Perchance to Dream

If was an American magazine of Science Fiction that was fist launched in March 1952. It had several different editors over the years and often changed its publication from monthly to bimonthly to monthly as its circulation increased or decreased. Several authors who later went on to Science Fiction fame had their first stories published in If magazine including Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny, Larry Niven, Gardner Dozois, Alexei Panshin, and Gene Wolfe. Prominent SciFi authors also had stories in If magazine including Robert A. Heinlein, E.E. Smith, Arthur C. Clarke, and James Blish. Several other prominent Science Fiction authors even worked as editors of If at various times including Damon Knight, Frederick Pohl, and Jim Baen. But despite the plethora of talent, If magazine never rose to challenge the top Science Fiction magazines, Astounding, Galaxy, and Fantasy and Science Fiction. But If did rise to the top of the second tier of SciFi magazines as the “most major of the minors”.

In August 1967, If merged with another Science Fiction magazine, Worlds of Tomorrow. Both titles were used in the name of the new magazine: If Worlds of Science Fiction. In 1974, the parent company was plagued with financial problems even though If Worlds of Science Fiction had seen an increase in its circulation. The decision was made to merge If Worlds of Science Fiction into its sister magazine Galaxy. Beginning with the January 1975 issue, If disappeared into Galaxy magazine.

Richard Stockham was one of the authors that found a home at If magazine. He published stories with the magazine in 1953 and 1954. His story Perchance to Dream was published in the May 11954 issue of If. Perchance to Dream is a short story of a little less than 6,000 words and can be read pretty quickly. The story opens and immediately sets a picture of its grim world:

“All along the line of machines, the men’s hands and arms worked like the legs of spiders spinning a web. They wound wire and hammered bolts, tied knots and weilded pieces of steel and fitted gears. They did not look at each other or sing or whistle or talk or laugh.
And then – he made a mistake.”

The hero of our story does not even have a real name. He is just Twenty-three. For the crime of committing “two mistakes in three months”, Twenty-three faces a demotion to an even more dreary and deadening job. The Superfather over seeing him also orders Twenty-three to use a specific set of “dream cards” designed to control his dreams and help him once again become just another cog in the machinery of the city. But Twenty-three does not really want to comply. He has a secret. He has obtained highly illegal dream cards and has been dreaming of forbidden places – outside the city.

Richard Stockham’s Perchance to Dream is a dystopia. The story is not about physical adventure or exploration but instead it is about a simple man struggling to break free from a society that controls every aspect of his life – even coordinating his unnamed wife’s state sanctioned dream cards so that they match with his. Twenty-three (or Paul, as his illegal dream cards call him) has no where to go to escape his overseers. His city was even built to be totally enclosed. There is no entrance or exit to the city at all. So how can Paul ever reach the paradise of freedom and beauty found outside the city? Or is his dream of an utopian garden world just a nebulous dream? Perchance to Dream flows quickly to the end when Paul must make a decision and face the truth of the existence – or nonexistence – of his dream.

Perchance to Dream is a fast read, it only took me about 30 minutes to finish. That makes it a perfect story for those times when readers want a little SciFi but do not have a lot of time to spare. The author, Richard Stockham, is pretty much a mystery. I do not remember reading anything by him or about him when I was younger and I could find absolutely nothing about him now except that he wrote a couple of stories for If Worlds of Science Fiction magazine. Perchance to Dream is in the Public Domain and is available to read online or download FREE. Versions can be found at Feedbooks, the Internet Archive, and Project Gutenberg.

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