After decades of reviewing self-published genre fiction—and we’re talking arguably thousands of titles in all genre categories—for companies like Kirkus, BN.com, BlueInk, etc., I’ve come to realize that it’s more than just a crapshoot: reviewing self-published novels is a metaphor for life. I’ve gone months without finding a truly satisfying read, just one underwhelming novel after another. Uninspired. Sloppy. Error-laden. Disappointing. Derivative. Cliched. These are just some of the words I use to describe these types of releases. It’s during these long stretches of mediocre and downright bad reading experiences that I begin to question my career choice.
But then it inevitably happens. I stumble across a gem of a novel that no one else has discovered yet—and I realize, yet again, why I do what I do. It’s not just discovering an extraordinary indie novel—it’s reviewing it, sharing that excitement with friends, shouting about it from the rooftops for all the world to hear.
My latest find is an addictively readable little science fiction thriller entitled Echoes of a Dream, the debut novel from Melissa J. Lytton.
Very much comparable to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hugo and Nebula award-nominated novel The Lathe of Heaven (1971), Lytton’s story takes place in a grim future when the remnants of civilization live under domed communities. Revolving around former drug addict Eric Hudd—a man still struggling with the abandonment of his father when he was young—the novel begins (literally) with a bang. Hudd, hurrying to get to his job as a laborer in a factory, is coerced into an alley by a homeless man who viciously attacks him. Fighting for his life with his assailant on top of him, Hudd watches as the guy’s head explodes.
After regaining consciousness in an alley conspicuously empty of a headless body, the ex-junkie begins questioning his own sanity. The lines between dream and reality blur and, after punching his manager and losing his job, Hudd is forced to embark on a harrowing journey of self-discovery—one that not only takes him back to his childhood but also into a nightmarish alternate reality where he must do battle with those who are attempting to surreptitiously alter the destiny of humankind.
There is a lot to like here. Lytton’s writing is focused, fluid, and virtually flawless. Her world-building, while minimal, works in large part because of the strength and depth of her characters.
But there were two aspects of her writing that really impressed me: her use of surreal imagery to complement the lucid dreaming/drug hallucination atmospherics, and her subtle use of existential philosophy throughout, which added an intriguing depth and weight to the storyline.
Here’s just one example of Lytton’s use of twisted imagery: “Giant spherical flowers replaced stop signals, their petals streaked purple, yellow, and blue. Hudd’s old apartment building stretched upward like taffy and then tied into a knot. From an open window somewhere above the knot, he heard one long scream, and then the building exploded as he passed by it. ”
The philosophical thread was subtle but powerful. “Real life isn’t about heroes. It’s about getting through, one day at a time. And if you want to do that, you have to save yourself first.”
A surreal hell ride through a Kafkaesque dreamscape of fear and insecurity, my takeaway from Lytton’s page-turner of a novel is pretty simple. What’s real and what’s not really doesn’t matter—it’s all inside you. Fulfillment or failure. Contentment or misery. Ultimately, you have the power to alter your reality…
A highly recommended debut novel—and remember the name. Melissa J. Lytton. I have a feeling that genre fiction fans will be hearing more about her in the very near future.