A shorter collection than the previous two volumes containing four stand-alone stories involving Morpheus, King of Dreams. The first involves Calliope...moreA shorter collection than the previous two volumes containing four stand-alone stories involving Morpheus, King of Dreams. The first involves Calliope, the muse of epics who finds herself imprisoned by unscrupulous writers who rape her repeatedly over years for her ideas until she turns the table by getting Morpheus involved. I have a thing for the Greek muses, especially Aoede, as well as revenge on rapists so this story was quite enjoyable to me. The second story is a must-read for anyone who is a fan of cats and who understands that we are truly meant to be their servants. The third is quite probably my favorite of the entire series so far, a fantastic rendering of the origins of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" replete with Robin Goodfellow up to the shenanigans that he is famous for. The final story brings in Morpheus' sister, Death, as she counsels a depressed shapeshifter who can't control her metamorphoses and has become a shut-in. I hear that there eventually she has her own run of comics and I think I'd like to track them down at some point.(less)
More 3.5 stars than 3, this was an interesting enough read that kept me rather solidly enthralled from start to finish. An iteration on the classic "s...moreMore 3.5 stars than 3, this was an interesting enough read that kept me rather solidly enthralled from start to finish. An iteration on the classic "street rat saves princess" theme made famous in countless Disney films, but set against the backdrop of a post-oil dystopia that does nothing to hide not only the grim ecological future we will likely be inhabiting but also the human cost this future is likely bring with it. The opening third of the book laying out the culture of the ship-breaking community that has set up on the Gulf Coast fighting and dying for every square inch of copper wiring and waste oil they can strip from now-derelict oil tankers was incredibly interesting. The whirlwind adventures with the escaped heiress of a powerful shipping family? Not so much. Bacigalupi is a writer to watch, though. Between this young adult effort and his fantastic Wind-Up Girl he has shown himself more than capable of creating incredibly vivid dystopian worlds that bear just enough semblance to the world as it looks right now so as to be all the more haunting. I don't know if I'll read the rest of this Ship Breaker series, but I'll certainly make time for his future adult novels.(less)
I've made it. I have finally reached the summit of the second Library of America collection of Philip K. Dick books, Five Novels of the 1960s & 70...moreI've made it. I have finally reached the summit of the second Library of America collection of Philip K. Dick books, Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s. With my flag firmly planted atop the snow-capped peak of this book I can look back upon two weeks of paranoia, time travel, authoritarian governments and more experimental drugs than you can find outside of a Merck testing lab, with the self-satisfied air of a man who has plumbed the depths of speed-induced psychosis and made it through the other side. What better reward could I ask for, though, than to have finally allowed myself to read a book I knew I would love from the moment I saw the film, A Scanner Darkly?
I have wanted to read this book since the first time I heard of it, way back in the heady year of 2004 when I was working the front desk of a hostel in Prague and running a traveler's lending library of english-language literature. I was fresh off of Man in the High Castle and was handed a tattered paperback by a Welshman along with the benediction that this book would "utterly melt your mind." With a recommendation like that, I was immediately interested. Unfortunately that copy was soon lost among the ever-changing residents of the hostel and an opportunity was postponed. I've read nearly two dozen of Dick's books in the time since then but for one reason or another have never returned to A Scanner Darkly until now. The wait has made it even more delectable.
Bob Arctor is an undercover cop investigating the sale of a drug known as Substance D, a heavily addictive drug its users lovingly refer to as Death because the end result of long term use is always either the big D itself or a fugue state in which the user's basic motor functions and cognitive abilities are stripped away, leaving a husk of a person behind. To infiltrate the organization making this drug, Arctor has become addicted to Substance D and is living in a bacchanal of a drug pad with 3 other users and attempting to make time with his dealer, Donna Hawthorne. He reports back to his office under the pseudonym of "Fred" and wearing a scramble suit to anonymize his identity, because no one knows the extent to which the police department has been corrupted by the drug syndicate, which leads to his superiors deciding that the user Bob Arctor is worthy of deeper investigation as he seems to have access to larger amounts of money than a man of his background should have and many hours where he simply disappears without a trace (of course, these are the times when Arctor is checking in with the department as Fred).
So Arctor begins investigating himself in a move so biting it could have been culled from one of Kafka's nightmares. Sitting in a secret facility, reviewing hours and hours of surveillance tapes, and hearing all of the inane blather that only a house full of junkies can think is profound, Arctor's consciousness begins to fragment down the center until his cop persona Fred begins to suspect that Arctor is in business with some very shady people and becomes determined to bring him down.
It's always a relief to me when a book manages to live up to the expectations I have, especially when it's a read I've been looking forward to for a number of years. The dialogue was spot on, so many of the conversations between Arctor and his roommates, Barris and Luckman, seem as though they could have easily been taken from real life. Especially considering that at the time he was writing this, Dick had essentially opened up his home in Berkeley to the ever-shifting tide of drug users, political activists, and wanderers that were all moving through the Bay Area in the early 70s. The paranoia that is a hallmark of every Dick work reaches its pinnacle here as Arctor races against his own failing mind to collar his crook in time, who just happens to be himself.
This read ranks up there with Ubik, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch as one of Dick's finest. It is easily worthy of the praise which has been heaped upon it, and it was really nice to find proof that one of Dick's books had finally been adapted to film in a manner that did justice to the source material. The only disappointment I feel is that I no longer have this book to look forward to, though I am certain that I will return for a reread at least once or twice in the years to come.
Thus ends my Dick binge of 2012. I've made it through a good number of the author's books by this point and the only major work still remaining are his Exegesis books (VALIS, Radio Free Albemuth, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, which I will get to at some point down the road when my mind is on more firm ground than it is after devouring five reality-shifting books.(less)
Jason Taverner is on top of the world. He has it all- a house in the Swiss Alps, a beautiful girlfriend, an illustrious singing career, and a hit late...moreJason Taverner is on top of the world. He has it all- a house in the Swiss Alps, a beautiful girlfriend, an illustrious singing career, and a hit late-night talk show. In a sense, he is Justin Timberlake (yes, Timberlake doesn't have a talk show... yet). Until one morning he awakens to find that no one knows who he is anymore, all of his IDs are gone and, in the matter of a few hours, he has become an unperson. Which, in the militarized post-Real ID future this book is set in, makes him a very obvious and tempting target for the military police.
As he goes about trying to reclaim his identity, Jason becomes enmeshed in all sorts of various interactions with various damaged women. First there's Kathy, a 17 year old psychotic forger who provides him with a fake set of papers to move through the police checkpoints and then proceeds to toy with him as to whether she gave him a valid set of papers or not. She seems a stand-in for Dick's fifth and final wife, Leslie "Tessa" Busby, to whom the book is dedicated. If Kathy is in any way based on Tessa, it is understandable that during the time he was writing this book, Dick was committed to a psychiatric ward, went on multiple amphetamine benders, and feared for his safety so much that he placed the manuscript into the care of his attorneys to protect it from the insanity of his home life. She baits him again and again, spins stories about an imprisoned boyfriend out of thin air, and continually wavers between saving Taverner from the police and turning him in herself.
Next there's Alys Buckman, the bdsm-obsessed drug addict sister/occasional lover of the Police General who is investigating Jason Taverner's lack of identity. She inveigles Jason into her home with promises of protection and then doses him with an exceptionally strong amount of mescaline and further complicates his life in ways I will not spoil for future readers. Finally there's Mary Anne, a kindly shut-in neighbor of Alys' who Jason momentarily kidnaps before having a series of existential discussions on the benefits of taking risks and who gives him one of her cherished ceramic vases.
This book is incredibly scattered, even for Dick, and there are numerous plot points that are brought up, expounded upon at length, and then forgotten almost as quickly. For instance, Jason Taverner is a Six- one of a group of genetically-advanced experimental children whose aptitude for logical thinking, persuasiveness, and sheer sexual charisma have been elevated beyond that of normal humans. Yet this has absolutely no bearing on the story whatsoever. Taverner never uses that fabled Six intelligence to find the source of his removal from high society, never acts in any way like the advanced human he is and, in fact, is easily manipulated by normal humans on a number of occasions. There is an ex-girlfriend who attacks him at the beginning of the book but who is never mentioned again. There is a police investigator hot on Taverner's trail who is summarily dismissed from the story.
Taken as a work of science fiction, this is a mediocre effort. Too chaotic and scattershot for me to ignore without comment. However, taken as a bit of autobiography- Dick trying to make sense of his failed relationships and wondering, from the depths of his benzedrine benders, whether his paranoid impulses are correct and all of the women in his life are, in fact, out to get him, the book succeeds admirably. None of the women in the story are purely evil, but mere damaged souls who are re-visiting their own damage upon his character. Definitely worth reading, but I would not recommend this to neophyte Dick readers.(less)
It's a strange feeling when you think you have an author pegged and then they go ahead and publish something straight out of left field. It's like Mic...moreIt's a strange feeling when you think you have an author pegged and then they go ahead and publish something straight out of left field. It's like Michael Jordan playing baseball, Lou Reed making a record with Metallica, or Michael Bay directing a Victorian drama. It just seems odd, like you've awakened in a world that is not entirely yours any more. This was entirely my feeling for the first hundred pages or so of Dick's Now Wait for Last Year, the third entry in his Library of America collection Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s.
Now Wait for Last Year is set in a future in which humankind has somehow embroiled itself in a galactic war the likes of which would make the Kree-Skrull War seem like a minor dust-up. The people of Lilistar are genetic forebears of humanity, having seeded Earth with life millennia ago (think of the opening of Prometheus), so humanity has naturally sided with them in their ongoing conflict again the Reeg, a race of aliens who are only able to communicate to humans via small boxes. You would think that humans would know from our own history not to trust ourselves, but then logic has rarely been our strong suit. The war has not been going well for humanity, the Reegs are strong and the Lilistarmen have continually pushed us to increase our production for the war effort and make vague hints that they're more than willing to step in and "manage" their descendant's resources for them. All that is holding a complete takeover at bay is the Mole, UN Secretary General Gino Molinari, a hypochondriac with a 17 year-old mistress who uses his ailments as excuses to hold back the Lilistarmen from completing the "negotiations" that would cede control to these aliens.
Based on that premise alone, I would not think this is a Philip K. Dick book. It sounds more like something that Heinlein would have cranked out in one of his not-really-trying moments. In fact, the first half of the book embraces more of the elements of a political thriller than I've ever seen in a Dick work before. Fortunately, that's not all there is in these pages. Enter Dr. Eric Sweetscent, an organ replacement specialist called on by the Mole to assist him in keeping him just-this-side of death, and Kathy Sweetscent, his estranged wife who has just been hooked on JJ-180, a deadly addictive drug that shorts out its users neurological pathways but also allows the user to travel back and forth through time.
This is where things begin to return to the Dick we all know and love. Within no time Eric is slipped some JJ-180 and is in a race against time to find a cure to the addiction before he succumbs to the necrotizing effects of the drug. At the same time he is flung forward through time to several different alternate timelines, all of which offer various bleak scenarios for humanity's future enslavement and the future of his marriage. Can Sweetscent (such a good name) find the cure, save his marriage, and stop the Lilistar-men from taking over his planet?
This was a really captivating read. Once Sweetscent begins yo-yoing through the 4th dimension and we are treated to multiple alternate realities (including a great meeting with a future version of himself that is just filled with toxic self-loathing) and the sheer scope of the conspiracy begins to be illuminated, I really could not put the book down. Dick is truly a master of the time travel scenario, painting his scenes clearly, even when the reader is unaware just what may be going on. Most interestingly, though, are the latter pages of the book when the conflict with the aliens recedes into the background and Sweetscent focuses on saving his wife from the effects of her drug abuse and his marriage from the effects of his wife.
This book was written during an amphetamine-fueled streak of writing that saw Dick finish writing three other books at a time when his marriage to his second wife, Anne, was teetering on the brink of failure. Knowing this, it was especially heart-rending to read Sweetscent's musings as to whether it was even worth trying to save his wife, or whether both parties would be better off apart. It's a human touch that added a lot to my enjoyment of the story and further solidified my view of Dick as a tragic hero in his own works, a man struggling to understand his own world through creating fantastic escapist scenarios.(less)
And so I've made it through the second of the Library of America's Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s none the worse for wear. Dr. Bloodmoney is a cla...moreAnd so I've made it through the second of the Library of America's Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s none the worse for wear. Dr. Bloodmoney is a classic piece of 60s-style nuclear agitprop. While nearly every Philip K. Dick book that I've yet read can readily be classed as dystopian fiction, I think Dr. Bloodmoney is the work of his that comes closest to living up to the classic post-nuclear armageddon scenario envisioned in Earth Abides or A Canticle For Leibowitz. Still, this is Dick, so there are your super-powered invalids and your paranoid scientists convinced that they telepathically set off all the bombs, but when stood side by side with Dick's paranoid epics like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, this is a very normal-seeming piece of science fiction.
Through a typical swirling cast of characters, Dick has crafted another captivating world in which the reader is again left wondering whether events actually occurred or whether we were all subjected to intense fever dreams and hallucinations. As the bombs drop on Berkeley we are introduced to Hoppy Harrington- a phocomelus (born with no arms or legs) repairman with telekinetic powers and a big ax to grind with humanity, Dr. Bluthgeld/Jack Tree- the nuclear physicist who may or may not have accidentally set off all the world's nuclear armaments with his mental powers (or he's just batshit), Bonny Keller- a housewife with a predilection for extramarital amblings, and her daughter Edie whose young form also carries her brother Bill, a sentient teratoma whose own telekinetic powers may hold the key to saving humanity from Hoppy Harrington's plans for domination. Above them all flies poor lonely Walter Dangerfield, an astronaut who had been set to fly to Mars until the war left him trapped in orbit, circling the globe again and again and beaming down messages and music to the remnants of humanity.
There is very little that is new in this book. The destruction and rebuilding of civilization had been done hundreds of times before Dick made his effort and thousands of times afterward, yet I find myself loving this book in spite of it. I find myself relating to an almost unpleasant degree with a good hunk of the characters, from the cheerily optimistic Stuart McConchie who just wants the world to go back to normal to the power-obsessed Hoppy, who is determined to have the world finally give him his due.
Far and away though, my favorite character is Walter Dangerfield, circling the Earth and beaming down his messages to an audience that assembles in meeting halls in a religious silence and whose very presence provides humankind with hope for a better tomorrow. The religious allegory runs thick through his scenes, but becomes very satisfying when Dangerfield falls ill and humanity is left to wonder what will unite them when his broadcasts finally fall silent in a fine nod to Nietzschean ideas.
As fast a read as every other Dick book, Dr. Bloodmoney would be an exquisite place for a neophyte to test out the author's special brand of paranoia and hallucination, as well as a required read for those completists seeking to make their way through the entirety of Dick's oeuvre. It clearly belongs in the Library of America's collection, which was refreshing after my near miss with Martian Time-Slip, and makes me excited to see what comes next in this thick book.(less)
Summer seems to have finally been coaxed into sticking around in the Pacific North-West and has roused my abiding love of quick and easy beach reads f...moreSummer seems to have finally been coaxed into sticking around in the Pacific North-West and has roused my abiding love of quick and easy beach reads from its den of slumber. Because, really, what would summer be without some mind-bending science fiction? Far less entertaining, at the very least. So is it really any wonder that when I saw the sun rising above Mt. Hood at an especially clear 5:30am the other day I took it as a sign that it was finally time to read the second volume in the Library of America's Jonathan Lethem-curated collection of Philip K. Dick works, Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s.
The first entry in the collection, Martian Time-Slip is an early work of Dick's, written concurrently with his most-renowned read, The Man In The High Castle, and features all the paranoia and fractured narration I have come to know and love from Dick. Set on a recently-colonized Mars that seems to be falling apart faster than it can be put together, Martian Time-Slip strikes me as the Dick read most overtly concerned with the author's own fragile state of mind.
Jack Bohlen is an exceptionally skilled repairman who had immigrated to Mars following a minor schizophrenic breakdown wherein he saw his manager as a mechanical doppelganger infested with rot and contagion. Having fled to Mars he attempts to live a calm and orderly life free from the pressures that he thinks led to his initial psychotic break. Apparently in this future, one in five humans exhibit schizophrenic tendencies and very few are able to lead normal lives (though there is a disconcerting conflation between autism and schizophrenia throughout the book that I am hoping is simply due it being written in 1962 and the limited understanding psychology had of these two ailments at the time).
Through a typically convoluted series of events, Jack gets dragged into a plot hatched by Arnie Kott, leader of a Union settlement who is seeking to keep his grip on power as the UN on Earth makes Martian colonization more of a priority, to use an autistic child from a psychiatric facility to look through the veils of time into the future so as to position himself to best enrich himself. Then the wild ride commences in earnest. The boy, Manfred Steiner, is indeed capable of seeing through time, but can not vocalize his visions due to experiencing time out of sync with his fellow humans, so broadcasts his visions into Jack's fragile head, making him experience Manfred's very dark vision of reality and leading Jack back into the morass of mental illness he had hoped to escape.
This is the first book I've read where Dick's very legitimate concerns about his own mental state get much ink space. Of course things get especially twisted in his later writings like Radio Free Albemuth and V.A.L.I.S., but this read seemed to be one of the first times Dick tried to wrestle with his own sanity. The idea of sinister mechanical humans replacing the real thing is one that Dick has used repeatedly, most successfully in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Likewise, the time-out-of-joint recounting of events that he used to great effect in Ubik seems to have been first pioneered in these pages. Still, despite the fun I had with this story, it is not hard to see why Lethem did not include it in his first LOA collection. It's a must-read for hardcore Dick aficionados, but for those with a passing interest or who are only beginning to enter Dick's fractured and confusing world, they would be better off starting with the aforementioned Man in the High Castle, Ubik, or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.(less)