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Review: “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes (3 1/2 Stars)

A journey of self that is both compelling and crushing in its introspection.

Charly Gordon is a middle-aged, mentally-challenged man who has been selected as a test subject for the first human to undergo a procedure that will significantly increase intelligence. Algernon is the mouse whom the scientists have previously had success with.

The author tells this story in epistolary fashion through journal entries written by the protagonist. The actual words themselves become a literary device as the reader van visually see the protagonist change and grow through the spelling, grammar, word choice and sentence structure written on the pages. Keyes does a good job of using this technique for effect without coming across as overwrought.

The journey of self-realization takes the protagonist from a place of vulnerability to one of power, where he rediscovers his own vulnerability in new and different ways. Charly starts out as a positive and endearing character who is eager to please and to learn. When he is tapped by the scientists to take his learning growth to unprecedented levels there are emotional consequences and costs for such rapid changes. Charly is forced to examine his past and everything he thought he knew about the world. He finds darkness behind the light and does not like what he sees.

He also struggles with the subtleties of life when negotiating relationships with others. Charly’s intelligence ends up driving a wedge between him and others. He ends up feeling more alone the more he progresses. Despite his new found wisdom, he lacks the experiences of a lifetime of living at this new level within which to put context to all he is learning. He is a fish out of water.

Charly has both loving and strained relationships with women that bring confusion and challenges. He also questions all his old friendships and loyalties. Keyes’ storytelling is superior in this respect because he negotiates the gray areas very well. With his new minds’ eye Charly looks to focus things into simple black and white issues, but this is not so easy. Certainly the characters in this story have various selfish or at times, down right mean, motives. However, the author strays away from painting the picture of some great evil overlord that must be slain. The nuances of the character’s motives are much more complex.

The strength of the story is here. Looking through Charly’s eyes as his perspective shifts and he tries to understand the complexity of living in a society where he wants to belong, but also feels completely isolated within.

Overall, this is a great read in exploring interpersonal relationships in a heightened reality that does not feel very different from our own. A poignant tale.

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, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “Stepford Wives” (Ralph Nelson – Jeff Bleckner)

New Podcast Episode!

No Deodorant In Outer Spaces

PODCAST:

S3E1M – Stepford Wives (movie)*

SHOW NOTES:

Esteemed listener, this is our first show dedicated exclusively to a movie review so don’t freak out if you notice anything different, it will be a consistent thing from here on out, promise. The director’s bio was glossed over intentionally, he’s very prolific in England but virtually unknown stateside. My desensitized and ignorant American mind fails to grasp why an Englishman changes his name from John Clarke to Bryan Forbes. It’s like “upgrading” the paint job on your car from vanilla to light beige. Couldn’t find an explanation for that so I can only assume the surname “Forbes” implies nobility, which is forever dangled in front of the British proletariat.

To give you a tease on what you missed out on, Lord Forbes’ prolific work includes dull movie titles such as, “The Whisperers,” “The Wrong Box,” “Séance on a Wet Afternoon,”…

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Posted by on March 22, 2016 in News, Podcast

 

Review: “Stepford Wives” – Ira Levin

Review: “Stepford Wives” – Ira Levin

New Podcast Episode!

No Deodorant In Outer Spaces

PODCAST:

S3E1B – Stepford Wives (book)*

SHOW NOTES:

So, we read the Desperate House Wives rip-off “The Stepford Wives.” It was quite the book. Full of words, pages, more words, and some taco sauce. My sauce was mild. The book was anything but. I kept picturing Teri Hatcher as I read this book—that was so clearly inspired from her early 2000’s ABC hit television show. I’m surprised no one has sued the author for taking the characters from this TV show and basically writing fan fiction about them. However, as fan fiction goes, it is excellent.

The book was written by Ira Levin. Ira is a person, not a tax deferred account. That was the first of many twists in this book.

Two-Thirds of the hosts, including the one with the most, liked the book a lot. One of the hosts did not like it as much. No personal…

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Posted by on March 15, 2016 in News, Podcast

 

Review: “Stepford Wives” by Ira Levin (4 Stars)

A chilling tale of horror that descends into madness one step at time.

Ira Levin’s suspenseful tale of horror is both a commentary on society as well as a character study into the descent of sanity. His prose is sparse and vernacular with poignant ideas that are supported by masterful suspense.

The female protagonist’s main struggle is that she fears being swallowed up by the banality of suburban life after leaving the rich and rewarding culture of her former urban home. A trite cultural tale of a young couple passing from one phase of life into another. Yet, herein lies one of Levin’s major strengths. He takes a rather common place cultural experience and slowly twists it until by the end its purple, atrophied and rather gangrenous. And even though we know the infected limb will eventually fall off, we can’t help but hope all the while that there may just be a way to save things.

In a nutshell, the protagonist goes from general irritation toward the lack of progressive thinking in her new found suburban trappings to outright fear. He annoyance turns to distrust, outrage and terror. What is actually going on at the archaic men’s association in town, and how is it afflicting her friends and her very own husband?

There is just the right amount of tension going on throughout this work. The pace is inevitable, yet it is not relentless or swift. I felt I knew where things were going early on (through my own cultural awareness of the work), however I still felt compelled on. Levin wonderfully pulls back each new development with surgical skill. He gives just enough information to put the pieces together without providing the whole puzzle. Some may find this frustrating, but I feel that if he went the other way and really went into detail with some big reveal at the end—the horror of the story would have been cheapened.

The protagonist’s growth and emotional evolution is also very real. Her questioning and sleuthing out the mysteries connects her to the readers. Even her own self-doubts add to making the character more believable and support the more fantastical elements that exist in the shadows of the prose.

Levin touches on issues of suburban isolationism, paranoia, cultism, apathy and of course, feminism. Though the protagonist invokes causes of social injustice as she beats her war drum for long overdue change, her struggles are also very personal and individual. The way Levin is able to tie in the societal problems and show how deeply rooted evil can penetrate into the micro levels of personhood is very powerful.

This story is fiction, but the under currents feel believable. Levin takes seemingly normal people and shows how easily corruption and evil can leach darkness into those places of society that seem sunny and devoid of real problems. This, of course, is nothing new, but Levin’s take on things feels fresh and leaves a lasting impression. He drives home how inhumanity can lurk even in the everyday familiarity. What is really going on over there at that place where we can’t go?

This novella is tight and sharp. An excellent, swift read that will leave an unsavory taste in your mouth.

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/2016/03/14/review-stepford-wives-ira-levin/.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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S2 – Year End Episode (season overview)

New podcast episode !

No Deodorant In Outer Spaces

PODCAST:

S2 – Year End Episode (season overview)*

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

SHOW NOTES:

You will enjoy a mish mash of reminiscing thoughts on the 2nd season (year) of your favorite podcast, NDIOS. In this show, we ruminate and riff on the relevance of nebulous things such as ‘literary’ versus ‘genre’ type works, and whether ferrets are worthy pets.

-Rick
Wrap Up Weekend - set up

* DISCLAIMER: Please be advised that the views and opinions of the hosts and guests of NDIOS are completely their own and do not necessarily reflect the views and beliefs of the other hosts and guests or that of NDIOS.

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Posted by on February 15, 2016 in News, Podcast

 

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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