Finder: Dream Sequence
Dream Sequence takes the next step beyond previous volume Talisman in dealing with alternative realities. Users with direct-interface brain jacks visit Elsewhere, the world inside Magri White’s head, to process their subconscious into dream-like visions in lieu of sleeping. It’s a virtual reality with all senses engaged, and because it’s the vision of a single creator, it’s a better experience than the corporate, computer-designed alternatives.
Magri’s life is his art, and he’s building worlds literally shared by his audience (even though he dislikes other people). However, his artist’s dream becomes a nightmare when someone begins torturing the visitors to Elsewhere and mutilating his creations.
Carla Speed McNeil has taken our world, where her comic success was in part influenced by her visibility on the internet, and once again moved it one step beyond in this story. Anyone who’s found friends online can relate to the ideal elements of Elsewhere, and it’s easy to empathize with her characters’ descriptions of its benefits. Plus, the dreaming metaphors give her room to create dense panels of stunning imagery that rewards study and reflection. There’s plenty of room for interpretation, as with a cloudy sky or your own dreams.
The conflict between the physical and the mental is a classic science fiction theme, ringing up such questions as how we escape when so much of modern, technological life is over-crowded, controlled, and constructed? How do you tell the difference between reality and a fantasy where all your senses are involved? If your dreamworld lets you do what you can’t otherwise and is better than your waking world, does it matter?
McNeil also incorporates many ideas here about the nature of art, made more potent in a world where the artist is the art. Magri feels responsible for what others do with his creations, but where to draw the line is complicated, once others start interacting with them. Similarly, he can’t differentiate between his life and his work, because each feeds and influences the other. He’s sacrificed himself for his art, and that’s becoming literal.
Magri is an artist consumed by the demands of his creation and his fears of psychosis, unoriginality, and being thought a fraud. He’s a symbol of mind/body duality; his world gets sicker as a psycho roams through it, and Magri’s physical body reflects the destruction. He’s been locking his emotion inside to prevent disturbing anyone else. Where should the line be drawn between excessively creative and societally non-functional?
As well, there’s some other cultural commentary snuck in. The image of the workers putting up with terrible conditions in return for the best broadband access was uncomfortably accurate, as were the shrunken cubicles that visually extrapolate from today’s corporate world. Some of the characters are addicted to being online, which contributes to the whole problem.
My favorite scene was that where a group of writers gather to talk about their work. I found the scene, dense with quotes and allusions, more insightful than a year’s worth of critical analysis. It’s one of those that I will reread it in months or years and get completely different things out of it. It also deals with the question of a creator’s responsibilities to his fans, even the disturbed ones who’ve taken their love too far.
There are questions raised about the bias of originality, the sources of inspiration, the validity of fan fiction and criticism, and the distinction between plagiarism and influences. They’re all ringmastered by a character who himself evokes the lead of Colleen Doran’s A Distant Soil combined with bits of Gilbert from Sandman. (And it’s not now, until my sixth? more? reread, that I’ve realized that his name evokes Magritte, the artist who played with the nature of reality.)
The core questions are what makes an artist and the difference between writing and world-building. Pure creativity is overrated, according to McNeil, as she explores the nature of artistic influence, homages, and inspiration. Ideas on their own don’t matter, but as she says, “It’s what you do with them that counts.”