A Dream of Wessex by Christopher Priest (1977) 216 p.

More original than The Space Machine, which it was bundled together with in an omnibus, A Dream Of Wessex is a serious science fiction/romance novel about virtual reality and the subconscious.

It’s quite confusing for the first third or so, but it eventually becomes clear what is taking place: a group of scientists in the 1980s (the near future at the time of publication) have developed a machine that can project a shared virtual reality. They choose to “project” the future of England in the early 22nd century, a utopia, with the hope of discovering how that utopia was accomplished. Why a virtual reality projection of the future would be accurate – at all – I was never really clear on.

In any case, the projection is of south-west England, which has become an island after a series of earthquakes. It’s a peaceful, beautiful place, compared to the dystopic 1980s, in which terrorism is becoming more rampant in England and there are all manner of social and economic problems. It’s also here, however, that the book shows its age: England has become a socialist state absorbed into the Soviet bloc. (Also, North America has been taken over by Muslims. Maybe Christopher Priest is racist after all?)

The story largely revolves around the scientists in the projection who have become more devoted to it than they have to their real lives, and of how they must prevent the new project manager (who also happens to be the narrator’s possessive ex-boyfriend) from shutting it down or corrupting it. On the whole it was a fairly decent sci-fi story, but nothing amazingly gripping original; a completely different league from Priest’s science fiction masterpiece Inverted World.

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