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Tag Archives: Dystopian

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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Book Review: “The Running Man” (Stephen King) (3 Stars)

Summary: Dystopian thriller of prescient vision

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.

Review: Stephen King wrote this novel very quickly under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman. He talks about this in the book’s prologue. As many reviewers point out, he also provides a major spoiler. So don’t read that first (unless you don’t care).

Ben Richards lives in squalor and because of his refusal to punch it in like other cog fodder for the rich elite, he is outcast and unable to find suitable work. His refusal, as explained, is a refusal to put himself into a horribly unhealthy work environment. Unfortunately his idealism has caused the family unit further financial woes and his wife is forced to forsake her marriage vows to make ends meet. What could be worse? Well, how about a young child who is suffering from a curable aliment, but one which the protagonist cannot afford the medicine. Richards hates this and it spurs him into taking his idealism into full bloom, which he does by signing up for a game show that can earn the family money based on how long the participate can stay alive. If you survive for a certain amount of time, then you are home free, but of course nobody ever has.

The game show uses the complete world as its stage. The protagonist literally is a “running man” being chased by man hunters who will kill him when they find him. The whole thing is televised and the general public can earn money by reporting on his location. A further twist, is that Richards has to video record himself twice a day and mail the tapes in by a certain time – otherwise he’s disqualified (oh and the man hunters will still kill him). Although, it’s claimed that the game show won’t use his mailings to track him – it’s highly suspect.

Before Richards begins, he is advised by the game show’s dubious host to hide out among his own i.e. the poor (as they are the only ones who probably won’t turn on him). Richards takes this advice to heart. What follows is a maddening thriller of short successive and numerically titled chapters that count down toward the end. You can really picture yourself, as the main character. Where do you go? What do you do? Your face is plastered all over the state-run television system and everyone in the entire world will know your face and likely be motivated to turn you in for money. Do you run? Do you hide? King does a great job of letting you feel the natural paranoia that would accompany such a scenario. Every person the protagonist passes by, every time Richards stops to rest he thinks – they know! They found me out already!! Even if he can’t be sure, he can’t risk sticking around to find out. He must just keep moving.

And yet, it would be almost impossible to go it completely alone. You would have to trust someone, somewhere, sometime. Again King does a good job of fleshing out the other people who Richards inevitably comes into contact with and whom he must decide whether or not to trust (sometimes without option). Through Richard’s interactions with others, we get a bigger sense of his world. This story is set in a dystopian future where the government’s manipulation of media and culture gets into 1984 type levels. The divide between poor and rich has become ocean wide, to the point that the “have’s” now even have a different currency system. Not surprisingly, we learn the powers that be are likely furthering the subjugation of the poor by worsening environmental conditions and then lying about it.

Which brings out another good thing about this book, there is a struggle in the main character between looking out for his own interest (surviving the game how to provide money for his sick and struggling family) and fighting the oppressive powers dominating the poor. He knows its bad out there for everyone. Oh how he knows, how he has lived it. In fact, it’s so bad, that he’s decided to give up and make a last bid for money as he “checks out”. A sort of giving up. This is what the totalitarian regime wants. Don ‘t care don’t try. Just give in and play along. A classic scenario. And yet, the more the regime tries to get Richards to play along, the more he starts to wake up. To evolve. Suffice to say, the story culminates to a grand conclusion (that won’t be ruined if you don’t read the prologue).

As far as Stephen King goes, this is a fast fast fast book! It reads very quickly and is devoid of his usual long-winded descriptions. You know that a Stephen King book (whether written as Bachman or as himself) is going to be written at a certain level – and this book is no exception. I would definitely recommend this story for those who don’t know King outside horror. He’s written in a lot of other genres – and done it quite well. Though, you still get his mastery of scaring. There is a particularly suspenseful and frightening scene involving a sewer pipe and raging fire that kept me quite on edge and is totally classic King.

All in all an enjoyable read. Perfect science fiction, dystopian, thriller for a plane ride or vacation trip. And a great introduction to King’s talents for those (few) who might have overlooked him all these years.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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