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Literature / Impossible Dreams

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"Impossible Dreams" is a science fiction Short Story by Tim Pratt which was published in the July 2006 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction.

The story concerns Pete, a film buff in his late 20s, who discovers a video store from an Alternate Universe called Impossible Dreams Video that appears for increasingly short periods of time every night. He becomes fascinated with the differences that exist between the films made in this universe and his own and finds a kindred spirit in the store's clerk Ally, who loves movies just as much as he does.


It won the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.

In 2011, an Israeli short film based on the short story, written and directed by Shir Comay, was made. The film was produced in Hebrew under the title וידאו קסם, which literally means "Magic Video-Rentals."

The short story provides examples of:

  • Affectionate Nickname: Ally refers to Pete as "Mr. Nickels" several times as he always pays for everything with nickels due to the monetary differences between the two universes.
  • Alternate History: Pete surmises that the atom bomb was never dropped on Hiroshima in the Alternate Universe as he finds a John Wayne World War II film about the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands which is described as "riveting historical drama" and he notices that Dr. Strangelove was never made. Furthermore, Franklin D. Roosevelt never became President as Ally fails to recognise his portrait on one of Pete's dimes.
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  • Alternate Techline: This is played with as it concerns formats as opposed to technology levels. Pete rents a copy of The Magnificent Ambersons with the rediscovered footage from Impossible Dreams Video, intending to watch it on his DVD player at home. However, the player can't read the disc as DVD encryption is different in the Alternate Universe. The next night, he plans to rent a DVD player from the store but he notices that the electrical plug's two posts are "oddly angled, one perpendicular to the other." As such, the store's player would be equally incompatible with the outlets in his apartment. He ruefully notes that it is unlikely that the local Radio Shack has an adapter that would work. The same problem exists with videotapes as they are smaller than VHS and larger that Betamax.
  • Different World, Different Movies: The entire premise of the story is based on this trope. Pete first notices that there is something amiss when he finds the director's cut of The Magnificent Ambersons which includes the legendary lost footage comprising the last 50 or so minutes of the film. Ally tells him that the footage was discovered in a warehouse the previous year. Furthermore, Orson Welles is still alive and recorded a commentary for the DVD. On the other hand, Citizen Kane is lost in the Alternate Universe as William Randolph Hearst found out that it was based on his life and made a deal with RKO Pictures. He had someone destroy the film while the studio guard looked the other way. Welles was forced to start from scratch and made Jason and the Argonauts, which is considered one of the greatest films ever made. There are numerous other differences too. The Death of Superman, directed by Tim Burton and starring Nicolas Cage as Superman, was produced. The same is true of the Harlan Ellison scripted version of the Isaac Asimov classic I, Robot, which won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. David Lynch directed Return of the Jedi, which was even darker than The Empire Strikes Back. Ron Howard directed a film adaptation of Ender's Game. George Raft starred in Casablanca instead of Humphrey Bogart and the film did not include the iconic final line, "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Bela Lugosi lived longer and starred in several other Ed Wood films. Stanley Kubrick lived long enough to complete A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Total Recall (1990) was written and directed by David Cronenberg rather than Paul Verhoeven. The Terminator starred O.J. Simpson as the title character and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Kyle Reese. Tom Selleck played Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark but no sequels were made. Clark Gable did not play Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind but it isn't revealed who did. Jessica Tandy (who originated the role on Broadway) played Blanche DuBois in the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire instead of Vivien Leigh. The Breakfast Club has a sequel entitled The Lunch Bunch. Sara Hansen is considered one of the greatest directors of all time. Pete speculates that she died young or was never even born in his universe. One of the few films that is the same in both universes is It's a Wonderful Life, which still starred Jimmy Stewart. Ally is just as fascinated as Pete at the differences.
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  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: On his way home from a revival house showing of To Have and Have Not, Pete discovers Impossible Dreams Video between a gift shop and a bakery. He knows that he could not have missed it as he knows every video store in the county and it is only three blocks from his apartment. The video store disappears at ten o'clock and appears for less and less time each night for eight nights until it disappears completely.
  • The Runaway: Ally ran away from home at fifteen as her "parents are shit."
  • Shout-Out: Pete has the complete collection of The Twilight Zone (1959) on DVD and compares the experience of finding Impossible Dreams Video to a plot from the series.
  • Shown Their Work: All of the films mentioned in the story that are not products of Tim Pratt's imagination are either films that were never made as they became stuck in Development Hell or existing films that were originally to have had different stars and/or directors.
  • Take That!:
  • Your Universe or Mine?: Pete has a romantic notion about convincing Ally to allow him to stay in Impossible Dreams Video so that he can stow away to her universe and watch all of the films that don't exist in his own universe. He even thinks that he could become Ally's new roommate. Pete notes that the plan made sense at three o'clock in the morning but he had subsequently realised that it was full of holes. For one thing, he did not even know Ally's name at that point so she wouldn't be willing to welcome him into her life. It might work in a movie but not in real life. Over the course of the next six nights, Pete and Ally spend more time together and they develop a mutual attraction. Ally eventually decides to settle in Pete's universe as there is nothing for her in her own.

The short film adaptation provides examples of:


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