the world still functions with 70% of the population asleep. The sci-fi of the dream chambers is ambiguous, and the multiple references to the ongoing space race around the solar system never explained in terms of how civilization rose from the ashes of WWIII to become both a wasteland of destroyed cities and also an active spacefaring enterprise. There are many gaps and questions. Sam’s meteoric rise to fame and immediate induction into the governing elite is difficult to reconcile with the rest of the story, but ultimately doesn’t matter.

The big finish is exciting and will play well on the movie screen, but like deconstructing the plot of a Star Wars film, there are many leaps of logic and amazing feats that you just have to go with and not think about too much. Most of the characters are one-dimensional and are there to serve their role in the adventure without creating an emotional connection to the reader. Even Sam is hard to connect with. There was a time when the author’s repeated references to dreams, and Sam wondering if he was still dreaming, and allusions to The Wizard of Oz, where I was worried the ending would be that Sam is really still dreaming. That would have made some sense, given the incredible adventures he has had in a short time since Waking. But – spoiler non-alert – it’s not all a dream. (Which is good, because if it had been all a dream, I would have had to destroy my Kindle Paperwhite.)

The book is remarkably well-written, with clean prose and no obvious typos. The author pulls the reader along through the story at break-neck speed, sharing only the details needed to keep the pace going. It’s the fine writing that makes this book worth reading and makes you overlook the plot holes and implausible sequences and just go with the fun and excitement. There seems to be an expectation of another installment in the Sam Adams adventure, which is appropriate, given the lengths Mr. Rosenman has gone to create this version of the future. I expect that there will be a space-based story in our future with Sam, and I’ll look forward to it.

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