Tower of Dreamsby Jamil Nasir
In advertising, image is everything.
Blaine Ramsey has an unusual occupation. He travels to foreign countries and lives like a native. He drinks in the culture with his mind, body, and soul. And he does it all in the name of American capitalism. For Blaine is an Image digger, one of an elite few blessed with the
In advertising, image is everything.
Blaine Ramsey has an unusual occupation. He travels to foreign countries and lives like a native. He drinks in the culture with his mind, body, and soul. And he does it all in the name of American capitalism. For Blaine is an Image digger, one of an elite few blessed with the power to "dream" authentic images from the deep unconscious of foreign lands that are turned into alluring, computer-animated packages used by advertisers to sell their products.
But in a dusty Middle Eastern villa, something goes terribly wrong. Blaine is haunted by the recurring Image of a young Arab beauty suffering a brutal attack. For Blaine, her Image becomes the seductive source of romantic obsessionand a nightmare from which he cannot escape. And as Blaine is about to discover, her appearance in his dreams foretells tragedya disaster the likes of which the world has never seen....
- Bantam Books
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.29(w) x 6.95(h) x 0.71(d)
Read an Excerpt
That night he slept dreamlessly in the cool air perfumed with jasmine and the nightingale's song, or if he had dreams they were not of the lucid variety; maybe he heard Buthaina's voice from around the corner of a village street, but she didn't wake him with her torment. The niacin had finally kicked in, or maybe there was another reason: maybe it was because he had heard her call, had already, in some deep part of himself, decided to go to her.
It was ridiculous, of course, he realized when he woke up with the fresh breeze of early morning gently lifting his curtains in the pale sunlight, the plan fully formed in his mind. While Cairo was technically exo-area, he was sure it wasn't what Haseeb Al Rahman would have had in mind had he been mentationally present to deliver his recommendation for R&R leave. Cairo contained little of either rest or relaxation these days, between economic collapse, political instability, and impending earthquakes. And it was the direction exactly opposite the one he should go to leave his obsessive dreams behind, he knew, since in that city lived the actress Aida, the alter ego of the dream-girl Buthaina.
If he had wanted to kid himself, he could have told himself he was going to Cairo as part of his dig, to follow a lead given by his subconscious about the source and meaning of his Image. Or he could have pretended he was on a spiritual quest in search of himself, to find out why he had dreamed and hallucinated the movie star. He could even have pretended he was going for pure science, to investigate a phenomenon in apparent contradiction to establishedneurosociological theory. But he was too old to play games; he knew that the real reason he was going wouldn't stand up under logical scrutiny, and it was this: he had heard the dream-girl Buthaina beaten to agony, had seen her broken, bloodied body, held her cold, delicate hands, and he had fallen in love with her like any bumpkin first-year digger falling for his Image. Yet by some incredible stroke of luck or misfortune, this Image lived, in the person of an Egyptian movie star; and since she had a physical existence somewhere in the world, Blaine would go to her.
An exhilaration went through him as he padded on cool floor tiles into the tiny whitewashed kitchen to put on the teapot, the kind of feeling he remembered from his childhood when, waking early in the morning, he had realized it was the first day of summer vacation. He hadn't had that feeling in a very long time.
* * *
Blaine could have taken an EgyptAir or Royal Jordanian flight from Amman to Cairo, but the Image-digger imperative for local atmosphere had accustomed him to sharing the serveese taxis that middle-class Arab travelers used. He caught one in an oil-stained parking lot in Jericho between a low-rent hotel and an orange grove, where dozens of taxis parked in the early morning, drivers calling out the names of the cities for which they were bound, the fresh, cool air holding the fragrance of the trees, the smells of motor oil and roasting peanuts sold by hawkers.
* * *
The heat of the Sinai Peninsula made the remembered temperature of the Jordan Valley seem mild by comparison. The venerable supercharged Mercedes taxi Blaine had caught flew rattling along the flat, heat-rippled Suez road with all its windows open, and the air that blasted in on the riders was broiling. At intervals they halted at rest stop lean-tos built of palm fronds or corrugated iron. As he pissed on the sand behind the lean-tos the sun was like knife blades on Blaine's head and shoulders, the air almost unbreathable, and the vast stillness of the endless yellow plain seemed also an artifact of the heat, as if the sun held all life, all movement in an iron grip. After relieving themselves, travelers drank cold Pepsis from solar-powered coolers inside the rest stops, and then, after paying the nearly motionless proprietor, were on their way again, the rush of wind through the windows drying their sweat.
Transit at the Palestinian, Israeli, and Egyptian borders had been slow and suspicious, and Blaine's Icon corporate immunity identificationprotecting his palmtop from contraband data searcheshad been painstakingly scrutinized half a dozen times. The regimes in the area had never fully recovered from the prodemocracy intifadahs of '02 and '03, which had left a jumble of autonomous and semiautonomous regions in their wake, creating fertile ground for smuggling, gunrunning, and money-laundering, which the governments tried to combat by strict border control. By late afternoon Blaine's serveese was still in the desert beyond Suez, and heading south now: the northern and eastern approaches to Cairo went through shantytowns not under the firm authority of government, and were sometimes dangerous. The driver was pushing the car now to speeds at which it seemed to Blaine to be barely under control, its heavy, dented frame rattling, jumping, and rocking, though the other riders, swaying passively in their seats, seemed unaware of it. Outside, flanked by electric transmission towers, the patched road dwindled to a sand-hazed horizon over a wide, exhausted beige land of rippled sand and rocks and intense heat. Um Kalthoum, the Middle East's most revered singer in the 40 years since her death as well as in the 40 years before it, blared from the taxi's radio, and above her sinuous cries and the labor of the engine, two of the passengers had managed to get into a political argument.
"The earthquakes, the unrest, are a judgment from God," the man in the front passenger seat, directly in front of Blaine, was saying. He was thin and dark, with a narrow face, black hair that curled close to his head, and bright black eyes. While he wore Western clothes, the neat, trimmed beard on his hollow cheeks had excited the suspicion of the police at each of the borders they had crossed: Islamists often wore beards, after the fashion of the Prophet Mohammed. He was turned in his seat to see the man sitting directly behind the driver. "And now the West says it will not give aid to help with the earthquakes. The plans and devices of men have come undone, brother, and no one can save Egypt but God."
The man in the back seat, dressed in the plain gray clothes of a low-level Egyptian bureaucrat, clicked his tongue impatiently. "Brother, the earthquakes come from a feature of geology, a crack in the rocks of the earth. The political unrest is because the people are poorer and poorer, due to the population problem. And the aidthe West will give it in the end. Egypt is their ally in the Middle East. Think of the outrage it would cause if the rich nations let earthquakes destroy a country of a hundred million people. They'll give the aid, brother."
"They will cut it off," said the bearded man. "The Arabs cannot rely on foreign charity anymore. They have to stand on their own feet. Where are the Gulf countries in this crisis, with their billions? Where are the Palestinian scientists and engineers, the Sudanese with their crop surpluses? I tell you, the Arabs have stood on their own feet only once in history: when the whole Arab nation was united under the flag of Islam."
The man riding in the back seat between Blaine and the bureaucrat, a laborer by the look of his rough clothes and hands, sun-darkened skin, and thick forearms, spoke up, to the bureaucrat: "Your presence says the earthquakes are caused by somethingbiology, or whatever your presence called itforgive me, I'm not an educated man. But what causes this biology itself? It is God, I say, who has sent this biology."
The driver and the bearded man murmured their agreement.
Um Kalthoum had finished her hour-long song, and the radio began playing Quranic recitations. The riders fell silent, each withdrawing into his own thoughts, the resonant, nasal chanting filling the car with a cathedral-like serenity despite the rush of speed, wind, and rattling. The driver sat relaxed, one hand negligently holding the wheel, the other hanging out the window; the bearded man fondled his prayer beads, lips moving silently; the laborer sat with his rough hands folded patiently in his lap.
They rushed past a bedouin shepherd in ragged black robes and turban, face nearly blackened with sun, tending a group of skinny goats foraging on nearly invisible desert scrub. In that instant the chanting from the radio and the lengthening rays of the still-fierce sun seemed to interpenetrate in Blaine's mind, as if the sunlight was some visible aspect of God's grace, giving the tall, straight bedouin man, as it poured upon him, a dignity and noble individuality worthy of a child of Adam.
Meet the Author
Jamil Nasir has won great recognition and a large readership through the publication of his short stories in Asimov's, Universe, Interzone and Aboriginal SF.
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Absolutely fascinating. Gripping and fast moving from beginning to end.. One of the best SF books I read this year.