Dreamrider by Sandra Miesel
It’s rare that I know—deadass—that I should quit reading a book. I want to like things. The whole point of this blog is unearthing forgotten gems; a dud is antithetical to my quest. Duds exist, though, and pretending they don’t only means that I’m lying to you while forcing myself to read book(s) I don’t like. So I have a rule: after I’ve read 50 pages, I can quit. 50 pages means the storytelling has time to hit its stride, and I’ll have plenty to talk about in a review.
I decided to trash Dreamrider on page 10 and, like, hard-trash, full-stop, I have no reservations and way more than three-strikes. As I have not read enough of the book to give a traditional review, I’m going to start at the beginning, highlighting excerpts and giving opinions as I had them.
To start off with, there’s an introduction. I did not read the introduction and instead skipped ahead, past the dedication, to the oh-so-common yet very-rarely-read opening quote.
It was a Bible verse.
“For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatever disease he had.” – John 5:4
I didn’t get it, but are you ever supposed to ‘get’ those opening quotes? I turned the page and tucked in.
“The child stepped up to the rocking horse. She threw her right leg over its sleek maple body and pulled herself up on the contoured seat. She bent down to whisper in her mount’s ear. Her long black hair hung down along its neck like a mane. She gripped its sides more tightly with her chubby calves and set it rocking. The rhythmic motion soothed her. She closed her eyes and pressed her fingers against the lids to make the spots of brightness flash.”
I turned to my husband and said “fuck, I’m not going to make it to page 50.”
The contents of that paragraph are fine enough—a little girl riding a fake horse with unusual intensity. Cool, cool. It’s actually a somewhat interesting pitch. But the words, by cod, the words. Every single sentence starts with the subject and is followed by a traditional predicate that ends in an object. It’s staccato as fuck; it feels like a child telling a story, where there’s no craftsmanship, just the simple communication of facts.
This is the first paragraph, the part of the novel that ought to be the most honed, the most lovingly-crafted, the most tempting.
It was not.
Yet this author—and this cheap mass-market paperback—had an introduction. Curiosity mounting, I boomeranged back to said introduction, and was greeted with garbage.
“If you are like many experienced readers, particularly those who have read a great many books, the chances are you have turned to this Introduction not before, but after, you have read the book—Dreamrider, by Sandra Miesel; and the reason you will have turned to it will be because the book itself has whetted your interest in the author.”
At this point, I’ was almost more curious who this introduction author is because sheesh, pretension and bad writing have never before been so beautifully coupled. His name is Gordon R. Dickson. I’d never heard of him, and tried to stay on task: who is Sandra Miesel that she gets an introduction on what appears to be, at best, a mediocre book.
Giving up the introduction to answer that question, I hopped onto Wikipedia. One of the first things I learned about Sandra Miesel is that she started out as a critic, and she describes herself as “the world’s greatest expert” on Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson.
Okay, so I still didn’t know who Gordon R. Dickson was, but I suddenly understood why he’s writing her introductions.
The rest of Sandra Miesel’s Wikipedia page reads normally—she dabbled in fan fiction, she’s published critical articles in countless publications, she’s written hundreds of articles for the Catholic press, Crisis Catholic magazine, and co-authored The Pied Piper of Atheism: Philip Pullman and Children’s Fantasy.
That’s right, The Pied Piper of Atheism: Philip Pullman and Children’s Fantasy. That doesn’t sound flame-stokingly hyperbolic at all.
Now with a definite crease between my brow, I flipped through the introduction, trying to find the first page of the story itself. En-route, I stumbled across a dedication to “Gordy.”
I mean, I get why it seems like a great idea to have a person’s idol write an introduction for them, but at this point everything started to feel tremendously weird. I tried to stuff the feeling down and just get back at reading.
The little girl riding the fake horse imagines the horse growing legs and scrabbling and with the now-flying horse they approach a chain of mountains but they can’t get over them …
Interesting enough. This apparently is a themed dream Ria has regularly, and as she wakes and stumbles around her flat getting ready for work, everything interesting ends. She checks the weather, and we get a solid paragraph transcription of what to expect. She takes a shower and listens to the news, she gets breakfast—a square of concentrate, the best sign so far that this takes place in the future—and gets dressed. She thinks at length on the colors and cut of her standard daily uniform, and how it accentuates or undermines her appearance. Only, you know, without any of the natural flow of thought or dialogue. Everything is still staccato as fuck.
She continues to get ready, leaves, travels to … work? It’s not quite clear if she’s a student or an employee, but I guessed employee. So she travels to work, arrives at work, contemplates her feelings about all of her coworkers, and by now we’re five pages into the book and most of what I’ve read is less interesting than my own morning routine. At least my morning routine involves dogs.
And then we’re dumped straight into the worst dialogue I’ve ever read in a book with an Introduction.
“I think ice skates may be the footgear of choice by tonight,” Ria said.
A normal person would say something like “I’m gonna need ice skates to get home.” Ria sounds like an obnoxiously nerdy and over bred twit—a bit like dear Gordy, now that I think about it. If that fit her character, so be it. It doesn’t.
Then Ali—Ria’s boss—get’s a turn.
“Repair promised to send someone over to look at your terminal today. Maybe it’ll oblige us by malfunctioning while they’re here.”
Okay, so maybe, just maybe, I could excuse Ria sounding like a twit. But Ali sounds like the exact same twit. Two twitty people—and twitty in the exact same way, nonetheless—simply smacks of poor writing.
I could go on: dialogue is needlessly specific—“Joseph in room 344 B asked that a report on the volcanic activity of Chang Mai be delivered to his office no later than 9:30 this morning as he has a meeting shortly thereafter…*” You get the point. It’s not good and it’s still not interesting.
It seems to me that bad authors often make up for not knowing how to get a reader’s attention by shotgunning surprise mishaps on their protagonist(s) before you have time to really consider that anything’s wrong.
It came as little surprise, then, that the second Ria checks over her work terminal she’s electrocuted.
She wakes up a man—that’s right, she’s now a dude—in another world with a human-sized otter looking after her. Then a woman steps out of the shadows and acts rilly-rilly strange, talks like a mystic-sort from a bad 1980s novel *cough* and admits she’s behind Ria’s weird dreams.
Ria, understandably, becomes a bit wigged out, but the otter begs her to trust them, and with a full three and a half minutes of being an incapacitated man around them, and no significant signs or portents helping lead her to this rather momentous decision, Ria agrees. She trusts them.
At this point I announced to my husband that my normal rule of 50 pages was going down to 20 pages.
I flipped the page, and Ria is back in her world, in a hospital. A young Pakistani doctor—though how Ria knows he’s Pakistani is uncertain—is tending to her. He very politely introduces himself and says she’s doing remarkably well. In fact, he doesn’t know how she managed to avoid being burned when she was electrocuted.
Ria states that she’s in fact never been burned in her whole life. The doctor—rather than taking this as hyperbole and letting it slide—questions her.
“Surely you exaggerate? Everyone has small mishaps, no matter how carefully the safety procedures are followed.”
“I’ve had my share of those small mishaps, but none of them were burns.”
The doctor did not reply but a knowing smile spread over his thin face.
“I’m not joking,” snapped Ria. “But don’t let me bother you with facts.”
Ria had not meant to react so tartly but Doctor Zair was as irritating as an unctuous rat.
I mean, c’mon right? That’s about as natural as a toilet paper commercial, and doubly as irritating. A solid 11 pages into the book, and I was out hard.
How could I be anything but? Most of the pages were bland descriptions of Ria’s morning routine, and the waking-up-as-a-man-while-being-tended-to-by-an-otter portion of the book was so quick, nonsensical, and unrealistic (in Ria’s behavior) that I’m left with no questions other than seriously, how did this book get an Introduction.
*Not real dialogue, though not far from it, either.
Cover art by Unknown. Unsurprisingly, though, there are multiple credits given to Gordon Dickson where credit to the artist usually goes.