Mar 4, 2013: "The Morpheus Reports" has a fascinating premise—the story is told from dreams collected by a telepath. What an interesting way to show multiple points of view and create a narrative!
However wonderful the "hook" of the story is, the way it’s handled isn’t nearly as genius. The story takes place in Sweden, and the likelihood of the author using English as a second language is heavily indicated by the text’s need for an editor. There are dropped apostrophes, proper nouns lacking capitalization, chapters that change between present-tense and past-tense, repeated sentences and missing words. The technical structure is flawed—readable, but error-prone.
The world of the Morpheus Reports contains Ultras, superpowered humans. However, Sweden is supposed to be Ultra-free, while 3 million inhabit the USA. An Ultra named Chuck is searching for the history of a Swedish woman who emigrated to the US. Whoever or whatever prompted his mission is kept from us so far, but it’s clear it needs to be kept secret as he kills anyone who discovers his powers.
The woman he’s searching for may belong to the wealthy Eka family, so Chuck contacts Johan Eka for information. Johan has his own secret interest in Ultras, one that gives him a great deal of anxiety. They meet up at the city archives—though the text is a little unclear as to whether it’s because that was arranged or because Johan follows the interesting Emma.
Emma looks like a Goth/Punk, wearing leather and spikes. However, she has a powerful temper—and secret Ultra powers. Emma gains Johan’s attention when a car almost hits her and she shouts at high volume. She goes to the archive for a school assignment, when apparently she should have gone to the library. This coincidental meeting gets the plot going.
For some reason a body in in the ceiling of the archive, but the obtuse nature of the writing makes it unclear how it got there—though the clear indication is that Chuck killed an archivist who was uncooperative. Why the body bleeds in the ceiling and not during the murder is kind of odd—and I mean "oddly not thought out" as opposed to part of the ongoing plot’s mysteries —the poor man was folded in half and quickly hidden. That would be gory. Johan realizes Chuck must be an Ultra, and so Chuck pursues Johan and Emma through the building on a rampage, destroying a lot of property in the process.
The action is well-described and gets the adrenaline flowing—I will say that. The author can write a good action scene. Emma defeats the gigantic Chuck by using a metal door as a bat, proving more powerful. Johan and the surviving archivist cover for her with the police.
I have a number of problems with the text as it’s presented:
A secretive Ultra would go out of their way to avoid massive property damage, kind of ruins the "secret mission" aspect.
Emma is just as keen on staying low-profile as the only Ultra in Sweden, but is prone to angry outbursts and uses of her power.
The coincidental handling of details just to move the plot along leaves me feeling that the writer is so excited by the possibilities of the plot that they’re rushing through the descriptions, making it harder as a reader to fully see or enjoy their vision.
The telepath "Morpheus" started these records in 2003 and makes them available in 2012 (for some reason) but was observing Chuck’s memories in February. So while his mission was a secret, but before his death at the archive. How did Morpheus know Chuck was worth observing, and why didn’t he tell the man’s targets about his murderous tendency?
And now we come to Morpheus, the source of the unique premise and my biggest problem with the plot. "Morpheus" is the god of dreams in Greek mythology, so it’s an apt name for a telepath who can invade sleep. However, it’s also been used a lot culturally in recent years—see Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, or the Matrix movies. So the name may be apt but it’s also fairly unoriginal.
Morpheus is somehow capable of observing the principal characters from a distance—all the other entries are from April 9, 2003, so he’s switching between Johan and Emma’s dreams to tell the story on the same day. How does he have access? What kind of long-range does he have and how does he identify a target? How does he know they’re important, or connected to each other?
These questions would make Morpheus the most interesting character in the story if we were being shown the story from his point of view. It would be far more interesting to follow him as he lives his life and uses his power, for whatever purpose. The rest of the story is a very average action-adventure featuring superpowers—the framework of the dream, mishandled though it might be, is the only unique feature.
And here’s how it’s mishandled—good literature shows, instead of tells. The narrative tells details that aren’t readily apparent in the scene. And, as someone who has read about neuro-science extensively, that’s not how memories or dreams work. Your mind records the sights, sounds, smells and physical sensations of what it experiences, so a telepath would have to sift through all of that being shown. It would not be nicely written out in your mind in an easy to follow narrative. Here’s an expository paragraph that would never make its way into your dreams:
"Johan stared at the newspaper. He took a few deep breaths, tore his gaze from the graphic, crumpled up the Post, flung it into the circular fireplace and went for the matches. Yes, Ultras pushed his buttons. Small wonder; he had grown up with power and knew it intimately. There were ways to defend against it, given preparations and a quick mind, and only a handful Ultras were strong enough to be really dangerous. He had never met one, not of any power level, and he was unlikely to. The only real Ultras in Sweden were American and sometimes Asian rock stars on tour. Deluded Basics claiming to have triggered their own switch needn’t concern him."
It’s possible that one could suppose Morpheus is attempting to take the jumble of sensations he reads from the thoughts of others and put it into a readable report—you could make that argument, if the story were being told from Morpheus’ perspective. But Morpheus is the frame of the story, or the tv-screen you see it through, if you like that metaphor better. We have yet to see Morpheus on screen, and the story lacks cohesion as a result.
So ultimately, switching points of view between Johan and Emma makes little difference, because they aren’t tonally that different, and when they both see the same action the narrative doesn’t differentiate their personalities well—which means the telepathy premise doesn’t really offer anything all that different from an ordinary third-person perspective.
As an ordinary third person perspective superhero story, it has derivative elements of an action adventure film, where there’s little thought given to the motivations of the protagonists and villains, and lots of emphasis on destruction. As a Swedish thriller, it’s superficially similar to the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—you’ve got old archives, a decades old missing person case, investigators, and a girl in punk clothes with different abilities than the norm. However, it isn’t nearly as deep a story.
It feels like an enthusiastic amateur’s first draft. I would love to see them go back to the drawing board and concentrate on the unique premise—show us a telepath coming into their powers, learning how to use them, and explore the possibilities of how to show experiental memories and dreams in an organic narrative, instead of imposing artificial old forms of narrative onto memories and dreams. It’s an intriguing concept—and it deserves better exploration.
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