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Tag Archive: Dreamscape


Review by C.J. Bunce

Let’s cut to the chase:  Daniel Godfrey’s new novel The Synapse Sequence is not just the leading contender for the best science fiction novel of 2018, it’s the most absorbing, riveting, and thrilling science fiction novel I’ve read since I was first blown away by Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park in 1990.  Hyperbole?  Maybe just a little, but when you are reading a new book and you’re taken aback by the twists, turns, and surprises as this book provides, it’s a bit like walking out of a big rock concert, wanting everyone else to witness what you just experienced.  Godfrey is relatively new to the genre, with two solid sci-fi books behind him, New Pompeii (reviewed here) and Empire of Time (reviewed here).  But this story is a completely different take on science fiction, and so deftly written, smartly paced, and completely believable in its speculative reach, Godfrey is worth comparison to some of the greats in the genre for it.

Anna Glover is an investigator with an unfortunately troubled and public past for her conclusions in investigating an airplane crash.  She lives in the somewhat distant future–bots serve man, taking on so many functions that personal freedom is limited.  As told from the alternating viewpoint of Glover in the present and looking back on her life, future London is very familiar and steeped in the world that technology is building right now with so much of life absorbed into the digital world.  When we meet our protagonist she is attempting to lie low conducting trials for a company with an emerging technology, a “synapse sequencer,” which allows a person to be tapped into the mind of another, like a witness to a crime, to experience vivid, shared memories as an observer.  She meets with her boss inside this world, where he lives out most of his life, a life better than he would experience in the real world.  The process requires the help of a monitor, and hers sees that she gets in and out of submersion safely.  But we learn there are risks for anyone who participates in this intermingling of brain activity.  If you’ve seen the 1980s sci-fi classic Dreamscape, the modern classic Source Code, the television series Stitchers, or the shared visions of iZombie, you’ll find no suspension of disbelief issue with the wild ride that awaits you.  The method for the journey isn’t as elaborate (or glitch-filled) as Connie Willis’s elaborate time travel tech, but Godfrey provides enough to submerge us into the stress and angst of Glover as she takes journey after journey to learn the who and why of a case involving a boy in a coma and a missing girl.

You can’t predict where Godfrey will take Glover from chapter to chapter in The Synapse Sequence Godfrey has been likened to an emerging Crichton, but Crichton rarely could craft as satisfying an ending as found here.  The story embraces that speculative futurism like many a Philip K. Dick story (Paycheck, Total Recall/We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, and Minority Report for starters), while weaving in a plausible future from the seeds of new tech today.  He combines the audacious duplicity of Vincent and Jerome in Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca with the foreboding and despair of The Man’s story in Chris Marker’s Le Jetée and Cole’s in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. 

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Much of the best science fiction doesn’t leave us with memorable or lovable characters so much as incredible, imaginative ideas, and prescient or prophetic visions.  When you look to science fiction’s past, examples can be found throughout the works of H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, and Ray Bradbury.  Great concepts abound, like Wells’ time travel, Mary Shelley stretching the bounds–and horrors–of medical science, Dick always wrestling with the perils and annoyances of technology, and Michael Crichton finding ways to use science to change the future.  Robert J. Sawyer is a current science fiction author building on the ideas of the past, and like all of the above writers who researched the real science behind their characters, he delves deep into his subjects.  In his novel Quantum Night, now available in paperback, he has with surgical precision stitched together a tale of modern truths and horrors, bundled in a story pressing the bounds of psychology and quantum theory to explain why the world may seem to be falling apart, and offering one way to try to repair it.

In a very educational way, Quantum Night is also a refresher in Psychology 101.  Sawyer, one of only three science fiction writers ever to have won the trifecta of writing awards (the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Campbell), references every major theory and experiment from college days along with enough background in quantum theory to support a compelling thriller.  By book’s end you may find yourself staring at strangers and questioning their level of consciousness, conscience, and psychopathy.  You may be sitting next to a psychopathic individual right now, or someone with a mind that may be even more gut-wrenching to discover.  Written in 2015 and taking place in the not-so-distant future, Russian President Vladimir Putin readies to fire nuclear weapons on the United States.  A future U.S. President gets Roe v. Wade overturned, has gotten his country to turn on immigrants and then invades Canada, led by its first Muslim prime minister (here Sawyer predicts the future of the current real-life Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi), purportedly so the U.S. can secure Canada’s cities when the country no longer is able to control the flow of terrorists.

The story follows a professor of psychology who also serves as an expert witness to defend criminals who have proven to be psychopathic on both established and modern psychopathy tests.  In the latest case he is reminded of his own past on cross-examination–a past he refuses to believe.  As he re-traces his memories he learns his volunteering for psychology experiments in college resulted in six months of erased memories.  And it gets worse–his mind was altered.  Readers encounter a pair of scientists in the past, trying to hone in on those elements of the mind that shape how we think.  The protagonist encounters a lover from his college days who is also in the field, and their relationship and her relationship with her daughter and her brother (now 20 years in a coma), could dictate the fate of everyone’s future with a high-tech tuning fork “sonic screwdriver”-inspired device and one of the 40 giant, real-world synchrotrons.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Twelve Days is Steven Barnes’ latest sci-fi novel, an urban thriller delving into the evolution of the human brain.  Olympia Dorsey is a single mother of two, working for an Atlanta news outlet.  Her son Hannibal is autistic, and Olympia has been called into his school where they suggest sending her son to a better center for his care.  The center, a spiritual headquarters shrouded in Indian mysticism and nestled in the mountains, sounds too good to be true.  So she brings along her ex-boyfriend neighbor in their first visit to meet a Doctor Strange-esque mystic and martial arts expert who uses her influence and charisma to convince them she has the place for Hannibal’s care, evening promising a complete turnaround for the child in ten days.  Barnes’ crafts a slowly-building story where Olympia, desperate to improve the life of her autistic child, allows herself to be reeled in.

Olympia’s boyfriend Terry is ex-military, and had been plotting a jewel heist with his old military pals, but after his confrontation with the mystic he is somehow changed.  Can he make a clean break from his own criminal enterprise?   What is the motivation of this cult?  Influence?  Money?  Power?  Revenge?  Is the threatened apocalypse in only twelve days real or only a distraction?  And can Olympia get out before it’s too late?

Not like even the typical cult, the mystical mountain facility evokes the frightening Jefferson Institute of Robin Cook’s Coma, only here the victim’s organs aren’t harvested for money.  Here the victims are used as brainwashed agents to use their brainwaves to kill people far away, when submerged in a chamber not unlike that of Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report.  It’s when the science fiction begins that Twelve Days kicks in.  Borrowing from the ideas of Joseph Ruben’s 1984 film Dreamscape, Twelve Days presents the most unusual of assassination tools to eliminate all the members of an anonymously leaked “Death List”–a dead pool list that includes both the world’s most wanted criminals, but also its leaders.  Each is being systematically eliminated, and even more are projected to die within twelve days.

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By C.J. Bunce

As recently as August 2011, 40 years after a man hijacked a flight from Portland to Seattle, the legendary D.B. Cooper was the subject of a new lead in the FBI’s investigation of America’s only unsolved hijacking.  An Oklahoma woman came forward suggesting that when she was eight years old her uncle revealed amassing the stolen fortune in the days after Cooper took $200,000 and a parachute and vanished over the Pacific Northwest on the November 24, 1971.  In 1980 $6,000 of the bills washed ashore, found by a kid playing at a beach.

So did D.B. Cooper survive?

Writer/artist Brian Churilla suggests in his new mini-series from Oni Press that maybe there was something more sinister going on in the fall of 1971, and that D.B. Cooper was a trained assassin turned rogue agent of the CIA.  Why the skyjacking?  Cooper went on the run and the publicity was an effort to enlist the public to flush out and track down Cooper.

Far-fetched?

You bet!  But that’s the stuff of good comic book action.  In issue #1 of The Secret History of D.B. Cooper, Churilla goes off in even more bizarre directions, showing that Cooper also was a bit of a dream traveler like Dennis Quaid’s character in the 1984 cult sci-fi classic Dreamscape.  And just like in Dreamscape, the government enlisted Cooper to murder targets in their sleep, stumbling through a frenzied dream world in the process.

Unlike Dreamscape, Churilla takes off in a surreal direction like something you might find in the pages of Animal Man, where reality is blurred with otherworldly elements, with Cooper using the resources of a one-armed teddy bear sidekick.  Yes, that’s right, a one-eared teddy bear.  With a sword even.

The above description might have the more mainstream audiences running for cover, but for those that like a good alternate history mixed with X-Files overtones, this series may be up your alley.  A good introductory story, issue #1 suggests this independent publisher mini-series could get a foothold with readers of the big comic publishing houses.  And it’s plain fun.

First, Animal Man is big right now, and the over the top, supernatural imagery of The Secret History should attract readers of that popular DC Comics series.

Second, Churilla picked a great hook using D.B. Cooper as his hero.  In more than 40 years he is still thought of not like every other airplane hijacker of all time, but is constantly referred to as “an American folk hero,” achieving something of a mythic status like Jesse James and Bonnie and Clyde.  The FBI has investigated over 1,000 suspects over the years, documented several deathbed confessions, a movie, The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper starring Treat Williams, and several non-fiction books.  Yet, Cooper has hardly been used as the subject of a good, creative retelling.

Third, a buddy cop story where one buddy is a teddy bear.  ‘Nuff said.

Fourth, like the popular NBC TV series Grimm, The Secret History takes place in the great Pacific Northwest, home of the X-Files and Twin Peaks, prime real estate for a creepy and cool supernatural detective story.

Finally, Churilla’s art and colors has a very Mike Mignola quality and the writing also reads like a Hellboy story from Mignola.

One alternate cover version is available, drawn by Batwoman writer/artist J.H. Williams III.