Early in Tron: Legacy, some of the main characters sit down for a meal together. This struck me as odd when I watched the film, because at that point in the story, the characters were inside the virtual reality of The Grid, and were really nothing much more than conglomerations of computer code. Computer codes, of course, need something to sustain them, but they don’t usually go around having dinner with each other.
It’s an interesting and appropriate choice, though, for the story, because two of the characters are actually digitized humans, and we humans have built all sorts of rituals and habits around food.
This thought hit me again when I read page 13 of the second chapter of Brief Lives. Here, Dream and Delirium sit down for a meal together, and because they are in Dream’s realm, they can order whatever they want for food. Delirium orders some milk chocolate people and a glass of mango juice; Dream orders an omelette, a salad, and a glass of white wine — but we get the sense that if either had wanted an order of flambéed cement block with a side of Martian truffle, it would have been no problem.
I assume that neither Dream nor Delirium ever truly needs to eat, at least in the way humans do; they are sustained and, I imagine, fueled by the beliefs and needs of humans (and whatever other creatures they are in a symbiotic relationship with). When the Endless sit down for a meal, then, it is purely for ritual purposes, or out of some sort of habit. They are also, at that moment, pretending to be at least a little bit human.
Meals fit in well with the fractured family psychodrama that the Endless as a group enact. Part of the fun of seeing them with each other is seeing god-like beings acting like, well, us. Delirium is the troubled sister about whom endless after-school specials have been written, the angsty and creative girl who doesn’t really fit in well with her family and can be terribly vexing but who is, at heart, adorable.
Dream’s perpetual love troubles humanize him, too. There’s no rule that says seemingly immortal and godlike beings have to have the same emotions as humans, but when it comes to romantic love, Dream seems to be at least on a parallel plane to ordinary people. Despite his centuries of practice, he’s not very good at relationships, probably because he has a hard time compromising or letting go of himself; he’s also probably a bit of a know-it-all, and he certainly seems moody, so it may be that he’s forever doomed to relationships that last somewhat less than forever, but at least he keeps trying. And he doesn’t seem to have sent any of his former loves to Hell recently, at least since Nada, so he may even be learning a thing or two.
It makes sense that Dream should be both loved and love-lorn, because romantic love requires dreaming. It may also explain some of the reason for Dream’s troubles: love that lasts lives beyond dreams. Lovers, especially in the early stages of a relationship, fantasize and yearn, imagining all sorts of things about the loved one. As they get to know the other better, and as their lives entwine, they have more and more matter and substance and data and qualia with which to ground their fantasies in realities. Relationships that can’t make the transition from being primarily dream and potential to being primarily experience and knowledge don’t lead to a lot of happiness, because the dreams and realities clang and crash stubbornly against each other, producing only cacophony and debris.
It also makes sense that in the midst of his rainy lovesickness, Dream should be contacted by Delirium and Desire, for they, too, have something to do with love. Desire, of course, is one of the spurs to love and one of the fuels for it, and Dream himself questions Desire to ask if she has been causing his recent troubles. (She denies it.) Delirium is the other side of love, the giddy fantasizing part similar to dreaming, but a sadder and more painful version of it: the false dream. Unrequited love, if pursued, belongs more to her realm than Dream’s. As we know from this chapter of Brief Lives, Delirium began as Delight — pure delight, it seems, is another form of delirium (and, perhaps, vice versa). Dreams and delirium do not inevitably lead to bliss. Our characters, after all, are heading off in search of Destruction.
Before they go, Delirium leaves her little chocolate people on her plate, and the narrator says they “copulate desperately, losing themselves in a melting frenzy of lust, spending the last of their brief borrowed lives in a spasm of raspberry cream and fear.” It’s a remarkable description, both funny and sad, odd and familiar, and it feels utterly appropriate, because how different from these sweetly melting chocolate people are we, really, when in the throes of love? Brief lives, indeed, and maybe even borrowed. In love, especially, are we not somebody else’s dream? Against mortality and entropy, is not all our copulating desperate? It’s not a bad way to go, though: loved and lusted, covered in raspberry cream.
But the last word in that sentence is fear.
And Dream’s last words in this issue are some of the most ominous any character can offer: “What could possibly go wrong?”
Matthew Cheney has published fiction and nonfiction in a variety of venues, including One Story, Weird Tales, Locus, Rain Taxi, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and elsewhere. A collection, Blood: Stories will be published by Black Lawrence Press in January 2016. He is the former series editor for the Best American Fantasy anthologies and currently a co-editor of the occasional online magazine The Revelator. His blog, The Mumpsimus, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in 2005. He is working toward a Ph.D. in Literature at the University of New Hampshire, where his research focuses on the work of Virginia Woolf, J.M. Coetzee, and Samuel R. Delany.