Edition: iBooks, 2001
Review number: 1005
Psychiatric care in the future is not a particularly common theme in science fiction, possibly because even though it has developed rapidly through the twentieth century it seems that many of its fundamental precepts are not yet very strongly established - so how can we guess what ideas and techniques will be available in the future? One idea that does seem clear is that dreams play some vital role, both in diagnosis and as part of the mind's own healing process.
So Zelazny's central character, Charles Render, is a dream shaper: his therapy consists of participating in and controlling to an extent the dreams of his patients. Too strong a psychosis or abnormal desire in the subject can overwhelm the mind of the therapists, but he hardly hesitates before embarking on the greatest challenge of his career. Eileen Shallot is also a psychiatric doctor, who comes to him wanting to be trained to become a shaper herself. The problem is that she is congenitally blind, and is at least partly driven by a desire to share the vision of those she will treat. Render needs to giver her therapy to overcome her anxiety about vision, showing her the world, at the same time dealing with the resentment of her guide dog, a genetically modified Alsatian with greatly enhanced intelligence who thinks that his mistress will cease to need him.
The major strengths of the novel are the powerful theme of the desire for sight, the unusual concentration on psychiatry, and the depiction of the dreams shared by Render and Shallot. Only one of them fails to work well, a recreation of a Walt Whitman poem which is a rather dull catalogue of visual images. Even if it is always a little strange to read a science fiction novel set at a date now past (1998), The Dream Master remains unusual and a powerful classic of the genre.