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Literature / Bad Dreams

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Bad Dreams is a horror novel by Kim Newman, published in 1990.

Anne Nielson, a journalist, travels to London to investigate the mysterious death of her sister Judi. What she finds is a secret world of drugs, corruption, and perversion—and at its centre, one of the Kind, a monstrous creature that feeds on the dreams of humanity.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Joseph McCarthy, Roy Cohn and Ayn Rand were pawns of the Big Bad.
  • Character Overlap:
    • The corrupt and brutal policeman Barry Erskine, subject of one of Anne's investigations, makes a return appearance in Jago, where he gets what's coming to him.
    • The later-written but earlier-set Diogenes Club story "The Serial Murders" features a cameo appearance by a character named Skinner who is implied to be the same person as this novel's villain.
    • Ariadne also appears in Something More Than Night, another Newman novel that involves sinister supernatural goings-on in Hollywood, as well as a cameo in "Cold Snap", a novella that ties all of Newman's novels together.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: In Newman's afterword to the 2010 edition, he says that the novel was originally conceived as a potential film script, and that he hoped for Anne to be played by Rosanna Arquette, Linda Hamilton, or Sandra Bernhard, Judi to be played by Amanda Plummer, and Skinner's most usual appearance by Richard Lynch.
  • Death by Adaptation/Spared by the Adaptation: In-Universe, a play that ends with one of the characters being shot is adapted for film, and the studio executives want that character to survive, so in the film adaptation somebody else gets shot instead. (It's mentioned in the executives' favour that they did stand up to the Moral Guardians who would have preferred that nobody got shot at all.)
  • Dream Within a Dream: Happens several times, to various characters. At one point, Anne spends several (short) chapters cycling through the same two dreams, waking from each into the other, until she finds a way to break the cycle.
  • Emotion Eater: The Kind feed on humanity's emotions and imaginings. Some of them are emotional vampires who specialise in negative emotions; others act as muses to great creative minds. One way and another, they did quite well out of Hollywood.
  • Historical Domain Character: The flashbacks to the Big Bad's activities in earlier eras include appearances by Joan of Arc, Joseph McCarthy, and Ayn Rand, among others.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: In the historical flashbacks, you can tell which of the characters are actual historical people because they're not named.
  • Meet Cute: Lampshaded by name in what turns out to be a dream sequence.
  • The Muse: One of the background characters is a member of the Kind who has established a satisfactory niche for herself as the muse to a succession of artists.
  • Mythology Gag: A composer is shown a vision of a potential future in which he lives a long and happy life but never creates any more great music. One of his hypothetical collateral descendents, an artist in a medium that hasn't been invented yet, has the same name and occupation as the protagonist of Newman's earlier science fiction novel The Night Mayor.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The villain is a member of The Kind, Emotion Eaters who inspired humanity's legends of vampires. They aren't bothered by sunlight or holy symbols but massive physical damage of any kind can kill them. They can also be killed via mind battle but humans that strong of will only show up once or twice a millennium. As they get older they eventually enter a kind of stasis rather than actually dying.
  • Period Piece: For a more recent period than usual, but it's too intentional to be an Unintentional Period Piece. The story is very solidly set in 1980s London, complete with yuppies, the period's social problems, and wristwatches that beep every hour on the hour.
  • Red Scare: Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt forms part of the backstory; Anne's father was a playwright whose career was ruined.
  • Sadistic Choice: It's revealed that Anne's playwright father had his own encounter with the Big Bad, who gave him this choice: to die on the spot, or to live a conventionally successful life (health, family, etc.) but lose the capacity to create his art. He chose life, and shortly afterward faded into obscurity after being mauled by HUAC. In the present, the Big Bad offers the same choice to Anne's brother, an avant garde composer. He chooses death.
  • Show Within a Show: Anne's father's most successful play, On the Graveyard Shift at Sam's Bar-B-Q and Grill, later made into a film. In Anne's dream, Skinner forces her to incarnate a major character in it and continue the events after its ending.
  • Textual Celebrity Resemblance: In Anne's dream continuing on from the end of Sam's, Skinner is explicitly said to resemble Martin Landau. This is because in-universe Martin Landau appeared in both the stage and film versions of Sam's as the character who Skinner incarnates in the dream.
  • You Killed My Father: Anne is drawn into the events by Skinner's murder of her sister Judi. (Later in the novel, he also kills her half-brother, but Anne still hasn't found out at the end.)