15 thoughts on “The Dream Operator – Mike O’Driscoll


    Don’t let my personal observations below put you off this intensely ungraspable story, but one that will resonate with you forever, once read. I am glad I only discovered it today at my optimum moment of its being read.

    This seems a neat, relatively short opener, with endless möbius answers and questions, as I Iearn the word ‘reify’, one I should have known and used already, and another word I do know already, but should have used several times: ‘synthesis’, but don’t think I often do so, and certainly not in connection with my Gestalt real-time reviews’ dreamcatching and hawling. And now here this protagonist prophetically called Mr Cloud (in a story first published in 2008) seems to follow the pattern of anonymity (or nemonymity as I called it in 2001) whereby I first published in 2001 this author’s possibly connected ‘Double Zero for Emptiness‘ as an anonymous story – and as a natural precursor to his own pattern-making and to my own version in 2008 of reification and pattern-making similar, I now realise, to Mr Cloud’s Reification Bureau work of investigation in this rarefied story, making patterns from abstractions to create realities, because I then started Gestalt real-time reviews whereby in 2009 I reified this author’s collection tellingly entitled ‘The Unbecoming‘ (published in 2006 two years before this story from 2008 that I have read today.) Don’t get me wrong, I should have read this story before, unless something was stopping me doing so until now. But if I had, it wouldn’t have had the effect it now has in the light of my life since 2008, a life heavily involved in such dreamcatching and hawling as reification, 2008 being when this work was first published – and later in the light of Brexit and Trump and how this story’s Bureau has been working, as factored into a world’s unbecoming, even if this particular poignant character called Cloud still has his daughter’s paintings to remind him.
    Not forgetting Banjo the dog.


    “He had no idea where he was headed, or what he was still searching for.”

    The beauty of such “drifting, ungraspable” book reviewing, names for names, like Snow (telling with Cloud in the precious story), Firstnighter, Thingstable, and many others, a city ironically called Provenance, under the gaze of CCTV (and of visiting angels and crows?) sort of like the Quarantined City in ‘Under The Volcano’ (Lowry’s stick people and “the bar, caught up in the madness and noise of some fucking street carnival”) and whores and here with hitmen, but too many to know who has hired whom to hit whom, but it all seems to centre on a room 311 and a CD with a man with a burning head holding a spray of orange flowers, full of Twin Peaks type catch phrases and homilies or wise saws to die for, plus insouciant, languid Chandleresque situations. I loved it and it all seemed to make sense out of my gestalt in the end, the entire city and the words between. And the shapes of words in the mouth. But “It’s a wonderful life”, was that the James Stewart film or the song I forgot who sang? And if the former, who came back to see what life would have been like without him, and the opposite of déjà vu. And talking of unbecoming snow…
    “…like the city is melting those things that make you who you are?”
    “Substance was an illusion, he believed. It weighed you down.”
    “Make it so the tale is open to some other interpretations.”

  3. I reviewed the next story in 2010 and this is what I wrote about it in that original context –


    Summerhouse by Mike O’Driscoll

    “…he could just make out the humpbacked silhouettes of the oak and the ash trees scattered on the curve of the great mound…”

    The previous story radiated to and from urban South Wales, here it is idyllic / rural South Wales – and this makes a significant contrast, to the benefit of both stories. Retrocausal in the former case. When I started this one, I thought immediately: this has the quality of Katherine Mansfield … and later a real Katherine by name indeed emerged to my surprise. This is a ghost story – with Lawrencian touches – that flows like wondrous honey, but sporadically spiked. Poignanat interface between past and present. Between two separately balanced responsibilities. An unrequited redemption. Lightly sketched incrementally. The opposite of unbecoming. And an ending to die for. (16 June 10 – another 2 hours later)


    “My head was full of smoke and whispers that made patterns.”

    This is a monumentally compelling novella, of children and early teenagers in an area of Wales, I guess, or Cornwall, or a place that is neither but both, and if I looked up the names I might be certain. Two of the kids, brother 13 and younger sister, are from a dysfunctional family living in the area, their dada having gone (but how?) and mama is a nut or drunk, and they get involved with visiting kids, and they play Smee (cf AM Burrage?), one of the older kids making the rules of all their games stick, particularly Smee. For me, it is played like the hitmen in The Entire City, a form of Tontine, with the timing for this novella’s episodes not as strict as the game’s rules, and akin to the Entire City’s ‘opposite of déjà vu.’
    I could not put this down, as the awakening sexuality and games got rougher, a cumulative dual-gendered sort of Lord of Flies mixed with, in this land of Waterfalls, a Hanging Rock feel instead of Water, and a rock that hangs suspenseful afore murder. I cannot do justice to all its turns of accretive dread and horror. Well-characterised and unforgettable. Disarmingly plainly told, too, compared to the unbecomingness and subtlety of previous stories, and despite its own complex Tontine. And the pervasive fairy folk tantalisingly in the background, that some of you may believe in, some not.


    “‘Catch me,’ she shouted. ‘If you can’t I’ll be gone forever.'”

    Another compelling, plain-spoken tale of school children, here a triangle, Freddie as the viewpoint, the older one and more sensible, TOO sensiblle, Mouse, younger, an imaginative loner, and Jenna, another dreamer and who awakens Freddie to girls! The characterisation works perfectly, also reminding me how the world has changed in nature and size since 1994 which only seems like yesterday to me. There is a yearning glow to this work, a conjuring of earlier Apollo missions and some more disrupted déjà vu, some Tontine of the stars, leaving one of these three the winner or loser? I believed every word, as if defying the notion that things were ever fake news, such as NASA and Apollo. Or the difference between seals and mermaids, and how a story’s ending makes the aforementioned glow look as if your eyes have genuinely shone – or have left tears shining? (This time we were definitely in Wales looking across a bay to North Devon, so no need to tease as I did with the previous story’s genius loci.)

    “What would it mean if that connection were no longer there?”


    “It’s not just people who die,…”

    A workmanlike story about the male narrator returning from Australia to old South Wales for a funeral (a sense of South Wales I remember my own father yearning to return to, where his antecedents were miners and hawlers earlier in the 20th century when he was born in Llanelly, as I always remember it being spelt.)
    Here, the narrator’s brother has died and there is a sense of history regarding the woman his brother married and the narrator himself. A sense of inevitability and encroaching ghosts hawled from the snow itself….
    Appreciated it, but nothing special. A feel of coldness and desperate love — and survival through pubs, something that rings true to me. Nothing changes, not even death.


    “It is terrible what actions the fear of loss can provoke, but our desire to hold on to those dear to us, oft times forces us to do that which we know full well to be misguided.”

    On one level, a consuming stylish narrative of a participant at the real events that to led to its fictionalised account by Poe under the title ‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.’ It is fascinating, telling and a preternatural feat of literature’s literature, worthy of the attention of everyone interested in Poe’s life and what drove him. Including a glimpse of hell at the point of prolonged death. Or hopefully heaven?
    On another level, it seemed scarily opportune that I read it for the first time today, the very day when the heart-breaking, world-famous Case of Charlie Gard may reach fruition. I use the word fruition unadvisedly. Read alongside this modern case, there are continuous parallels and nagging thoughts. I shall never forget this experience, as a consequence of such a synchronicity, and who knows, I may never have forgotten it in any event. I shall now never know.
    And so to the rediscovery of death…

    “Not the least of those questions which had puzzled me, was the diagnosis put forward by Doctors D– and F– as to Valdemar’s condition.”

  8. I reviewed the next story here in 2011 and this is what I wrote about it in its original context:


    The Rediscovery of Death – by Mike O’Driscoll

    “The sense of urgency he had felt earlier had been replaced by an exquisite pleasure, as though, rather than simple words on a page, the tales were made out of rare intoxicants.”

    I couldn’t believe my luck in being given the chance to publish this story.  Even so, I wondered whether it would only appeal to Horror genre enthusiasts. But I knew deep down it is a story that would appeal to everyone, whatever their background. It really makes you believe in the building up of an anthology of rare un(re?)discovered works by writers such as Aickman, Lovecraft, Hodgson, Willard Grant &c &c.  The thumbnail descriptions of some of the stories make you ache to read them. So original, so redolent with potential genius. You simply know they exist. “…one narrative seemed to blur into another. And yet, somehow, it all made sense to him. Clearly, these stories were meant to go together.” They cannot not exist.  The protagonist editor himself – e.g. his relationship with Allyson his girl friend (premonitory of the Stealback story later and that author’s girl friend, Alice) – gives even more provenance to an already proven provenance. The mechanics of the Horror genre press (small and big) utterly rings true and is compelling reading. [It is also, for me, an oblique companion piece to Christopher Barker’s lead story in his ‘Tenebrous Tales’ collection, each of the two stories, without the necessity of the stories having read each other, seeming to create a subtle synergy.]  And the conclusive ‘subsuming’ I’ve mentioned once or twice above in connection with other Ha of Ha stories’ ‘anthologies’, takes on here, for me, a startling inversion…  Well, what can I say? Nothing more specifically. Please just read it. [O’Driscoll once wrote a story entitled ‘Double Zero for Emptiness‘ about a real writer as a character  just as Stephen King put himself in as a major character in ‘The Dark Tower’ series, and his real sons and wife (all by name). I’m not sure if that is relevant.  But the authors’ names here are characters fictionalised into truth (& vice versa), including the fictional protagonist’s own inferred third-person monologue that gives provenance to himself with his own mere (mock non-fictional) mentions of some people in the world where he mixes professionally and socially.  An author’s tribute to them all, I personally feel if only by inferring intentions that I cannot know.  Just as those very names have honoured and empowered our genre, in turn]. (23/8/11)

    A substantial independent review of this story was also posted here: http://wwwbillblog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/kind-of-face-you-slash-day-6-dust-that.html


    “A look or word that you had thought meant one thing, meant something else entirely.”

    A moody story that seemed a crime-literary blend of this book’s sense of ‘unbecoming’ as well as Truman Capote graced with Guitars, but what do I know? I can only compare a snatch of a song with another snatch of a different song and draw connections and then conclusions. It is not even Leland’s guitar, nor were they his cigarettes even if there were no cigarettes left in the pack at all. Lost through snow on the highway near Knoxville he is given a lift by a sick songwriter who happened to write similar words for a song as the friend who had taken Leland’s girl. A mere coincidence, because an authorially deliberate coincidence in the plot can never be a revelatory preternatural synchronicity in any gestalt review of it. I am no musician but I love music even more than words. And this played a song of Smee for me, waiting for the others to come…
    The waltzing snowmen, notwithstanding,

  10. 13 O’CLOCK

    “What kind of game was it that necessitated prayer?”

    Fiction is a sort of game, in which we are meant to believe. This story of a family of Caleb, Polly, their 8 year old son Jack, and dog Cyril, on the South Wales coast, whence my own paternal ancestors derive. An evocative sense of place, a sense of nightmare, too, as Jack’s sleep has worsening interruptions encroach upon it, of a stranger coming for him at the eponymous hour. Caleb has read him Wind in the Willows, himself surprised today at the strength of the Piper chapter…as we all are. Jack playing hide and seek with a friend on the seashore, Caleb seeks them both, echoing the earlier Smee in this book, but who was seeking whom, who was coming for whom. A straightforward, expertly plain-spoken, involving story of family life with a core of worry, and I guiltily wonder when I once read scary stories to my own son forty years ago, ones I gauged him old enough to hear, often with my pretending I was the giant coming down the beanstalk to get Jack, I wonder whether I ever felt the retrocausality of this telling story from the future of today, at the precise eponymous moment? At least that moment does not sound as if it is anywhere near the gates of dawn.


    “It’s like we’re heading backwards in time, erasing the past and preparing the ground for some new future.”

    Back to the Entire City’s city of Provenance, a languid, if gangster-embattled and damsel-rescuing amorphousness of the Dream Consul in the Quarantined City or Quauhnahuac of Under the Volcano, except here the Volcano and its lava are insouciant, sometimes horrific dream manipulations with the help not so much of alcohol in endless bars but of a drug called Reverie. It feels that this story has a prequel somewhere but that may also be a dream within a dream instilled by italics. I felt flabby after reading this last work. Despern.

    “They said it was the Koreans who’d first synthesised it.”

    The remarkability about this whole book is the disparate styles and themes. A major unbecoming by various means. An impossible gestalt. Solid stories about dreams, loves, deathvenns and crimes, mostly insouciant and waltzy. Some definite gems included that I hope become more than Garrett Moon just chasing impossible dreams. They deserve to do so.


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