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Not Really a Top 5: Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror Novelists Who Use Dreams to Crack Your Head Open (In All the Right Ways)

Open Mind

Wolven here again. I’m back from the wilds of a future time where the southeast portion of the United States is the desert it only pretends to be in our present autumn months, and the cities of Atlanta, Charlotte, and Birmingham have the beaches they’ve always wanted. From the considerable effort I was having to exert to follow the rule “never read your own press,” I gather that people had… Feelings, one way or another, about my premier piece, here on Need Coffee. And that’s good, because we’re going again, and this time I want to talk to you about something you dang kids don’t talk nearly enough about these days: Novels. Now don’t get me wrong, we talk about Fiction all the time here. We talk about Important fiction all the time, too. Comics, music, movies; all of these are deeply important. But, just for a little while, let’s talk about some books, and let’s talk about the writers of those books.
I believe that it’s often–not always, but often–the job of science fiction, fantasy, and horror to make you think about, approach, and interact with the world in new and different ways. I think that it’s sometimes there to teach you new ways of dealing with the world, and to make you question the fundamental nature of how one could understand the nature of everything we encounter every day. Things like Fortean occurrences and sightings; horrible, unfathomable murders; the vast, intricate beauty of the cosmos and the seas; Dippin’ Dots; and so on. And so, because of my previously stated personal interests and thought systems (magic, remember?), I think that much–but again, by no means all–of what is “good,” in science fiction/fantasy/horror is capable of facilitating your greater openness to living and experiencing magic[k] (or “wonder,” or “awe,” or “mystery,” or, simply, “Magic”), if only briefly.

Many pieces of SF/F/Horror are designed to change the way we see the world, to provide a window onto a reality which may be either vastly or only slightly different from our own. They do this through different, diverse settings, times, combinations of characters, dreams, and other altered conditions of perception. Over the next few days, we will discuss several works, each of which provides a narrative from the point of view of someone developing and dealing with a broken, enhanced, or otherwise altered state of consciousness from the one that used to be their “Normal.” Any previously unconscious abilities, encounters, and experiences, possessed by these characters, are brought in direct contact with their everyday world, and their darkest, most deeply ingrained personal symbolisms are brought to their immediate attention. What I’m saying is: they’re broken out into a newer, wider world, and this is not always a good thing.

To say it again, I believe that certain works of fiction are able to deeply and permanently change our minds in terms of the way it works, how it processes new information, and what it wants to do with that information once it’s processed. As we read fictions, looking to “escape,” we often find ourselves thinking differently about the world around us, and we find that our “escape” has actually drawn us Deeper into our lives. In this vein, we have to acknowledge there are some works, some books which cause our minds to shatter certain of our preconceptions. There are some books which, having read them, leave our minds fractured, babbling, and seeing the world as fresh, new, adaptable, and capable of Anything. Some books break our heads open, and help make us ready to reform them, as we see fit. And so it is that, in most stories of initiation, a new, magical life–a life invariably consisting of wonder and pain and the assurance of More–is usually heralded by signs, portents, and visions of a strange symbolic quality. Again: Dreams.

But the ability to properly convey the tone of any dream–the specific atmosphere of helpless control and driven, symbolic, directionless association–much less the power and visceral resonance of and Important dream, is not something every writer has. And you’d think it’d be easier, right? I mean, we all dream (most of us), and we all know what they’re supposed to look and feel like, don’t we? Just throw a few jump cuts and weird symbols down, and some arch, cryptic wording, and víola! Instant Dreams. But no. Dreams are hard to write. Even conveying the tenor of our Own dreams is difficult, most times. Writing the sense of urgency and horror implied by a man walking toward you, on a subway car, whistling, the sheer animal terror of those high-pitched notes. Something so banal being so important, so Key, is hard to explain, let alone stand for itself, but there are writers who can do it. And not only can they do it, they do it in such a way as to make the entire experience a revelation. Over the next several days, we’ll be discussing a few particular authors and a selection of their books that have done and continue to do that for me. Your Mileage, of course, May Vary.


  • Another point is that when an author really captures the essence of your dreams, that essence might be completely different from how *I* dream, so really, other than writing quality in general, it is really hard to determine a “good” author of dreams. What might be perfect to you, might be very fake to me.

    Personally, I never dream of specific instants in the past (I guess nothing really horrible has happened to me), so every time someone dreams of something that happened in the past (which NEVER seems to happen in fiction :P ), it feels fake to me. Just an example.

  • Cailement: You’re absolutely right, about that, but I think there is a qualitative feeling to many dreams which, when correctly conveyed, is somewhat universal. And I think that this quality, when we use it well, can completely alter the way we look at and experience the world.