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Book Review “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (Philip K. Dick)

A mind-bending dystopian hero’s quest through the looking glass?

Summary: An impending sense of desperation pervades this gloomy romp of Dick’s arguably most famous work. The author’s prose, sometimes criticized, is a swift reading. In trying to keep up with the schizophrenic twists and turns of the story—I think that the digestible writing is well balanced. Though the dialog can be stiff in parts there is so much depth in what is going on, the work as a whole would suffer if weighed down by verbose diction.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes or our website: www.nodeodorant.com.

*** * *** SPOILER WARNING **** * ***

Review: Rick Deckard is chasing after six renegade androids in a post-apocalyptic earth. He’s a government agent/bounty hunter, whose main task is retiring escaped androids who are trying to blend in among humans. Sounds dangerous and exciting? Maybe. However, Dick gives the character a sort of “everyman” approach. Deckard is good at what he does, but it’s just a means to an end. And what is that? Well, that’s life baby. Deckard is just trying to get through the day like everyone else, and bring home a decent paycheck so he can afford the latest, coveted creature-comforts.

In this world, that means real-life “animals.” Deckard needs to make money so he can buy a live “animal,” now a luxury in a world where nearly everything seems to be rock, plastic, metal or kipple (more on that later). World War Terminus has already rocked the planet sending a vast majority of human emigrants into the skies to establish new colonies on mars. The earth has emptied out a good number of people, and for good reason as the planet’s covered in radioactive dust. So many animals have since died off, that now it’s considered “chic” to own one. So much so that a whole cottage industry has rose up around creating fake robot animals complemented with fake veterinarians. In keeping up with appearances, Deckard replaced his recently died sheep with a robotic one. And yet he can’t quite get over it. He want’s a real one damn it, and he’ll destroy as many androids as he has to so he can make enough money to do so.

He needs to. His marriage with wife Iran is strained. Everyday they dial-in their appropriate feeling for the day through the help of a bedside console known as a Mood Organ. One of my favorite lines of the book is when Deckard is trying to get his wife to dial in a happier mood from the console and she resists claiming: “My schedule for today lists a six-hour self-accusatory depression.” (!) And yet, even though Deckard also tries to enhance his mood with the console he remains gloomy. He’s out their searching, looking for some kind of connection. His job is starting to weigh heavy on him and all he can do is hold out a little longer until he can find that next “thing” to set matters right.

Iran (and Deckard to a different extent), finds some solace in the world religion known as Mercerism. The faith is a sort of communal virtual-reality experience where people of the world connect with one and another by watching a repetitive video of an old messiah-like figure plodding through a barren landscape of rocks. Mercer (the mysterious figure) toils along while getting occasionally stoned (and I don’t mean with drugs) by unseen forces, until he goes over this giant hill into the mysterious Tomb World. For some inexplicable reason, the worshipers, who engage this religion (also through a handheld console), experience the stoning. They even come away from the engagement with real-life injuries (though not severely). Iran seems to get something from this religion, a sense of belonging, a sense of community, which may be important in a world where mankind is slowly being siphoned away to distant planets.

Whether or not this religion is genuine is up for debate – but then, that’s faith. There is an interesting subplot woven through the story where a 24-hour vapid TV personality host attempts to debunk this would-be messiah as a fake. Dick manages to blend the lines between the virtual, spiritual, and physical world in a way that makes the reader question what is real (in a good way). Can we ever really know? Deckard finds that Mercerism, or his faith, or is it his humanity, cannot be so easily dismissed by a television expose.

As the messiah character toils uphill amid flying rocks, the reader can’t help but feel Deckard’s plight. Retire some androids. Make a little money. Buy something fancy. Then do it all again. Why? What’s the point? Mercerism seems to indicate that that is the point of everything. That’s what we all do. We slowly climb our hills, get a few rocks flung at us, and keep going. To where? The Tomb World? Who knows. The point is, we all have to do it. Nobody is exempt. It’s just a little easier to take when we can commiserate our woes with everyone else. To know we are not alone.

That’s what makes us human. Separates us from the androids. Good old-fashioned “empathy”. In fact, that’s virtually the only way (besides bone marrow testing which will require a warrant) Deckard can determine if someone is really a some thing. Deckard must administer a verbal psychological test and monitor the reaction of the suspect with the help of yet another special device. But as technology increases, the androids are becoming harder and harder to detect—some of the androids don’t even know themselves that they are androids due to false memory implants (in classic Dick fashion even robots have to question what’s real and what’s not). In a great plot point, the author let’s us know that the tried and true “Voight-Kampf” android test has flaws. Apparently, people with mental issues or “flat affects” might elicit a false positive which puts Deckard in a conundrum because he doesn’t want to be blowing away real-life humans.

The fear of finding a false-positive is not fully realized though. Much like the fear that the androids are going to “retire” Deckard before he can retire them. Dick shies away from action-packed cliff-hangers. We don’t completely fear the danger that Deckard will be killed off by an android, even though his predecessor was severely hospitalized by one and unable to speak to him about it. As other reviewers have pointed out, many of the android confrontations are over as quickly as they start. To his credit, I think this keeps the focus on the more important esoteric questions being raised rather than the adventure story used to illuminate the issues. We are there, with Deckard, wondering just as he is, why he’s doing it all? If he’s killed off, we’ll that’s not the main stake here—his sanity, sense of self, sense of morality—those are the things at stake.

Even though the androids are definitely not human, they act and feel much like humans. Deckard sees this and he struggles with it, sympathizing for the androids he is seeking to destroy. One of the female androids, Rachel, seduces Deckard, putting him in a very precarious position as she tries to influence his actions. Things get really weird (is that even possible) when Deckard is picked up by the police, who seem to know nothing about him. This is Dick in his complete mastery. Deckard is held at a “second” separate police station and questioned in such a manner that we really begin to doubt who the androids really are. Is Deckard an android? Are these “other” policemen androids? Deckard even gives himself the “Voight-Kampf” psychological test at some point.

Near the end, Deckard is really questioning himself and Rachel’s influence weighs heavily. Still, he plods along, determined to finish what he’s started. The messiah-like figure Wilbur Mercer (hence “Mercerism”) suddenly appears in the real world (as opposed to the one on the tv screens which may or may not be real) to help him through.

For me, the most jolting scene in the whole book is when Deckard comes home after having completed his mission. After knowing he’s earned his bounties he decided to finance the purchase of a real-life goat. It’s a capitalistic bid for happiness, but Deckard seems sincere in his effort. After all his hard work and toil he comes home only to be told by Iran that Rachel (the android he’s spared), pushed the goat off their building to its death. Deckard seems to have done all for naught.

This would have been a real poignant place to end. However, we continue on with the character for a few more chapters when he lumps it, and heads out into the vast desolate wilds of the world. Again, things go from strange to stranger when Deckard begins toiling up a real life rocky hillside that too closely resembles the one Wilbur Mercer is always climbing. When at last he comes down again, he happens upon a little toad. Amazed, he looks up the animal in his trusty catalog and finds out they are supposed to be extinct. Suddenly, everything looks hopeful again. To have a found a real life animal—an extinct one! He’ll be able to sell the thing for untold riches. Deckard races back home to share the news with his wife. Tenderly she flips the animal over and points to the electrical panel beneath. Another fake. Defeat again.

Yet, Deckard returns home, not to plug in to the mood organ and zone out of life. Instead, he falls asleep. Unaided and disconnected from the artificial technologies of his world. He seems to get some comfort from being near to his wife instead of all the contraptions of the world. And, the android Rachel, by killing his goat, has shown him the foolishness of letting his happiness rely solely on materialistic things. Perhaps Deckard’s relentless pursuit of the androids was rote and mechanical. Was Deckard acting the part of the android in his role as bounty hunter? Did the androids act more like living things in their urge to resist “retirement” (or death)? Maybe Dick was trying to say that it is our actions that define us, rather than what we may claim to be?

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Stars My Desination” (Alfred Bester)

Pure drive. Raw Emotion. Hate-fueled revenge. A widget caught in a cog. The stick jammed into the spokes of a bike being peddled at a furious pace. Gully Foyle is the consummate anti-hero.

The prologue reads like a 1930’s era carnival barker explaining the physics of self-teleportation (“jaunting” as its called here), which settles you in for a decent piece of golden age science fiction. Ok fine. Good, in fact.

However (as others have noted), you won’t be prepared for the opening twist (spoiler warning) or the main character and his gutter speak and impetuous personality. Gully Foyle is the “id”. An arrow of emotion shooting through the cosmos, belligerent and beautiful (in a way) We find this out very quickly. His character is fully realized with all its quirks, weight and lurid faults (which he is certainly not without).

Foyle was traveling on a spaceship that got shipwrecked in outer space. Everyone is dead save him. His ship is pocked full of holes so that he must eek out a miserable survival locked in a closet taking only occasional and dangerous ventures out into the hull to gather supplies before his oxygen (and food) runs out.

Then it happens. He spots a passing ship and signals for rescue. The other ship circles in for a closer look, and then inexplicably jets. Gully is abandoned. And that’s where everything changes. The book is not about surviving in the vastness of space. No. Instead it turns into a fast-paced, high-stakes adventure story centering on revenge. Gully Foyle dedicates his entire existence to finding the ship which abandoned him to suffer in outer space (and any associated with it).

Here Foyle dons a figurative superhero persona and blasts off after his opus magnus. In many ways he reminds me of Robert Howard’s Conan or Kull, in that Foyle is strength beyond strength–and his sheer strength of will helps him to manage to best those with far greater intellect and resources then he has.

Suffice to say, I cannot do the book justice in a simple review. And perhaps it may be a little too much for casual readers of the genre (although the science is not overwrought) the time shifting and mental state of the main character provide adept twists and turns. Indeed even the words themselves bend out of time on the page (which is my only real criticism cause it felt a bit gimmicky–and yet given the subject matter it is forgivable).

Others have commented that the characters in this book are mostly one dimensional, yet there are some very interesting almost comic-book like characters (the author did write comic books after all). However, I would counter that the characters do enough interesting things, and are invested in the plot in enough interesting ways, that they are not single beat notes there simply to counter the protagonist.

Foyle’s rage tangles him into cool and interesting plots. It also serves to drive him off-track and give him every-increasing perspective at what he is doing. And each time he is knocked off the rails of revenge and resets, he sets the stakes higher and grander. He turns a personal vendetta into an everyman war.

One last point I’ll make is that this book paints some great visuals without overdoing the verbiage. I kept picturing this set in a stylized color saturated film of ultra real visuals. When Gully is running across the landscape, beating his feet furiously after his revenge quest — you feel it. Even through the eyes of other characters. You just feel the emotion driving him. Its compelling.

Do yourself a favor and check out this book. It’s the kind you put down and then say “wow”.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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“Mildred” – new tale of psychologcial suspense available FREE on 7/8/14

My new novelette of psychological suspense “Mildred” will be available in Kindle format for FREE at Amazon on 7/8/14: http://www.amazon.com/Mildred-Ryan-Sean-OReilly-ebook/dp/B00LDYMTU6/
SYNOPSIS: A diary, noises from the attic, a resident cat, and piles and piles and piles of boxes cast shadows over Josephine as she digs through her new home and discovers the disturbing circumstances surrounding her purchase of the place.

 

Promotional Video Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2ek3Tf9yZ0

 

Mildred Coverart (final)

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Mildred, News

 

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Review: “Starship Troopers” (Robert A. Heinlein) and “Starship Troopers” (Paul Verhoeven)

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in News, Podcast

 

Book Review: “Starship Troopers” (Robert A. Heinlein)

Full Metal Jacket with Bugs (minus the bugs)

This book is set in a futuristic society where mechanized warriors must pit their wits against the tide of alien arachnids threatening to claim every inhabitable piece of real estate in the galaxy-so they can eventually earn the right to vote. Sounds exciting doesn’t it? Men in power-armored suits which give them amazing super powers as they jaunt through space and engage these crafty insectoids that have no compunction against throwing a seemingly limitless supply of exoskeletons in their line of fire. All the while back on Terra (Earth) the indolent humans go about minding their corporate business interests as they ignorantly sniff their noses at these military-types whose warm bodies are the only thing keeping them safe. It takes a keen understanding of devotion to honor and duty, to make things right in a universe where the only notion that matters is understanding that every species has a mind to look after its own interest. Thrive to survive—be you man or bug.

I’m being a bit cynical of course, and the reason is that I felt this book spends the VAST majority of its time consumed with the nuances of active military life. We start following the protagonist from just before his enlistment and continue on as he earns his way through the ranks. However, there is really no interoffice politics or petty jealousy or even evil forces at work to prevent his eventual and satisfactory progression of titles. Heinlein was a military man in real life for a number of years, and the book benefits immensely from this. There is probably no better fictional book that can speed you through a fairly respectable military career in a very entertaining and oddly realistic way. The author gets us inside the protagonist’s head and we get to mull over all his worries and doubts as he climbs (or is pulled) through the ranks due chiefly to circumstance.

This book is frequently accused at having hidden (or not so hidden) political agendas, including being sort of a propagandist glorification of militarism. I personally don’t mind it. At times, the language might get a bit heavy-handed, but you see things from the protagonist’s thoughts and I felt like it was believable for the most part. Not that you might agree with all the conclusions reached, but that they fit with the character’s frame of reference. There is a place in the universe for honor, patriotism, duty and even militarism. These are interesting things to consider in the context in which they are set.

My biggest complaint is the lack of bugs. The book opens fast and right in the thick of what proposes to be an interesting futuristic war. However the beginning ends up feeling like a last minute edit thrown in at the protest of some market savvy editor. It just takes soooooo long to get back to this voracious alien-insect species. Maybe that’s for the best, because they are sort of something familiar being akin to intelligent ants. However, when we get to the bugs its very interesting and terribly short. Too short. I think seeing the movie might have ruined this for me. I saw it many years ago (and I’m going to rewatch it now for my podcast), but it may have tainted my reading. However, the opening section starts mid-combat and that would throw any reader off.

The bottom line is that I just couldn’t help having an expectation for more bugs. The whole while I’m reading about the protagonists trials and tribulations in the Mobile Infantry I couldn’t help saying to myself “Yes, yes, yes, and? Ok and? What about the bugs? Let’s get to the bugs?” I mean, its just a little hard to focus on this futuristic military because it’s not so different then I would think a military might be in modern times. But when you know that alien arachnids are attacking the planet and threatening invasion, you want to focus on THAT not all the military-speak. I think the militaristic ethics discussion would have been better served if there was more human/bug conflicts sprinkled through out and the military-speak more directly related to the war. But I guess that’s not really what this book is about.

So, I think you have to go into this book without the expectation that you are going to be delving into new worlds and cultures. It will be a new culture (for some people), but its going to be the culture of the human Mobile Infantry. An organization with traditions and beliefs as ancient and reverent as the armies from which it is descended. And this book is unique for that. It can even be lauded for that. Bounce on space marine!

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes or our website: www.nodeodorant.com.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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New story “Mildred” now available for Kindle

My new novelette of psychological suspense “Mildred” is now available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Mildred-Ryan-Sean-OReilly-ebook/dp/B00LDYMTU6/

SYNOPSIS: A diary, noises from the attic, a resident cat, and piles and piles and piles of boxes cast shadows over Josephine as she digs through her new home and discovers the disturbing circumstances surrounding her purchase of the place.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in News

 

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Book Trailer for “Mildred” (psychological suspense) release 7/1/14

I am pleased to present the new book trailer for “Mildred” my new novelette of psychological suspense. The story will be available exclusively for Kindle at Amazon.com for a time and then eventually other outlets. Check out the video below:

STORY RELEASE: 7/1/14

Synopsis: A diary, noises from the attic, a resident cat, and piles and piles and piles of boxes cast shadows over Josephine as she digs through her new home and discovers the disturbing circumstances surrounding her purchase of the place.

Story: Ryan Sean O’Reilly (www.ryanseanoreilly.com)

Story Editing: Tammy Salyer (www.inspiredinkediting.com/)

Artwork: Daniel Gracey (www.dangracey.com/)

Music: John Doyle (www.i-decline.com/)

Video Editing: Craig Knit (Raging Roy)

 

Thanks to everyone for their hard work!

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2014 in Mildred, News

 

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