That’s just a fancy word for what Sara does in the Dream books – using dreams to divine (predict) the future. 

There’s no explanation in any of the books for why, exactly, Sara can do what she does.  Mainly that’s because that isn’t what the books are about.  Sara doesn’t live in a magical or supernatural world; she lives in (more or less) the real world, with her ability to visit other people’s dreams as the one supernatural twist.  Sara herself isn’t terribly interested in an explanation – although she’s done a lot of good thanks to her talent, and in “Dream Family” she pushed that talent farther than it had gone before, she’d be just as happy if her talent disappeared and she was just a plain old doctor again.

The closest we get to an answer is in the first book, “Dream Student,” when Sara and Brian are speculating about why she can do what she does, and why, as far as they know, nobody else can:

“Fine.  It was you.  You dreaming about me is what started this.  You were close by, it’s probably not even two hundred feet, right, from here to my room?” he nods.  “You were dreaming about me, and you had very powerful feelings so maybe,” this sounds absurd as I’m saying it but I press on, “it’s all electrical signals, right?  Maybe we do broadcast when we’re dreaming.  Maybe it’s too weak to measure, or maybe we just don’t know as much as we think about our brains.”

“OK,” Brian says.  “That makes sense so far.”

I’m glad one of us thinks so.  “So, fine, you’re broadcasting, I’m broadcasting, everybody’s broadcasting, every night.  And that night, you broadcasted just a little louder than usual, in just the right way, and my brain picked it up.  Maybe it’s like a radio,” and this is starting to make sense to me too, now.  “You know how, when you get really bad reception, all you hear is static, right?”  He agrees.  “But then you finally manage to tune in a station, and once you’ve heard that you get better at hearing the other stations in the static.  Maybe they’re not as clear, but once you hear the first one, you know what to listen for.”

I’m not sure if this is actually reasonable or if I’m too tired to think clearly, but I soldier on.  “So once your signal came through, the radio in my brain got better at picking up all the other signals around me.  That’s why I’ve been seeing Beth’s dreams, and Jackie’s, and all the other people I’ve seen.”  And the killer.  Because his broadcast is coming from the tallest radio tower with 50,000 watts behind it, even if nobody in their right mind would ever want to tune it in.

Sara doesn’t pursue this any further, since there’s no way to test her theory, and in any case she’s much more concerned with catching the killer than with what’s causing her to see him in the first place.  But without knowing it, she basically got it right.  The basic “rules” of how dreaming works in these books are:

  • In theory, anyone could do what Sara does.  She (and her mother, and daughter) are, maybe, a little more sensitive than the average person, but they’re not fundamentally different than anybody else.
  • In order to be able to do what Sara does, the ability has to be “unlocked.”  A person’s ability is unlocked when someone else’s dream (their signal, if you like) overwhelms them and forces itself into their mind.  
  • To unlock someone’s ability, you need four things: physical proximity (as Sara notes, Brian was only a couple of hundred feet away from her when he dreamed about her), an emotional connection (Brian had a huge crush on Sara) and the person being unlocked needs to be the subject of the dream (as Sara was in the dream that opens the book).  And obviously, both people need to be asleep and dreaming at the same time. 

Meeting all four of those criteria at one time is actually a pretty rare thing; this is why Sara hasn’t yet run into anyone else outside of blood relatives who can do what she does.  But in the next book, that’s going to change…


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