Sunday, February 10, 2019

Book Review: The Dream Millennium

Book Review: 'The Dream Millennium' by James White

2 / 5 Stars

'The Dream MIllennium' first appeared in serial form in Galaxy magazine in 1973. This Ballantine Books paperback version (217 pp) was released in June 1974. The cover artwork is by John Berkey.

John Devlin is the captain of a un-named colony ship, dispatched at one-quarter lightspeed from a 21st century Earth afflicted with overcrowding, pollution, and rampant violence. While most of the two hundred people aboard are destined to spend the one-way voyage in cryosleep, Devlin is awakened at periodic intervals in order to assure the ship's AI that prolonged freezing hasn't converted him - and by extension the other passengers - into a Corpsicle.

Devlin also is awakened in order to make decisions about the potentially habitable worlds the ship is passing on its predetermined course. With each system that is rejected for one reason or another, the passing centuries bring closer the year - the Millennium of the novel's title - when the ship's infrastructure will fail from age and use, so Devlins' decisions are not lightly made.

But as the novel opens, Devlin is increasingly troubled by a phenomenon he has never encountered. For his stints in cryosleep are filled with vivid dreams, dreams of his days as nonhuman organisms at the lower end of the evolutionary scale. 

With each passing century spent in cryosleep, the dreams are becoming more and more disturbing............and Devlin is left wondering: is he being manipulated by some devious psychological programming emplaced in his subconscious prior to departure ? Or has the ship's AI decided, for its own purposes, to infect its human cargo with a creeping derangement ? Or is the entire experience simply a vivid hallucination.........and the ship has never even left the ground ? 

As the one-thousandth year of the voyage draws closer, time is running out for Devlin and his mission.............

For me, 'Dream Millenium' is an unsuccessful mixture of hard sf and soft sf. 

The portions of the novel that describe the technological and physiological challenges inherent in a lengthy interstellar journey are certainly believable, and reflect well on White's status as a specialist in the sub-genre of 'medical' sf.

However, the plot tends to devote most of its length to laboriously recounting the dreams that John Devlin experiences while in cryosleep...........and reading about someone else's dreams is not something I find all that exciting. 

Unfortunately White compounds the problem by having Devlin's waking hours preoccupied with recollections of his life on the dystopian Earth he has left behind. The impact of burdening the plot with exposition both about dreams, and about recollections, gives the narrative an overwhelmingly passive quality that lost its appeal with each successive chapter.

I actually came close to giving up on the book when a 'flashback' conversation between Devlin and one of the ship's designers, about the criteria by which the crew were selected for the mission, went on for 8 pages............!

The closing chapter provides a 'scientific' explanation for the 'dream millennium'. I won't reveal any spoilers, save to say that the rationale struck me as less than convincing.

The verdict ? Although 'The Dream Millennium' tries to meld the humanistic stylings of the New Wave Movement within a hard sf subtext, the effort never really comes together in a satisfactory manner. My recommendation is to pass this one by.

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