Verdict: Although the story falters with sluggish plotting and too much exposition, DREAM ELECTRIC is an imaginative head trip that combines both sci-fi and fantasy through virtual reality.
In the year 2052, virtual reality technology has become so advanced that many people prefer to spend weeks to even years plugged in. So enjoyable is Virtual Being that the workforce has diminished, the global economy has greatly declined, and governments have set laws outlawing VR hibernation, with hibernators subject to penalties and ongoing surveillance.
Rick Sau, resident of New York City in physical reality, is a past hibernator who still enjoys much of his time plugged in to the VR network Xylophone. Though government Wardens monitor him regularly as part of his sentence, he still finds the vibrant worlds of artificial reality largely preferable to the industrial wasteland that is modern Earth.
His life takes on new meaning when a former government intelligence agent informs him that the medieval fantasy game Uminia is a real world plagued by hidden demons, whose influence extends well into Earth and humanity. Rick is sent on a mission to retrieve a powerful artifact that can stop them.
Gunderson’s writing bears a dreamlike, visionary quality, but the plotting is very slow-paced. The novel is nearly devoid of action, with a large part of the narration occurring through expository dialogue. The story arc is unfocused, driven mainly by meandering conversations with a plethora of characters, many of whom make only brief appearances. Some important characters are discussed often, yet are not physically encountered until late in the story. Another set of significant characters are often described as bearing important messages, yet their communications are mainly relayed through intermediaries. When the story’s central conflict is resolved, the solution is too easy.
What Gunderson does well is provide escapism, for both Rick and the reader. There is a constant air of intrigue and surreal mystery as Rick searches Uminia for information and learns about the links between the two worlds. Gunderson also makes creative use of invented hyphenated words and fragments. While some of these descriptions are poetic or lovely such as “His eyes drifted lazily, as-if-toying-with-dreams,” many are confusing, inscrutable, or too distracting, such as “the amber-self-aware hut” and “the sensation returns of gold-hued+strong-light-from-before-returns.” Enthusiasts of world mythology should enjoy the many references to a variety of gods, particularly from Hinduism and Norse religion.
Although the story falters with sluggish plotting and too much exposition, DREAM ELECTRIC is an imaginative head trip that combines both sci-fi and fantasy through virtual reality.
~Christopher James Dubey for IndieReader