DREAM SCIENCE by Thomas Palmer


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Palmer follows his promising but uneven Florida drug-smuggling novel (The Transfer, 1982) with an equally promising, uneven second novel that mixes alternate worlds with suburban realities. The real world for Rocker Poole, a 30-ish financial analyst, is suburban Connecticut, where he lives comfortably with wife Carmen and their baby daughter until he is suddenly transported to a drab, windowless office with no visible exit, although Mac, his keeper, has no problem coming and going. Mac's secret is that he passes through a line, which is an upended puddle of light, and which is to become the principal feature of Poole's new world; Mac eventually helps Poole through the line, back to his own bedroom, where he feels greatly relieved (""as if he had dodged a bullet""), but also fragile and apprehensive. Soon after, he falls from his roof and dies; but he demonstrates his desire to stay attached to his family by making a brief, ghastly reappearance, broken neck and all. Several deaths later, he is living near a cove, a childhood haunt, with Jewel, a withdrawn but highly sexed young woman who is quite at peace in their makeshift Shangri-La, unlike Poole, whose yearning for ""that sense of settled limits so necessary to life"" is still powerful enough to restore him to the real world again. He has no problem convincing Carmen, or his sympathetic shrink, Waxman, that his journeys actually happened; his consuming anxiety now is that he may infect his porous environment. Sure enough, a line appears on Waxman's porch in Stamford, followed by a blast that kills thousands. Poole feels responsible, and is taken into custody, but eventually gets another chance for a normal family life. What's impressive here is Palmer's use of the ""line"" (familiar in other guises to sf readers) as an existential probe; his delicate puncturing of reality yields exchanges worthy of Godot. Unfortunately, after the blast, there is a drastic change of tone, and that delicacy is replaced by the shrillness of a Twilight Zone episode.

Pub Date: April 2nd, 1990
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin