The best science fiction and fantasy writers are often praised for their "world building." The ability to craft a singular place –– often one completely foreign to readers –– while having it appear completely realistic is a rare and impressive talent. With "Time is for Dragonflies and Angels," author J. M. Erickson demonstrates a faculty for this while taking on an even more daunting challenge. In the book's opening novella, Erickson offers multiple worlds –– all of them only vaguely resembling modern-day Boston, Massachusetts.
In the book's opener, "Recount Our Dreams," main character Jack Martin is nearly immobilized with grief over the loss of his wife and adult son. His only solace comes from the family beagle, Clover, and the time he spends at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy. There Martin has been entering a sensory deprivation tank. Suspended in salt water and enclosed within the tank, he finds relative peace. Sensory deprivation tanks have provided material for everything from the movie "Altered States" to the "Simpsons." Yet with this story, Erickson forges a new path. The tank becomes a launching pad to parallel worlds. For as a computer helpfully points out, the "mathematical probability that an infinite number of parallel or alternate universes exist are as close to 100% as theoretical physics could be." Thus Martin discovers unfamiliar versions of Boston, a place where everything from zombies to dragons feast on the inhabitants. Of course, given the title of the story and the circumstances, the question is whether or not Martin is dreaming.
The dystopian themes continue with "Rogue Event," where the future finds people under the thumb of a monolithic corporation which determines how and where they live. As with the opener, the story's power is derived in large part by the compassionate protagonist. Slightly less unsettling, "Neurogenesis" offers a developmentally disabled adult and the consequences when he meets an alternative version of himself. Here MIT once again transports an ordinary person into a fantastic reality. The book is rounded out by "The Grey," a sci-fi tale about choices and "To See Behind Walls," where the science fiction is truly fantasy.
In every story, the author displays bright moments of humor alongside darker bits of existential dread. His stories succeed on two levels, both as diverting bits of adventure and as deeper commentary on our modern life. Erickson also does a superb job describing Boston, a place where he practices his "day job" as a senior instructor of psychology and counseling and a senior therapist. The book's title refers to how the lives of dragonflies are far too brief while those of angels are far too long. As we all must exist somewhere between the two, many readers will find the length of the stories ideal –– the perfect prescription for anyone who wants to briefly leave our own world behind. - 4 stars, J.W. Bankston