Daniel Quinn,
(CreateSpace, 2013)

We've all had the conversation: what if our dream life turned out to be our real life, and our real life turned out to be a dream? Pursue the question long and deeply enough, and you'll get to the bigger questions: Is it possible to move between the dream and real worlds? And when we speak of the real world or real life, what exactly is reality anyway? In what ways is reality real?

These are the questions Daniel Quinn, the author of the deservingly worldwide best-selling Ishmael, asks in Dreamer. Before we discuss how brilliant his exploration of the questions is, a little history is in order.

Ishmael was not a novel churned out overnight. Quinn labored on it for 12 years and, during year nine, he felt compelled to prove to himself that he really was a writer, so he took some time off from the difficult-to-write project, using that time to compose Dreamer, which became his first novel. It was easier to write than to sell. After a year of rejections, it wound up at TOR books, where it was published in 1998 as a paperback original and promptly sank into oblivion. Like many books that fail in the marketplace their first time around, it developed a reputation underground. When Quinn regained the rights to the novel, he reissued it through CreateSpace, and it is back again.

We are all better off for that.

A summary of the plot is almost impossible. Greg Donner, a freelance writer in Chicago, suffers from bad dreams in which he wakes up in a strange place and has to make his way through a threatening environment to his home. In one of those dreams, he meets a beautiful woman. When he wakes, he meets her and falls in love. His dreams get stranger, with more of a tinge of danger to them, and the action reaches a crisis point when he falls asleep in Chicago as Greg Donner and wakes up in a mental hospital in Kentucky as Richard Illes, a mental patient in a loveless marriage with the woman Greg Donner is in love with in Chicago.

The people he knew in Chicago are in Kentucky also, but they are different people with different names.

So, is he Greg Donner dreaming that he is Richard Illes or is he Richard Illes dreaming he's Greg Donner?

At this point, the plot gets complicated.

As you read, you begin to question what reality you're inhabiting in the novel, but as complicated as the question gets, you never lose either your bearing or your fascination because Quinn is a master plotter who maintains your interest all the way through. He is also a master at generating suspense, so although basically Dreamer is a novel of ideas, it at the same time is a great page-turner, one of those books where you're kept in suspense as to the meaning of the events -- but you have to find the answers.

Dreamer won a number of fantasy and science fiction awards -- some of them coming even after the book went out of print -- but to call it a fantasy is to overlook the underlying physics that Quinn relies on. He obviously knows his quantum mechanics, and he obviously knows the research on dreams. In fact, for a novel that came out in 1988, he was ahead of the curve, but the fact of the matter is everything that Quinn describes in his novel falls within the rang of current physics, so that what was fantasy is now real.

Which, of course, means that everything that was real is fantasy.

In this novel, Quinn explores dream theory and quantum physics while telling a really good story.

Dreamer needs to be read by anyone interested in ideas or first-rate storytelling.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

31 August 2013

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