Dream Dancer, Janet Morris (1980)
Review by Ian Sales
I first stumbled across the middle book of Morris’s Kerrion Consortium trilogy, Cruiser Dreams, some time during the mid-1980s, and liked it enough to track down over the years the first and third books, Dream Dancer and Earth Dreams. Despite all that, it’s taken me until 2016 to actually get around to reading them… And now I’m wondering what I saw in Cruiser Dreams, because Dream Dancer is one of the worst-written books I’ve ever read. I find it hard to believe it was even edited.
The novel opens in Borlen’s town, New York, in 2248, on what appears to be a post-apocalyptic Earth, which is also a backwater property in a galactic polity of some sort. Three “enchanters” ride into town, and enter Bolen’s inn, clearly in search of “adventure”. But the situation turns nasty almost straightaway, two of the enchanters are killed, and the third only survives because he’s led out the back-entrance by the orphan girl who works as a skivvy at the inn. In return for saving him, she demands he take her with him when he leaves Earth – enchanters, it seems, are high-tech visitors from other worlds of the Consortium. The man, who introduces himself as Marada Kerrion, second son of the consul-general of the Consortium. Well, first son now, since one of the two enchanters left dead in Bolen’s inn was his older brother; the other was Marada’s betrothed. Not that Marada seems especially bothered by their deaths. The young girl is Shebat, fifteen years old, who has been used and abused by the regulars of the inn for years. Not that she seems especially traumatised by her experiences.
Marada adopts Shebat to protect her once the two reach Kerrion space – and it’s just as well he did, as Parma Alexander Kerrion, the consul-general, is not predisposed to take in a waif and stray from a primitive world, especially after losing his heir and a planned merger with the Labayas, a rival powerful family, by marrying off Marada to one of their daughters (she was other one who died on Earth). Morris introduces Parma to the reader while he is having a crap, leading to the line, “Parma got up from his defecatory throne” (p 39). As if that weren’t bad enough, Marris introduces Lorelei, the Kerrion “platform “(ie, space station) as follows:
“Above her head the sky rippled, a candent pewter pond. From glaucous downwarding curving hills around it shining villages like jasper berries seemed to hang suspended. Before her, a serpentine construction of shimmering glass and enchanted iron glimmering bright as silver crouched above the cinereous roadway” (p 19)
This isn’t “word salad” writing, it’s a complete abuse of vocabulary. It comes as no surprise that Morris later uses “irregardless” and thinks martial law is “marshal law”. The whole novel is like this.
It doesn’t help that the story is equally risible. Shebat grows up to be an absolute stunner – of course (although she’s only seventeem by the end of the novel). She also proves to have a natural aptitude for piloting, and as a dream dancer. And Parma has made her his heir, because Marada doesn’t want it and Parma doesn’t want the next eldest, Chaeron, to have it. Parma also gives Shebat her own ship, which she calls Marada, a state of the art cruiser. All starships in the Consortium are controlled by AIs in a sort of mind-meld with the pilot. Unfortunately, all this conflicts with the plans of the pilots’ guild, which has been conspiring for years to break the hold of the big families. So ‘Softa’ David Spry, top pilot of the guild and Parma’s private pilot, sort of kidnaps Shebat and hands her over to a dream dancer troupe in one of the low levels where the poor people and non-citizens live.
Dream dancing is illegal, and the pilots hope that Shebat will become so addicted to it, she stays disappeared. But, of course, Shebat proves so good at dream dancing she doesn’t even need the special equipment – and she produces a dream that is so threatening to the Kerrions that they clean out all the dream dancers – although not before Chaeron has rescued Shebat. And married her. (She’s still not quite seventeen, at this point.) Meanwhile, Marada has been married off to another Labaya daughter, but that turns out badly. In fact, everything starts to go wrong – and Shebat is bang in the middle of it.
Get over the fact all the characters are super-special at pretty much everything, and that unthinking acceptance of slavery and imposed poverty US science fiction seems so fond of depicting in its futures… then the biggest hurdle is the awful writing,such as,
“… when Selim Labaya had solicitously attended him on a walk through Shechem’s gardens, whose audacious expanse was full of flying things that shit whitely on a man’s shoulder” (p 130)
“‘If you insist, prince of dalliance, pompous pederast,’ she snarled” (p 165)
It will be a while before I get round to rereading Cruiser Dreams. If ever.