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Dreamer
Steven Harper
Roc Books, 368 pages


Paul Youll
Dreamer
Steven Harper
Steven Harper was born in Saginaw, Michigan. Attending Central Michigan University, he received 2 Bachelor's degrees, one in German/speech and one in English/health education. Today, he teaches high school English and teen health.

Steven Harper Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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I picked up Dreamer because the cover art (by Paul Youll) shows a black protagonist. Anything other than a WASP hero/ine still being unusual on a cover, I had hopes of an original perspective from first time author Steven Harper.

Sejal is an angry young man who has just made a very old discovery. He can earn two kesh in three hours busking on the street corner, or he can earn 70 kesh in twenty minutes selling his ass. It's too much temptation for a troubled teenager on the planet Rust, where an invasion by the Empire of Human Unity twenty years before wrecked the world and turned the inhabitants into a permanently impoverished underclass.

Sejal has lots to worry about, but overshadowing all his concerns is the fear that he's going crazy because he's started seeing strange visions. What he doesn't know is that he's a Silent -- a person with the ability to communicate through a shared dream world with humans and aliens across the galaxy. And he's the strongest Silent ever to emerge, so all sorts of interested parties are racing to Rust. Rival governments want to use him or kill him, while the Children of Irfan, a monastic order, may be able to protect him -- if they can find him first.

There are many things to like about Dreamer. Sejal is convincing as a rebellious teen, and his resentment of his strong mother, Vidya, is very well drawn. Their relationship is paralleled among the Children of Irfan by the young galactics, Kendi and Ben, and their Mother Adept in the religious order, Ara.

Dreamer opens very strongly, but I found myself losing interest before the end, and the problem is structural. Like a lot of writers, Steven Harper tries to do too much in one novel. The initial focus of the book is on Sejal, but when his immediate crisis is largely resolved half way through the book, the story loses its impetus, particularly since Sejal's role in the ultimate action turns out to be less than crucial.

Meanwhile, centre stage shifts to a large cast of secondary characters and great cosmos-shattering events which lack immediacy and involvement since our protagonist has little personal stake in them. And the actions and motivations of the characters in the last few chapters were simply not credible, leading to an unsatisfying conclusion.

Harper is a promising writer, and I enjoyed Dreamer for some of its outstanding bits, especially the prologue, which is a grim echo of current world events. Long after I forget the rest of the novel, I will remember Sejal's parents pushing their last few belongings in a wheelbarrow along roads packed with starving refugees, praying they will find food in the city -- and willing to pay any price to survive.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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