03 April 2010

HOT FIVE: Philip K Dick

05: Valis [1981] Wherein Philip K Dick himself is the narrator, telling the story of Horselover Fat, a character based on Dick...In other words, Dick's avatar. Throughout the book, Dick and Horselover Fat have conversations with each other, mostly about philosophical and spiritual matters, and how both Dick and Fat have suffered emotional/psychic wounds, with Horselover in particular starting to lose his mind, or at least believe he is losing his mind. He reveals that he's had a series of visions that has led him to believe that there is an intelligent machine of some sort (V.A.L.I.S. -or- Vast Active Living Intelligence System) orbiting the earth, and it is capable of facilitating communication between humans and extraterrestials. As the book progresses, Horselover Fat heads towards the rural estate of a famous musician (based on Brian Eno?) in hopes of contacting VALIS, and thereby acquire the necessary wisdom of life that might heal his psychic wounds. But what will happen to Dick himself, who finds himself isolated and seemingly lost while Horselover Fat is off on his quest for gnosis? I'm not telling, mostly because I don't remember.

04: The Man In The High Castle [1962] Wherein it's 1962, and the Axis Powers of Germany and Japan have won an extended World War II and the United States has been divided into thirds. The U.S., as a Nazi puppet state, now occupies only the eastern third of the country, while the western third belongs to Japan, with the middle third of the country a mostly lawless buffer zone between the two. In general, The Man In The High Castle is concerned with the daily lives of a loose collection of characters, many of whom are involved in such things as American antiques, war collectibles, banking, international trade, counterfeiting and other aspects of culture, diplomacy and economics. Themes such as personal identity, cultural identity, greed, racism, and the very nature of reality are woven throughout the various characters' stories, which are set against the larger story of a post-war Cold War between Germany and Japan, and the power struggles within the Nazi government in particular. Not so much a science fiction novel as an (obviously) alternate history, this sweeping story is nonetheless a fascinating and thought-provoking examination of chance and circumstance.

03: Ubik [1969] Wherein the then-future 1992 is so technologically advanced that civilians are able to easily travel to the moon and various parapsychology phenomena, such as ESP and telekenesis, are widely accepted as real. Our protagonist, Joe Chip, is an anti-telepath technician who works for the Runciter Corporation, and who is sent to the moon along with several other technicians to block telepaths from reading the minds of the deceased who are kept in "cold pac", and in this "half-life" state are capable of limited consciousness and telepathic communication abilities. The assignment ends up being a trap set by a radical organization of psychics, who bomb the lunar "cold pac" facility. Joe Chip and the other survivors head back to Earth, where they are able to get Glen Runciter's dead body into "half-life" to preserve his consciousness. However, they soon find their reality shifting and changing in strange, troubling ways. It seems that this group that returned from the moon must stick close together, because if any one of them strays from the group, that person dies and decomposes at a sudden and quick rate. Messages received through the television suggest that the group itself is actually suspended in "half-life". Their reality continues to warp, and time begins to shift backwards, until the group find itself in 1939, where they try to obtain a substance called UBIK, a substance that existed at every place and time in their space-time travels, and which apparently is the only way they can continue to survive while in their "half-life" state. Meanwhile, back in the real world of 1992, a living Glen Runciter finds coins with the image of Joe Chip on them. Hmmm...

02: A Scanner Darkly [1977] Wherein Agent Fred goes undercover as Bob Arctor, a drug user in a suburban house he shares with a couple other users. A house Agent Fred is spying on. Except Bob Arctor becomes addicted to Substance-D, "Slow Death", a psychoactive drug that can eventual cause one's brain to literally split into two hemispheres that function idependently, and so Agent Fred has no idea he is Bob Arctor, who has no idea he's being spied upon by himself, and is distracted anyways by his love for Donna (as played by Winona Ryder in the film). Donna's a Substance-D dealer, through whom Bob Arctor hopes to find the high-level Substance-D dealers, except Agent Fred's bosses at the police department discover Bob Arctor is addicted, and so no longer capable of working undercover. In the end, Agent Fred finds himself on a farm of the New-Path rehab clinic, emerging from his mind-splitting addiction a shell of his former selves, unsure if any of his ghostly memories are even real. Then he finds a blue flower amidst the rows of corn. A blue flower used to make Substance-D.

01: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Says [1974] Wherein genetically-enhance pop singer and television star Jason Taverner wakes up one morning to find he has no identification, and is now completely unknown to friends and fans alike, no longer a celebrity. There isn't even a record of him in the vast government databases of then-future 1988, which leads Taverner to be interrogated by Police General Felix Buckman. One thing leads to another leads to Taverner having an affair with Buckman's sister and incestuous lover, Alys. Alys is an adventurous drug user, and one of those drugs happens to be KR-3, an intense psychedelic that severely warps reality, until one becomes unbound from it and crosses over into a secondary, alternate reality. When Taverner returns from his KR-3 trip, he finds the skeleton of Alys Buckman, which freaks him out and sends him on the lam. While running from the law, he meets up with another woman on KR-3, who goes to an alternate reality where Taverner doesn't even exist. Taverner freaks again, and decides to turn himself in...All of this happens against the backdrop of a "second civil war" which has resulted in a "totalitarian democracy" in the United States. There's a heavy police surveillance state, but oddly enough, things such as drug use and pedophilia are legal. All in all, a gripping and still relevant story about identity, celebrity, genetics, the nature of reality, radical politics, power, oppression...and love.

Hotcha! Hank

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