Review: I Dream in Color by Sarah Mazza

Alex awakes from a dream-state in a bio-pod, to an alien world as shattered as his mind where he must battle demons both past and present.

  • Published: Self-published (7 November, 2020)
  • Cover art: Robin Ludwig Design
  • Genres: Science fiction, biopunk, dystopia
  • Special specs: Mental illness rep, vivid imagery, stark alien worlds, LGBTQ+ rep
  • I’d gift it to: Those who enjoy unreliable narrators, found family, and dark and twisty explorations of humanity, social injustice, and mental illness.

*I received a free copy of this book from the author which has in no way impacted my honest review.

I Dream in Color cover

If sleep was your only relief from pain, would you give your reality up for it?

Alex hungered for a peaceful end, a calmness his reality could never give him. 

When he signed off his body to The Institute of Wellness and Research, he meant to never return to his traumatic existence, playing out his days in blissful chemical-induced sleep, his willing sacrifice one of many scientific contributions. Dreamers never wake, never leave their bio-pods. Except Alex did.

Now he must navigate the world he willingly left behind, the magnificent, alien world at once wonderfully nostalgic and terrifyingly unchanged. Alex is forced to face the demons that have never been extinguished, both inner and extrinsic. When the will to live battles with trauma and the relief death will bring, what is left of someone, if anything, that tethers them to the world?

I Dream in Color addresses this question and many others dealing with trauma, mental illness, addiction, and human connection. It’s a story all about emotion, and delves deep into its main character’s psyche to offer the reader the ethical and philosophical discussions that make up the genres of speculative fiction.

Lovers of character-driven stories with unreliable narrators will absolutely love this one. It has such a strong first chapter and immediately gets you into the story, introducing the main character and themes with a contrasting, impactful force. 

My name is Alex Johansson, and I am a man who chose this. I chose to give up my body. To become lost in a dream. To never wake up again. Except that I did

The 1st person POV constantly dissects the mc in beautiful prose, and the world the author builds has an ethereal atmosphere to it, with colorful, speaking trees, floating sea-creatures, and even wyrm-like native beings of this strange far-away moon colony.

These intriguing aspects of the world may not take center-stage for much of the novel, but they still add their intended sense of otherworldliness to its environment whenever necessary. It’s not a narrative that works intensely on worldbuilding, but I don’t believe that was ever its intended purpose. 

The narrative shifts instead to the inner thoughts of our mc and his daily struggle with trauma and addiction, through which we experience a deeply sorrowful world that still manages to retain some kind of magic in its native creatures. Alex is written with such yearning and desolation that his inner turmoil is an entirely satisfactory journey in itself.

His is a dissection of the human mind, and the world a scenery he is forced to pass through. At times it’s like this outside world is a reflection of Alex’s mind: when he awakens to its changes, it’s a hypnotic alien world; when he’s in unrest, the world rebels alongside him. It was quite a different experience to read a story where the mc experiences the world but his actions are utterly powerless when it comes to the direction of the plot, making him just a bystander in every way.

This worked to make the narrative too abstract for me most of the time; since there appeared to be no defining plot goal, and I’m someone who benefits from such things. But the plot twist at the end tie that up, and it was clever and worked very well for what the story meant to tell its reader: that life can be painful, beautiful, and terrible all at once.

live your life. Don’t subscribe to other people’s ideals because this is what happens. One way or another, it will crush you.

There’s so much to hold onto here. I loved the heart-rending discussion of mental health, trauma, and addiction, the ethical implications of a medical facility that acts as a euthanasia center, and the plot twists the author literally smacked me in the face with (well, not literally but it felt like it!).

There were some thematics regarding colonization I couldn’t find myself agreeing with, but I think the thing about stories is not where they agree with you but where they can make you consider things you never did before.

Mazza gives us a lot of food for thought about the way trauma affects reality, how togetherness inspires us but ultimately we must all deal with our own demons, and how humanity’s capacity to destroy, to fall apart, and to hope mingle into a convoluted existence that goes on and on, in a never-ending cycle, with no apparent solution.

The ending absolutely blew me away; one of the best I’ve read recently! I’m a sucker for endings like these, so intense, imaginative, unorthodox, and I got to say I love how the cover represents it and the whole story.

You may think this melancholic, grief-stricken story strays from what some readers are looking for right now, but its construction of an intriguing world, its poignant character journey, and its thought-provoking premise make I Dream in Color a worthy pick this Sci-Fi Month, as well as any other day of the year.

Possible trigger warnings:Drug abuse, medical testing, police violence, police abuse, addiction, remission, transphobia, domestic abuse, homophobic slurs, hate crime, homophobia, trauma, ptsd, suicide, abuse

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And tune in tomorrow for Sarah’s guest post, The Future of Hope and Human Connection: I Dream in Color !

About Sarah Mazza

Sarah Mazza author photo

I am a Melbourne based author of fantasy, historical fiction and sci-fi novels. As a passionate booklover, I enjoy stories across most genres.

I grew up on Lord of the Rings and Gone with the Wind. The rawness and romance of mythology has always struck a chord within me.George RR Martin’s A song of Fire and Ice shaped the kind of author I am today. I loved the outrageous plot twists, the gut wrenching, action filled narrative and the sheer imagination, all weaved together. Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles inspired me to write my first book. I put down the Sending, after its cliff hanger ending, and thought to myself: I have so many ideas of where she could go with this. I could write the next book…I could write a book.

For me, reading is as essential as eating. It is food for the mind. It allows me to take my imagination out of the cage that everyday monotony builds around it.


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2 thoughts on “Review: I Dream in Color by Sarah Mazza

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