Jan 28, 2019

 

Book Review - Dreams Inc.: The Novelettes of T. E. Mark - Vol II (by T.E. Mark)

Title: Dreams Inc.: The Novelettes of T. E. Mark - Vol II
Series: The Novelettes of T. E. Mark (Volume #2)
Author: T.E. Mark
Genre: Science Fiction, Anthologies
Publisher: Smashwords
Release Date: December 10th, 2018
Format: Ebook
Pages: 331


"T. E. Mark delivers with his new anthology of Novelettes offering five fresh, thoughtful and engaging stories.

Employing rich themes and the unique story design he has pioneered, Mark reaches deeper into character and extends himself with more compelling and complex plots.

In a world where dreams are administered artificially by Dreams Inc, and no one sleeps, people are losing interest in reality – opting instead for their manufactured dream worlds.

A woman unleashes a demon when she follows the recommendation of her sentient machine companion by installing a revolutionary AI programming language. A profound story with a dark and refined grittiness to it.

Bobby Bright is 17. He’s remote, a gifted design student and a puzzle to everyone. When Annabeth Bachman, a passionate young therapist, uncovers what Bobby’s been working on, her world, his and ours will change forever.

A neuronthologist is tasked with extracting the memories of a 17-year-old resistance fighter who can hyper-accelerate – move through solid matter, when he’s caught inside a Pentagon general’s house stealing a top-secret war plan.

Pinnacle is the future. A future where art and music are unlawful. An austere future where people only see in black and white. And in this tragic future, Douglas and Oulette Fischer have gone on the run to protect their daughter who sings, draws and sees colors."

(click to read an excerpt on Barnes&Noble)

- Review -
What Made Me Read It
I was sent a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. The author described it as "stories [that] examine the human condition in various contexts" and the synopses delineate futuristic settings and technologies with profound effects on the human race - that sounded like my kind of reading.

The Good
"Dreams Inc." is a collection of 5 novelettes set in the near to far future. Each story explores one possible future and the effects a particular technology will have on people and society alike. But they're also grounded in today's reality, looking into all too familiar current worldwide issues: xenophobia and closed down borders, military and technological surveillance, profit based economies that value productivity and efficiency over personal welfare... so even though the novelettes are set in the future, the characters still share the same human flaws, dreams and hopes of today, making each narrative feel realistic and relatable.

Despite the short length typical of a novelette, each story is imaginative, evocative and with enough background details and information to gives us a strong sense of the universe and the characters. The narrative is fast paced with plenty of action and suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat, twists and turns to keep you guessing and surprised at the outcome but also thought-provoking moments. Each plot is unique and independent so the anthology doesn't feel like a variation on a single theme but instead explores different possible realities. The main characters are 3-dimentional and realistic, with recognizable and relatable doubts and insecurities, goals and motivations.

"Bobby Bright" - Bobby Bright is a 17-year-old aerospace designer who believes sending a manned mission to Mars will help humanity avoid the same self-destructive fate that drove the Martians to extinction. Omega Corp's Derrick Marmont would rather use Bobby's designs for war instead and will stop at nothing to get Bobby's cooperation, including kidnapping the woman he has learned to love. Rating: 4/5 - good depiction of mankind, more interested in war and conquest than in scientific exploration and self-improvement; the romantic element is the motivation behind the main character's actions so it helps drive the plot but it's something I really don't care much about and the reason it lost a book/star. There's also one unresolved mystery.

"Oil on canvas" - In the near future of 2029, Doctor Phillip McCarthy is assigned the interrogation of 17-year-old genetically altered Terry Dawson, using a memory extraction technology to learn the details of Terry's infiltration mission to General Hunt's residence in the Nationalist Republic of America. But the more the doctor explores the boy's mind the more suspicious he becomes of the accuracy of what he's seeing. Rating: 5/5 - good parallel with today's rising xenophobia and repressive migration policies around the world; the story has plenty of witty humor and a surprising plot twist, I specially enjoyed how the author makes use of the memory extraction procedure during the interrogation to get a sense of the backstory.

"Then she saw colours" - In the post-apocalyptic world of 3306, the survivors of a nuclear war are left color blind and all art forms are considered unproductive and therefore banned. Those rare few born with the ability to see the full color spectrum are deemed deviants and a danger to the rigidly structured Pinnacle society. City engineer Douglas Fischer has had a comfortable privileged life until the day his 5 year-old daughter Pita is diagnosed as a sapkin and a galduan, condemned to be de-fragged in order to see the word in the acceptable shades of gray. Douglas gives up everything to go on the run, crossing the border in search of the mythical rebel sanctuary Barinak to protect Pita's right to sing, dance and see the world in full colors. State's General Natalle Dubois is next in line to the much coveted Commissioner's post, if only she can dismantle the illegal network Contemptus Mundi that smuggles deviants out of Pinnacle. Rating: 5/5 - not the ending I was hoping for but a good reflection on how non-conformity and seeing the world through different eyes elicits fear and rejection even in today's society; I like how the author uses flashbacks to the Ministerial Hearing that condemns Pita to provide background to the plot and the characters.

"Dreams Inc." - In the future, the development of artificially induced dreams has made sleep unnecessary. In a world where schools and business stay open 24 hours a day allowing everyone to work 2 full time jobs, efficiency and profit have grown exponentially, improving the world's economy. Mark Lewis is an architect at ArchTEK during the day and a university professor at night, with a satisfying career, a gorgeous wife named Marcia... and a dream fantasy wife named Nina. Dreams Inc. is ready to release DreamBase 3.3 but problems with the previous version 3.2 has the Feds and Congress investigating complaints of addiction with recurring dreams being more enticing than real life. When a mandatory upgrade is sent to all dream units to solve the issue, Mark is faced with the frightening possibility of losing one of his wives, while both attempt to convince him each is the real one. Rating: 5/5 - a very good take on today's dependency on social media and technology, and a nod to the growing tendency of tech industries to release untested technologies just to satisfy investors and consumers alike; halfway through the story it was obvious there would be a twist that could go one of two ways... but then it went on a completely different direction I did not see coming, a twist within a twist - brilliant!

"A moment into the silence fell" - Trisha Cordan is a software engineer at SenTEK Enterprises who successfully recreated her dead twin sister in the form of a sentient AI companion TESS. When the AI convinces Trisha to write Pantheon, a new programming language based on the periodic table of elements that will allow AIs to rearrange matter at the atomic level, Trisha's life is turned upside down. Arrested and in isolation for 12 months without any explanation and marked for execution, Trisha manages to escape only to be recruited by a resistance fighters group led by Jorlan Jones, a brilliant strategist and owner of a fabulous collection of relics from a destroyed past. In a world where computers have made themselves real and remade every city based on machine logic, efficiency and order, Jorlan is set on retaking the old world from the AIs, one rebuilt metropolis at a time. Rating: 4/5 - this one is the author's version of the AI world domination genre; this was my least favorite and a little confusing, specially the 2 prologues that won't make sense until the end of the story. It also includes too much swearing for my taste, even if it does fit the characters, and the romantic/desperate seduction angle felt really annoying, overplayed and unnecessary. Fair warning: there is an attempted rape scenario that could potentially disturb some readers.

The Not So Good
Some stories ("Bobby Bright", "Oil on canvas" and "A moment into the silence fell") have a heavy romantic element. Even though it fits the characters in question and even helps move the plot along, it's not something I particularly enjoy and can easily do without... but that's a personal quirk of mine and the stories are good enough to earn the highest rating.

Final Rating
"Dreams Inc." is an anthology of 5 fast-paced thrilling novelettes set in a near and far future, with suspenseful plot twists and turns but also philosophical and thought-provoking moments. Recommended for those who enjoy sci-fi stories based on people's reactions and interaction with future technologies and the effects on society.


• • • •


- About the Author -
Website: mthomasmark.wordpress.com
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

"Life may be different than the way we perceive it. In many ways, it should be different.This is why I write."

T.E. Mark

I’ve spent the majority of my life playing music, (Mainly the Violin) teaching and telling stories. My literary interests are diverse. I read basically anything I can get my hands on and do so omnivorously. (No one should ever leave the house without a book!)

You’ll find this diversity woven into many of my stories. I quite regularly, and eagerly, without remorse, scratch out a poem or two or three, sometimes more, and include them in a pure Science Fiction or Fantasy / Adventure novel. (I’m a huge fan of poetry, BTW, and maintain a dedicated website for my own pieces.) I’m also an avid historian who loves using historical names, events and quotes in my novels or even using ancient history as the main theme.

So how did I, a classically trained violinist, who studied music, history, literature and architecture in the UK and the US (Did I mention my 10-year flirtation with architecture and engineering? Maybe not.) wind up writing Science Fiction and Fantasy/Adventure novels?

Well, it started in Bath England where I wrote my first real novel ‘Fractured Horizons: A Time Travel Odyssey.’ The story, however, originally titled ‘The Uninventor,’ I wrote in a notebook with a ballpoint when I was twelve.

From there, my head spun with new stories I wanted to tell or old ones I wanted to tell again – this time to the world. I love weaving ideas into fanciful but meaningful stories and finding new ways to express myself in print. I believe I was born a writer. It just took a while for it to set in.

So, what about that opening quote, (It’s mine, by the way) about life being different than the way we perceive it?

There are two answers, really. One simple and the other rather complex.

For no justifiable reason, I’ll let you ponder the simple answer and give you the complex one:

We know so little of how our conscious minds churn visual, auditory and olfactory stimulus into what we term reality. And of our subconscious minds, we know even less.

I’ll presume here to posit a question: Are we convinced reality is universal? The same for everyone on the planet? The same for the beings we’ve yet encountered on other planets? Or for beings living in space?

I wonder.

And, when I hazard to read the news of this reality state we’ve chosen to embrace as universal and unchangeable, I wonder more. And, without the ability to snap my fingers and end racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic bias, (to name a few) or stop senseless wars, or put an end to the unthinkable destruction of our planet (Yes, I am a tree-hugging environmentalist) I wonder even more.

And then, I write.

I hope you enjoy my blogs and books

T. E. Mark – Author


Next in the series: NET 2.3: The Novelettes of T. E. Mark - Vol III (book review)
Next in the series: There Was A Silence: The Novelettes of T. E. Mark - Vol IV (book review)
Next in the series: Binary: The Novelettes of T. E. Mark - Vol V (book review)

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