by L. P. Davies
I don’t know why I picked this one out of all the “D”s. When I started it, it seemed so much like The Artificial Man that I wondered if I grabbed the wrong book. Also, the dystopic nature, though not thoroughly described, felt very much like the one in that book, and I had a recollection of that one as being a 2- or 3- starrer.
Just now checking I see that I gave it four stars, which is what I gave this one—all the while reading it and thinking “Now, this is much better than that last!”—which I suppose comes from reading a bunch of dystopic ’60s/’70s sci-fi, and probably from having read 70 books or more in-between the two.
And it’s true that this era of science-fiction is particularly displeasing to me—especially the dystopic stuff, which is a risible (and worse, what might be called “anti-book:The Toynbee Convector|76783]”) as all of the past several decades’ climate change horrors—and of course most of that eco-horror stuff began back in that era—but for Davies, it’s merely a convenient (and doubtless an instantly recognizable setting for readers of the time).
The “scientific” premise of this book is also particlarly nonsensical: A scientist invents a kind of internalized virtual reality that works through words translated into electrical currents and fed into the brain of a subject. This internalized VR is “more real than real” to the subject. OK, so far, so good—or at least not totally ridiculous.
The ridiculous part of this is that the scientist perceives (and the book’s reality accepts) this as being a good educational tool. An hour of dreaming is equivalent to an hour of experience. This begs the question of why not just have people have the experience, but its primary use is for history and, of course, those past times don’t exist any more.
The first problem one has with this is that the virtual experiences, as described by Davies, are particularly flat and unconvincing. They’re like sets from the Twilight Zone or Star Trek: Mostly just facades for people to recite lines in front of. (And such stilted lines.) Since Davies is a writer (and a good one), he surely had to realize that anything going from words->images was going to be heavily influenced by the subject’s understanding of those words. No mention at all about what happens with words the subject didn’t understand; I guess we’re to presume that a word can be translated into a generic electrical impulse that itself contains the precise semantic content of the word. (The mind reels!)
So, here I am picking at the premise, yet still I give it four stars, and here’s why: Our hero is laying down his life in anticipation of his device being abused by those in power. That is, he sees the potential for abuse, for mind-control, for a totalitarian state, and he’s ready to sacrifice himself to stop that.
Or is he?
Is that, in fact, what’s going on at all?
So, you get hooked on the suspense aspect, and then the characters end up being largely admirable (if not perfect) to various degrees, with just a few dodgy ones, and even those somewhat dismissed. And contrary to The Artificial Man this book works by having a large scope that is focused down to a very narrow, very personal and very believably heroic point.
I like that. I admired how it was done. And it made it easy for me to overlook the premise.