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Author Archives: Ryan Sean O'Reilly

About Ryan Sean O'Reilly

I took to books at an early age and can still remember my father reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit to me at bedtime. When I could read on my own, my mother brought home books from the library for my siblings and me. She tells me, that I would look at the covers and say "not interested", but if she left them on my night stand I couldn't help, but devour them--the genres and titles didn't seem to matter. Growing up the oldest of five children outside the city of Chicago, our house was always teeming with activity--so it may be no wonder that I enjoyed staying up late to read when things were quiet. There was always something transcendent about disappearing into another world while the rest of the house slept. Books taught me so much about myself and the world around. I've crossed through a few different genres trying to find my voice but mostly dwell in fantasy, science fiction, and literary fiction. A few authors who have inspired me are: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Frank Herbert, Richard Adams, J.K. Rowling, Douglas Adams and William Shakespeare. Official website: www.ryanseanoreilly.com

Review: “Second Variety (1953)” by Philip K. Dick (3 1/2 Stars)

A post-apocalyptic cold war style tale early in this author’s career that contains entertaining edges and hints, emblematic of future efforts in plot ideation and explorations into uncertainties for which this author is known.

The world in which this story lies is bleak and barren, seemingly hopeless. Machines have been given a new genesis of artificial intelligence. Enter the minor “claw” universe of Philip K. Dick where Soviet forces decimated the planet in a preemptive nuclear strike and the UN responded by creating lethal, autonomous, and self-replicating robots which turned the tide in their favor.

Soldiers populate most of the narrative. Seemingly. The author does a good job of describing the stark emotion of living in such a ruined environment and also conveying the fear and trauma of having seen the vast might and precariousness created by humanity’s super weapons. This story encapsulates well the paranoias and fascinations of post-war nuclear potentials. In particular, and in typical PKD fashion, the author drills right down into the singular mind of the protagonist. After broadly painting the massive powers which hold the world in sway, PKD wastes no time in flinging the main character out into a terrible alternate existence. In this way, we the readers, feel the full weight of uncertainty and helplessness one person can feel treading among destructive titans of power.

And yet, none of the agency is lost. We still experience the character’s journey as he is sent on his mission to answer a strange request for parley amid the wastelands between the two long-warring armies. Then we truly enter the corridors of PKD’s mind as the protagonist is pitted against other individuals who he must decide whether or not to trust. Not that this author has a monopoly on questionable veracity, however it’s the clever method in which he weaves his uncertainties that makes him stand out.

In some ways this tale might be nothing new to a fan of PKD, and in that regard the manner in which things wrap up probably seems trite even for the time they were written. And yet, the sense of it all, and the way that we get inside the character’s head as he experiences the conflicts of his situation feels special. PKD has a way of exploring interesting ideas and concepts and then taking a wild left turn into the spiraling void that never seems to land the way it ought too. That’s what makes his work unique. He gives us protagonists that are sometimes barely fleshed out, but he also leaves room for us to inhabit them. There is just the right amount of detail filled in to allow us inside so that we can be taken on the strange journey which his tales usually take.

This story has these things. The setting is not particularly different. The robots are, though. They are like things we’ve seen before and things we know and things that are unimaginable, but things we can understand. Strange anomalies that populate the protagonist’s world that must be considered. The other characters feel that way, too. One wonders if that is how PKD felt sometimes. Our own world is full of odd and sometimes dangerous things that must be reckoned as we try to carry on with our existence. So read along on this entertaining narrative journey as you escape reality, only to dive deeper inside reality.

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

Episode Link: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/08/20/review-second-variety-philip-k-dick

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Posted by on August 20, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “Metropolis (1925)” by Thea von Harbou (3 Stars)

A romanticized class struggle colored by religious and occult mythology, with implacable villains full of old world venom and heroes in glorious melodrama – all set in the vast mechanized metropolis, a city dug as deep in the ground as it towers in the skies.

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

This story has it all: star-crossed lovers, a tyrannical despot, a jilted mad scientist, a Frankenstein-esque robot, proletariat upheaval, noble-peasant wardrobe exchanges, chase scenes, and a natural disaster caused by man’s arrogance.

The author wrote this book in preparation for creating a screenplay penned by herself and her husband who would direct the legendary film of the same name. Not too many books are written this way—it’s not a tie-in novel, nor is it exactly a book that was adapted into a movie. It fits in a collaborative gray area, which makes it unique.

In some ways you can feel the film behind the words. The chapters can ramble on with descriptions (though a few were quite deft and achieved the stuff of legend painting vivid pictures in my mind) and abject reflections, repeated lines, but more often than not they conclude with a striking and key plot point that is either based in suspense and action or a significant character reveal. Dialog also comes across a tad stilted and fitting for the screen of the time. Not quite overacted, yet espousing with emotion.

Occult and religious symbols play a significant role in this story. Biblical passages and snatches of prayer lines can be found throughout. As can descriptions, metaphors, and allusions to creatures of mysticism and other beliefs. Her prose is steeped with continual citations, sometimes a bit laboriously for a work that would otherwise not be overly religious. Being versed in mythology the author draws from her knowledge for setting and tone as well as dialog and plot elements—most notably in familial roles. She explores this theme in interesting ways, using it in regards to an actual father and son, but also to play off the relationship of the city’s patriarch and his city; a maternal leader of the underclass; and that of creator and machine.

The characters sometimes feel like they are pawns of the author being moved about into inevitably precarious predicaments. When their choices are eventually revealed, we do find a few classic deep-seeded problems that carve out more dimension for their motivations—even if it might be revealed in a backhanded sort of way. In the end, things are shown to be interwoven in a fairly clever manner.

The action burns a bit slow until the third act as you might expect in a film. From then on things chase after the drama in bombastic development hurdling toward a sort of abrupt ending that at first blush feels a touch too didactic. After a breath, one realizes that this is the necessary conclusion promised from the beginning and however convenient it might feel it is rather touching and poignant. The director of the film had his doubts about it, but in later years reflected that the author had it right. The universality of the message feels like a parable; however, it would seem she might have been going for this. And, in that way, gave the story long-lasting relevancy and relatability.

The story only suffers a bit from age and the prose feels sort of weighed down and sluggish. This could be a victim of age, or perhaps the English translation from which it is derived. That said, its is not a long book by any means and the action and drama are all there. If you have a taste for more vintage letters that harken closer to epics and myths than this is probably something to enjoy. Especially when coupled with the film, where it can inevitably fill in a more colorful backdrop for the story expounded on screen at a time when movies lacked the capacity for sound (other than musical accompaniment, of course).

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

Episode Link: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/07/16/review-metropolis-thea-von-harbou

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “Sin City (1991-1998)” by Frank Miller (select graphic novels) (5 Stars)

Imagine getting punched in the gut by some rogue lunatic underworld gladiator who promptly collapses into your kitchen chair and chomps down on a bowl of cheerios with his oversized mitts as you crouch on the floor stunned and drooling blood…there’s a knock on the door and you pick up your corpse of a body to stare through the peephole at a knife-wielding leather-clad dame grimacing while rare classic cars skid onto the scene followed by screaming cop sirens tolling in debauchery and corruption…then the color drops out and real nice like everything goes noir…

“Sin City” by Frank Miller (select graphic novels)

  • “The Hard Goodbye (April 1991 – May 1992)” (Volume 1)
  • “A Dame to Kill For (November 1993 – May 1994)” (Volume 2)
  • “The Big Fat Kill (November 1994 – March 1995)” (Volume 3)
  • “That Yellow Bastard (February 1996 – July 1996)” (Volume 4)
  • “Booze, Broads, and Bullets (1998)” (Volume 6)

Frank Miller set his Sin City “yarns” in a timeless noir chronology. His inspiration was cool cars, hot dames, and muscle dudes in trench coats. Mission accomplished. The stories are put together in multiple volumes and flip back and forth in time, occasionally providing different perspectives from past scenes as the view point switches. The storylines interweave in expert ways over the course of the collections and it’s fun to see od characters come up again in the background or do things you haven’t seen before as you follow a new protagonist around with new problems and goals.

The world he creates is not vast. Everything revolves around a single city and its outskirts, constantly driving inward at the characters who rule or fight or flee from this place. All the spots to which they bring you really manage to pop with a lurid black and white reality.

Throughout the vast majority of narratives there is thoughtful inner monologue by the rotating cast (usually the protagonist but sometimes even secondary or background characters). We get a front seat ride in many heads, nestled right up against all the twisted struggles that torment these people. We also get to see the tarnished dreams and bitter regrets that motivate them to do what they do, whether it is for a perceived good or simply a personal selfish proclivity. Either way we are there with them in all the glory of what a first-person perspective can provide. This insight really fleshes out the people who inhabit the Sin City world and (along with the visuals) helps to distinguish the ensemble which further develops if you read through multiple volumes.

The dialog is gritty and loose, mostly used sparingly. There were times I felt a repetition in the patterns and speech, but this ultimately complimented the strong distinct style being evoked. The mood was very specific and excellently achieved. Even though the stories are set in a nameless and timeless decade, they feel grounded and real. There is nothing generic here.

The author did double duty in this series by also penciling the drawings. He also made the decision to go almost entirely black and white with almost no colors (with a few exceptions)—you can smell the plethora of black ink as you turn the pages. The resulting style is heavy handed, like everything else in this work, but utterly flawless in its delivery. His use of action and choosing what to show and when or how to show it all fell into place to maximize the narrative. The Sin City stories marry so many different elements in a perfect way that the creator is able to achieve amazing results without ever feeling over played or too intrusive.

These are the hard streets of Basin City where the players make the rules and everyone else goes along, or they pay the price. Sometimes it’s the higher ups and sometimes it’s the dregs. Nobody is immune. People get caught up in their own rachets and games and sheer humanity of being human. Everything you could want in stories like this are here. The corruption, the violence, the passion, the dreams, the loyalty, the betrayal, the revenge, the comeuppance, the chase, the desperation—all of it!

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussede/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

Episode Link: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/06/18/review-sin-city-frank-miller

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “The Screwfly Solution (1977)” by Raccoona Sheldon a/k/a James Tiptree, Jr. a/k/a Alice Sheldon (short story) (4 1/2 Stars)

An epistolary narrative unraveled with increasing tension as terror reigns abomination with insect horror.

Our protagonist is concerned. She’s worried for her scientist husband who is conducting important research in the southern hemisphere. Her words reveal more than just the feelings of affection she has for him. She also makes mention of strange doings happening back home and around the world. Terrible things concerning strangers and family alike. The world, it would seem, has lost its marbles.

This story is told mostly through letters from the wife or her husband, however these are intermixed with article clippings passed along by a friend and fellow scientist. So, too, are point-of-view narratives in between the letters and periodicals. The technique allowing for personal impressions, those of strangers or authoritative voices, as well as the pure insular workings of the inner mind as the characters grapple and struggle with society devolving around them. The result being that, in a very short time, this author manages quite deftly to turn order into chaos for not only our characters, but the entire planet.

Character emotion is described strongly throughout the story. With these emotions the plot is carefully measured. Whether through the written words of letters or articles or inner monologue, there is no distance here. Every emotional beat is meted out to drive the tension forward.

But the science! And the numbers! The journals and the facts! This is hard science fiction at it’s best. A biological puzzle, a mystery—an outbreak rivaling any modern thrillers, yet holding much tighter to a poetic tone. Somehow, some way, the words used by this author paint themselves against the cosmos of the brain. They hold the heavy weight of scientific jargon, but with a vengeance that feels personal and familiar even to the wary head of a lay person such as myself. You experience the meanings, the fear behind them, the profound realizations.

These fantastical plots are ground in real life curiosities and knowledge. Researched and realized. Go ahead and look up about the germ of an idea which the story is based. It is the stuff of nightmares for sure. And here, the author, has plucked one of those nightmares and drawn forth the shadows which give them life so that we may see this horror in a new lens. Creating a horrifying tale that goes beyond simple jump scares.

Deep themes are plumbed here. Light is shined on issues of gender and on what makes a strength and what makes a weakness. These were areas which the author often preferred to explore in her own unique and subtle way. And yet, this tale is not an exercise in didactic commentary, no more than any other piece of good literature. Questions and possibilities are investigated.

In classic rhythm with all the joys of old school pulp fiction this story reaches high and far. It gazes out from one’s mind into the distant horizons of possibility for that wonderful notion of consideration that too rarely follows a reader after the last page is turned and the work is set aside. Returning in a moment of quiet contemplation of “What if….” and the thrilling silent shudder of terror which follows. Leaving an emotional resonance. Possibilities, possibilities, possibilities. Oh horror!

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

Episode Link: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/05/21/review-the-screwfly-solution-james-tiptree-jr

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “Solaris (1961)” by Stanislaw Lem (5 Stars)

An interplanetary philosophical oceanic alien acid trip—to funk your mind with.

Psychological depths are plumbed in this novel from a deeply philosophical conviction. The result is a fresh narrative that neither disintegrates into a rote thriller nor loses itself in esoteric meanderings. The concept explored seems simple at first: alien contact. Humans have at long last discovered an organic living life form on another planet. However, after years of theories and failed experiments mankind has been unable to breach a dialog of communication. The result is maddening, discouraging, and a disturbing enlightenment into the human condition.

This book’s prose is fairly easy to digest despite the original author’s misgivings with the currently available translation in English. There are various eye-opening complex descriptions of the exotic alien and its puzzling behaviors which easily lend themselves to rational theory, but fail utterly when such hypothesis bears out. This is all history and a firm bolstering to the future universe created for this story. I’m not one who normally relishes hard science, but all the same I found myself wading swiftly through these heavy parts in search of the imaginative details of description that painted beautiful pictures of the scientific research efforts that surrounded the mysterious alien being; something altogether different and best-described as a myriad organism akin to an oceanic brain on a planetary scale with significant cosmic weight.

There are few characters, but they serve the story well with their various perspectives, needs, and wants. They wrestle with themselves and each other in their desire to both understand and reject what they experience. Although this is no religious story, their crisis is spiritual in many ways. It’s an esoteric journey trampling across a cascading backdrop of universal dimensions. Nothing can be known for certain and nothing can be dismissed outright. Even madness is uncertain.

Do not be fooled, however, this work is not so vague and ponderous as I allude. The protagonist’s arc is firmly grounded in a concrete dilemma that is personal, relatable, and anything but alien. He must face his own self and the terrible regrets of a life once lived–even though he is far from his home on an alien planet in an unfamiliar environment.

I find it particular genius when an author can take the idea of creating an alien in a particularly different way and make the experience completely immersive without a sense of artifice or tool. This is a challenge of deceptive difficulty and the effort here delivers in every aspect, story point, and description from beginning to end.

There is just enough of everything in this rather short book, whether it is science or philosophy or fantasy or literary angst. The historical elements and scientific theories all feel authentic and unique. The stakes are real and very individual with consequences that could have echoes across the entire universe. It’s the adventure of a mind on a quest across the galaxy. Our understanding of each other is challenged, our understanding of ourselves is challenged, and our understanding of the universe is challenged. For what—we may never know; and yet, we know that we must forever pursue these questions that seem to have no answer. That somehow the price of being human in an otherwise alien universe requires it so.

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

Episode Link: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/04/16/review-solaris-stanislaw-lem

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories (1952-1960)” by Charles Beaumont (4 Stars)

Even though I know there’s going to be a twist, I still wonder how the author is going to flip things at the end.

Beaumont was one of the main writers contributing stories to Rod Serling’s scifi/horror anthology television series “The Twilight Zone.” In this select collection there are a number of short stories that were originally published in various magazines and then later adapted for the television series. There are also other non-twilight-zone stories, which reflect the author’s other interests including his love of cars and jazz music. It’s a fairly eclectic collection from an author who died too young from a strange ailment, but who put noteworthy material during his relatively short career.

Beaumont’s writing is decidedly perfect for the Twilight Zone. It’s no wonder that he fit into Serling’s vision so well. He has short straightforward pose that seeks out an inevitable twist to tie off its conclusory or sometimes ambiguous ending. While reading this book I came to expect things would be flipped on their head at some point, yet I thoroughly enjoyed wondering and waiting in anticipation for the author to perform his magic. The narratives ultimately did not feel predictable as I read them, despite my expectation.

Another thing of note, was that despite the age of these stories they all seemed fairly contemporary and relevant for the most part. This was probably due in part to the author’s inclination to skim deeper into areas of social commentary as he sped us along with his prose. These stories felt ripe for adaption into Twilight Zone episodes even though they were written for magazines first. This tendency to explore themes like environmentalism, colonialism, conforming versus individualism, spirituality and doubt, nostalgia, and dying with dignity–make the narratives more universal and timeless. It also made the twists at the end feel less like clever tricks and more a complimentary part of the greater theme being touched upon. Yet, for the most part everything was done in an entertaining way and without coming across as preachy. Beaumont was probably a bit of an adrenaline junkie and full of get up and go (on a personal level)—it seems he expected no less from his stories.

While most of the writing moved along in an entertaining way with occasional reflective views about the greater human condition, there was also more subtle efforts of craft. Beaumont was able to build and maintain with expert control, an impending and faltering sense of dread or fear in some of his characters which made for authentic and lasting pieces that were memorable after having consumed them.

These stories were a joy to read. The collection is fairly varied, but does glow with a certain Twilight Zone nostalgia through much of the writing. It’s also very easy and a pretty quick read. Highly recommended for those looking for some thoughtful entertainment, and doubly so for those of familiarity with the iconic television show that this writer was a part.

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

Episode Link: http://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/03/19/review-perchance-to-dream-charles-beaumont

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “Perchance to Dream” – Charles Beaumont

Review: “Perchance to Dream” – Charles Beaumont

New podcast book review episode!!

No Deodorant In Outer Space - podcast

PODCAST:

S4E3B – Perchance to Dream (book)*

SHOW NOTES:

Wherein we discuss classic Twilight Zone writer Charles Beaumont and six stories of his turned into memorable episodes. I’m joined by returning guest, indie filmmaker, Mike O’Reilly (YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheMoreilly318); oil painter, Andres Sercovich (Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ahserco/); and book reviewer, Kaelin O’Reilly (Kaelin Reads YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3r-oumDi_CsMoFH4-vTqSA). We recorded this podcast in-between attending lectures and film viewings at the annual Wildwood Film Festival (https://www.wildwoodfilmfestival.com/) that takes place in Appleton, Wisconsin where Mike was screening his short film drama “Volatile” later that night.

During our recording Andres talked about his interests in artificial intelligence themes and the consciousness of mankind which come up in “In His Image,” or the touching reflections of a life-lived found in “Song for a Lady.” Kaelin felt the social commentary on society in “The Beautiful People” both intriguing and disturbing and…

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Posted by on March 19, 2019 in News