In this era of advanced technology it may not seem to be the case, but the written word still has many distinct advantages over other more complex mediums when it comes to certain kinds of storytelling. When it comes to questions of “reality”, a word that Vladimir Nabokov said should always be framed by quotation marks, and what is or is not “real” you can’t beat a book Thus we come to The Experiment of Dreams by Brandon Zenner.
Benjamin Waller is a Young widower living a marginal life as a substitute bartender. Most nights he passes out drunk while staring at a painting that is his last possession that used to belong to his deceased wife. His real living is being a human guinea pig for experimental drugs and medicines, and especially as a participant in sleep and dream-related studies. He gets offered a chance to work on a secret project that is designed to record a person’s dreams in startling detail. Ben is the perfect choice because of his uncanny ability in controlling lucid dreams. Things seem to be finally working well, especially since Ben has met Sophia, a woman who may finally help him move past his former wife Emily. He is making good money and is travelling around the world, staying in beautiful hotels and looking at the greatest works of art in the Western world. However…it wouldn’t be a thriller without that however.
Ben starts having strange dreams that he cannot control. About places that he has never seen. There are revelations that the doctors and that staff working on the project may not be who they say that they are, and the man behind it all, reclusive billionaire Mr. Kalispell, begins to seem more and more sinister.
After this, it begins to get very difficult to review, because the spoilers come fast and furious, and Ben’s dreams, and his reality, start to shift and inter-mingle. The first half of the book is interesting, because of the science more than anything else. Then suddenly come the twist and turns of a thriller, and Ben doesn’t quite know what is real and what isn’t. The doctors and staff start brandishing guns, and trading stories about Special Forces kills, and the narrative kind of slips from Mr. Jennings control a bit. The latter half of the book is more gripping that the beginning, but it also feels rushed, and a bit chaotic. One of the things that disappointed me the most is that a lot of the events of the book are suddenly no longer is Ben’s hands. This is realistic, but in some ways a bit disappointing. Heaven knows that I didn’t want to see our viewpoint character turn onto James Bond, but to have him basically sleep his way to the climax of the novel struck me as a less than ideal way to cap this tale.
The characters in this book were solid, but unexceptional, the writing was transparent and got the job done. One of the most difficult parts of the tech-thriller is the science, and Mr. Zenner didn’t quite pull it off here. It didn’t slow down the plot or the action, but it never seemed quite right, somehow. When a book has a lot of questions about reality and dreams a firm solid foundation is a necessity, and I just didn’t feel like I had my feet beneath me in this book.