A review by
Colleen R. Cahill
We are told, never judge a book by its cover: that should also go for its title. When I heard of Julia and the Dream Maker, my first thought was the book was a young adult novel, on the level with the Harry Potter books. My second thought was it was a romance fantasy: wrong again. It is science fiction, for how else can you describe a book that starts with trial overseen by a holographic judge, with an AI defense lawyer and a case determining if a new species has been created?
Steven is a Ph.D. student in biology getting ready to defend his dissertation. Graduate students are often short of cash, as is Steven, who is living with his girlfriend Eli and Bennie, another graduate student. Even though they pooled their resources, research is costly and soon they need money to finish the school year. Using Bennie’s previous success with a virtual computer toy, the trio decides to create a virtual rabbit, but this time they use holographic technology and try to make the toy touchable. And as all seeds do, this idea grew and grew … and grew, until it was no longer a toy, but something both wonderful and frightening.
This plot is no more straight forward than the title. Steven is more than your average graduate student. He is recognized by his peers as a genius, but one that is erratic and noted for his willingness to argue and break the rules. This reputation, combined with the vast computer resources he is using to create the virtual toy attracts the attention of various people, from fellow students to others who fear this new technology. Eli already has her Ph.D. in biology and while she trusts Steven and Bennie, she is not sure what is happening with the experiments, which seem to be gaining independence from their makers.
Earlier I called this a science fiction work and it does have many of the hallmarks of that genre. Fischer uses science set in the near future, but there are also elements of something more, although how they fit in is not always perfectly clear. This adds mystery to the story and an aura of the supernatural. The story is authentic in its academic setting, with all the bickering and jealousy you would expect. Emotions are key, making this not just a story of science, but of relationships, those between father and son, between friends and between lovers. This makes the characters not only believable, but well rounded. While it is easy to see Steven, Eli or Bennie in a sympathetic light, their flaws come through and none, not even the genius Steven, are without their doubts or foibles.
This is the first book in a series, with the second title due out later in 2004. Currently you will have to search a bit for the title, but in September, it will be available in bookstores. No matter how you get it, give this new writer a try; you will find Julia and the Dream Maker more than the title implies.