Matt Watters’s science fiction novel DREAM PHAZE — GERMINATION follows the creators of a virtual reality technology called Dream Immersion in the months leading up to its release to the public. Dr. Saxon Zynn and his wife Margo have worked for years on Dream Immersion, with the help of their codester employees, who have varying motivations for working on the project, and Margo’s wealthy, well-known father, who owns a significant portion of the company. The technology, which allows users to plug into and actively participate in immersive virtual experiences including preserved histories, imagined futures, and video games, is not happily anticipated by all. A group called the Fundamental Purists believes Dream Immersion will bring out the worst in people, as it allows users to live out their wildest fantasies, even those that may be debaucherous or even illegal. Political intrigue, family drama, media stunts, and an emotionally intense kidnapping drive Saxon and Margo to make tough decisions about Dream Immersion before they release it to the public.
Conflicting motivations cause tensions between the characters that propel the plot forward. Several of the programmers working on Dream Immersion want to use the technology to fulfill their own fantasies or to relive moments from their past. These hidden ambitions make the story exciting as the characters’ true motivations and personalities are revealed when tensions are already high. Their employees, family members, and the public keep Saxon and Margo on their toes, which sustains the novel’s fast pace. However, the multitude of characters makes keeping track of the numerous layers to the story difficult. Each of Dream Immersion’s codesters has a fully dimensional personality and a purpose that is important to the story, but their relationship to Saxon, Margo, and the others on the team is not always clear. Some individuals take part in a scene then disappear for a few chapters before returning, though their traits and objectives are consistent. Interspersed throughout the novel are vignettes detailing an experience a character has while testing the Dream Immersion software, such as when employees Merlin and Wendy enter what they call a “Dream Phaze” together to race sports cars. These short scenes introduce each chapter, setting the scene and addressing potential themes for what’s to come in the next few pages. The diverse experiences showcase Dream Immersion’s capabilities while putting the characters in unique situations that test their wits.
Saxon’s confrontations with the Fundamental Purists result in thought-provoking explorations of how virtual reality blends the lines of what is right and wrong. Violence in the immersive environment is common and not discouraged. Characters discuss these themes often but gloss over complex moral questions in favor of focusing on the plot’s drama. Much of the novel is driven by dialogue, which is realistic and engaging, in spite of the often technological language. Any computer and virtual reality jargon is described in context as the engineers explain Dream Immersion to funders and the public.
When technological jargon is well explained, the fascinating virtual reality and complex drama among the multitude of intelligent and diversely motivated characters makes DREAM PHAZE — GERMINATION an exhilarating science fiction thriller.
~Aimee Jodoin for IndieReader