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A Dream of Wessex

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  437 ratings  ·  45 reviews
A Dream of Wessex is a “story about a group of twentieth-century dreamers who create a consensus virtual-reality future. Once they enter their imaginary world they are unable to remember who they are, or where they are from.”
Mass Market Paperback, 224 pages
Published November 3rd 1978 by Pan Books (first published 1977)
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Glenn Russell

Inventive, imaginative, visionary - an apt description for both men and women in the novel and author of the novel. Christopher Priest, one of my favorite novelists, set my mind gyrating and performing pirouettes once again with his A Dream of Wessex.

In 1985, in a special facility built underneath ancient Maiden Castle located near Dorchester, England, in pursuit of innovative insights and approaches to social issues of the day, 39 British academics and scientists participate in a “projection”
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: british, sociology, sci-fi
The Self-Defeating Politics of the Visionary

The ideal society is not an uncommon subject in Western discourse. Plato suggested what it might look like. The early Christians had a different version. Thomas More wrote about it in his Utopia in the 16th century. Marx sketched his dictatorship of the proletariat in the 19th. G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc proposed a sort of medieval paradise based on craft-guilds in the 20th.

All these ideal societies share a common problem: an inability to spec
Jack Tripper
As much as I want to like Christopher Priest -- his mind and reality-bending tales should be right up my alley -- there's something in his prose style that prevents me from totally connecting with his work, although I did mostly enjoy The Affirmation and the Prestige, even if I had similar issues with those. His writing is so devoid of emotion, so distant, as are his characters. Which is a shame, as the story here had the potential to be a good one.

Sometime in the near future, scientists have de
This took me right back to the 1970s when I read most of my sci-fi. Thoughtful political and social background to a story set in the near future (early 1980s) with projections to a further future. The decay of the environment, scarcity, the division of the world into not surprising blocks all rang true. The world is largely composed of an Islamic bloc including North America and a Soviet bloc including the UK where the story is set. Australia, I'm pleased to report, is one of the few independent ...more
Jonathan Norton
Aug 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
From 1977, a tale set a few years in the future where a psychological experiment is underway to "imagine" life in the 22nd century. The process is mediated by gadgetry, but the emphasis is on "the unconscious" as the driver and the real magic-box that makes things work. The term "virtual reality" didn't exist back then, but there's no suggestion computers have any control over the process. The notion of communal hallucination was already well-established in SF by then however.

The point and pract
The only other book I have read by Christopher Priest to date is The Prestige which I enjoyed very much indeed. So I was glad to pick up this book in a charity shop.

It's hard to believe it is by the same author, albeit written (or at any rate published) about 20 years earlier. The style is clunky, and the central female character is wooden and unbelievable. I suspect that at that stage of his career, Priest just didn't write convincing female characters. Does he now? I shall have to read more by
Saxon Roach
Sep 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Inception appears to influenced by this... Short, hauntological, slightly odd... And it's aged much better than you'd think... ...more
Valentina Salvatierra
Inception-like speculative fiction that despite some time-specific references (i.e. in extrapolating Cold War political configurations) still feels fresh some 40 years on. The central premise is the development of the 'Wessex Project': an idealistic academic project based in an ancient hill-fort (a nice reference to the complex links between past, present, and future) to discover the means to reach an idyllic future world of political and economic stability. (view spoiler) ...more
Rachel Adiyah
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: philip k dick readers, fans of simulated reality in fiction
Note: This novel contains triggers of domestic violence, narcissistic personality disorder, attempted rape, sexual exploitation and blackmail.

This novel is a mind-twisting look at the potential of a simulated reality. In this late twentieth century dystopia that never came to pass, the world is tearing itself apart. But an odd project is in existence: people are leaving their real lives behind to slide their bodies into mortuary drawers and join a hypnotically projected, collective simulated rea
Feb 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
This story didn't feel right to me. The sensibilities of the late 1970s England, mixed with a pseudo-futuristic "machine" to project the characters into a multi-consciousness vision of the future is a time-shifting story that left out too many details and that plagued me throughout the book. For example, if David Harkman has been in the projection for two years without retrieval, how is he fed, cleaned, and allowed to "linger"? No round mirrors in the future? Every woman's purse has a round mirr ...more
Mar 21, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
I have to admit that I approached this book with some trepidation, having not really liked The Separation, but I enjoyed this quite a lot. It's about a group of scientists who explore the nature of reality by creating their own "projected" world and living in it, with alternate personalities for months at a time. A nice little piece about the nature of reality, and a good human story of conflict with one of the participants having to deal with an abusive ex-boyfriend. The end was confusing, but ...more
Stagger Lee
Dec 11, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2013
like an acid fuelled late night brainstorm about consciousness and identity and Wessex, not especially well written but interesting and good old school headtrip fun
Adam Whitehead
Jul 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Julia Stretton is a researcher for the Ridpath projection, a machine that has generated a completely convincing simulation of what the world may look like in the early 22nd Century. In the projection, the south-west of England has broken away from the rest of the island of Britain due to an earthquake and has become something of a holiday resort, tolerated by a communist government in London for the sake of international relations. In this vision of the future Julia finds herself drawn to a man ...more
D.J. Cockburn
If Christopher Priest has a formula, it can be summed up as two worlds = one character. In A Dream of Wessex, one of Julia Stretton’s worlds is an experiment conducted by the other: a utopian future based around the island of Wessex, formed when seismic activity formed a channel between part of Dorset and the rest of England.

Julia is part of a team that’s supposed to be exploring what a better future might look like. A Dream of Wessex was published in 1977, when Britain was feeling bleaker by th
Oct 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book started out as a slog for me. It had a slow start, to the point of being almost boring, and the only reason I kept returning to the book is because I had heard it was supposed to be some kind of mind-bending story. It had an intriguing idea, but the story itself started off with a lot of discussion about surfing and tidal bores, and it quickly lost me.

By about the halfway point, the story picked up, in part due to Priest's skills at characterization. His two main characters had a chemi
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read this book about four times when it was new, and am now reading it again after 40 years. I think it was Richard Feynman who said of quantum theory that if you weren't seriously disturbed by it, you hadn't understood it. The same is true of this book. Let's get one thing clear: it's not a story about the future. It is well and truly based in the 1970s (which really were as bad as he makes the decade seem). The 'future' is not so much an imagined future as an alternative present. It is not a ...more
Alex Storer
Nov 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved A Dream of Wessex. This book really sets the scene for Priest’s later work such as, The Affirmation and his ‘Dream Archipelago’ that would become a recurrent environment in his writing. A Dream of Wessex is brilliantly told and despite the science fiction aspect of the story, relationships are really at the heart of the story.

The story’s focuses on Julia, who has rebuilt her life following a turbulent relationship, and has joined the “Wessex project” – a collective of 38 minds
Enjoyable enough ideas, but I just found it a bit slight in the end and sometimes I just wasn't that interested in the same things that the characters / Priest lingered over.

Although the project in the book is explicitly socio-political, the focus of the plot and its themes is psychological, with a side order of metaphysical as Priest explores how real the projected reality you can read about in the plot summary really is. That could be a really good time and is probably preferable to some kind
Dragan Nanic
If, by some chance, I could have read this book when it was published (1977) I am pretty sure that I would have been thrilled about the premise and forgiving about the poor characterization, oversimplified plot and banal situations. The premise of projected world within a world within a world and a person's struggle to figure out what is real and what not, (view spoiler) would probably blow me away.

However, from the perspective of 2018, after having seen Matrix a
Carl Bennett
May 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Some nice poetic verging on the mystical lines about Wessex but the characterisations aren't very deep and so much of it is so dated. First published in 1977 it goes on a bit about typewriters and the idea of a futuristic society without computing jars too much to not irritate. I liked the conceit about Dorchester Marina, but otherwise it didn't really engage. You may not be able to judge a book by it's cover ("The flares! The lapels! The shirt collar! The length of his hair!") but some of the p ...more
Apr 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book, like the other Christopher Priest books I have read, kind of made my head hurt a little and I find myself having to slow down (no bad thing) to try and get the timeline/plot/dimension right in my head. Without giving too much away, it's a loop within a loop within a loop, and the kind where you have to sit down and actually conceptualise it, at which point your head either explodes or you realise it doesn't work. I'm not going to tell you which is which! But it's a piece of nice writi ...more
Virtual reality mixed with collective hallucination, as a group of academics get together to imagine the (a) future into being, and by the end it's hard to be sure what's real and what isn't. Absorbing and unsettling. Notable also for featuring a utopian future in which England is a) communist and b) welcoming to Muslims, and for having a smart, thoughtful female protagonist who is also a sensitively-drawn survivor of domestic abuse. ...more
Nov 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
They say that this book was the basis or the inspiration for the movie Inception. Easy to see why... if you liked Inception or even enjoy those kind of concepts, then you'll enjoy this book. On a side note the American version of this book was called "The Perfect Lover" which I found to be a totally ridiculous title. A Dream of Wessex has a nice ring to it and even has promise to it... The Perfect Lover has the ring of a trashy romance novel, lmao what the hell were they thinking? ...more
Jeff Suter
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An eclectic book - as is much of Chrstopher Priest's work - with an "English" sensibility. A scientific experiment conducted during a time of Geo-political upheaval (Priest forecasts, more or less, what is happening now). However, the experiment is disturbed by the element of an abusive and egotistical man. One of the first SF novels that examines psychological and domestic abuse in a relationship. ...more
Martin Lake
Apr 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book left traces in my mind.

I've often thought that the most exciting art is when a writer works at the boundaries of genres and in this Priest dances along the boundary between science fiction, alternate history, utopia and dystopia with a mature love story thrown in for good measure.

It's superb. I was so in awe of it that I couldn't write for ages. (Got over that though.)
Dan Yingst
Sep 16, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5 stars, I always enjoy Priest's ideas, but the central conflict here was underwhelming. For the majority, it was unclear why Paul was so threatening, and when his actions take a dramatically evil turn they're so extreme that it makes Julia seem like an idiot for not responding more forcefully. We're repeatedly told about his hold over her, but the showing is lacking. ...more
Nathaniel Johnson
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
It works more as a slice-of-life story in a science fiction setting than anything else. I was hoping for a bit of something different, but you can't always get what you want.

The setting was interesting, and the characters weren't bad... But the setting description and story itself was dissatisfying.
Sep 11, 2014 rated it liked it
"Like a recollection of a dream it had momentary conviction, but unlike the breaking of a dream, the memory remain in her mind to explore."

The plot plays in your mind and makes you wonder what is real. Some of it seem real but not quite. It like the book before inception.
Sean Randall
Jul 12, 2015 rated it liked it
I wasn't captivated by this. Parts of it did interest me, but there was something about the writing style which I found it a little difficult to connect with. I shall put it on my "to reconsider" pile and read it one day when I am in a different frame of mind. ...more
Steve Gillway
Listened to Jim Moray's "Upcetera" which has that old in the new that chimed with this book. A fairly simple idea of worlds within worlds is expertly manipulated by a writer on top form. This has much to say in obscure ways about Britain in 2017. ...more
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Christopher Priest was born in Cheshire, England. He began writing soon after leaving school and has been a full-time freelance writer since 1968.

He has published eleven novels, four short story collections and a number of other books, including critical works, biographies, novelizations and children’s non-fiction.

He has written drama for radio (BBC Radio 4) and television (Thames TV and HTV). In

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