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Literature / Dreaming is a Private Thing

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First published in The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction (December 1955 issue) by Isaac Asimov, is a Science Fiction Slice of Life about a futuristic medium of storytelling; Virtual Reality dreams.

Jesse Weil is meeting with the Slutsky family today because one of his talent scouts tells him that the son, Tommy, has potential. Weill has to negotiate with the father to convince him why Dreams, Inc. is the company to train Tommy as he grows up, but the matter is resolved quickly enough that Weill has time to pontificate with his talent scout about changes in scouting methods.

The next meeting is with John J. Byrne, an agent of the Department of Arts and Sciences. Agent Byrne has a sample of pornographic dreamies that he's convinced represents "a deadly danger for the moral fiber of the nation". Weill explains how he can distinguish between amatuer and professionally made dreamies, which mostly revolves around "overtones"; subliminal impressions from experiencing the work, in the form of unconscious realizations.

Francis Belanger barges into Weill's office to talk to him about what the competition, Luster-Think, has been preparing. Shared dreaming with unsubtle effects and Third-person perspective. They debate the merits of private and public dreams until they're interrupted.

Sherman Hillary, professional dreamer, is tired of making these stories and missing out on events with his family. He wants to quit, so Weill gives him a spiel about how dreamers give hope to everyone, but lets him break contract. Grateful, Hillary shakes his hand and leaves. Belanger and Weill talk for a bit, with the old owner explaining that the people who like to create will find themselves driven to create, no matter what. Hillary will return, because creators can't resist the urge to make more.

This story has been reprinted several times, and Isaac Asimov would include it in four of his collections/anthologies; Earth is Room Enough (1957), The Far Ends Of Time And Earth (1979), The Best Science Fiction Of Isaac Asimov (1986), and The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990).

Examples of tropes within this work:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: This story explores the effects of "dreamies", a type of Virtual Reality storytelling that involves a helmet interface with a handheld "freezer" that carries the dream you want to experience. Dreams involve every sense you can think of, and have been made for fifty years.
  • The Chooser of the One: Joe Dooley is a talent scout who looks for kids with the potential to become Creators of dreams. Jesse Weill is willing to risk his company's money on training a kid in storytelling for years on Joe's recommendation.
  • The Chosen Many: Dreamers are rare people with the ability to create stories. They're scouted very young, with an eye to children whose imagination is vivid and detailed.
  • Corrupting Pornography: There's a scene where a government agent comes to discuss the recent wave of bootleg dreamies porn with Jesse Weil (the head of a large legitimate dreamies company), and complains that these are "a mortal danger to the moral fiber of the nation". Mr. Weil, himself, has a somewhat higher opinion on the durability of said fiber.
  • Cyberspace: Dreams, Inc. is a company that makes "dreamies", a type of movie where the audience gets to sense taste, touch, and scent in addition to sound and sight. The name itself is a reference to "talkies", an old nickname for movies. Jesse Weill owns the company and we see several different meetings about the behind-the-scenes creating and operation of dream story-telling.
  • Do Wrong, Right: When Belanger asks Weill whether the pornographic dreamie disturbed him, he answers he's too old to be disturbed by such things. It's just that the dreamie, by his standards, was So Bad, It's Horrible.invoked
  • Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue: There apparently isn't very much in the office; a nondescript desk, implied chairs, and a helmet for experiencing dreams.
  • Filth: Agent Byrne discusses pornographic dreams with Jesse Weill, owner of one of the largest dream manufacturers.
  • I Made Copies: Weill has taught his secretary to bring in a fake file whenever he asks for a dreamer's contract so that he can rip it up in front of them and let them feel free for awhile. He only reveals the contract is intact when they decide they want to come back.
  • In-Series Nickname: The method of Virtual Reality storytelling employed in this story are called both "dreams" and "dreamies". The second name references that movies with sound were called "talkies". The technology is new enough that "dreamed" stories are specifically mentioned to be more expensive than "filmed" stories.
  • Media Watchdog: John J. Byrne, an agent of the Department of Arts and Sciences, is meeting with Jesse Weill, an executive producer of "dreamies". Agent Byrne has a sample of pornographic dreams that he's investigating and Weill must explain how he knows that none of the professional creators were involved in the production of that Filth. Still, censorship will be something decided by Agent Byrne's bosses, not him.
  • New Media Are Evil: Agent Byrne considers dreamie porn the worst for the morality due to it interacting with the mind directly.
  • Slice of Life: This is a Science Fiction Short Story that focuses on a day in the life of Jesse Weill, owner of Dreams, Incorporated, and executive producer of dreams.
  • Tear Up the Contract: When the dreamer, Sherman Hillary, tells Weill he wants to quit, Weill asks his secretary to bring Hillary's contract and then rips it in four. Subverted moments later, once Hillary leaves. As Weill explains to his assistant, for one thing, his secretary knows to bring him a fake contract in such cases, and for another, a dreamer's job isn't something one can avoid by quitting; it's a way of life which will always be with him, contract or not.
  • Unlocking the Talent: Tommy Slutsky might be one of the rare people who possess the necessary talent to be a dreamer. However, it'll take years of practice and he might not develop the skills needed. For now, Mr Weill offers Tommy's father five hundred dollars a year until the boy completes high school.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Dreamers, like Hillary, might try to stop working, but it can't last. It is their destiny to create stories and entertainment for other people to enjoy.
    "This is our job, not our life. But not Sherman Hillary. Wherever he goes, whatever he does, he'll dream. While he lives, he must think; while he thinks, he must dream. We don't hold him prisoner, our contract isn't an iron wall for him. His own skull is his prisoner, Frank." — Jesse Weill.