“The Dreamers” by Karen Thompson Walker

Genre:           Literary Speculative Fictionthe dreamers
Publisher:    Random House
Pub. Date:    January 15, 2019

This hard to put down, apocalyptic thriller reads like a science-fiction fairy tale.  In Karen Thompson Walker’s first novel, “The Age of Miracles” she tapped into our fears about the melting of the Polar Regions.  Once again, global warming is a component in her newest novel, “The Dreamers.”  The book is set in a small college town experiencing a drought. As the nearby lake evaporates, students are struck with a mysterious illness that puts them into a sleep that they cannot be aroused from.   They are the first dreamers—victims of a contagious sleeping epidemic.  Before the college is quarantined, a few dreamers (as they have come to be called) turns into a few hundred.   All need medical attention to stay alive as they sleep. Soon the entire town is quarantined and panic sets in, causing a chain reaction of distrust similar to the AIDS epidemic.  Some residents rise to the occasion and attempt to aid the sick, while others take the attitude of remaining uninfected at all costs.

Walker’s hypnotic tale is reminiscent of a Stanley Kubrick movie: Intelligent, strange, terrifying.  What might be the most interesting parts of the novel is when the author brings the reader inside the minds of those sleeping.  They experience heightened dreams that tap into unused powers of the human brain that only scientists suspect might be there.  The author has clearly done her research homework.  The novel is peppered with statements from the British neurologist, naturalist, and historian of science, Oliver Sacks.  All in all, hidden inside this page-turner, Walker asks provocative questions:  What is the nature of consciousness?   What is the nature of a health epidemic caused by global warming?  Why are some ordinary people inclined to help, while others will not?  “Dreamers” may not answer these questions but it does leave the reader thinking, which is the highest form of praise an author can receive.

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