Can you go to prison just to 'keep your meat alive' to save the galaxy?
May 14, 2016 6:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm wondering, for a story idea--what does the average American Joe need to do, to be kept alive at the effort and expense of someone else, ie "THE MAN", while he battles the Reptiloids in the Dream Realms?

So I'm working on a story-- basic idea is, the hero, when he dreams, believes he is fighting a great battle in an alternate universe. So he sets up his real life to be the bare minimum he needs to survive, only so he can sleep and keep dreaming. My thinking is, he deliberately gets somehow imprisoned for a crime, or committed to an asylum, where his body will be fed and cared for, but he can 'sleepwalk' through his days, and continue his battle in the Dream Realm. What are his best options for orchestrating the care of his 'meat'? This is standard modern-tech, USA based, our hero has no previous record and is a healthy 25-year-old male. State, crime committed, etc, can all be changed to suit. Thanks!

Bonus: if this is exactly what someone else has already written, please tell me!
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know about jail, but getting conserved and placed in a long-term facility for people with chronic severe mental illness is pretty difficult, at least from my experiences in California. It generally first requires several involuntary psychiatric holds in hospitals over the course of a few months, plus a complete and obvious inability to be able to provide food, shelter, or other basic necessities of daily living, and not just because one is poor and homeless but because one's mental illness is so severe that it prevents one from having the cognitive or emotional capability of providing for oneself. (That's with Medicaid/Medi-Cal, at least. Maybe it's different with private insurances, though I doubt it a bit.) Plus the institutions themselves are loud and traumatic and not often particularly good for sleeping.

Would being in a hospital in a coma work in your story? Or a skilled nursing facility? What you're describing sounds almost more like medical care than psychiatric or forensic treatment.
posted by lazuli at 7:21 AM on May 14, 2016


Bonus: if this is exactly what someone else has already written, please tell me!

The Earth Hero Falls Asleep, Gets Transported To Other Realms is a pretty standard SciFi trope going all the way back to Burrough's Barsoom books or Lovecraft's Dream Cycle and up through a whole bunch of cyberpunk (body lies there while people enter the virtual world) and fantasy (Thomas Covenant, for example). Recently Gilman's The Revolutions used this idea as well. So if you want to play with that trope, you have a lot of material to riff on.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:47 AM on May 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Variations on that theme have been happening A LOT in anime. In Sword Art Online, the hook is an out-of-control virtual reality system which traps players in a virtual world. In real life, it puts them all into comas, and when at the end they finally escape they wake up in hospitals.

Even earlier, this was the hook for "Dot Hack", an entire franchise including books, video games, and several anime series.

A simpler way to do it is to make it the place someone goes when they die. That's the hook for Kono Subarashii Sekai no Shukufuku wo!, which is a comedy sendup on this concept. (It's become so common in anime as to be cliche, worthy of mockery.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:12 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


In an asylum, they might medicate him which could interfere with his dreaming. In prison, how much sleep could he count on getting? Unless he were in solitary confinement. He'd have nothing much but time to sleep then.
posted by tomboko at 8:22 AM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


The Drummers from Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age do something similar to this.

If the 'dreaming' that your character does is deep enough to basically be a coma, would it work to just go to an Emergency Room and pass out? They won't be able to discharge someone who they can't wake up.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:43 AM on May 14, 2016


There is a locally famous homeless guy who lives exactly this way and has for about 40 years; every fall when the weather turns cold he commits a minor assault against a friendly cop, carefully calibrated to get himself six months in the clink. Every now and then his miscalculates and gets himself two years.

He is well-known as mentally ill, alcoholic, and harmless; he just wants to live on the street in the summer with no responsibilities so he can visit the ghosts and aliens that live here, and chat with passers-by about his many crackpot theories. Restaurant owners give him food they're throwing away and he uses money he gets panhandling to buy booze. The cops don't take him real seriously because he never hurts anyone and at this point everyone kinda plays along when it's time for his winter lockup.

If he could live on the street for a while harmlessly talking crazy about his war such that he becomes a local fixture, and then maybe have some local college kids start a fight with him, and then get put in prison for assault (but with the understanding that he is harmlessly nuts rather than actively violent), that'd probably do it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:04 AM on May 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


I think he goes to prison planning to do this, but finds that he keeps geeting woken up at exactly the wrong moments (in prison, sleeping in is not an option). So someone in the Dream Realms gives him advanced information that allows him to escape from prison AND create a web app that makes just enough money to pay for a lifetime supply of ramen, the crappiest appartment in Nort Dakota, and a super-deluxe Tempurpedic Craftmatic Sleep-number bed.
posted by originalname37 at 9:17 AM on May 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


why does he have to be 25? why couldn't it be some retired person with a pension? then there's a reasonably understandable (if decreasingly common) explanation for them not having to work for a living. or maybe there 's a shortage of healthy 25 years old males in sf :o/
posted by andrewcooke at 9:49 AM on May 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


So someone in the Dream Realms gives him advanced information that allows him to escape from prison AND create a web app that makes just enough money to pay for a lifetime supply of ramen, the crappiest appartment in Nort Dakota, and a super-deluxe Tempurpedic Craftmatic Sleep-number bed.

Yeah, my question would be why he'd want to lose his housing and go through some elaborate scheme that would complicate his waking life further, rather than just finding cheap housing where he could sleep all he wanted on his own.
posted by lazuli at 9:54 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


the hero, when he dreams, believes he is fighting a great battle in an alternate universe. So he sets up his real life to be the bare minimum he needs to survive, only so he can sleep and keep dreaming. [...] Bonus: if this is exactly what someone else has already written, please tell me!

Lord Dunsany, "The Coronation of Mr. Thomas Shap" (1912)
H.P. Lovecraft's Dream Cycle, "Celephaïs" (1922), "The Dream-Quest of Unkown Kadath" (1943), etc. See also "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" (1919).
posted by sukeban at 9:54 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


why does he have to be 25? why couldn't it be some retired person with a pension?

Or on disability and in low-income housing.
posted by lazuli at 9:55 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Otherbound by Corrine Duyvis does a version of this; teenage boy diagnosed with epilepsy ends up piggybacking in the mind of a girl in a fantasy-type world each time he has a seizure. There are some shady characters who take advantage of this traveling between worlds so the mechanism (and how certain people survive on Earth) is explored.
posted by carrioncomfort at 10:29 AM on May 14, 2016


Ready Player One does a version of this, with the hero renting an apartment to enable him to live in the virtual realm at all times, more or less.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:44 AM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think his best option would be to commit massive insider trading and sent to minimum security federal for 20 years. Other incarceration scenarios would seem too socially challenging to do much "sleepwalking."
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:47 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


So basically he wants to Matrix himself. Apart from the financial and logistical challenges, what about muscle atrophy, bed sores, developing sleep disorders, depression, weight gain (or loss), etc...

Prison seems like the worst possible solution. Apart from constant interruptions and the fact that you have zero privacy in prison, what would stop other inmates from messing with this guy that sleeps all the time?

I think getting on disability and low-income housing is the most plausible solution.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:47 AM on May 14, 2016


I think his best option would be to commit massive insider trading and sent to minimum security federal for 20 years. Other incarceration scenarios would seem too socially challenging to do much "sleepwalking."

But then why not just make enough money from insider trading to pay for rent, food, and an in-home support person for however many years?
posted by lazuli at 10:50 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think getting on disability and low-income housing is the most plausible solution.

A caveat there would be that "getting on disability" often takes years, and getting low-income housing often takes many more years. (The current wait for Section 8 vouchers here is eight years.) I was suggesting starting with a character who was already in such a situation.
posted by lazuli at 10:53 AM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm also reminded of that scene in Inception when they visit the guy who is tending to all the dream addicts. They're all sedated on cots in this dingy place...it was obviously intended to evoke the "opium den" vibe but for dreaming. So that might be something to work with.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:56 AM on May 14, 2016


I was suggesting starting with a character who was already in such a situation.

Which could actually solve some of the plausibility problems of someone choosing to lose their housing in order to go through with any of these scenarios. If the character started out in jail, or prison, or rehab, or disabled, or in a hospital, or in an institution for people with mental illness (though that one's probably way overdone) -- in a socially disadvantageous position, basically, that then becomes an asset because of the freedom to sleep and the support systems in place to keep them alive? Though I could see that getting politically difficult if you're not thoughtful about it ("Disabled people are so lucky because they can just laze around all day!")
posted by lazuli at 11:06 AM on May 14, 2016


So he sets up his real life to be the bare minimum he needs to survive,

To be honest, this sounds like a much more interesting story than the dream war part. Premise: he decides he needs to do this but doesn't know how best to do it, and the story is about the ideas, challenges, constant interruptions, needing to pick a new plan.

Interspersed chapters about the war and whatever setback he's sustained while "awake" in the real world, how frustrating that is, more motivation to solve the real-world problem.

It's actually better if he's in his 20s instead of a pensioner, because not as easily solved.
posted by ctmf at 11:21 AM on May 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


One thing worth considering is that his situation might should not be stable at all - he gets arrested for a while, then he gets on a clinical trial, then squats an abandoned building, crashes someone else's basement, etc. Unless you're willing to go with "man gets fired, gets a decent severance pay, proceeds to lose his mind", I doubt you'd be able to get a realistic scenario where someone can sleep all day without a care.
posted by lmfsilva at 11:21 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


How much is this guy willing to sacrifice for this? If he could blind himself (for instance by putting drain cleaner in his eyes) then he could end up in a nursing home paid for by Medicaid.

Blind people who were once able to see can see in their dreams.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:31 AM on May 14, 2016


One thing worth considering is that his situation might should not be stable at all - he gets arrested for a while, then he gets on a clinical trial, then squats an abandoned building, crashes someone else's basement, etc. Unless you're willing to go with "man gets fired, gets a decent severance pay, proceeds to lose his mind", I doubt you'd be able to get a realistic scenario where someone can sleep all day without a care.

Or even just he tries to sleep as much as possible, so he quits his job, he eventually can't afford rent/mortgage, so he's homeless and maybe tries shelters, but has to leave those during the day, so lives on the streets, but keeps getting hassled by cops for sleeping in public, and maybe decides that if he's arrested that will fix things, and then discovers he can't just sleep all day in jail.... So he's a hero in Dream Realms while getting increasingly marginalized in Awake World. (That may also be horribly overdone. I don't read much SF/Fantasy and am mainly just interested in the practical part of the question!)
posted by lazuli at 11:33 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


John Scalzi's Lock In has a related setup in that the protagonist is affected by an epidemic in which people are unable to move or feel their bodies, so as a workaround they are hooked by a neural interface to robotic bodies and are able to access a shared cyberspace world, so it's kind of a science fictional version of this type of story. The novel itself is a police procedural and the physical arrangements the protagonist has to make (special cradle for the organic body, robot bodies, neural interfaces, shared housing for fellow sufferers) do determine a good part of the plot.
posted by sukeban at 11:46 AM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also, he falls in love in the dream war. More motivation to figure out a solution; will be an easier sell when you adapt it to blockbuster movie.
posted by ctmf at 11:57 AM on May 14, 2016


Short-term solution: NASA has run a few studies where they pay people to stay in bed for a few months.
posted by cogitron at 12:42 PM on May 14, 2016


Does your protagonist actually think his body is real, or is he convinced that the "real" world is a weird dream? If he doesn't actually think the real world is real, he might be more inclined to live on the streets and use drugs to stay asleep as long as possible. Otherwise, if he recognizes that his dreamland struggle depends on the survival of his "real" self, he could just live in a dumpy part of town with a low-pay, under-the-table job (bartender, club bouncer, etc.), that gives him just enough income to keep food in his belly. I imagine him living in the attic of an old house in Iowa paying $200 a month, with nothing but an unfurnished mattress, a hot plate, and a mini-fridge, popping prescription sleep meds acquired through some shady deal he worked out with the house's owners. He'd eat nothing but canned beans and vegetables and live in relative squalor. Except for those 4-5 hours every night when he has to wake up to stand at the door of some dark industrial dance club checking IDs.
posted by deathpanels at 12:55 PM on May 14, 2016


What if your protagonist (why a guy btw? Women dream too!) is taking part in one of those NASA studies where they keep you in bed for six weeks? Already immobile, maybe some weird combination of medicine causes lucid dreaming, and their body would obviously be taken care of.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:01 PM on May 14, 2016


The Sleep Study angle could be worth exploring. Dude finds a corrupt professor, bribes him heavily, and then becomes a rotating sleep study subject passed off as being part of a "control group" going forward. Corrupt professor might key on to what's going on and seeks to manipulate the Dream for his own benefit.

Other than that, if your protagonist is a Young White Dude who would otherwise live life on easy mode, he could farm out his whiteness to help a community of less privileged folks. "Give me a bed and let me sleep and I will be your white dude on call."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:05 PM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


You want a big crime. Supermax prisons you are in a solo cell 24-7 but for a couple of hours a week of rec and shower time. No one to keep you from sleeping all you want assuming you can sleep with the lights on.
posted by MattD at 4:55 PM on May 14, 2016


How does he enter into a place of seclusion without giving away that he has these dreams and that he enjoys them. Is it all in his head or is it an actual life and this warrior goes to sleep and wakes up in this hyper-normal American deus ex? So wouldn't he look for ways to power through with exertion to go back to sleep? If he was trying to achieve something as a warrior, wouldn't the warrior try to transcend the strange reality of the body he is connected to in his dream state. Obviously, escape narrative is boundless, but the question is can the protagonist achieve transcendentalism without relying on others to keep up his care? Or, is the dream war part of a national priority, in secret, to send more warriors to fight in the war full-time. Gonna go write my own book now.
posted by parmanparman at 9:12 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


O. Henry, The Cop and the Anthem (1904):
The short story's narrative is set in an unstated day in late fall. Because the city trees' deciduous leaves are falling and there is a hint of frost in the air, Soapy faces the urgent necessity of finding some sort of shelter for the winter. He is psychologically experienced in thinking of the local jail as a de facto homeless shelter, and the narrative shows him developing a series of tactics intended to encourage the police to classify him as a criminal and arrest him.
The complete story is summarized at the link.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 12:10 AM on May 16, 2016


Bobby Newmark (aka Count Zero) in Mona Lisa Overdrive [william gibson, 1988] keeps himself in a medically-induced coma (well, pays an attendant to keep him in the coma, and another person to hide him a stretch of deserted trash and factories called Dog Solitude) to play out basically a quest in an alternate reality via a cyberspace deck
posted by zingiberene at 7:21 AM on May 16, 2016


Supermax prisons you are in a solo cell 24-7 but for a couple of hours a week of rec and shower time.

Yeah, but what most people don't know is that it's actually really loud (other inmates freaking out, violence, etc.) and hard to sleep most of the time in those cells.
posted by originalname37 at 3:42 PM on May 16, 2016


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