Thursday, September 22, 2011

Guest Review: LIFE AFTER SLEEP Reviewed by Joel Thomas

Mark R. Brand. Life After Sleep. Chicago: CCLaP Publishing, 2011. Fiction (novella). Available as an e-book or in handbound edition.

Mark R. Brand’s sci-fi novella centers around the premise that through the wonders of science, humans can get by on significantly less sleep. A device referred to as a “Bed” allows for full rest in only two hours. Will we use the extra hours in our day for education, cultural enrichment, and making the world a better place? Will we finally get around to donating blood and going to the gym regularly? Or will we simply possess a few more hours each night to help us keep up with our favorite reality shows? Surely we can find more “Real Housewives” adventures to follow, and their own reduced need for sleep will provide even more snippy banter and social catastrophes.

Fortunately, Brand takes readers down a more interesting road. His own background in science and medicine informs the novella throughout, allowing him to provide detailed exposition and explanations of the technology itself and its effects on each protagonist. As we all know, the literary world of tomorrow’s technology often turns out to be a curse more than a blessing, and this novel displays the personal dystopia that is Life After Sleep. Capitalism always wins, of course, and readers soon learn that corporations expect humans to work many more hours, often for less pay. The most glaring example: a war veteran with PTSD working an inhumane number of hours at a futuristic version of Walmart. His Sleep (Brand refers to the shortened version of sleep with a capital letter: “Sleep”) struggles prove nearly devastating, as do the hallucinations of a rest-deprived surgeon who blacks out during operations.

Even with an overarching social theme, the narrative stays focused on individual lives rather than sweeping political statements. This move keeps the novella lean and intimate. Readers meet characters who stay vulnerable and believable, beset by problems and conflict but never forced into saving the world. One major narrative branch, for example, portrays the difficulties of a couple trying to adapt back to more traditional sleep patterns after having a baby. As it turns out, Beds aren’t safe to operate near infants. The young father/husband works too many hours without the benefits of a Bed and its technology-enhanced Sleep, and the young parents both struggle to adapt to their physical needs for rest. In another vein, a successful band promoter pushes the legal and physical limits of Sleep while dabbling in other intriguing technologies (which this reviewer will leave unspoiled so the reader can take pleasure in discovery). Her own desperate lifestyle brings a hedonism and danger-driven appeal to the book.

With Life After Sleep, Brand doesn’t push extremes, keeping a sense of relative believability. Some readers may prefer fantasies so unbelievable that the enjoyment comes from reveling in the seemingly impossible, but this novella’s appeal comes in its chilling likelihood.

Recommended for collections of contemporary fiction, science fiction, medical fiction, and Chicago authors.

Available from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, or from Amazon.

Reviewed by Joel Thomas
Midwestern adjunct writing instructor

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