||Jul 14, 2010
Decades ago, the CIA developed the technology to enter our dreams and extract information. It was just a matter of time before they took things a little too far...
Dream War on Amazon
1980. Hector Lopez joins a CIA enterprise capable of entering dreams and extracting information. Lopez saves hundreds of hostages' lives by dream-linking to terrorists and foiling their plans. When the Red Brigades, an Italian terrorist group, kidnaps a US General, Lopez and his team execute every technique available for extracting information--including one that links our world to a dimension never meant to be discovered.
Present Day. The Sogno di Guerra--a Red Brigades sect--plans the slaughter of millions. And they've the help of Luzveyn Dred, the entity ruling the dimension the CIA inadvertently opened a portal to--the Spatium Quartus.
Aided by an aging expatriate, a recovering alcoholic, and a mysterious girl, Lopez must overcome memories of past failures and defeat evil--in this world as well as in a dimension of nightmares.
Some fairly prominent elements of Stephen Prosapio’s Dream War might seem familiar; for example, the concept of cutting-edge technology that allows trained operatives to invade other peoples’ dreams in order to ferret out hidden information, or even to plant new information, all to nefarious ends.
If this sounds like a rip-off of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, wait: Prosapio’s copyright on Dream War is from 2007, predating the film by three years. And furthermore, it’s only in the practical machinery of the dream-link concept that Prosapio’s novel resembles Nolan’s film. The sum products diverge wildly. From one seed, two stories.
Dream War is a genre-bending thriller; from the raw elements of speculative sci fi, Prosapio crafts a doomsday tale whose origins might be older than the earth itself– a tale that is, at last, reaching its terrible climax. Dream War is nothing if not ambitious; it spans continents. It spans centuries. It doesn’t even stay rooted in a single dimension.
A brief introduction to the story gives the reader a crash course in the ontology of dreams and dreaming throughout history and, by extension, the science behind dream invasion; we’re told that the legendary Spartacus divined from a dream the exact time to initiate his slave revolt. Is this of consequence in the 21st century? More specifically, is it possible a man’s dreams are more than just an arbitrary assemblage of images?
The CIA thinks so. Enough to fund a shell organization known as the OIA (Oneirology Institute of America), an organization whose research results in the NOCTURN device— a device via which one can remotely (via satellite) enter into another’s dreams. The CIA, naturally, can’t resist the idea of knowing the enemy’s thoughts. To that end, they recruit a CIA operative— Hector Lopez— to lead an exciting new campaign in counter-terrorism. They train Lopez in the extraction of information from unwilling subjects, and they teach him to manipulate his surroundings inside the dream. His superiors, however, are in deeper than that. Lopez learns it’s possible to drive a man to kill from inside his dream; even to commit suicide. What more effective way to deal with terrorists than to coax them to off one another?
But even this grim agenda is but the work of amateurs. After one of the counter-terrorism missions goes bad, Lopez encounters an unknown consciousness in a dream; one which appears to comprehend the nature of the OIA’s work with startling clarity, and recognizes Lopez’s talent for navigating the dream world. This is Luzveyn Dred. Another dream-spy? With that name, unlikely. Dred is something different; he inhabits a place called the Spatium Quartus— literally, the fourth dimension— which runs parallel to ours, a place that can be accessed via the act of dreaming. Dred has the power to summon people here from their dreams. In their waking lives, the dreamers remember this as a nightmare. Or at least that’s what they hope.
Flash forward. The tenuous OIA has been officially dismantled in the wake of public failure. Lopez, however, carries on his missions largely on his own, driven by guilt and personal demons, and aided by the chance acquisition of a medallion that seems to protect him from Dred’s influence. But this isn’t the only medallion, we soon learn. There are many. But who has them, and what is their significance?
From here, the story takes us to Naples where we follow Drew and Nadia, a couple on vacation. Drew discovers one of the aforementioned medallions in his suitcase. Dred has a plan to escape the Spatium Quartus— albeit a leisurely one, as it seems, judging from the exposition, to have been initiated at least a hundred years before Christ— and through Drew’s possession of this medallion, he, Nadia, and Nadia’s daughter, Alexis, have been unwittingly drawn into the line of fire. In fact, Drew’s life is about to be derailed by Dred’s minions— members of an Italian terrorist group/Luzveyn Dred cult called Sogno di Guerra. Their operatives are on Drew’s tail, and they want his medallion back.
Now, wait: Dred’s people have seemingly sunk a lot of manpower into stealing this particular medallion. This is a little baffling considering the method by which it comes into Drew’s possession in the first place (to reveal much more would be a spoiler; one character’s task is to collect the medallions and land them into the hands of the Sogno di Guerra– Dred’s earthly foot soldiers– in Naples. The method by which this is done in the case of Drew’s medallion seems stunningly impractical, especially given that certain characters are able to send and retrieve tangible items through dream-link without the hassle of physical proximity). This incongruity is one of a few instances where the finer points of the rules Prosapio has devised in this fictional world get in the way of the story; it’s easy in sci fi to get hung up on the cleverness of how a thing is done and, in the process, losing track of why it is done.
That said, Prosapio’s story is imaginative and intricate, with many levels of interest; the secret history of Spartacus, and how it factors into the current-day events, is fascinating; the CIA lingo feels authentic; and, from a purely descriptive point of view, the scenes set in Italy— and the shadowy developments therein— are often excellent. Here, Prosapio’s language is at its most confident and precise.
With its duality of worlds concept, Dream War bears some similarity to Stephen King and Peter Straub’s horror staple The Talisman, and, likewise, its plot is built on a hidden mythology that we discover along with the characters. While this richens the story, the sheer breadth of Dream War‘s mythology also sets the stage for moments of cumbersome (but necessary) exposition. Nonetheless, Dream War is often gripping on a level that is visceral. There is no deeper message, and no need for one: Prosapio weaves together the disparate threads of science fiction, espionage, historical fiction and even a touch of Christian mythology into an ambitious, well-paced story. A few grating elements aside– Lopez’s predilection for ham-fisted 80s action-hero quips being chief among them– Dream War is a fun, exuberant thriller that’s not afraid to take chances.
The author begins his eerie tale with fact—a quote from Newsweek, in fact.
Because the CIA is secret; it is also insular; because it is elitist, it is also unaccountable.
–Newsweek, October 10, 1994
And with that in mind, readers enter into a story that—like dreams themselves—proves both frightening, otherworldly, and entirely realistic. Part of Dream War’s appeal is the seamless manner in which Prosapio weaves history, myth, and dreamscapes into a whole that raises that classic science fiction question: Is it possible?
With a likeable, fully-fleshed hero (using the subconscious dreamscapes of a person as a tool for characterization, by the way, is brilliant) it’s impossible not to root for facing off against a bone-chilling villain from the depths of one’s nightmares (literally), Dream War takes a wild concept and keeps it grounded in the dramatis personae. Add to that Prosapio’s strong writing and total control of the narrative and we have a spooky, imaginative novel that takes a universally-fascinating concept and turns it into a delirious adventure. And despite a similar incarnation on the silver screen, Dream War is completely original.
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