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My love of science fiction was something that I picked up from my dad, and recently he has given me a whole stack of his old books which I have added to my already massive reading pile. I had never heard of James White, nor his book "The Dream Millennium" before, but seeing as the cover art depicted *dinosaurs* *fighting each other* ... *in space*! I was rather excited about reading it, with my imagination already beginning to run wild before even turning the first page. This book is no longer in print and you would have to take your chances trying to find a pre-owned version, but eBay and charity shops would be a good option if you're keen to give this a read.
Description: "A starship drifted silently through the galaxies with its strange cargo - travellers frozen into a state of suspended animation until the ship should find a new home, a new planet where they could fulfil their mission. But in the icy silence of the Cold Sleep, their peace was troubled by dreams - nightmares of such terrible power that they became a hideous reality, from which death would be a welcome release..."
The story is set in a future version of Earth, where science and civilisation have both advanced in ways that create a dangerous environment with society at risk of breaking down. There are the Civilians, those who carry weapons and are prepared to take action for the benefit of upholding society, and the more extreme Maxers, who respond with maximum force when it comes to defending their laws and honour. These unpredictable violent types have a superior status over the rest of the population, known as Sheep, who wish only for a peaceful existence and avoid confrontation by choosing to reject the use of weapons in any circumstances. Filled with dissatisfaction and frustration at their helpless position, a small number of Sheep are selected for a long-term deep space mission in the hope of starting a new colonisation on another planet where they would be free from the destructive path that currently exists on Earth. We follow the course of this mission from the perspective of John Devlin and his potential girlfriend Patricia. Initially I found it hard to follow as the chapters form a slightly skewed timeline, which reveals information slowly and from differing perspectives until you finally manage to piece things together. The main plot-line is of course the space mission, with all of the passengers on board being placed in Cold Sleep for a period of 1,000 years until a suitable destination is found. Within the Cold Sleep, their bodies are frozen and remain unchanged, but their minds are constantly active with dark and disturbing dreams that stretch on for decades at a time. Devlin and Patricia must not only complete their mission in guiding the ship to a suitable planet, but they must also escape the unending horror that they have been forced to endure by living out their dreams.
I found the concept of this book very appealing as I love the space-horror genre crossover and was intrigued by the psychological element involved with the dream sequences. Some of the dreams read as being pretty ridiculous and don't seem to fit with the rest of the story, and I found it a bit odd as the changes between real time, memories and dreams were not immediately clear and I struggled to grasp where the characters were and what exactly was happening to them. This does have a nice, classic science fiction theme at its centre, with the idea of extended space travel and the search for a new planetary home being popular in many books, television shows and films. In addition to this, I really liked that there is a strong philosophical element. There are extended sections of dialogue between characters as they muse upon their current circumstances and ponder potential explanations and conclusions. In a way these debates have replaced the more typical way of describing the characters and little is known about their history or physical appearance, but it provides much more of an insight into their psyche and by seeing their thoughts and opinions expressed so vividly it allows you to get a good overview of what they are really like as a person.
This book was first published in 1974, and according the the cover information cost just 65p for this paperback first edition. Unfortunately there are some obvious flaws in terms of production quality. The main problem seems to be errors at the proof stage, as there are plenty of typos littered throughout the text. In most cases I tried to ignore these, with only a silent inward groan of annoyance, but there were some instances where the mistakes had an impact on the implied meaning and I had to re-read again to figure it out properly. This is very distracting, and it just goes to show how much a simple spell-check has improved things as the publishing world has moved on to catch up with the digital advances.
Well of course, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. The cover was not exactly a true representation of the contents of the book in real time scenarios, but it did fit with the Cold Sleep dreams as discussed on the back cover description. I thought that "The Dream Millennium" was an interesting mix of science fiction depicting a future dystopian society, with plenty of philosophical debate between characters. It was an entertaining read but in no way does it compare with the sci-fi greats and the editing leaves a lot to be desired. I can recommend it for a light read that also manages to be thought-provoking, but the difficulty required to purchase this out of print book might be more trouble than it's worth. A reasonable four stars based on story and content, although if I was being harsher I would also deduct another star for the sheer amount of typos and how this affects the reading of the text.