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Things that go bump in the night (review: Dream War)

29 Jul

Leonardo DiCaprio calls the process of implanting the seeds of ideas into a person’s subconscious “inception,” but in Stephen Prosapio’s hair-raising novel Dream War it has another name, perhaps even more sinister: Injection.  And when it’s a top-secret CIA operation taking place in a tricked-out dentist’s chair under the aegis of a wild-eyed, slightly disheveled genius named Dr. Hyde (of all things), it’s hard to imagine something creepier.

But that’s the job description for Hector Lopez, Senior Agent at the Reagan-era Oneirology Institute of America, just another classified project from our shadowy puppet masters in the federal government.  As Lopez knows:

Rumors about the CIA delving into paranormal technologies circulated both the military and popular culture frequently.  One suggested that the government was using astral projections to keep tabs on the Russians…

Having just read and reviewed Ed Morawski’s remote viewing romance View, we know that too.  But author Prosapio’s novel takes a different tack: Dream War is a spooky journey through the nightmare realm of the subconscious, an adventure on a much wider scale than the blockbuster generating so many bewildered Twitter updates about whether or not Leo’s little metal top ever did stop spinning.

Stepehn Prosapio sets the tone of the novel with a thoroughly ominous introduction, reviewing in a page and a half our near-universal fascination with the darker places in the human mind and all the mysteries therein.  And this isn’t all speculation—Prosapio’s right to point out the astonishing, inexplicable historical power of the subconscious.  Want proof?  See: In hoc signo vinces on Wikipedia, the dream angel’s message to Constantine that he would conquer in the sign of the chi rho (minor historical correction for the novel—it wasn’t the cross).  Or the dreams of Mohammed and other Abrahamic visionaries.

Dreams have power.  No wonder the CIA was interested.

Unlike Inception, Dream War gives readers a surprisingly believable technical explanation of how one “dream-links” to a given target.  The key is the “dream-print,” a REM cycle fingerprint of sorts, made of endorphins and an electrochemical element unique to each individual’s brain.

But like the psychics and Project Star Gate, information about NOCTURN (Night-Oriented Connection To Uncover and Retrieve iNformation) stop surfacing after experiments in the 1970s and 80s.  And whether you’re a conspiracy theorist or not, Prosapio does make a pretty convincing case for special agents “dream-linking” to terrorists and other targets to extract information from the unguarded sleeping mind.  Who’s to say, after all, that some of that defense spending ramped up by Reagan didn’t go to paranormal projects?

The novel begins with these end days of NOCTURN and the Oneirology Institute of America.  And here’s where the story begins to accelerate—the reason for its death isn’t an executive order or lack of results: it’s the fact that while CIA agents are “injecting” ideas of suicide into the minds of America’s most wanted, a more sinister REM cycle traveler has found a way to do the same, and not just to terrorists.

Meet Luzveyn Dred, the eldritch master of the Spatium Quartus, a dimension parallel to both the waking and dreaming world—a space between (a bit like Inception’s limbo), the origin of all nightmares where the dream death is the true death and the aptly-named, Roman-era Dred is determined to stage an assault upon the subconscious of non-CIA trained geologists and their young daughters, along with everyone else in the world.  And the only thing standing between him and the creation of a nightmare empire is Hector Lopez, the smartass special agent who wears his reflective sunglasses indoors because Chicas think these look cool.  Or something.

Lopez finds himself at the center of Dred’s plan to “inject” the Spatium Quartus into the real world and turn life into a waking nightmare—literally.  Trained by Dr. Hyde and the CIA’s OIA, Hector’s in a perfect position to become Luzveyn Dred’s baleful lackey.  But our irreverent hero fends off this supernatural devil’s temptations with strength of will and a couple clever quips.  His first reaction to finding himself in the stormy, noxious SQ?

“Well, Toto, I guess we ain’t in Tijuana no more.”

And neither are we in Hollywood—Stephen Prosapio’s novel is a gripping, frightening, thoroughly disquieting novel that’s hard to put down, thanks to an arresting plot, superior writing style, and the thought that Luzveyn Dred might just show up once the lights go down.

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