The Man in the High Castle (1963) by Philip K. Dick

“On some other world, possibly it is different. Better. There are clear good and evil alternatives. Not these obscure admixtures, these blends, with no proper tool by which to untangle the components.” (p.227)

 

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Folio Society Edition

Often considered to be Dick’s best work, as well as his most mainstream, The Man in the High Castle imagines a future in which Germany, Italy and Japan won the Second World War. America is occupied by both the Germans and the Japanese. The story concentrates on events occurring in California, now part of the ‘Pacific States of America’ controlled by the Japanese. As is common in a lot of Dick’s writing, ordinary people dealing with unusual or extraordinary events are the focal point of TMITHC.

 

These everyday people make up the main characters of the book. Thus we meet Mr. Tagomi, a Japanese trade official, Bob Childan, an antiques dealer, Frank Frink, a jewelry maker, Frink’s ex-wife Juliana, a judo instructor, and Joe Cinnadella, a truck driver. In the background lurks Hawthorne Abendsen, the author of an alternative history novel popular at the time, despite it being banned by the Nazis. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a book within a book, an alternative history within an alternative history. Dick soon has everyone questioning what is real… Continue reading

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976) by Kate Wilhelm

“I’m going to dissect your every thought, your every wish, every dream. I’m going to find out what happened to you, what made you separate yourself from your sisters, what made you decide to become an individual, and when I find out we’ll know how never to allow it to happen again.” (p.122)

51pl9fv9u8l-_sx331_bo1204203200_The story begins as civilization is on the verge of collapse. The causes, pollution, disease and climate change, are briefly touched on by the author but she keeps them in the background. Instead, her focus falls on one extended family, the Sumners, and their attempts to survive. They have wealth and education on their side. Their isolated setting near the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia shields them from the worst of the global meltdown until a problem develops with their livestock. They are found to be infertile. When this infertility spreads to the people, the end really does seem nigh. Facing extinction, some of the survivors begin experiments in cloning, first on animals then later on themselves.

Kate Wilhelm’s dystopian novel on cloning won both the Hugo and Locus Awards for Best Novel in 1977. The title of the book is a quotation from William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73. This sonnet focuses on the theme of old age:

                      That time of year thou mayst in me behold
                       When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
                       Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
                      Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
                                                                                            (The first four lines of Sonnet 73)

  Continue reading

Children of the Different (2016) by S. C. Flynn

“The moon came out from behind a cloud and lit up their faces. Arika shuddered when she saw the twisted hate that was written there. Ferals. A man and a woman. One carried an axe and the other a pitchfork. She looked quickly behind. More Ferals. A cold shiver ran through her.” (Loc 1297)

6166cuq2lglIt is nineteen years since a deadly brain disease called “the Great Madness” wiped out the majority of the world’s population. The human race is clinging on to what remains of life, living in sparse settlements dotted around the world, barely surviving. Inexplicably, the children of the survivors begin slipping into a trance at the onset of adolescence. This coma-like state is known as “the Changing.” In this altered state, the child experiences a challenging rite of passage as they journey through the dream-like “Changeland”. When they emerge from the Changing, they either display some kind of preternatural mental power or turn into “cannibalistic Ferals”.

This dystopian tale set in south-western Australia tells the story of twin teenage siblings Arika and her brother Narrah. At the beginning of the book, Arika has just entered her Changing; Narrah has yet to experience his. During her trance, Arika encounters a malevolent “echidna” (had to look that up!) known as “the Anteater”. This creature appears to have the ability to control and shape the landscape of the Changing, and it quickly targets Arika. Continue reading

The Fictional Man (2013) by Al Ewing

‘God, as he emerged from the translation tube, had a warm, beatific personality and a wickedly dry sense of humour, but what made his performance – as himself, or Himself, depending on how heretical you were feeling – was the essential otherworldliness he brought to the role, that strange touch of unreality.’ (Loc 154)

 

9781781080931Al Ewing is a British writer more widely known for his work in comics. He began writing for the British comic book 2000 AD, and currently writes for a number of publishers including Marvel Comics. He has written titles including Judge Dredd, the New Avengers, and Loki: Agent of Asgard. His debut novel Pax Britannia: El Sombra was published by Abaddon Books in 2007. The Fictional Man is my first experience of his work.

Just suppose that huge breakthroughs in science in the field of cloning were made in the 1970s. It becomes possible to grow fully formed adult beings with preset personalities. However, this advanced technology was purposely limited to creating specific, designed individuals, namely TV and movie characters called “Fictionals”. Thus Indiana Jones, for example, is actually a clone designed and grown by Hollywood complete with his tailor-made personality. When these Fictionals’ TV or movie career is over, they take ordinary jobs in the public and private sector. So you might see James Bond as a doorman or Jane Eyre working in a library. Continue reading

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965) by Philip K. Dick

“It takes a certain amount of courage, he thought, to face yourself and say with candor, I’m rotten. I’ve done evil and I will again. It was no accident; it emanated from the true, authentic me.” -Philip K. Dick

 

eldritch adj. – unearthly; weird; strange

fd96895003094b013cc9783b7df9b7f4Okay, I’m halfway through my Exegesis-plus-12-novels PKD read along, so to celebrate I want to start this review with a bit of research. As any fan will probably tell you, Philip K. Dick wrote a lot. And by “a lot”, I mean 48 novels*, and 121 short stories. That is a staggering output of work for any artist, especially considering Dick died aged only 53. (*Sadly, three of those novels’ manuscripts have been lost.)

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is the thirtieth (30th!) novel Dick wrote, reportedly written between Clans of the Alphane Moon and The Zap Gun. [source] (Publishing dates are different.) It was one of two books by Dick nominated for the 1966 Nebula Award. The other book was Doctor Bloodmoney, but they both lost out to Frank Herbert’s Dune. Continue reading

Kindred (1979) by Octavia Butler

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” -Octavia E. Butler

kindredGrowing up in England, I wasn’t familiar with Octavia Butler’s gripping tale of slavery and time travel, Kindred. I’ve since learned that it is a text often taught in American high schools and colleges. (I envy the lucky students who get to read this book as part of their studies!) It was recommended to me by some fellow bloggers when I was making a list of essential speculative-fiction books written by female authors.

Kindred tells the story of Dana, a young African-American writer living in California in 1976. She is married to Kevin, an older Caucasian man who is also a writer. Doing my best to keep this spoiler-free, I will only mention that the plot involves time travel, a pre-Civil War plantation in the southern part of the United States, slavery, the bonds of love and family, and what people are capable of to ensure their survival. Continue reading

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982) by Philip K. Dick

“The fixed idea of madness is fascinating, if you are inclined toward viewing with interest something that is palpably impossible yet nonetheless exists.” (p.97)

 

419402-philip-k-dick-the-transmigration-of-timothy-archer-coverThe Transmigration of Timothy Archer is the final novel Philip K. Dick completed before his untimely death in March 1982. Often listed as the third part of the VALIS Trilogy, it bears little relation to the first two VALIS books. (Dick’s intended third part of the trilogy, The Owl in Daylight, never progressed beyond a rough outline.) It is classed as being both a postmodern and philosophical novel which Dick was quoted as saying “is in no way science fiction.” Interestingly, his agent had a different interpretation of the book:

 “in your science fiction they drive things called flobbles and quibbles, and in this one they drive Hondas — but it’s still essentially a science fiction novel. Although I can’t explain exactly how.”

These quotes are taken from an interview the author gave to Twilight Zone magazine at the beginning of 1982. At that time the interviewer remarked that Dick “was in excellent spirits and was looking forward to the premiere of Blade Runner […] with considerable excitement”. It is sad that he didn’t live to see it. Continue reading