Tales from the Dream Nebula Novellas Review

Review: Tales of the Dream Nebula by M.D. Boncher

Tales from the Dream Nebula is a series of space opera novellas featuring a fun cast of characters, a vibrant pseudo-space setting, and thrilling heroics. The first three books in the series—Dreams within Dreams, Lucid Reality, and The Waking Nightmares—make a satisfying arc.

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Tales of the Dream Nebula. I encourage you to check it out!

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)

This review contains minor spoilers.

Dreams within Dreams Publisher Description:

A world with no stars… no sun… no moon… no Earth. Only “the Dream”

Winston Harper is a sky trucker down on his luck. Years of numbing his past trauma has whittled away his reputation. Blacklisted and back to the wall, Winston’s only hope of survival is a no-questions-asked contract offering pay high enough to make him forget his own name. What could possibly go wrong?

When the client changes the deal and imperial security crashes the party, he’s on the run caught between the empire and a rebellion. Hauling ten containers of contraband cargo, and guided by a mysterious femme fatale who holds all the cards, death may be the better way out…

Set in a post-apocalyptic future where the lines between technology and biology have become blurred, humanity survives on the remains of the solar system scattered about in a sky of endless twilight, ruled by an alien entity.

Follow Winston Harper as he becomes entangled in the struggle against the cosmic empire and potentially, the secrets of humanity’s lost past… and perhaps its future?

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Review:

Space Opera

The Dream Nebula is a wonderful setting. The solar system / universe after being put through a blender makes for an interesting pseudo-space region of planet pieces and weird physics. But our genre expectations are firmly in space opera with our hero piloting a cool spaceship through exotic locations, heroic adventure, and political intrigue.

Xiao, who dismantles worlds to reassemble as he pleases and for all intents and purposes functions as an omnipotent deity, makes an intimidating big baddie for the growing cast of characters to tackle later and prompts some interesting questions about the world’s legitimacy, Matrix-style. The “rebellion” isn’t quite underway yet when the series starts, but by the end of the third book, we can see a resolve beginning to form.

Characters

The main character Winston grows a lot over the course of these first three novellas. Dreams within Dreams was in his head a bit much for my taste, but it establishes his history and principles. Lucid Reality develops and introduces some of the other characters and ends with a closer look at Xiao. Winston is unconscious for a significant portion of the action but comes to in time to save the day.

The Waking Nightmares is the best of the three. With the groundwork of introducing and developing the cast out of the way, the interactions between them flow faster and have a better payoff. This is particularly true of the banter between Winston and Holly—the over-sexualized assassin.

Waking Nightmares

The Waking Nightmares also boasts more consistent pacing around a bigger problem: invasive, swiftly growing, exploding monsters. Winston moves into a more active heroic role, rather than simply reacting to threats.

Tales from the Dream Nebula Book 3 The Waking Nightmares Book Cover
Book 3

There is also a bit more situational humor. I particularly liked the handyman in this story, coming in with a solution based on his experience while all the “smart” people were chasing their tails trying to generate simulations!

I feel that this book makes a good set with the first two. It closed with a pretty concrete arc for Winston. His psychological crutch has been removed, and he has more than stood without it. There are also some plot elements from the first two books that are resolved in this book—in particular the mystery of the locked cases Holly brought on board.

Female Antagonist

I appreciate how Holly is an undeniably feminine antagonist for Winston. Her raw physicality clashes with his denial of the real world at the beginning of the series, and her dominating personality drags him out of retreat-mode and gets him thinking more proactively.

Her role as an antagonist, rather than a romantic interest, makes their relationship more complex. Rather than falling into well-trodden romance tropes, every interaction between them is filled with uncertainty, sexual tension, and conflict. It makes for good reading!

Tales from the Dream Nebula Book 2 Lucid Reality by M.D. Boncher Book Cover
Book 2

Dreams and Reality

The Dream Nebula series has some fascinating thematic elements at play. Of course, the dream motif (particularly the titles) prompts over-analysis, including Inception or The Matrix associations, but I can’t come up with anything concrete from these first novellas to extrapolate a larger point yet.

I loved the detail at the end of Lucid Reality that there is a faction of Christianity that persists in this remade universe that believes the Dream is Purgatory. A butchered Christianity—sans Savior, post-salvation—obsessed with expiatory purification…It’s no wonder Xiao is unimpressed. It should be noted that this cult’s explanation of the world is not the “real” conclusion that the reader is supposed to accept, merely an additional possibility to consider alongside simulation theory.

Another element I found intriguing was Xiao’s manipulation of people and events in order to orchestrate a rebellion against himself, spearheaded by a worthy hero. How evocative to have a tyrannical ruler and self-declared god compelled to seek the archetypal role-play of the overthrow of the prince of this world.

Check Out Tales from the Dream Nebula!

Tales from the Dream Nebula delivers short and action-packed sci-fi adventures. I look forward to seeing where these characters go next!

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