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Review “The Preserving Machine & Other Stories” by Philip K. Dick (3 Stars)

An early collection of short stories touching on cold-war era fears, and other weird pseudo-realities. 

Philip K. Dick is known fairly well for toying with reality in his fiction and meta-fictional stories. His ideas negotiate the fuzzy edges of existential questions. He pushes boundaries in his writing and yet his straight-ahead prose (sometimes criticized) makes his more “out-there” concepts easier to digest. 

This book is a collection of early stories by the writer with a few from the middle of his career. The quality of the stories varies a bit from one to the other, however, even those that felt less satisfying to me may have deeper questions embedded behind their veneer that I haven’t quite appreciated during my first reading. Perhaps a later revisit will stir up more of the murky depths that I associate with PKD. 

That’s how this author is. Sometimes you read his stuff and the whacky scenarios he sets up, and feel that it’s all a bit silly. The inner thoughts of a dog… a machine turning music into animals…an alien species that is basically just a giant amorphous blob…a multiplicity of alien grubs… and then there’s the “Wub” character which felt like something that came out of the mind of Dr. Seuss in a Simpsons parody. 

Yet, throughout most of the words there is usually something more sinister going on. Some kind of undercurrent of malevolence that calls into question the human condition and what it means to be alive. The characters might fall victim to their own selfishness until they become a parody of themselves, or they may find themselves in some kind of odd alternate perception of reality or time and space that makes you reflect about the very concept of perception.

Despite PKD’s real-life personal issues, I found these stories easy to follow no matter how far-out they got. They are all intriguing in many ways and the author manages to hit enough deep notes to make this collection worthy of a reading. Especially so for fans. 

My main issue would be that some of the stories ended in ways that seemed a little too contrived. They felt like “short stories” and while reading them I could almost sense the author circling back to tie up loose ends and bring closure. Not that the endings were bad or inappropriate. I just felt that some of the finales fell a bit short of what they could have been. 

“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” is among the tales in this collection. This story was made famous by the “Total Recall” movies. The author’s version differs from the movies—which is no surprise. Yet, all the pseudo-reality, questioning motives are present and offer a good insight into why Hollywood has continually mined the PKD library for movie fodder. The ending for this story is also wrapped up fairly neatly—but upon later reflection it does pose some lingering questions in the way a good short story should.
All in all, a solid read!

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, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “Nineteen Eighty-Four” by George Orwell (5 Stars)

Ages like a fine wine with a dark, full-bodied harbinger of doom, increasing with relevance as each year goes by.

What can be said about this book that has not already been said? Orwell’s despondent view of an evil utopia hits all the right notes. His vision into a near-possible future is stunning, depressing and all too understandable. A warning, a final prophesy written by a spirited visionary in the final stage of his life.

Many have read this book early in their youth, most likely as part of their educational upbringing. 1984 and Animal Farm are standard, pedantic texts battle ready for disaffected youth to sink their teeth into. This book, among the greats, seems boundless in the echoes and touchstones resounding within its tome. In revisiting the text many years later, one will find that Orwell’s words seem strangely even more relevant than they were at first blanch. Perhaps even more so than they were when original meted out and scratched into paper during the author’s self-imposed exile in the Scottish isle that was his final home so many years ago.

There are so many elements here that have such deep and broad depth that will keep this work of literature relevant for many more years. Orwell invented the terms “Big Brother” and “Thought Crime” and dove unrepentantly into issues of privacy, personal freedom and individualism. All this before the revolution of the internet! He also fretted over the degradation of language (OMG!) and the breakdown and bastardization of society’s communal bonds, family bonds, bonds of friendship and the abolishment of simple love. His vision of a mechanized society (one that even turns books out by machines), is more than a decry by a luddite so much as it concerns the debasement or obliteration of the individual and sense of self.

Orwell’s main thrust seems to be right at the heart of man and the core inner lust for domination and power, simply for its own sake. That ever-present evolutionary tendency to thrive at all costs without purpose or direction, and the ability of that singular impetus to take over and distort all else toward its own end. He digs that up out of the blackest parts of the human heart and disgorges it upon the shoreline of society receding tide as if to say, “This too is what you are. Do not kid yourself.”

For me, this book was rough. The tone was bleak. Throughout. Unflinchingly somber and hopeless. Yet, the story of the protagonist and his struggle amid this world turned upside down, is relatable and believable. Despite the obvious despair and immeasurable odds, we do feel for Winston Smith (the protagonist) and we do root for him. We follow him in his desperation to find something, some way to express himself and make a dent in the impenetrable wall that has become the totalitarian society which he is a part. We feel his constant fear and ever present distrust of everything—almost. The little glimmers of possibilities, even when they are squashed, keep your interest and balance the grim-gray that pervades everything.

One thing that struck me was that the female character Julia, is an interesting addition. She has a good amount of gumption and serves more than just a goal or love interest. She is fleshed out pretty well and adds a lot of dimension to the story by sharing the protagonist’s goals, but also coming from a slightly different more realistic viewpoint.

Another thing I found interesting in reading this book in present time was how insular the story is. We are just as stuck as the protagonist. All news of the outside world and the society is filtered to the reader through the regime in power. We never really know who to trust or when something might be real or made up or mere speculation. Nothing ever really seems certain. The story never ever escapes this – there is never an Oz-like “Man behind the Curtain” moment. Not really. We are told how some things work, and sometimes by sources that are deemed more reliable than others, but we don’t truly find out.

This tight view point, keeps up a claustrophobic feeling that forces the storyline to remain connected to the protagonist’s individual struggle. Even though Winston Smith is concerned with larger concepts and a revolutionary struggle on a society level–the story remains individualistic. However, the tale is not a man’s struggle with himself, it is a man’s struggle to find himself among others; the interrelatedness of things and how important that is. The totalitarian regime in power has distorted this effect and is manifesting control by continually putting up road blocks and pseudo-constructed, societal norms to hamper true progress and growth.

Even still, the individual struggles to find their place in society. As the story goes on, I think it is clear that most of this doomed society continues to struggle with this. And the powers that be, must expend an immense amount of effort and expense to constantly suppress this. In the end, can that really work? Have a care. Big Brother is watching.

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, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “1984” by George Orwell – Michael Radford (John Hurt) – Michael Anderson (Edmond O’Brien)

New podcast episode!

No Deodorant In Outer Space

PODCAST:

[audio http://traffic.libsyn.com/nodeodorantinouterspace/S2E11_-_1984_-_Edited_FINAL.mp3]

Listen to the podcast here (click to play/right click and select “save target as” to download):

S2E11 – 1984*

WRITTEN BOOK REVIEWS:

Ryan: 5 Stars “…Ages like a fine wine with a dark, full-bodied harbinger of doom, increasing with relevance as each year goes by…

Wilk: 5 Stars “…A great book that paranoid losers think is a gospel…

Rick: 5 Stars “…The modern revelation turned reality...

John Doyle a/k/a Dole (Special Guest): 5 Stars “…Big brother is still watching us to this day and his real name is Mark Zuckerberg, Goldstein is alive and well as well and his name is Julian Assange…

(Click the links to read full written reviews on Goodreads.com – Dole’s link goes to his band’s webpage)

SUBJECT MATTER:

Book: “Nineteen Eighty-Four” by George Orwell

“Written in 1948, 1984 was George Orwell’s chilling prophecy about the future…

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Posted by on January 2, 2016 in News, Podcast

 

Review: “The Martian” by Andy Weir – Ridley Scott (Matt Damon)

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2015 in News, Podcast

 

Review: “The Martian” by Andy Weir (4 Stars)

140 million leagues under the blackness of space, Jules Verne is reborn…this time with a sense of humor and irreverent references to pop culture.

Through a series of journal entries, the protagonist of this story relays a first person account that chronicles the trials and tribulations of being stuck on the biggest deserted island in the solar system. Mars. This work was well-researched and the science in the text feels just barely out of grasp of current technological innovations. Andy Weir is to be commended for his dedication to the craft of writing and his ability to embed a compelling story within a bevy of scientific equations. For fans of hard science fiction this should be an absolute delight.

I felt myself skimming over some of the more technical science bits as they do sort of come pummeling one after another. However, this is how I felt when I read through the lists of taxonomy in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and; like Verne’s book, I found the plot and story compelling on both an individual and a universal level (despite my personal aversion to numbers and math).

In one sense, you could say this story did not plumb very deep into a human emotional experience. We do get a sense of what the characters are going through, but we lack some of the nuances that might be happening inside their heads–despite the distraction of the dire circumstances. On the other hand, this is really refreshing in that we don’t get some sappy, romantic subplot artificially shoe-horned into the story to make us “feel” feelings. What may be missing is not really all that off. Highly trained professionals working under these circumstances would be very focused on the immediate and imperative task at hand: survival. And humans are very capable of this. People in desperate situations are able to get outside their heads, put aside daily annoyances or stresses and zero in on what really needs to be done. That too is part of the human condition.

Even though I felt overwhelmed by the “math” problems coming at me on a regular basis, the author managed (quite deftly) to bring everything back to relatable terms. He illustrated the problems well and made these an integral and believable part of the story. He also managed to make the character very human, because not everything comes together for the protagonist and many times fixing one problem led to other unforeseen problems later on (I believe the author did all this intentionally – and masterfully). This is a classic tale of, Man vs. Nature, yet the trials suffered by the protagonist do not feel contrived or random. Suspense is kept up throughout the book.

Another thing done quite well, was the protagonist’s sarcastic personality. The character is constantly making humorous, pop culture references or else giving sarcastic commentary to himself or others. All this levity is well-timed and serves as a great balance to some of the drier aspects of the book (i.e. math problems). A dual function is also served here, because it gave the protagonist more depth and personality, and provided a gateway for the reader to relate to his plight. Whether you’re a rocket scientist or professor of literature, you would probably have the same reaction to being trapped on Mars: “Oh crap, I’m screwed.” Andy Weir captures this with excellent tone. So, even if you’re not a science fiction fan, this is a well-balanced and suspenseful tale that informs as much as it delights.

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, YouTube or our website: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/review-the-martian-by-andy-weir-ridley-scott-matt-damon.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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Review:“The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories” by H.P. Lovecraft – Stuart Gordon (Jeffrey Combs) – Brian Yuzna (Jeffrey Combs) – Daniel Gildark (Tori Spelling)

New podcast episode!

No Deodorant In Outer Space

PODCAST:

S2E9 – The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (book/movies)*

Listen to the podcast here (click to play/right click and select “save target as” to download):

WRITTEN BOOK REVIEWS:

Ryan: 4 Stars “…Behold! The eldritch other in all its cosmic horror, brought to you thru Lovecraftian prose and a cascade of increasingly dismal and slightly unbalanced vignettes…

Wilk: 3 Star “…Spooky but sexy. 75 stars…

Rick: 2 Stars “…Overall HPL’s writing is genius but totally annoying, especially in Call of Cthulhu...

(Click the links to read full written reviews on Goodreads.com)

SUBJECT MATTER:

Book:“The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories” by H.P. Lovecraft

A definitive collection of stories from the unrivaled master of twentieth-century horror. “I think it is beyond doubt that H. P. Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of…

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Posted by on November 5, 2015 in News, Podcast

 

Review: “The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories” by H.P. Lovecraft (4 Stars)

Behold! The eldritch other in all its cosmic horror, brought to you thru Lovecraftian prose and a cascade of increasingly dismal and slightly unbalanced vignettes.

This comprehensive collection of Lovecraft stories focuses on the Cthulhu mythos. There are early and later tales and the book contains an introduction about the author, and explanatory notes which are footnoted throughout the text. The supplementary material included does a great deal to flesh out the person behind these strange tales and provide some context and perspective. The footnotes help illuminate the author’s life and provide interesting insights into the genesis of inspiration that permeated into the evolving creative process that formed these tales. Lovecraft’s personal worldview is problematic, to say the least, but it’s useful to have some background on him before delving into his works.

In some cases, the reader gets very early tales such as “Dagon” which is a short almost incomplete vignette. Yet, there is something there; a weighty thing, hiding in a tumultuous fog. A hint of evilness lurking in the darkness, just beyond human senses or comprehension. Even in his less expansive works, Lovecraft is able to hit the heavy notes. Strike an echo in the soul.

Lovecraftian prose can be overwrought and wordy, even troublesome. The language may be off putting to some modern readers due to the arcane text and alternative spellings, but nothing is insurmountable.

When it works, however, the author’s use of sparse words hit just the right notes to paint a vivid picture. By laying off the throttle of verbiage, Lovecraft makes things real and plumbs the depths of the reader’s personal demons. He is particularly good at this.

There is a certain distancing in Lovecraft’s tone of phrase. He is sparse in dialog and when he does use speech, the characters often carry on in monologues. Other times the narrator recounts letters or diary entries—or simply tells the reader about everything going on. A sort of “removed” air pervades the writing. However, you do manage to slip in among the cracks between the words, and somehow the author slowly slides you (almost imperceivably) closer to the action–often at the very bitter and horrifying end.

Something about the author’s word choice, even when buried in the arcane vocabulary of his time, creates certain undulations that rise above the waves and crest over into the subconscious archetypes of the mind. When he makes up words or monsters ot other devices of horror they feel real and not contrived. The Necronomicon, Cthulhu, Shoggoth, the Old Ones–what are these things? Lovecraft barely hints at them in his sparse descriptions, and yet we know them each and all.

The unknowable other, just beyond the reach of our senses is where most of Lovecraft’s tales lead. As many others have noted, Lovecraft is a master of taking familiar things and skewing them just slightly enough so as to create a sense of being uncomfortable. Something is just not quite right, but it’s difficult to pin down exactly what it is until you realize you are too far into the endless abyss to turn back. Sometimes we get fleeting glimpses of the monsters lurking in the fringes of our universe, ready to usurp mankind and begin a new age for the Old Ones. Yet, mostly we don’t even get this, we hear second or third hand accounts about stuff going on in more isolated parts of the world. Something is out there, just beyond the corner of your eye.

Lovecraft’s plots occasionally hinge on predicable device that could be tiresome for experienced readers who have seen such tropes raked over the coals in media and popular culture. I think keeping a historical perspective while reading these tales helps to alleviate this. The other thing is Lovecraft’s style. His ability to bring characters to a predicable fate, of which often they are powerless to resist, is somehow captivating. Sometimes the characters can do absolutely nothing, but submit to that which is beyond their power and comprehension (while the reader just cringes with one eye over the protagonist’s shoulder).

Yet, Lovecraft manages to make this relentless ride worth it. We know how the roller coaster works, where it starts, what will happen along the way, and where it will end—yet we scream just the same when we feel that first rushing drop.

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, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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