For many people, technology that was supposed to increase our opportunities to connect with people has done the exact opposite. With our ability to create whole virtual spaces that rival the beauty of our own reality, a world of pixels and programmed delights might seem like the better alternative to dreary, humdrum. But creator Valentín Ramón Menendez has taken this science fiction premise to some very bizarre extremes in his latest book, Dead Kings Have No Dreams.

The story takes place in a future where humanity is free to do whatever it wants to do. Androids are so prevalent that no one really has to work jobs anymore. With an abundance of free time, humans now take mind-altering drugs and dive deep into virtual worlds where exotic locations and fantasy fulfillment are just a headset away, while Only Human, an organization looking to move away from androids and a dependence on technology, wants to return to a simpler time. With all this societal upheaval going on, protagonist J still manages to meet Wendy, the love of his life. Things are going well for J until Wendy leaves him and thus begins J’s downward spiral that no amount of drugs or VR can halt.

For most of the book, J is a lovesick fool whose daydreams become more and more deranged as he, and subsequently the reader, tries to make sense of his life and this world. Much of the society he’s in treats his heartbreak like a defective program to be overwritten. Instead, Jay holds tightly to what he had with Wendy and there are some genuine sweet moments for this couple, even as their dialogue is filled with a sexual frankness that threatens to undermine that sweetness. The readers see J and Wendy’s relationship blossom and then fall apart amidst the inordinate amount of worldbuilding that Menendez attempts, leading to the love story being a rock in the churning maelstrom of digital delights and depressing landscapes.

Menendez’s artwork has a great deal of details that draw the eye, for better or worse. Instead of a future of gleaming glass spires, Menendez shows a dreary, sallow, neon-lit future that makes Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner look like Disneyworld. Within the aesthetic of the world, readers won’t have to wonder why J runs away from it and into the brighter virtual space. With a generous helping of grays and neon colors that seem glaring and artificial even on the page, Menendez gives J a future urban hellscape that can only suck the joy out of anyone who dares to try and find some happiness outside of virtual reality and mood-altering drugs.

Like how the story straddles the line between the colorful virtual world and the dreary dystopian future, the recommendation at the end of the review will have to be a split one. On the one hand, this book is obviously shocking. Definitely not for kids or even older teens, this book is full of depictions of nude, realistically imperfect bodies and talk of sexual situations spoken as casually as asking someone the time of day. There will be many moments where the reader’s eyes will widen in surprise as Menendez gets edgy, but this book also gets bogged down in its weirdness. The story offers a lot of twists and turns thanks to J himself being an unreliable narrator, but all these things don’t create the smoothest or most memorable narrative. Librarians with adult patrons who love science fiction, surreality, and bleakness might want to have Dead Kings Have No Dreams in their collection, but it also might prove too dense and off-putting for the casual science fiction fan.

Dead Kings Have No Dreams 
By Valentín Ramón Menendez
Abrams, 2022
ISBN: 9798411722338

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

  • James

    | He/Him Circulation Librarian, Clark County Public Library

    Reviewer

    James Gardner is a Circulation Librarian at Clark County Public Library in Kentucky. Along with writing his own stories, he reviews horror for his own blog The Foreboding Home of the Scary Librarian and other places. But graphic novels are another love of his, having grown up loving Spider-Man and the X-Men. Reviewing graphic novels is a dream gig because the graphic novel is a medium that is full of great stories. One of the best things about being a librarian is always having an excuse to read graphic novels among other books, which is because readers’ advisory depends on reading books (while advising is the other half, of course). He also enjoys role-playing games, which is another opportunity for him to immerse himself in a story.

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