The AL–EX Project by C.M. Donaldson

This book explores just how much control we have over our dreams, as well as what the nature of our dreams is. It’s a subject I’ve always found fascinating, and I always enjoy when authors take it on. Unfortunately, this book has a good number of issues that prevent it from living up to its potential.

The structure and presentation of the plot never finds the focus or tension to drive the story, and the author tends to tell the reader everything that’s going to happen before it does. Additionally, the focus on the dream stuff is more informational, with just a quick bit of speculation thrown in, and ultimately occupies a secondary position.

First, what works: I was able to read through the book in one sitting without getting hung up on a particular paragraph, and I never found myself frowning at the page either trying to figure out what was going on or what the author was trying to say. Clarity is important, and the author gets that down. Also, the basic idea of the book is interesting, and the core plot would work quite well if it was presented differently.

On the other hand, the author has a tendency to tell the reader what’s happening. One example I can think of is the end of Chapter 27, and another is the entirety of Chapter 36, which essentially explains to the reader that something really bad is about to happen, but everyone will be okay.

Once I know information like that there’s nothing to keep me moving. This happened throughout the book, so there was never really a chance for me to wonder what was happening. Even the stuff going on with the dreams ends up getting more or less explained in a couple of pages, so by the time there’s something to really wonder about the reader gets an answer not too long afterward.

The author also had a tendency to tell me what the characters felt at any given time. They hit several major rough patches, but I never really felt it in my gut. It’s never good to say that a character is devastated, it’s much better to show it. And even if an author does take the time to show how a character is feeling, if the author also tells the reader, it’s just the same as if we were told in the first place regardless of any showing that may have occurred.

Another issue is conflict: there really isn’t any until roughly two thirds of the way into the book. True, bad things happened, but the reader is outright told they’re going to happen, so the first half feels like a lengthy prologue.

The story starts well, leaping into the work Alex and The Scientist are doing with dreams, but then the focus shifts completely to the relationship between Alex and his wife, which really is what the book is about. It feels like the author really had two separate stories that ended up being presented side by side: one was the stuff going on with dreams, the other Alex and Keyj’s relationships.

The author really needed to pick one of these and run with it hard. Instead, the book sort of alternates between the two, and there is a good portion of it where all of the stuff going on with dreams doesn’t really matter. It very much makes it feel as if the premise of the book is just an afterthought. And then, once the relationship plotline winds down a bit, it tags off and the author jumps back into the dream material.

Additionally, the material is presented in such a way that the entire thing feels more like a detached narrative than a novel. I never felt that moment where the writer reaches inside of my chest and rips me into the book. Instead, it was like I was reading a summary of the story. There was too much telling, rather than showing, but I also believe the tone the author wrote with (some chapters ending in sentences with exclamation marks) really undermined the book.

I think it would have worked much better if the author had dived in at a fixed point in time, stuck with one character perspective, dove into the plot concerning dreams, and kept the reader’s attention tightly focused. As it stands, the story ends up being more of a sprawl than an adventure.

The last problem I noticed was that good portions of the book were fluff, interesting information that the reader did not need to know. There were too many information dumps. As for the writing itself, there were issues with excessive adjective and adverb use (something I’m guilty of), and some of the sentences felt like they could have been broken up. Again, everything I read was clear, but at times it seemed like I was reading run on thoughts. The shifts into dream sequences were also abrupt and could have been marked better.

All of my criticisms aside, it’s unfortunate the book has the problems it does because the author really was working with interesting material and had an excellent idea. I really wanted to see more of the dreams and less of Alex’s alcoholism. All of the problems are quite fixable, and I think the author has the potential to knock one out of the park. I give this book a 2/5.

You can get a copy from Amazon here.

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