“He Who Shapes,” which was worked into The Dream Master, won a Nebula Award for best novella in 1965. The story is highly original. Its theme of a character entering and manipulating the dreams of others links it to “Dreams Are Sacred” (1948) by Peter Phillips, “City of the Tiger” (1958) by John Brunner, and “The Girl in His Mind” (1963) by Robert F. Young. It anticipates such films as Dreamscape (1984) and the Nightmare on Elm Street series, among others.
The Dream Master, a very early Zelazny work, has been praised for its ingenuity, imagination, and style. It is one of the stories that has caused some critics to link Zelazny to the American New Wave writers of the mid-1960’s and early 1970’s. Although the phrase “New Wave” never has been defined carefully, most critics agree that at the least it implies science fiction and fantasy that can be taken as serious literature.
The Dream Master certainly is serious literature. Despite its clever science-fiction frame, it is very much a story about character. Render suffers from excessive pride, a flaw marking the protagonists of many of Zelazny’s early stories. He also is very rigid, a perfectionist, intolerant of others, disaffected, and preoccupied with suicide. He is neurotic but fails to recognize that in himself. Eileen Shallot is equally interesting and even more neurotic. Both figures are developed far beyond the two-dimensional...
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