“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 isThe 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.
‘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.’
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.‘
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 →
I’ve started reading Fritz Leiber’s 1958 Hugo Award-winner The Big Time.
“Have you ever worried about your memory, because it doesn’t seem to recall exactly the same past from one day to the next? Have you ever thought that the whole universe might be a crazy, mixed-up dream? If you have, then you’ve had hints of the Change War.”
I only managed to read a couple of “vintage” SF stories in 2018 so I’m going to make an effort to read more this year.
I’ve been looking through my older reviews starting from 2016 and have found quite a few books that fall under this category. In fact I am amazed at just how many vintage books I read and reviewed in 2016. You can tell how enthusiastic I was back then at getting this blog off the ground. So, without further ado, here are the Vintage Science Fiction and Fantasy stories I read and reviewed in 2016: Continue reading →
“Pete, I can’t go on. I’ve got a gelatinous blob for a child.” (p.11)
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 →
From January to December 2016, I took part in a Philip K. Dick read-along hosted by Nikki of Bookpunks. The challenge was to read The Exegesis of P.K.D. accompanied by one of his novels each month. You can find the first of those posts here.
I won’t lie, The Exegesis was challenging to get through, but the 12 novels kept me going. They were so much fun, as well as being bonkers in a uniquely Dickian way. Well, reading those books has turned me into a PKD fan.
In 2017, I didn’t read anything by him. After a while, I started to miss his quirky worlds and mind-blowing ideas. I even missed his everyman characters and their – at times – unintentionally hilarious dialogue. (Or maybe it was intentional, only PKD knows).
So, this year I am going to read and review some of his 150-ish short stories, starting with this 1953 tale “Impostor”.
Here are two quotes taken from the hardback cover:
“A great and calamitous sequence of arguments with the universe: poignant, terrifying, ludicrous, and brilliant. The Exegesis is the sort of book associated with legends and madmen, but Dick wasn’t a legend and he wasn’t mad. He lived among us, and was a genius.” – Jonathan Lethem
‘Based on thousands of pages of typed and hand-written notes, journal entries, letters, and story sketches, […] Dick documents his eight-year attempt to fathom what he called “2-3-74,” a postmodern visionary experience of the entire universe “transformed into information”.’
To briefly summarize what “2-3-74” was: Dick believed he had had a visionary experience in February and March 1974, and spent the next eight years trying to make sense of it.
“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 →
“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)
“What an undercover narcotics agent fears most is not that he will be shot or beaten up but that he will be slipped a great hit of some psychedelic that will roll an endless horror feature film in his head for the remainder of his life, …” (p.67)
I can’t seem to focus on writing this review because of the tiny bugs crawling all over the keyboard. Each time I brush them off, they return in greater numbers. Jerry says he can’t see them but that doesn’t mean they’re not there, right in front of me, blocking out the screen now. Jesus, they’re all over my hands Jerry, help me get them off. Whaddya mean there’s nothing there? Wait a minute, are you recording this? What?.. No, I know you don’t have a camera but I swear I can hear something that sounds just like a video camera’s lens adjusting its focus. No, I’m not being paranoid. I can feel it zooming in on me right now. I’m what?.. You think I’m talking too much? Talking or thinking? Shit, I need a couple of tabs to calm me down. Do you have any, Jerry? Please man, I’ll spot you a couple back when I get some. When?.. Friday. I promise, man. Yeah, I know what I said last time but…
A Scanner Darkly won the BSFA Best Novel Award in 1978. It is a story set in a (then) future 1994 which focuses on surveillance, recreational drug use, addiction and withdrawal. The main character is Bob Arctor, an undercover narcotics agent who is sharing a house with a couple of users. The drug of choice is “Substance D” or “Death”. Arctor is searching for a lead to the supplier(s) of the drug. Continue reading →
‘And then, as he walked, he noticed that all the cross streets to the left leaned, as if the city was sinking on that side, as if gradually it was keeling over.’ (p.55)
Written at the height of the Cold War, Philip K. Dick’s 1965 novel Dr Bloodmoney imagines what might happen if America experienced a nuclear attack. Dick sets it in a (then) future 1981 in which there is a draft for the Cuban War, Russia’s Lunar Colony has failed, and for the first time, a married couple is about to be sent on a colonization mission to Mars. As people watch the televised launch of the Mars-bound rocket, the TV screens suddenly go blank and the signal is lost…
Dr Bloodmoney is one of the most unusual PKD stories that I have read so far. It starts off ordinarily enough introducing some of the “everyman” characters that usually inhabit Dick’s stories: a TV salesman, a doctor, a company owner, and so on. As they work their respective ways through an ordinary day, Hoppy Harrington enters the narrative. Hoppy is one of the most original and unforgettable characters Dick has created. Continue reading →