The soft, vintage tones. The flowy dress. The dramatic clockwork moth. The lovely font on the cover. I had to read this.
The premise: Diedre is a teen in a futuristic underground city where the caste system is all, sleep and dreams are manufactured by the elites, and anyone who turns 35 is eliminated from the system. In a dystopian world frantically obsessed with youth, Diedre’s best friend, Flynn, was born with a genetic condition that ages him prematurely. If anyone finds out, he’s as good as dead.
Impressions: I was looking for some Lana Del Rey summertime sadness with this – a touch of hipster, a bit of romantic subplot, a dash of dystopia.
Instead, and despite the incredibly clever world concept, the novel reads like a kind of morality tale, in which teen characters speak out against the system in eloquent, full sentences and rhetorical questions.
“Like a rat in a trap enjoys its treat before the end? I don’t want a small kind of happiness, Ma. Stolen in little moments when they aren’t looking. I want to be truly happy and live by my own choices. Out in the open. I want to love whoever I choose, no matter what anyone thinks. Don’t you want something more too, before it’s too late?”
Ah, Deirdre, who always does what’s right and stands up on chairs to protest injustice and prejudice.
Students all over the classroom jumped out of their seats, gestured wildly, and vied for the attention of the Medical Director. But one clear voice broke through the chaos. From her perch on her chair, Deirdre said, “There’s nothing wrong with him. Everyone stop. He’s fine.”
Story aside, it was the writing style that did me in. I can’t remember the last time I’ve encountered a dystopian novel written in third-person omniscient, much less one that so wholeheartedly rejects the axiom “show, don’t tell.” And there’s probably a reason for that.
Outside of maybe Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, I can’t think of any major sci-fi and fantasy authors who’ve pulled off writing in third person omniscient in the last 50 years. (Canaries, any ideas?) With Dream Protocol, for the first 70 percent of the book, I felt like I was slogging through the story’s summary, or the author’s world-building notes with short scene concepts sketched in here and there.
And when the main narrative can’t quite express its ideas on its own, enter the dream sequences:
Then abruptly, the fighter in black kneeled on the hardwood floor, laid down his staff, and offered his chest to the other man. He flung his arms wide and said, “Grey warrior! Perhaps you could run me through without flinching, without a thought for the life of another. And I now say, do it. Slice me in half. I won’t flinch, for I am prepared for the Otherworld. If you can say the same, then take my life.” The words of the black warrior were like an electric shock for young Deirdre. She felt something stirring inside herself, like one petal of a long dormant flower bud that was finally free to open.
Sidebar: Throughout the story, I kept flashing back to reading everything ever by Ayn Rand as a kid. Rand’s characters, too, spoke in complete, impassioned sentences full of conviction.
This is a story to be read for the ideas, or perhaps by a much, much younger age demographic. I’ll leave you with this bonus quote:
“I don’t see doctors,” Flynn said. “And I don’t want to start with you. Why am I in here? You know full well that I’m not contagious to anyone.”
“Aren’t you, lad? An idea is the most infectious thing there is. And you, Flynn, are an idea.
Copy of the book received courtesy of the publisher.
Want more dystopia? Check these out:
- The importance of a socio-economically viable premise in dystopian world-building
- Perfectly passable dystopia
- Top Benevolent Governments in Fantasy and Sci Fi
- I can’t tell if the dystopian socio-economics here are better or worse than in the first book
- There’s a zombie inside us all, and it wants out