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Fever Dreams

December 27, 2012

If you are already friends with me on Facebook, then I apologize, because this entry is going to seem really familiar…but if you aren’t, then I will say that after the awesomeness of Christmas, I got sick.

Dang. Being around little kids stinks.

Anyway, for the past couple of days, I’ve been consigned to bedrest…but as I’ve floated in an out of wakefulness, I’ve had to come to grips with these extremely strange fever dreams. Here were just a couple I could remember when I was writing about them:

Anyway, the first one I had was vaguely connected to my birthday. It alleged that all people, when they are 19, make A CHOICE in their lives. That choice is whether they will become deathly ill at 19 and then buy themselves health when they are 23, or the reverse: live healthy at 19 and forgo sickness until 23.

In the dream, I was desperately trying to remember which choice I had made, and then I came to the conclusion that even though I had made the choice to be sick at 19, something was malfunctioning.

Anyway, last night I was having another dream where I was split into a series of survivors of these deep space missions, and I was trying to figure out what combination of factors led to survival over death. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I wouldn’t be able to find an answer because truly, there wasn’t an answer. Survival was about as good as random. The different teams of survivors had very different circumstances (corresponding humorously enough to various contortions I was making in bed – pillow on face, or pillow under head, or head sandwiched between pillow sides. Comforter on or comforter off. Preoccupied with doom or hoping for recovery. None of it matters.) We (I) longed for a solution, something that would keep me in control, and even invented all sorts of schema that would give me that control, but that’s not how things work.

That second dream is probably (read: definitely) colored by my recent finishing of Frederik Pohl’s Gateway. In his Blogging the Hugos series, Josh Wimmer described Gateway as the most dreadful of Hugo winners. As he describes:

But when I say “dreadful,” note, please, that I mean the first definition given in Merriam-Webster, not the second: this book is not extremely bad, not hardly. No, it inspires dread; it causes great and oppressive fear.

At least it does in me. And this is a quality I sometimes actively seek in a story, and don’t find nearly often enough. It’s not that difficult to gross me out, to horrify me — graphic descriptions of morally questionable medical procedures work pretty well, as does taking your half-chewed gum out of your mouth and sticking it on the edge of your plate while we eat lunch. But dread is a much more subtle thing to achieve.

Lovecraft has never done it for me, and neither did Thomas Ligotti, though I had high hopes he would. Harlan Ellison managed it with “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” and maybe a few moments in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing did, too (although From Hell didn’t at all, and that was a sore disappointment). A lot of Philip Dick’s short stories hover in the right general area. And weirdly, though it’s an awful book, one bit of Fritz Leiber’s The Wanderer did manage it. (Since you should never read that book, I’ll just tell you: It was when a couple of military officers, a man and a woman, find themselves trapped on top of a locker, waiting for either the water in the room they’re stuck in to rise and drown them or for their oxygen to run out, and it’s clear there’s no chance of escape.)

Gateway, though, just — teems isn’t the right word, because when dread starts teeming, it pretty much stops being dread. Better to say the novel is coated in dread: even in the scenes that aren’t set on the unsettling alien space station from which it takes its name, you can smell the feeling. And most of those scenes take place years in the story’s future, in the safe, comfortable office of a friendly robot psychologist the protagonist is voluntarily seeing.

For the last few months, I’ve read for fun. (*gasp*) I’ve been reading Hugo Award winners (so that there is guaranteed to be quality), but instead of picking the most famous authors or works (e.g., Heinlein, Asimov, etc.,) I pick based on a plot summary or based on a review like Wimmer’s. So far, of the novels I’ve picked, there have been a few things in common between them: the novels are set on the dystopian end of the sliding scale of idealism vs. cynicism.

I dunno, dudes. These novels just speak out to the sense of fatalism that resonates from my soul.


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