Chronopolis (1960) short story by J.G. Ballard

‘In the bottom compartment of her jewellery case he came across a small flat gold-cased object, equipped with a wrist strap. The dial had no hands but the twelve-numbered face intrigued him and he fastened it to his wrist.’

-J.G. Ballard, Chronopolis

Norton paperback edition, 2010

Brief Synopsis

In a world where timepieces have been abolished, Conrad Newman is in jail, waiting to stand trial for murder. 


My Thoughts

The story opens with the protagonist Conrad Newman in jail awaiting trial. We learn that he has fashioned a sundial in his cell which he uses to keep track of the “daily roster.” It’s clear that Conrad is obsessed with time, as he worries about “going mad” if he is unable to tell what time it is “at any given moment.” There are no clocks in the prison.

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The Penultimate Truth (1964) by Philip K. Dick

“Then how come,” Blair said, “you’re squatting here in these ruins instead of lounging at a swimming pool in one of those conapt constellations?”
The man grunted, gestured. “I just–like to be free.”

Back in 2016, I took part in a Philip K. Dick reading challenge with a few fellow bloggers. I read and reviewed one PKD novel each month, while working through the mammoth, monster-of-a-tome that is The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (2011), 75 pages at a time. That was the year my blog became more than just the occasional post about cherry blossoms or Halloween reads. So, I have the novels of PKD to thank for leading me–kind of–to where I am today, typing these words.

Publisher’s Synopsis

‘World War III is raging – or so the millions of people crammed in their underground tanks believe. For fifteen years, subterranean humanity has been fed on daily broadcasts of a never-ending nuclear destruction, sustained by a belief in the all powerful Protector. But up on Earth’s surface, a different kind of reality reigns. East and West are at peace. Across the planet, an elite corps of expert hoaxers preserve the lie.’


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Elric of Melnibone and Other Stories (2013) by Michael Moorcock

‘And a helm was on his head; a black helm, with a dragon’s head craning over the peak, and dragon’s wings flaring backward above it, and a dragon’s tail curling down the back.’

Yes, I’m very late to the tales of Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melniboné. His first appearance was in a novelette titled “The Dreaming City” which was published in the British magazine Science Fantasy in 1961. Since then, Moorcock’s most famous creation has featured in a wide range of stories including short stories, novels, comic books and graphic novels. The publisher Gollancz republished all of Moorcock’s Elric back catalogue over seven volumes from 2013–15. This is the first volume and serves as an introduction to the character.

Gollancz UK 2013 edition
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Dune Messiah (1969) by Frank Herbert

‘The flesh surrenders itself, he thought. Eternity takes back its own. Our bodies stirred these waters briefly, danced with a certain intoxication before the love of life and self, dealt with a few strange ideas, then submitted to the instruments of Time. What can we say of this? I occurred. I am not . . . yet, I occurred.’

I recently read and reviewed Frank Herbert’s Dune. It was my second time to read it and the reread confirmed my opinion that Dune is a masterpiece. I believe it can stand on its own as a single story, a one-and-done work of incredible imagination. But like most readers of Dune, I wanted more. Imagine trying to write a sequel to such a book. How do you follow up a story like Dune? Where do you go next?

Art by Sean Francis O’Connell, 2017 Hodder & Stoughton edition
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Dune (1965) by Frank Herbert

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

I first read Dune some years ago, probably in my later teens. I really enjoyed it and it left a strong impression on me. I remember going to see David Lynch’s film version at a cinema in Manchester back in the winter of 1984. This was before I read the book. I also remember the hype building up to the film’s release and the focus on the special effects of the sandworms. Lynch’s movie; I know how much it gets slated but there’s something about it that I’ve always loved. Parts of it look and feel completely alien and strange. And those sandworms still look great today, I don’t care what you say!
But on to the novel.

There are so many reviews of Dune already out there that I wonder what I can add to the conversation. Only my opinion and what I liked about the story. I’m not going to attempt a critical reading or interpretation of the novel. If you want to read one of those, I highly recommend you check out fellow book-blogger Bart’s rich and thoughtful review over here at “Weighing A Pig Doesn’t Fatten It“. I can only dream of writing such a thoughtful and intelligent review. Continue reading

O Moon of My Delight! (1963) by Brian Aldiss

‘The planet Tandy was a gas giant as big as Jupiter, a beautiful object when it rose into Tandy Two’s skies, but uninhabitable and unapproachable.’

O Moon of My Delight” is a character-driven short story with an interstellar setting. It is one of eight stories found in Brian Aldiss’ 1963 collection “The Airs of Earth“. The story opens with Murragh Harrison preparing to watch the arrival of a Faster-Than-Light starship. He is on the moon Tandy Two, a place which is used as a kind of braking device for the incoming F.T.L. ships. Harrison, a wannabe poet, is there for the spectacular display.

‘The F.T.L. ship burst into normal space on automatic control, invisible and unheard at first. Boring for the world like a metal fist swung at a defenseless heart, it was a gale of force.’

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We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (1966) by Philip K. Dick

‘He awoke–And wanted Mars.’

Douglas Quail wakes up in his ‘conapt’ after dreaming of Mars. He dreams of walking along its valleys. At the beginning of the story, we are told that Mars is a world ‘which only Government agents and high officials had seen.‘ It’s not a place a ‘miserable little salaried employee‘ can visit. Kirsten, Doug’s wife, reminds him of this every day. But it’s okay because ‘it was a wife’s job to bring her husband down to Earth.

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This is how Dick’s classic story opens. As he inhales his morning shot of snuff, Doug’s wife complains that he is obsessed with the Red Planet. She wants him to take her on a trip to ‘the bottom of the ocean‘, to ‘one of those year-round aquatic resorts.‘ His Martian dreams can only lead one way: “you’re doomed, Doug!Continue reading

Oh, to Be a Blobel! (1964) by Philip K. Dick

“Pete, I can’t go on. I’ve got a gelatinous blob for a child.” (p.11)

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First published in the February 1964 issue of Galaxy magazine, Oh, to Be a Blobel! is a satirical short story about interplanetary war veteran George Munster. The Blobels, large amoeba-like aliens, arrived from another star system prompting the Human-Blobel War.

“I fought three years in that war, […] I hated the Blobels and I volunteered; I was only nineteen.” (p.1)

George became a spy, which required him to be medically altered into the jelly-like Blobel form. The problem was, when he returned from the war he was unable to fully relinquish this ‘repellent form.’ Despite his doctor’s best efforts, every twelve hours George reverts to a Blobel. Continue reading

The Last Unicorn (1968) by Peter S. Beagle

Disclaimer: I don’t often gush in reviews. Any gushing is my own gush without any outside influence or pressure to gush. Those easily offended by excessive gushing should read no further.

A very brief, spoiler-free summary: This is the story of a unicorn who believes she may be the last of her kind. She sets out on a quest to discover what has become of the other unicorns. During her journey, she meets several characters who attempt to help or hinder her.

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The Last Unicorn is one of those books which I kept hearing great things about over the years, but never got around to reading. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the title that didn’t quite appeal, or perhaps it was the various covers I’d seen which put me off. I don’t know. It just didn’t call out to me in a loud enough voice. It turns out this was my loss as The Last Unicorn is a fabulous story. Continue reading

Counter-Clock World (1967) by Philip K. Dick

“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

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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