Alternative Lives, Allen Pollens, 2011, ISBN 9781466417519 |
This novel is about a journey into a little-known part of the human psyche: what happens when we sleep.
Harold Treadwell is a professor at Jess Hawkins University in Philadelphia. He is known as a workaholic, and has spent his entire academic life at JHU, mostly due to a significant emotional heartache. He has spent the previous five years perfecting a sleep stasis chamber, where people will spend several days at a time sleeping (with mild sedative help). After all, eight hours of sleep per night is known to be mentally and physically therapeutic. Maybe more sleep will be more therapeutic.
The shadowy Omega Corporation gets him federal grant money for a scientific study, and is otherwise a big help. All they want in return is first chance at anything commercial that comes out of it. Treadwell recruits Vincent, Anne and Charles, all JHU students, as research assistants. They put volunteers under for several days at a time. The results are disappointing. Even with an expanded study, and several chambers occupied at the same time, nothing changes for the volunteers.
Everyone has a moment in their lives where they choose Option A over Option B. At 168 hours (1 week) of stasis, the volunteers emerge telling similar stories of living their Option B lives. Omega gets hold of the process, commercializing it, and treats the team very fairly. They want to get back into research. Going past 168 hours of stasis, the reported experiences of the volunteers start getting weird. At 336 hours (2 weeks), something happens to the volunteers which has huge national security implications. The military is Very Interested. Before it can be used, the team decides that the only option is to have Harold go through the experience, and, also, to fix his emotional heartache.
This is a very "quiet" and very intriguing book. The second half is more interestinmg than the first half. It belongs in the large gray area of Pretty Good or Worth Reading.
Paul Lappen is a freelance book reviewer whose blog, Dead Trees Review, emphasizes small press and self-published books.
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