The novel “The Dream Master” by Roger Zelazny was published for the first time in 1966. It’s an expanded version of the novella “He Who Shapes”, winner of the Nebula Award.
In a future where technology has led to physical health, overpopulation is causing in people serious psychological problems. This led to remarkable developments in the field of psychiatry including neuroparticipant therapy, which allows a communication between the brains of two different persons. It’s used to conduct a sophisticated form of psychotherapy.
Charles Render is the best in the field of neuroparticipant therapy yet he’s not satisfied. One day he’s contacted by Eileen Shallot, a psychiatrist who wants to enter the field of neuroparticipant therapy but has a problem hitherto insurmountable as she has congenital blindness. That kind of psychotherapy requires a great familiarity with image management and Render agrees to teach Shallot, a task more difficult than he thinks.
Roger Zelazny started writing science fiction already in the ’50s but initially it was an amateur activity. It was only in the ’60s that he started writing professionally. Among his first big successes came the novella “He Who Shapes”, winner of the Nebula Award. Zelazny expanded the novella into “The Dream Master”.
The novel is the story of Charles Render, the best Shaper around. His work is a highly advanced form of psychotherapy that allows him to directly examine the his patients unconscious. That’s thanks to a technology that allows him to connect his mind to his patient’s. In neuroparticipation, the Shaper controls a simulation that recreates his patient’s dreams and neuroses to be able to cure them.
Render always seeks new challenges and that’s why he agrees to help Eileen Shallot, a psychiatrist suffering from congenital blindness who wants to become a Shaper. The woman must learn to handle the images at the basis of neuroparticipation but many Shaper have refused to try that.
The story is based around Render’s activities alternating events in the real world and others within neuroparticipation. The relationship created between him and Eileen Shallot is one of the bases of the novel but the protagonist is developed also through his relationships with other characters. In particular, his obsession for his son’s health is given much importance.
“The Dream Master” has elements typical of Roger Zelazny’s stories. The neuroparticipation allows for example to have some mythological elements. The novel also contains several references to psychoanalysis, inevitable given its main theme.
It was typical of this author’s stories that their characters smoked. Zelazny was a smoker and projected his addiction on his characters. Reading this novel today that’s bizarre considering that the protagonist is supposed to be an example of physical and mental health.
The novel is very short even by the standards of the ’60s, with not many additions to the original story. For this reason it’s in some ways a roller coaster where the reader is shown in a series of dream visions. For the rest, it’s worth noting the presence of Sigmund – speaking of psychoanalytical references – a dog altered to be even more extraordinary than today’s guide dogs for blind people.
In 1984, the movie “Dreamscape” was released, which is based in part on the ideas of “The Dream Master”. I think a movie that’s really an adaptation of this novel could be extraordinary if well done because I believe that the story has a huge visual potential.
The novella was more focused on the main story and in part the story has aged and is no longer that surprising. That’s because “The Dream Master” became a classic and the novel’s themes were developed over the years by other authors. I think its longer version isn’t completely successful but still think it’s worth reading it, even more than once to capture many details that enrich the story.