This Shared Dream

Kathleen Ann Goonan
This Shared Dream Cover

This Shared Dream



This Shared Dream is the follow up to Goonan's earlier novel In War Times. Whilst In War Times' focus was on Sam Dance and his friend Wink, his wife Bette and the enigmatic Eliani Handtz this novel's focus is on Dance's children all grown up.

The first novel was predominantly set during World War II and focussed on the creation of a device that had the ability to change and mutate and reform. A device that would change perceptions of it's user and essentially present a better world, a world free of war and ignorance. The device has the ability to create alternate timestreams in the consciousness of it's users - timestreams which present a better future for humanity.

This novel is more of the same really. I really think one should read the first novel also otherwise the book will make little sense. It is set in a slightly better utopia of another version of our history. Where this novel struggles somewhat is in creating an effective protagonist and a reason for a better world. In the first novel the horrors of the Holocaust, the evil of fascism, the senseless bombing of civilians, the atrocity of Hiroshima, the gulags of Stalinist Russia are never far away. In a novel that desires an end to war the evidence for it's justification comes through on every page. Likewise, the humanity and compassion that is found in the midst of the carnage of World War II and the charm and friendship that transcends borders and nationalities shines through in the first novel. We had a novel which shows the best in human nature and the dangers of the human capacity for destruction and evil. The first novel presents a moral (and quite easy) choice for the reader.

I had great difficulty in this novel though. We are living in a 'slightly better tomorrow'. There seems a greater focus on managing the earth's resources. Religious tolerance, gender and race divisions appear to be a thing of the past (at least in the United States). Education is valued and encouraged (the device has morphed into something called 'Q' which appears to be a tablet like device almost similar to the internet with it's capacity to learn and teach. It also adapts to learning styles to develop children's education. The book is quite clever in that there isn't a fully realised utopia but it's a work in progress. The issue for me though is that for most of the characters life is pretty much okay. The problems are seen as 'over there in the third world'. I felt Goonan was actually displaying a little cultural superiority here and although she does address this question in the novel I still think there is a sense that in the great utopian future to be created it is Americans that will get there first. An idea that perhaps would be ridiculed in many parts of the world.

The lack of an effective protagonist actually leaves the reader feeling that although the novel is well written and contains some interesting ideas it actually isn't that exciting and is a bit of a slog to get through. The novel takes seemingly forever to get going and although the last third of the book has a nice pace to it the ending is somewhat clumsy. Too many loose ends tie up really nicely.

The novel hinges on Sam and Bette's oldest daughter who in the first novel enters our timestream and succeeds in helping prevent the assassination of Kennedy. This leads to Kennedy becoming a major figure in creating a more Liberal world in Jill's timestream although she can still remember 'our' timestream. What I find a little laughable is the idea that Kennedy if he would have lived would have been a significant driver for peace, tolerance, liberalism and peace. This is the person who supported the failed invasion and coup of Cuba, this is the man who ordered the first American shots in the Vietnam war.

This novel is more linear than the previous although there is still some slipping through timestreams and accessing or returning to different versions of time and history. It isn't really a romp but more of a mind-bender. At one point a number of people are trying to get to Jill Dance and find out more about the device. There is a suggestion that various interested parties are trying to get the Device (or plans for it). Unfortunately though Jill never seems particularly threatened or bothered about this so if she doesn't care why should the reader? Even when her house suffers an arson attack it's not that big of a deal. In the end the only threat is a massive caricature of a Nazi-supremacist who desires to populate the world with a master race starting with him and Jill. He's completely unthreatening and a bit of a joke. Everyone else actually turns out to be 'rememberers' from 'both' timestreams. The resolution to evil Nazi plot is one of the worst cop outs I've ever read in a book.

I also found the Dance children and grandchildren to be pretty boring. They all had character flaws and 'issues' in their life. They all seemed to be highly intelligent and successful (when this features in novels it's usually a turn off for me). Even their children are quite extraordinary. The whole family seem a little 'Barbie and Ken smooth' and even a little incestuous - they don't seem real and for that reason I struggled to care or like them.

Like in the first novel Jazz features significantly and whilst I understood this in the context of the first book I didn't really see the point of it here. You're either going to get this or not. If you like Jazz I think this will appeal - for others it will be a bit 'meh'.

So I have criticised the setting, the characters, the pacing and the content of the novel. Was there anything I liked? Well yes. Goonan is a good writer and can present quite complex ideas. Some of her sentence structures are beautiful. The novel does read like a manifesto for a better tomorrow and is an unashamed call for an end to discrimination, a call for education and liberty. It recognises that in much of the world the education our children receive in the West would be a most desired treasure. It discusses quite complex ideas of memory and shared memory. It discusses the idea of suppressing negative and violent behaviour and identifies the male of the species role in creating and maintaining a violent world. One could criticise the book in that it is not that Africans are poor because their children are uneducated. It is because of hundreds of years of exploitation. The capital and hoarding of resources of the very richest on Earth is never mentioned - it's almost as if it is the third world's fault for their poverty and lack of freedom - another display of cultural superiority from a position of privilege. More career opportunities for American women is not a victory for the position of women, it's a victory for the affluent West.

I do like the idea that the version of utopia Hadntz presents doesn't go unchallenged and it raises ethical questions. I share the moral position of ending war and reducing inequality and providing quality education for all. I'd like some more of what it is Hadntz is pushing. However, should one person be able to dictate the terms of what 'a better world would be'?