Morning mortals! It’s been a while since I’ve read one of those books that set me off into a strange brain space. I think the last time was Sweet Dreams – which also has a dreaming element now that I think about it. Maybe I just don’t like thinking about dreams. Hmm. Anyway, today’s review is for We are Such Stuff by R. M. Dorn, a book that explores what dreams are made of (no Hillary Duff – this isn’t about you).
He was certain that whatever Dreamside might be, the key to controlling the world was hidden there. He badly wanted that key, and before anyone else got to it first. If reality was just a simulation then it was up for grabs…
Is this the real life…?
Just at the point that Daisy is starting to feel the inertia of her life, she receives an extraordinary job offer: creating scenes for virtual reality games… by dreaming them.
She is, however, unaware that there is increasing concern over the safety of the equipment – the Personal Optical Device, or POD – that gamers use. Several deaths, a growing incidence of psychosis and many users reporting unpleasant symptoms associated with the POD are starting to make people suspicious.
When the disturbing news reaches the family-run manufacturers, Sim-Fab Global, most of the board opt to ignore the warning signs.
But then, one evening, they make an astonishing discovery…
Can the past be changed by dreaming?
What is reality and who controls it?
As Daisy becomes more involved in the family and the work, she realises that their discovery has a dark and dangerous potential. She must keep one step ahead of the others, to prevent an epidemic of deaths and the inevitable collapse of Sim-Fab.
This fast-paced sci-fi thriller resonates as a game in itself, whilst challenging conventional theories of time and reality, and posing the question: are we really here…
…or is this just fantasy?
I started this book thinking it was going to be such a draining read. I thought I would be dragging myself through pages and pages of philosophical pandering to get to the smallest glimpse of the action. I thought I was going to start having Too Like the Lightning flashbacks.
Boy was I wrong.
Yes, this book has a bit of a slow start. There’s a whole new world of video game technology to explain and a host of characters with all of their own complex internal voices to set up, so I appreciated a slow start.
The VR tech element is something that’s been popping up in YA and adult fiction of late. I think personally I’ve seen it used best in Lucky Ghost and in Otherworld. Interestingly, both those books and this one focuses on both the amazing potential of VR tech (and I suppose augmented reality) but more so the potential danger of such technology. As the wife of an AI programmer who programs video games I think I can say that, based on conversations about the struggles he has, we’re safe for the moment. But I do think it’s interesting that so many of these storylines center around the supposed ‘hidden dangers’ of VR technology.
Sidebar: did you know that one theory for the origin of the ‘woman who put her poodle in the microwave’ urban myth/folklore was the fact that people were scared of the new technology of the microwave as well as the idea of women using technology. So often folklore (in the modern sense in this case) highlights our own insecurities about technology that we don’t totally understand. I’m wondering if that’s something that’s going on now with these books?
What I appreciated with this book was the fact that they recognised the difficult balance there is with new technology between producing violent, aggressive content that sells and makes a company profit at a higher priority than the potential educational content that technology is also capable of. That’s not the core of the book, it’s more action-packed than that, but the conflict between profit and safety is quite key.
On the one hand, we have this plot about the safety of the VR gaming devices and the company that produces them trying to cover that up and also deal with it, on the other hand, we have the plot that toys with the very nature of reality. Yeah. You can’t really accuse this author of not going far enough, can you?
At the beginning, it took me a while to get a handle on a lot of the philosophical ideas that the characters are throwing out. I took ethics at college but philosophy kind of passed me by. But once they started actually doing things I managed to work out what kind of ideas they were exploring. It’s definitely better at showing than telling.
This is an interesting topic to explore, especially in a book that already is taking you to an interesting place with the idea of lucid dreaming. Essentially, it explores whether reality can be changed from within a dream. At the beginning, this is a broad idea, that has a lot of scope for the reader to draw their own conclusions.
What turned me off this book just a little bit, meaning it got 4 stars not 5, was that it started to explain everything! There are still a few threads left unsolved, meaning you can, to an extent, form your own conclusions, but when things that are so incomprehensible and world-changing are spelled out almost in black and white to the characters. If it had stayed in the very abstract sense I personally would have liked it a bit more.
This blog post is getting a little bit longer, but I want to touch on the romance aspect of this book. It’s a slow build romance but once it’s there boy does it go fast! As someone who, some might argue, went quite a long way in her relationship quite quickly (we got married within 4 years of meeting each other…is that fast?). It’s not the heart of the book, but it is there, just to let you know.
Should you read this? If you like a science fiction book to make you think, really think, about the entire fabric of your reality then I think you’ll really like this!
My rating: 4/5 stars
By the way, I received a digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Do you like books that make you think? Let me know in the comments below!