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I never thought I'd find myself giving Zelazny a mere 2* for anything, but I really didn't get on with this. There is usually some sort of interesting idea as the kernel of a Zelazny story, often given one or more surprising twists. The interesting idea; that of a profession that can mould & manipulate "dreams" for people to help them solve their own neuroses, more or less; is present, but for once the author fumbles the execution. I've read SF where authors have tried to journey deep into psychological & philosophical territory, as this does, and it rarely succeeds. Even Zelazny, in this book, is no exception to that rule. If neither philosophers nor psychologists can agree amongst themselves, what chance does an author, probably with little in-depth knowledge of either subject, have of melding such open-ended abstractions into a tale without losing half their readers along the way? If, for example, you're convinced that Jungian psychology is so much mumbo-jumbo, whether it be false or incomprehensible to you, how are you going to get along with a story that requires you to believe in it?

On a less abstract level, the prose in The Dream Master is over-verbose, positively florid too often, and sprinkled with psycho- and philoso- babble. The story, such as it is, is disjointed, and there were quite a number of passages that appeared to me to be utterly irrelevant to what little plot there is. What is the purpose of letters from Peter, the protagonist's son, for instance? They appear to have nothing to do with what is going on. I wasn't surprised to find the ending was rather a mess (I won't say any more than that for fear of spoilering), as the whole rather was. In toto, Zelazny has tried to be too clever by half and hasn't pulled it off. The poor production of this edition also doesn't help matters. There are numerous typo's herein that, I presume, were in the original, but they are quite obvious & should have been corrected. Finally, the 254 page count is distinctly misleading - this paperback uses a surprisingly large typeface, with large bare margins all around each page. Of course, it might be that this is a facsimile reprint, which could explain both faults. I haven't been picky enough to actually sit down & do some sample word-counts on pages, but I suspect it's about half of what you'd normally expect. The reality is that your 254 pages amount to about 120, and if this is an extended novella, I can only wonder how short the original was because this, as it stands, is little more than a novella now.

I was going to end the review by saying that this is a bad 5/10 book, with the production quality comfortably making it a 2* rather than 3*. However, looking back over what I've written, I have to say that it really is only a 4/10, even ignoring the production. It's certainly no Lord of Light or Amber, not even a Jack of Shadows or Dilvish.
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Robert Zelazny wasn't quite in top form in "Dream Master," a rather jumbled SF novel that delves into the human mind. Zelazny writes with his usual minimalist poetry, but the finale and characters are definitely lacking. It's a nice read, but far from Zelazny's best.

Charles Render is a neuroparticipant therapist -- he taps into his patients' dreams and analyzes them to tell them what their undisclosed problems are. For example, he finds out that one man imagines enemies because the alternative is being ignored. His own problems go un-dealt with -- the death of his wife in a car crash, which has left him with some lingering guilt issues.

Then he meets Eileen Shallot, who wants the same kind of job he has. The problem is: she's been blind all her life, and no therapist of that kind has ever been blind because they get overwhelmed by the dreams. But he agrees to help Eileen gradually -- by letting her see through his eyes.

"Dream Master" was once a short story, and was expanded dramatically to make it into this novella. It's definitely a mixed blessing -- on one hand, Zelazny has plenty of room to paint strange dreamscapes and weird twists of the imagination. On the other, "Master" is definitely padded.

So long as "Master" sticks close to the interactions between Charles and Eileen, the story stays solid and sleek. But there are also a lot of scenes that do nothing except distract, like anything involving Jill DeVille (Charles' bland girlfriend) or the talking doggie.

Certainly Zelazny takes an unconventional and interesting idea -- psychotherapy using a "dream machine" -- and manages to wring a whole book out of that sole idea. His sparse prose really blossoms in the dream sequences, becoming lusher and stranger. They're not terribly strange as dreams usually are, but they're definitely interesting.

Charles isn't a terribly likable protagonist; he's a bit of a know-it-all. Okay, he's a doctor, but his condescension towards his patients comes across as arrogance. Eileen seems a little more likable, with her obsession with overcoming her disabilities. The other characters -- Charles' son and Jill -- are pretty much nonentities.

"Dream Master" makes up for lackluster characters with Zelazny's imagination and excellent prose. Just don't expect him to be in top form in this dreamy scifi exploration.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 September 2004
Ideas have always been the movers and shakers of science fiction. But because of this, all too often other aspects of good literature have been ignored or given short shrift by all too many authors. Zelazny does not fall into this trap.
The driving idea behind this book is the ability, with the help of some fancy technology, of a trained neuroparticipant therapist to directly monitor and control his patient's dreams. There is a downside to this: the therapist had better be very emotionally stable himself, else he runs the risk of having the patient take control and impress his thoughts and emotional problems on the therapist. Zelazny takes this basic concept and wraps it first in truly excellent prose; much of this work reads almost like a prose poem. He adds two strong characters, Charles Render, the therapist, and Eileen Shallot, a blind-from-birth woman who wants to be a therapist herself, but must first get over the problem of how to deal with the sights and visions that her future patients will have. Render (and I believe the name is significant, though this is a literary device Zelazny did not normally use) is a tightly controlled person, carefully bulwarking his emotional walls from the pain of the death of his wife and driven to over-protect his brilliant son. Though repeatedly warned of the dangers, he finds the challenge of introducing Eileen to the world of sight irresistible. Thus the stage is set for a trip through the world of dreams, dreams that are perhaps both simpler and more comprehensible than the garden variety most people have, but described with such excellence that it is almost like seeing a sequence of pictures, watercolors and oils in vivid colors.
The side characters also have important roles to play, from Eileen's talking seeing-eye dog to Render's nominal current love interest, Jill DeVille. Their actions precipitate the final action of the story, and indicate that the story is both carefully plotted and has a thematic depth that can only be seen when the play of irony surrounding these events and the careful allusions to certain legendary characters is carefully examined.
This story was originally published in slightly shorter form as "He Who Shapes", which took the Nebula award for best novella in 1965. With this expanded form, I think the final irony is more sharply defined, his main characters better fleshed out, but perhaps there are places where some unnecessary verbiage has been added. I would be hard pressed to declare which version is better.
The idea is only the kernel. Roger's layers of wrapping with all the elements of good storytelling is what makes this story a worthwhile read.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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on 9 November 2001
What a concept! The ability to enter someone's else dreams and control them. As someone obsessed with their dreams, I found this novel utterly absorbing. The main protaganist, Dr Render, an intellectual egomaniac, is a "Shaper", someone who can shape the dreams of his patients, explain their subconscious and, in doing so, cure them of their neuroses. The idea is fantastic; the execution of it, slightly below my expectations. Zelazny's prose is vivid and poetic; at times, very beautiful. However, the plot lacks coherence, development and originality. Where this novel succeeds is in making us think. If one had this ability, how far would one utilise it and to what ends? Manipulating the sub-conscious is a terrifying possibility.....
For anyone who reads this novel, or at least is interested in its topic, I recommend Ursula Le Guin, " The Lathe Of Heaven", in which a man's dreams alter reality. His psychiatrist, once discovering his patient's gift, manipulates his dreams to construct his utopian society, with disastrous consequences. Reading "The Dream Master" , I was also reminded of the excellent film "Being John Malkovich" and the interesting yet incoherent " Until The End Of The World" starring William Hurt as an inventor who creates a device that allows people to watch their dreams. I have not seen it, but some friends of mine, when I described the novel to them, commented that the idea sounded very similar to that in " The Cell" with Jennifer Lopez.
Its not a classic SF thriller but it touches on questions and ideas which all of us at some point must have dwelt upon, the mystery of our sub-conscious mind. It made me think, and for that, Mr Zelazny, I am very grateful.
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on 3 August 2001
Based upon the earlier Novella, "He Who Shapes," The Dream Master is an evocative, darkly lyrical examination of man's deeper and more questionable impulses, both to control and escape his environment, his fellow beings and to a certain extent himself. It is never entirely clear whether we are supposed to like the main protagonist, his indifference, his dispassionate yet plainly overblown ego are more detractors than engaging qualities. In this way the novel reminds me somewhat of the main characters in Bester's "The Demolished man." However, it is plain from fairly early on in the book that Render deserves our sympathy, even though he would not see it thus himself, and that his own godlike ego and technologically enhanced powers are leading him into deep waters. In the end it is difficult to say whether the novel is a psychological thriller or an examination of man's inner drives and demons, the true enemy being the enemy within, but the novel works on many levels, so perhaps it is unnecessary anyway to make such distinctions. If you are unfamiliar with either Zelazny or Bester then I would hazard the opinion that this is not a novel to cut your teeth on, both the writing and the psychological concepts, not to mention the numerous references to mythology make this a complex novel in every sense of the word. That said, it is a classic of its kind and deserves to take its place up there with Bester's "The Demolished Man," and Sterlings slightly more phantasmagorical outing "Involuton Ocean."
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