The end of the book raised the interesting concept of a dreaming world replacing the waking world. The movies and series "Ghost in the Shell" presented this mixing of realities, with each possibly more real than the other. These got me thinking about realness of reality. Back to the book Flashback.
The book is named after a drug that allows people to relive, verbatim, past experiences. Flashback 2 was a new version of the drug that allowed a person to live fantasy lives not restricted by their actual past experiences. Use of the drugs has the person in a unconscious dreamlike state. People did this either at home or in "Flashback Caves", buildings with cots where people flashbacked while they are watched over by the proprietors of the establishments. People could Flash, relive the past, for hours at a time, but they eventually had to wake to eat and do other things required to continue their waking lives. The Japanese developed Flashback 2 and created liquid suspension tanks in which people could experience their experienced lives under the hand of Flashback 2. There was no need to wake up. Their physical bodies wasted away in the suspended tank as automatically nutrients were delivered and wastes taken away. Meanwhile, the person experienced a perfect fantasy world.
The ending had a big twist. The hero fought for his life as he was being taken away to be executed. He was knocked out, only to awake in the safety of the Republic of Texas. The head villain was toppled and all was well. The explanations were plausible and everything was OK. Next chapter... the hero awakes in the suspension tank, a prisoner of the Japanese. The rescue was a fantasy, a product of Flashback 2. His captors purposely brought him out of the Flashback 2 dreamed reality only to punish him. Awashed in despair, the hero drifted back into unconsciousness. But wait... the hero awakes from a recurring nightmare of being in the suspension tank. His apparent waking reality is a world in which the villain is defeated and the forces of right continue on. Or do they? Or is it?
The hero has one trick that helps him prove that the victorious reality is the real reality. He purposely cuts himself in a painful way. The scars on his arm show that this has been an ongoing practice, probably being reenacted after each nightmare. The pain tell him which reality is real. He rationalizes that no Flashback 2 fantasy would feature such pain.
I really connected with this. I enjoy dreaming. My dreams are full of excitement and adventure, though often the excitement comes from being in some kind of peril. The dreams seem real while I am in their hold. There is one declarative difference between these fond dreams and waking reality, and that difference is pain. I don't have the back pain, tetanus, and other getting older ailments in my dreams. My dreams are, for the most part, pain free. I find it humorous that the old test of dreaming or not is pinching oneself. The pinch is a minor form of pain check. I suspect it is too minor, but the real life pains and aches I live with now are very convincing, and I wonder how the world of Ghost in the Shell would address this twist of realities.