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A dream of Wessex ???
on 19 January 2003
...... or dreaming WITHIN Wessex??? What constitutes true existence as we know it? This book, another masterpiece by Christopher Priest, leaves no easy answers and is a seminal forerunner of the cyberpunk genre.
A Dream Of Wessex follows the path of one Julia Stretton as she participates in the Wessex Project, a network of people wired up to a form of virtual reality called the Ridpath Projector, set in 22nd-century Wessex, England, and set up with the aim of solving the problems of the real-world England. The real-world England is set in 1983 (the book was written in 1977) and 1983-England is a bleak dystopia with law and order breaking down throughout England, daily terrorist bombings and chronic housing shortages to name a few. The 22nd-century Wessex of the Wessex Project is one where Wessex has been separated from mainland England by catastrophic earthquakes, caused by mining, and the Wessex capital, Dorchester, has become a large tourist spot complete with beaches for surfing along with numerous casinos and mosques, side by side. In addition, the USA is an Islamic state known as the Western Emirate States and the bulk of Dorchester's tourists originate from there.
When Julia's abusive ex-boyfriend Paul Mason is introduced into the Wessex Project via the Ridpath Projector, the frail 'reality' of the project is seriously disturbed with interesting consequences for all those involved.
The book is not so much a study of virtual reality than mapping out the often intricate twists of the human mind. Christopher Priest has excelled at exploring the multiple-layered nature of reality, of what constitutes reality and true consciousness. Numerous dark possibilities and questions of existence abound in this book and make the reader question the reality of his/her own surroundings. Of particular interest is the near lack of visible violence, rather a kind of implied violence that endows the book with a dark, ominous feel. I found that I couldn't help but have feelings of unease, long after I had finished the book.
With its very 'British' qualities and more in-depth study of the human condition than that offered by the cyberpunk generation, this book makes for essential and fascinating reading. With Christopher Priest's meticulous approach as to what constitutes 'existence', seductive blending of elements and a dreamy, hallucinatory feel, this book once finished will not be forgotten.