A parallel world action drama with everyone urgently following mission briefings and investigating crimes, Asks the Dream pitches the reader into the centre of a grey shaded struggle where the characters feel cleaner than the corporations they are taking orders from.
When it suits her, Charity is a school girl, but when it doesn’t she picks up assassination contracts with her drug fuelled entourage, operating under the instructions of ‘the Colonel’.
Meanwhile, investigative local reporter Chester Morris is on the trail of something, he’s not sure what and Cara is dashing around with her own little Scooby gang on the flip side.
Asks the Dream starts off with some heavy info dumps, but once those are gone it whips up to speed. There’s shades of Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius in everything, particularly in the quirky leanings of the dialogue, although it’s filtered through the cyberpunk of Gibson and Effinger then sprinkled with a dash of Matrix/Rajaniemi.
The one thing that makes the characters difficult to distinguish is the plethora of ‘C names’ and whilst this ultimately has a linked reason, you can’t help wondering if everything could have been achieved without focusing too much on one letter of the alphabet.
As we occupy a centre point with the stories revolving around us, the midpoint revelation of the plot is more astonishing to the characters than it is to the reader. Yes Cara and Charity are twins operating on opposing sides. How they’ll meet and resolve their difference of allegiance is more intriguing. It is rare that a book pitches immoveable object against irresistible force, but there is no sign given that either twin might be weaker.
Stewart has a slick descriptive style that keeps everything ticking along. There’s no time or wordage spared in this dystopian two-world thriller. The worlds are bleak, existence made bearable by substance use, whether they are the usual suspects, or the designer drugs the fuel the competing corporate agendas of Dremchak and the Blackened Hand. Social drugs are recast as neo noire cool for Stewart’s characters who agitate constantly, as if both he and they are permanently restless. Once we’re through the opening sections there is no fast and slow here, only cruise and flat out. With time travel, shadow assassins and dimensional ‘lensing’ available there’s plenty to surprise and keep the reader guessing.
Gradually we move through the subplots to the conclusion, uncovering more of the conspiracies of the Blackened Hand and Dremchak. There are some nice character arcs within the supporting cast. The sisters don’t get to meet until the final chapters and the resolution of their opposition is something of a disappointment as they quickly team up against the corporation that has done most to manipulate them. There are some unexpected turns here and a calling card left for a sequel. Stewart has explored these worlds before, so a new visitor has plenty more to discovery and certainly, the read is well worth the trouble.
Written on 16th September 2015 by Allen Stroud.
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