Welcome to the third of my retrospective NaNoWriMo posts, we’re now up to 2017.
Unlike 2016, this year there was no short story to base my attempt on. I was starting from scratch. As well as Andorra Pett and the Oort Cloud Café, I had published three sequels in 2017, Myra (the sequel to Freefall), A New Life in Ventis (the sequel to The Rocks of Aserol) and Jungle Green (the sequel to Ribbonworld).
To be honest, I was growing weary of writing sequels and wanted a change. I had an idea, based on a dream that I had had years before, where I lived in a town that was vaguely like my home, but with a few differences in the layout. Nothing special happened in my dreams; but for a few nights, I lived an alternative life in this ‘almost home.’ It felt realistic whilst I was asleep and I don’t recall thinking it was a dream while I was in it.
In summer 2017, I was enjoying a free trial issue of a science magazine. There were some fascinating articles about dreams and the brain, this actually got me thinking about where my alternative town had come from and how dreams and reality could be linked. I figured I could write a story incorporating the facts from the magazine and my own dream experiences.
Life and Other Dreams was the result. In it, one man repeatedly dreams of a life on another planet. He thinks it’s a result of his job, advertising foreign holidays he will never take. But, when his dreams and his reality start to overlap, we (as readers), are left wondering which of his lives is real and which is a dream.
Or could they both be real?
Here’s the blurb,
Rick lives here on Earth, now, with Cath. His life is boring, writing adverts for cat food and exotic holidays. When he’s asleep, he dreams vividly.
In his dreams, he lives as Dan, spending his time with his wife Vanessa. They live six-hundred years in the future, half a galaxy away. They’re explorers, searching for valuable minerals on Ecias, an alien paradise.
When the two worlds start to overlap, Rick starts to question what is real. Events in his waking and sleeping lives are mirrored, similar people inhabit both and coincidences mount up. Then disaster strikes in each world at the same time. In his dreams, Dan is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Meanwhile, after one coincidence too many, Cath thinks that Rick’s dreams are hiding an affair and leaves him.
Is Rick going crazy, or can he be living in two places, two times, at once? If not, then which one of them is the reality? Will one life carry on when the other is on hold?
It’s difficult to give you a flavour of the whole dual-life concept in a short post, so I’ll just give you a part of one of them. In this extract, I describe Rick’s visit to a psychiatrist, where he explains what he thinks are his dreams. He describes his life as Dan, on the planet Ecias, six hundred years from now.
“You’ve told me a lot about your dreams,” Doctor Borth said. “Can you tell me how real your life is when you’re in one of them? Do you feel surprised when you wake and find that you’re not there?” I wondered where this was going.
“It’s very real,” I said. “In my dreams, I have a full life. I’ve spent months on Ecias, done so much work. I’m a geological surveyor there, I checked out some of the technical terms I remember using, they all match. I’m not a scientist so I don’t know where they come from. When I’m there, I don’t think of here in the same way.”
He took more interest at that point, leaning forward. “So, when you’re on… Ecias, you use a technical vocabulary that you don’t in this life?”
“That’s right. It’s the same with the Latin names for plants and trees. And there’s more. I know things that can’t be true.”
“Wait,” he held up his hand. “What do you mean, things that can’t be true?”
“I can describe how a spaceship engine works, how we can travel faster than light. It all makes perfect sense to me. If I had the equipment, I could have a good try at making one for you. And I can use a multi-sensor mapping drone, use machinery that doesn’t exist.” I realised that my voice was getting louder; I was getting excited as I told him, remembering more and more as I went on.
“I’ve looked, none of it’s been invented but I use it all the time, I’m familiar with it, how it works and how it’s made. Hell, I can even tell you which planet the things are made on, who invented them. I don’t just use the stuff, if it breaks down in the forest, I can strip and repair it too.”
If that surprised him, he never showed it. His face was blank; the eyes behind the thick lenses gave nothing away. Maybe it was the sort of thing he heard all the time, perhaps his working life was filled with tales of galactic explorers.
“Interesting,” he muttered, almost to himself. “Do you live a day at a time in your dream?”
“If you mean, do I sleep there and wake there in the mornings, yes I do. In some dreams, I live on Ecias for a month or more. Before you ask, when I’m there, I don’t dream of here. Or if I do; I don’t recall it in the same way. When Cath left, I tried to remember and write everything down; I found that the act brought up more and more detail.”
“You mean like writing in a diary would here?” he suggested.
“I’ve never kept a diary but I guess so. What I mean is that the act of remembering things prompted me to remember more things.” I showed him the thick sheaf of papers, the notes I had started on the day after Cath had left. There were more now, I’d added quite a lot to them, details about my findings online and the things that had happened with Anna had brought them up to date.
“Are they your notes? Can I see them?”
I passed them over, he flipped through the pages. “May I make copies?” he asked. “I can assure you that nobody but me will see them. I haven’t the time in this consultation to read them all.”
“Of course you can,”
“Thank you.” He stood and crossed to his desk. There was a small multi-function printer on it, next to a computer screen. He laid the papers on the tray and clicked a few buttons. There was the noise of the machine warming up. Soon, copies started to appear in the output tray. He had to reload the paper during the operation, I hadn’t realised how my rambling about life on Ecias had grown.
The machine finished. He returned my sheets to me and sat again. “Thank you, I will read them with interest. Now, tell me one specific thing,” he said. “Take a day in your life on Ecias and tell me about it. It doesn’t have to be a special day, any day you like.”
I thought for a moment, then I recounted the last day on Ecias that I had really been happy. I told him about the journey from our place into town, the time when Vanessa and I had ended up having sex by the side of the road. Telling him that, and he never flinched at some of the details, reminded me of the first time we had driven up to the place we would call home, our prefabricated cabin in the clearing. So I started talking about that.
I told him how the cabin had been dropped in by lifter, just as soon as we had cleared the undergrowth. From that, I remembered from the fun that Vanessa and I had doing it. I told him about the animals that we saw from our window, once they had got used to our being there. How we fed the local Sawgrass family muesli from our hands, how their tongues felt against our palms.
“Hold on,” he said. “Do you realise you’ve been talking for more than twenty minutes, you’ve told me more about the day you moved into the cabin, all the things you did, than I can remember about when I moved to my new house. And that was only a month ago. Not only that, it’s all consistent, there’s nothing that you’ve said that doesn’t follow logic, or change with repetition. It leads you to other memories as well, which indicates a consistent timeline.”
Here was the big question. “So, do you believe me?”
Life and Other Dreams was published in March 2019. An early reviewer said:-
“It’s a book you think about long after it’s finished and one that truly belongs in the upper echelon of sci-fi, surpassing much of what has come before. It creates its own identity which is an amazing thing. It’s rare for a book to feel as fresh and new as this. I wondered partway through if it would be similar to ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’ by Philip K Dick (which was later turned into the film Total Recall) but no. It went its own path and one that I’d say works better than that of Dick’s story. I like the fact that no proper comparison can be drawn, as nowadays there seem to be so many similar books with the same themes and plot devices. It is really nice to have an author write what they want and not just pander to what performs the best in the charts.”
Here’s another, more recent review,
Next week, I’ll be talking about my 2018 NaNo project.
If you’ve missed the previous posts in this series, you can catch up here,
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I’ll be back on Thursday. If you’ve been attempting NaNo this year, hang in there, you’re nearly done.