“The two basic topics which fascinate me are “What is reality?” and “What constitutes the authentic human being?” – Philip K. Dick, from a speech he gave in 1978
Counter-Clock World is the twelfth PKD novel I’ve read this year, accompanied by a monthly quota of 75 pages of The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. Out of the twelve books I’ve read, this has become one of my favourites. It is built on a simple concept: what if people’s lives started running backwards? So, instead of being born as a baby from the womb, people are “old-born” from the grave and age in reverse, getting younger year by year. Dick calls this process “the Hobart Phase”.
“Those who were presently being old-born had been the last to die: final mortalities before June 1986. But according to Alex Hobart, the reversal of time would continue to move backwards, continually sweeping out a great span;” (p.14)
The older we get, the more we dream of slowing or halting the aging process. Isn’t this what so many of us desire? But this is a PKD story which means it has his unique take on such a concept. And if we stop and actually think about the ramifications of reverse-aging, we might not see it as being such a great thing after all. For one thing, can you imagine regaining consciousness in a coffin six feet underground? Continue reading
I’m starting this review with 2 quotes I like about the American writer Alice Sheldon (1915–1987) who wrote speculative fiction under the pen name James Tiptree, Jr.:
“It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing.” — Robert Silverberg
“What her work brought to the genre was a blend of lyricism and inventiveness, as if some lyric poet had rewritten a number of clever SF standards and then passed them on to a psychoanalyst for final polish.” — Brian Aldiss
Art by Chris Foss
When I was looking for recommendations of quality sci-fi books written by women, Admiral Ironbombs suggested any of Tiptree’s short-story collections. This was the first published collection of her short stories. It was published in 1973, the year of my birth and the reason why I chose to read this collection first. There are fifteen stories collected here, all of which are worth reading. Even the weaker tales have something special that separates them from similar fare of the same period.
With most of these intriguing tales the reader is dropped into a fully-formed world without any explanation. Tiptree excels at showing rather than telling, which could put some readers off. That would be a shame because these short stories are brimming with imagination, ideas and some unforgettable imagery. Here are some brief thoughts on the stories that really stood out for me.
“A bug crawled up on to his right shoe, paused there, and then extended a miniature television camera. The lens of the camera swung so that it pointed directly at his face.” (p.30)
Bored with his mundane life, Ben Tallchief prays for something “more creative and stimulating”. A transfer to the planet “Delmak-O” seems to be the change he is looking for. He joins a group of recent arrivals who are unsure of what their “mission” is, aside from colonizing the planet. They are awaiting communication of their orders but the communication system fails. Then one of the colonists is found dead. Was it a sudden allergic reaction to the new surroundings of the planet or something more sinister?
As the group begins to explore Delmak-O, they discover they are not alone on the planet. Tiny artificial bugs with cameras are seen creeping around the colony. A large “Building” is sighted by some of the colonists, although its location cannot be agreed upon. And there is an organic life form called a “tench” that sounds like a big, sentient jelly but is capable of giving oracular advice.
“The great globular mass of protoplasmic slush undulated slightly, as if aware of him. Then, as the question was placed before it, the tench began to shudder …” (p.172)
“I think I’d probably tell you that it’s easier to desire and pursue the attention of tens of millions of total strangers than it is to accept the love and loyalty of the people closest to us.” William Gibson, Idoru
2016 has been the year of Dick for me, Philip Kindred Dick. Taking part in Bookpunks’ mind-warping “Exegesis with a Side of Fiction: The PKD Read-Along” has brought me closer to Dick. I regularly found myself questioning what was real after being submerged in the latest book. Despite struggling through the dense and diffuse Exegesis, I looked forward to my monthly dose of PKD paperback, wondering what kind of bizarre and unhinged world I would discover inside. It was also a great opportunity to focus on the work of one writer, to see the different worlds they had imagined and built, to compare the later stories with the earlier ones.
So, I propose spending 2017 in William Gibson territory. One book per month, commencing with his collection of short stories Burning Chrome. Continue reading