Showing posts with label Philip K Dick. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philip K Dick. Show all posts

16 August 2018

The Best Anthologies Wake You Up


by Eve Fisher

The death of Harlan Ellison stirred up some old memories.  My first encounter with his work was from Outer Limits:  Demon With a Glass Hand.  I didn't know who the author was, and I didn't care - I was 10 years old, gobbling sci-fi by the yard, and a bit worried that I was some kind of demon seed myself, so the episode really hit home for me.

DangerousVisions(1stEd).jpgSkip forward 3 years and I read Dangerous Visions, Harlan Ellison's ground-breaking sci-fi anthology.  Now, I'll tell you straight up, Harlan Ellison's story in that anthology was perhaps my least favorite - but I loved his introductions and epilogues for each story.

My favorite story was Philip K. Dick's "Faith of Our Fathers", in which the hero discovers that there really are drugs in the water - but everyone in the world is having the same hallucination.  It's the anti-hallucinogens that create different realities for everyone.  That alone made me sit up and look around.  But what really stuck with me was this quote from Mr. Dick in the epilogue:
"The last word, however, on the subject of God may have already been said: in A.D. 840 by John Scotus Erigena at the court of the Frankish king Charles the Bald. "We do not know what God is. God Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything. Literally God is not, because He transcends being." Such a penetrating—and Zen—mystical view, arrived at so long ago, will be hard to top; in my own experiences with psychedelic drugs I have had precious tiny illumination compared with Erigena."
THAT still rings through my mind regularly, like a deep hum, like the cry of a peacock, like a distant bell.

It also caused me to start reading history.  Who were those Frankish kings?  What else did Erigena say or write?  Who influenced him?  Why was a Celt at the Frankish court?  All damn good questions that launched me - after a wildly improbable twenty years or so - into becoming an historian.

A good anthology will rattle your cage for years, which is why I don't let go of them when I find them.  (My copy of Dangerous Visions is tattered and brown-paged by now, but still readable.  It will see me out.)

There's 1962's "The Best From Fantasy and Science Fiction, 11th Series" edited by Robert P. Mills.  Among the great stories:
    Kurt Vonnegut 1972.jpg
  • The fabulously written Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, which introduced me to Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind stories, and the idea of the Underpeople, derived from animals, who are given human form, speech, and intellect but have absolutely no civil rights.  If they make any mistake, they can/will be destroyed.  Something else that make me look at what was going on around me.
  • Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron, about a world of enforced equality - to the lowest common denominator of everything.  
  • And the mystical, fabulously beautiful, The One Who Returns by John Berry, which gave me a new view of what a Yeti might really be.   
A more recent mystery anthology in my library is 1993s "More Murder Most Cozy", edited by Cynthia Manson, which has P. D. James' Adam Dalgleish uncovering a truly cold case - a Victorian May-December mesalliance that led to murder - in The Boxdale Inheritance.  Wonderful.  I also reread Melba Marlett's The Second Mrs. Porter every once in a while to try to figure out how she pulled off the most unique gaslighting I've ever heard of.

And then there are the weird collections you find in the antique stores.  A Treasury of the Familiar, chock full of poetry from the 19th century, Bible quotations, Washington's and Lincoln's political speeches, Edgar Allan Poe, Victorian songs, Spartan defiances, a little bit of everything.

The Holiday Reader, 1947, edited by Bernard Smith and Philip Van Doren (which instantly makes me think of Dorothy Parker saying, "I put myself to sleep counting Van Dorens"...)  This tome is divided into sections:  Stories (Hemingway to Hecht), Humor (Beerbohm, Lardner, Benchley, Parker, etc.), Travel (including Thomas Wolfe, Rachel Carson, and both D. H. and T. E. Lawrence),  Poetry (everything from sonnets to E. E. Cummings), and Eating and Sleeping (worth it for M. F. K. Fisher's Madame is Pleased) and Mystery Fantasy & Murder.

Whistle and I'll come to you illustration.jpgEspecial shout-outs to E. M. Forster's The Machine Stops (which only gets more timely every year), M. R. James Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad, (scared the bejeezus out of me) and Raymond Chandler's I'll be Waiting.   Imho, one of the best in this collection is Irwin Shaw's Search Through the Streets of the City, which is about as noir as you can get without a murder.

BTW, long ago I made a grave mistake and gave away a paperback collection of 50 Great Short Stories which included a story about a man whose male friends successively date this woman who is beautiful, intelligent, just amazing...  And she cares so tenderly, lovingly, for each of them as they contract this or that fatal illness.  And then he gets sick and she comes to take care of him...  Does this ring a bell with anyone?

Another great find was the 1957 "A Treasury of Great Mysteries".  I don't know how they got the rights to all of these, which include Christie's Murder in the Calais Coach, Du Maurier's Rebecca, Ambler's Journey Into Fear, and Chandler's The Big Sleep.  That right there made it worth the $2.00 charge.

Also a number of truly great short stories by most of the icons of 1950s mystery writing, including Inspector Maigret, in Maigret's Christmas, Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason in The Case of the Crimson Kiss (a pretty severe lesson in choosing roommates), and the original short story Rear Window (William Irish).

But my personal favorite is Rex Stout's Instead of Evidence.
"Archie Goodwin," she said.  "You think I'm terrible, don't you?  You think I'm an awful woman, bad clear through.  Don't you?"
"I'm not thinking, lady.  I'm just an errand boy."
The funny thing was that if at any moment up to then I had made a list of the ten most beautiful women she would not have been on.  
You can't get much more noir than that.

05 November 2017

Electric Sheep


by Leigh Lundin


In the third grade, I loved the concept behind Fritz Leiber’s Gather Darkness, my first adult novel, the one I remember. It hooked me on science fiction.

Why this on a mystery site? Partly because it’s about story telling and because many mystery writers and readers find they enjoy sci-fi too.

As mentioned before, only hard science fiction appeals to me. Here the adjective ‘hard’ serves to modify ‘science’ as much as it does science fiction.

Much as mystery writing has its rules about fairness to the reader, a major rule in real SF is that the science must be either real or at least plausible within a given universe. For the most part, that rules out magic and monsters.

As opposed to sci-fi, many stories are termed science fantasy or, in the case of Star Wars, ‘space opera’. They can entertain, but they aren’t sci-fi in the purest, purist sense.

The main point of true science fiction isn’t about blobs and alien abductions of busty beauties. It’s about society, it’s about us, about the condition of humankind. Look for a message, and you’ll probably find one.
The Ship Who Sang

Anne McCaffrey

But wait, you say. What about Anne McCaffrey? She writes about dragons and… and… dragony stuff, yet you have a soft spot for her?

It’s not the dragons. Anne McCaffrey is a force of fantasy, if not nature. I think I’ve seen a movie based on one of her dragony books, I’ve not read them. Instead, I go back to one of her earliest published works when I was in the 5th or 6th grade, The Ship Who Sang.

What beautiful names for a sailboat, I thought, Helva, The Ship Who Sang. What a beautiful story.

It’s a stunning novella, awkward according to some critics (and re-edited in response), but made even the more poignant. If Helva doesn’t make you tear up, you missed the ship. McCaffrey herself said it’s her favorite and understandably so. I’ve read a lot since, but I’ve never forgotten that story.

Stand on Zanzibar
John Brunner

As a country kid, I consumed science fiction in a vacuum, not knowing how highly regarded John Brunner was among his peers. I knew only that I admired his works.

The most visionary writers can predict the future. Brunner’s novels read so much like tomorrow’s newspaper, a casual reader might not recognize them as science fiction.

Brunner predicted computer viruses (Shockwave Rider), disastrous climate change (The Sheep Look Up), and a need to deal with overpopulation (Stand on Zanzibar). Along with his novel about urban eco-planning (The Squares of the City), his stories are usually uplifting, the excepting being The Sheep Look Up.

Except for thrillers, science fiction deals with topics crime writing can’t handle. One commonality is that both can make you think.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Philip K Dick

I absorbed Golden Age short stories in pulp magazines. You’d recognize most of the authors and one of my favorites was Philip K Dick. Not only did he publish more than one-hundred twenty shorts, but he went on to write forty-four novels.

You’ve seen television shows and movies such as The Man in the High Castle (2015), Total Recall (1990, 2012), Minority Report (2002), A Scanner Darkly (2006), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), and today’s topic, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1982, 2017), aka Blade Runner.

I mention this because Blade Runner 2049 is still in theatres. The first one (1982) was excellent, and please, watch it before watching its sequel.

A number of actors appear in both. The pixels of one original actress, Sean Young, appear in a remarkable blending of actresses, one old, one young.

Man in the High Castle
Speaking of actresses, one compelling scene contains a sort of birth of an android. It’s so delicate, I couldn’t help but wonder if its Dutch actress had dance training.

A handful of ‘easter eggs’ hark back to the original film and at least one to Dick’s story title. An aging Edward James Olmos drops an origami sheep on a table.

So what’s the message in Blade Runner? Like the original, it’s about humanity. At the end of the 1982 and the 2017 films, the question becomes: Who’s human? Who’s humane?

The answer isn’t homo sapiens.