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Captive Dreams Paperback – August 31, 2012
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Prometheus Award winner Flynn (In the Lion's Mouth) assembles six tales delving into deep melancholy and moral ambiguity. Each story builds from scientific what-ifs to a reality of human fragility and despair. In Melodies of the Heart, genetic conditions have a young girl aging too quickly and an old woman too slowly. In the title story, ideological differences hinder a young boy s ability to make sense of afterimages and echoes floating in his brain. Hopeful Monsters pulls back the curtain on the world of designing babies. In Places Where the Roads Don't Go, a lifelong friendship is strained when a heated debate over the nature of mind becomes more than talk. Remember'd Kisses explores science that offers to absolve emotional pain. In Buried Hopes, buried objects keep hope alive. While great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary outshine the scientific concepts, the stories will linger after the last page is turned. --Publishers Weekly (Starrred Review)
(5 Star Review) Captive Dreams is not a short fiction collection or a fix-up in the usual sense. Some of the stories herein were previously published, others were written for this volume. The character set is the same for each story regardless of which characters appear in any given stories. What makes this volume unique is that one neighborhood is the setting, and all the characters in the stories live in that neighborhood. Flynn has also added afterwords for each story which describe how he came to write each piece, a great way of answering the standard question, Where do you get your ideas?
Flynn has created a fictional work from disparate parts that feels homogenous. Melodies of the Heart establishes the milieu and the tone of all the stories in its recounting of a part-time doctor at a retirement home who thinks he finds a key to unlock the chains of his daughter's illness in an older resident s memories. The title story is a deeply affecting meditation on how parents of handicapped children can grow too attached to their child's handicap instead of the child. Buried Hopes focuses on a foreign-born member of the shared neighborhood who finds himself in need of psychological counseling. It's an intriguing tangent from the aliens live next door trope that shows how devastating homesickness can be if allowed to grow, and what the outsider might do to improve its mental state.
As Flynn notes in the Afterword to the Afterwords, the stories in Captive Dreams share a common ambience of deep melancholy and terrible ambiguity. Each story reflects the human element of scientific advancements, the good and bad of breakthrough treatments, programs to improve the human body and mind, the persistence of the mind after physical death, and other what-ifs often found in science fiction. Captive Dreams represents an alternative to fix-ups that works very well. --Janine Stinson, Foreword Reviews
In the final Afterword to the Afterwords , Flynn writes, I am not a critic, least of all of my own stories. He is too modest. In the individual Afterwords he not only footnotes the various speculative ideas but underlines and reinforces the stories thematic and structural features and notes the various conditions and influences that went into their making. His accounts of how he wrote and rewrote them show how well he does the essential writerly job of self-criticism, and his reflections on how they work and what they say are as thoughtful and perceptive as one could wish of any commentator. Come to think of it, a decent analytical review could be assembled from the Afterwords, thus making my job pretty much unnecessary. I suppose modesty and good manners prevent Flynn from the final function of the reviewer, which is to make a recommendation, which I provide herewith: I enjoyed half of these stories years ago on first reading them, and I enjoyed encountering them again, along with their new companions and their creator's thoughts on their creation. I think I will not be alone in that. --Russell Letson, Locus Magazine
About the Author
Select Previous Publications
Eifelheim (Nominated for Hugo Novel)
The Forest of Time (Nominated for Hugo Novella)
In the Country of the Blind (Won Prometheus & Compton Crook Awards)
Fallen Angels (with Niven/Pournelle: Won Prometheus and Seiun Awards).
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This quirk isn't what makes the collection great, though. These stories explore solid science fiction themes, such as nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, extended lifespans, and alien visitors. At the same time the stories explore hard decisions, strained relationships, and the deep pains of being human. In one of this story "afterwards," the author notes, "These stories share more than a neighborhood. They share a common ambiance of deep melancholy and terrible ambiguity." Each afterward is also a great reading experience. They offer chances for the author to explore ideas from the stories without risk of spoiling them.
It's impossible to pick favorites. Here's a little about each one:
"Melodies of the Heart" is superficially about an old woman recovering memories of the past and her doctor who is trying to understand them. The characters are flawed, but likeable and the narrative is textured and believable. The writing is superb.
"Captive Dreams" shows us the struggle of a single mother to care for her son, whose senses deliver unsynchronized messages to his brain. Once understood, this condition can be corrected. This requires difficult decisions about how to proceed.
In "Hopeful Monsters" Karen and Bill's daughter has been genetically designed for physical beauty. Little Rachel has some other qualities which were not part of the design. Fortunately, the designers guarantee their work.
"Places Where the Roads Don't Go" is a discussion of artificial intelligence and philosophy of mind, written as a decades-long argument between Jared, a philosopher, and Kyle, a computer scientist. The author makes Gödel's Theorem, the Chinese Room, and other concepts accessible and central to the characters' life decisions. Nicely done.
In "Remembered Kisses" Henry loses his wife Barbara in a car accident. His work in nanotechnology following her death suggests how Barbara might have been saved. It's really a bad time in his life for Henry to have a houseguest.
"Buried Hopes" finds a man reflecting on how the potential of humanity's space exploration efforts has gone unrealized. He fills his time by digging a big hole in the backyard. And the neighbors offer their opinions about its effect on the environment.
This book is an excellent collection, thoughtfully designed, well organized, and beautifully written. Read it even if you are not a solid fan of science fiction. You may also enjoy the stories in The Forest of Time and Other Stories by the same author.
But Flynn is sly - his 'jokes' are often so dry and obscure that part of the delight is just seeing them in the first place, and wondering how many others you've missed. Extreme example: a philosopher is described as an analytic philosopher with an interest in metaphysics. Well, analytic philosophy got its start by denying the reality of metaphysics (a metaphysical assertion if ever there were one). This character does then try to fulfill the role analytic philosophy claimed for itself - to help scientists understand what they are doing - and what they are doing in this story is trying to defy metaphysical truths. So the whole endeavor of analytic philosophy leads to a repudiation of all the premises upon which analytic philosophy is based - leading the philosopher to 'cross the Tiber' and the scientist to kill himself in denial of the metaphysical truth. And it's funny!
A more broad joke lies in his description of an animal rights extremist as a remarkably small man - not a dwarf, just a scaled down human. Um, yep.
The overall tone remains somewhere along the melancholy axis - the occasional bits of humor are only necessary lubricants to telling stories about who and what people are. In the best science fiction tradition, Flynn uses technology as a means of revealing the true nature of people and reality to the reader. He just does it deeper and better than just about anyone else.