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)

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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