I don't often give up on books when I'm already half way into to them but What Dreams May Come (WDMC) goes on my short list of books that I couldn't bI don't often give up on books when I'm already half way into to them but What Dreams May Come (WDMC) goes on my short list of books that I couldn't bring myself to finish. I was really disappointed since the two other books I've read by Matheson - I Am Legend and The Incredible Shrinking Man - are some of the most enjoyable fiction I have read. But these books do differ from WDMC in that they are telling you a story while WDMC is teaching you a religious philosophy disguised as a story - and not a very interesting one at that.
The story does have potential and I feel that the movie adaption did pretty well by using the most interesting parts of the book and leaving out the monotonous explanation of the underlying philosophy. Personally I consider myself an amateur scholar on religion and spiritual philosophy as well as being a believer myself. So I've got nothing against spirituality in fiction and actually enjoy it very much if it is well done - Life of Pi is an example of how you can blend religion and spirituality into the story without making it boring as hell.
One problem I have with the book is how the author claims that everything in the book is true except for the made up characters and he then backs this up by saying that he did a lot of research. I have my beliefs about the afterlife which are based on the scriptures of my religion and I am completely sure of my belief in an afterlife even though my understanding of it may be very small. I have also read very interesting accounts by people who have had near death experiences. Despite this I feel that it would be very arrogant of me to make a claim that what I say about the afterlife is absolutely true and I would certainly deserve a slap in the face for said arrogance - okay maybe that's going a bit too far... But I do feel that integrity is one of the most important qualities of a writer and making claims that cannot be substantiated is a pretty good way to lose that integrity. I think one of the reasons Matheson fell into this trap is that he doesn't understand the basic principles behind scientific theory. One of which is that no claim is ever completely proved - only strengthened through testing and retesting and by then what you have is a strong theory (more information on the scientific method: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientif...)
Another problem I have with his book is the hippy dippy nature of his philosophy. Mathesons heaven is a candyland for grownups and while that may be a very comforting thought for some it just seems like wishful thinking to me - even though he counterbalances it with duties that people can choose to perform. This is the point where someone exclaims "But you believe in heaven, isn't that the same wishful thinking Matheson displays?" I would say yes if my belief hinged on desire for a heavenly candyland. Truthfully I find the idea of complete annihilation after death just as attractive as an existence after death. This may sound bleak to some but I just wanted to make clear that for me life after death isn't a crutch that I lean on but something that actually makes sense to me (explaining why would take too much space here and be irrelevant to the review). However it also makes sense to me that if there is an existence after this one then it is beyond our comprehension just as our existence in this world is beyond the comprehension of the baby in the womb. If there is an existence after this one it will also be as foreign from our world as our world is foreign to the child in the matrix. Perhaps Mahteson has had some insight into the next world but if so it is hidden behind a layer of a Disneyland description of heaven. ...more