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Dream Hacking

Entry updated 29 July 2021. Tagged: Theme.

Term used in this encyclopedia for the now frequent sf trope in which entry is made into someone's personal dreams or mental landscape (as though this literal Inner Space were a physical geography or Pocket Universe) to study or influence the contents. This has long been imagined as an intriguing technique of future Psychology.

A pioneering sf example is Peter Phillips's "Dreams are Sacred" (September 1948 Astounding), in which the mental link is provided by a glorified electroencephalograph and the hard-headed protagonist must extract his patient – a Fantasy author – from deranged retreat into real-seeming versions of his own stories. John Brunner's more sophisticated "City of the Tiger" (1958 Science Fantasy #32; incorporated into The Whole Man fixup 1964; vt Telepathist 1965) has the same general scenario but with a Telepathic link, the protagonist being a curative telepathist. Later iterations generally revert to electro-neural connections, as in Roger Zelazny's magisterial The Dream Master (January-February 1965 Amazing as "He Who Shapes"; exp 1966), Pat Cadigan's Mindplayers (fixup 1988), Kim Newman's The Night Mayor (1989), and Greg Bear's Queen of Angels (1990) – in which Nanotechnology facilitates the linkage and Bear uses the convenient phrase "Country of the Mind" for the revealed inscape (which here proves to be deeply polluted by psychosis). Haruki Murakami's Sekai no Owari to Hard-boiled Wonderland (1985; trans Alfred Birnbaum as Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World 1991) includes a psychological exploration of a man for whom an electronic implant has established a parallel dream world in his subconscious. The titular shared hallucination or alternate reality of Graham Joyce's Dreamside (1991) proves dangerous to its four creators; Jeamland (a childish pronunciation of dreamland) in Michael Marshall Smith's Only Forward (1994) is equally dangerous to the protagonist, like a metaphysical Frankenstein Monster. In Tricia Sullivan's Sweet Dreams (2017), the protagonist describes herself as a dreamhacker and effects her intrusions through apparent Psi Power.

Television treatments include an episode of The Prisoner, "A, B and C" (13 October 1967), in which the Prisoner's dreams are monitored – displayed on a giant videoscreen – and manipulated by feeding in recorded personalities with which he must interact; "Get Off My Cloud" (1969), a reasonably faithful adaptation of the above-cited "Dreams are Sacred" for the anthology series Out of the Unknown (1965-1971); the Japanese OVA Dream Hunter REM (1985-1992; vt New Dream Hunter Rem); and the series Sleepwalkers (1997-1998; vt Project Sleepwalker). A mediocre film using the theme is Dreamscape (1984); more successful and suspenseful is The Cell (2000). Mindwheel (1984) is a text Adventure game based on dream-hacking through a succession of personality landscapes; the later Videogame Psychonauts (2005) and the Adventure game To the Moon (2011) also use the premise. The Disney Scrooge McDuck comic titled "The Dream of a Lifetime!" (2002) sees zillionaire McDuck's regular enemies the Beagle Boys use an electronic Invention to raid his dreams for lucrative information. Although the fantastical development of (mechanical) dream hacking in Paprika (2006) was admired by many, it was the convoluted blockbuster Inception (2010) which became this century's poster-child presentation of a theme few realized was then more than sixty years old. [DRL]

see also: Memory Edit.

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