"Dreamweaver's Dilemma", written by Lois McMaster Bujold and published by NESFA Press in 1996 in the collection Dreamweaver's Dilemma, is a short story in the Vorkosigan Saga, and the earliest chronologically: It is set back in the very old days when Beta Colony was the only inhabited planet other than Earth. It has also been published in the ebook Proto Zoa in 2011. The original writing of the tale was in late 1982, shortly before the writing of Shards of Honor; thus, it was the very first tale set in the Vorkosiverse.
- "'You're a half-ass and he's a half-ass,' the voice of Anias's mind broke the scene to fragments, like the last judgment come upon mankind."
- ―A composing attempt fails[src]
As the tale began, Anias Ruey, an author of romance feelie-dreams, was experiencing writer's block. A fellow who identified himself as Rudolph Kinsey came to her claiming to be an agent for a client who wished for her to compose an experience following a very particular scenario – one which more closely fit a horror story nightmare than a romance daydream. His client was prepared to pay quite a bit for it; she accepted, as it offered up an artistic challenge and a break from her usual activities.
She decided to get away from distractions by paying a visit to Chalmys DuBauer, an engineer friend who owned a very large piece of land surrounded by radioactive hot spots and wild animals of post-apocalyptic North America. However, by the time she finished composing the nightmare, she had become troubled by it; discussing the matter with him did not allay her concerns as he pointed out quite a few details that showed there was something very strange in this request.
- "'Did you notice,' he said, 'that this thing is designed to be played as an endless loop?'
'What? I can't imagine wanting to,' she replied."
- ―Chalmys describes one oddity about the commission[src]
Nevertheless, she completed it and gave it to the agent, who then asked her to compose a triviality for an aunt of his in addition. She agreed, but in a moment of paranoia decided to check her dream-composer unit before attaching it to her headset. The unit promptly exploded, and she fled in terror back to Chalmys's home.
A more serious investigation ensued. The police took some interest; Chalmys took more. He and Anias concluded that the purchaser of the dream must have wanted to use it to kill a middle-aged woman; they tricked Mr Kinsey, who was actually named Carlos Diaz into coming to his home and managed, with a local sheriff listening in, to get him to confess to trying to kill Anias; they also got the name of his client from him.
- "Slowly, reluctantly, the perfect murderer released his hold on the hopes for his carefully contrived shortcut to peace, freedom, and power."
- ―Dr. Bianca decides to return the dream[src]
Her writing block now broken, she happily returned to her job of composing romances.
Behind the scenes
Sources that influenced this tale include:
- A Poul Anderson story in Analog from the 1960's about a time-stranded space traveler.
- Robert Heinlein's tale Starman Jones.