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Tag Archives: Speculative Fiction

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: “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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Two for the Price of None – FREE Scifi

Get my robot SciFi shorts FREE on 1/1/14 The Energy Scavengers and The One Who Turned Them On at Amazon.com.

I’m running a promotion for new Science Fiction short “The One Who Turned Them On” the second installment in The Energy Scavengers Series. Coincidentally, Amazon is price-matching the first installment “The Energy Scavengers” for free as well. Now you can get both stories for nothing! Download and enjoy.

“The One Who Turned Them On” (Energy Scavengers II)

Synopsis: On a planet exclusively populated by alien robots, machines struggle to find purpose after abandonment by their creators. Kairos, the highly intelligent and massive weather-machine, monitors the world with cold academic curiosity atop of the great canyon system. He cares only for storms and other significant meteorological events. While below, common worker-bots scavenge daily to find scraps of power that will allow them to subsist in this increasingly savage environment. The Body, a growing robot-collective, is slowly taking over the canyons and oppressing all those that resist its will. Viewing any free power source as a threat, The Body, moves to enlist Kairos in its quest to destroy a mythic, sky-deity who has been benevolently restoring power to injured and disabled machines. Only Ophis, an insignificant and crippled worker-bot, stands in the path of this nefarious task. Will Kairos look beyond his own self-interests, or will he too kow-tow to the collective?

Series Overview: This is the second installment in a robot-themed series which tells the story exclusively through the eyes of machines. The works are interconnected but can stand on their own.

http://www.amazon.com/One-Turned-Them-Energy-Scavengers-ebook/dp/B00GWQLUI2/

 

“The Energy Scavengers” (Energy Scavengers I)

Synopsis: When mankind reaches far out into the universe to find other life forms it may first find machines. A string of planets on the outer edges of the Milky Way contain the mechanical workers of an ancient alien civilization. Calvin, an exploratory rover coupled with, Nutshell, his landing ship, are sent to discover what all these machines are still doing–now that they’ve been abandoned by their alien owners. First contact comes not by hand of man, but by metal of machine.

http://www.amazon.com/Energy-Scavengers-Ryan-Sean-OReilly-ebook/dp/B00811WWLK

 

 

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Official Trailer and Book Release on Amazon

Official book trailer for my new science fiction short story: “The One Who Turned Them On (The Energy Scavengers II). Written by: Ryan Sean O’Reilly. Story available exclusively for Kindle at Amazon.com on 11/26/13: http://www.amazon.com/The-Turned-Them-Energy-Scavengers-ebook/dp/B00GWQLUI2/

Story Synopsis: “On a planet exclusively populated by alien robots, machines struggle to find purpose after abandonment by their creators. Kairos, the highly intelligent and massive weather-machine, monitors the world with cold academic curiosity atop of the great canyon system. He cares only for storms and other significant meteorological events. While below, common worker-bots scavenge daily to find scraps of power that will allow them to subsist in this increasingly savage environment. The Body, a growing robot-collective, is slowly taking over the canyons and oppressing all those that resist its will. Viewing any free power source as a threat, The Body, moves to enlist Kairos in its quest to destroy a mythic, sky-deity who has been benevolently restoring power to injured and disabled machines. Only Ophis, an insignificant and crippled worker-bot, stands in the path of this nefarious task. Will Kairos look beyond his own self-interests, or will he too kow-tow to the collective?”

Series Overview: This is the second installment in my robot-themed series, which tells the story exclusively through the eyes of machines. The works are interconnected but can stand on their own. As of this writing, the first story “The Energy Scavengers” was free and available for download at major online retailers: Amazon.com, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.com.

More info at: www.RyanSeanOReilly.com

Video work and editing by: Craig Knit (Out of Whack Productions)
Cover art and drawings by: Daniel Gracey (G2 Comics)
Music by: John Doyle (I Decline)

As an aside I’d also like to give praise and thanks to those helping me with my promotional efforts: William O’Reilly, Linda O’Reilly, and Heather Mehl. Also, many thanks to Tony Andros for always keeping an ear out for me in the world of Public Libraries. And last, but certainly not least, I want to thank my professional and speedy editor Tammy Salyer. Thanks!

So, fingers crossed for a successful release tomorrow!

 
 

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CURIOUS ANOMALIES – Top 10 #Free #Scifi shorts on #Amazon

My Scifi short Curious Anomalies is FREE on Amazon and currently ranks in the Top 10. Get it here: http://www.amazon.com/Curious-Anomalies-ebook/dp/B009N6SW0M. Check out the screen shot below:

Top 8 Free Scifi Shorts on Amazon (2-18-13)

Top 8 Free Scifi Shorts on Amazon (2-18-13)

The story has been trending well with 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon and Goodreads. The website “WiLoveBooks” said this: “A cool little story about what happens when you mess around with nature. The author did a great job of building up the suspense. Bats creep me out anyway. I may have nightmares now. A fun, creepy, short read.”

I appreciate all the support and hope people continue to enjoy the story.

Synopsis: Rick Silvano, an anxious young geneticist, has gotten himself entangled with a violent, South American, drug-lord named Diego Peres. Rick’s talents have been enlisted by Peres to create genetically enhanced watchdogs, by combining common moustache bats with Africanized honeybees. Everything has gone smoothly for the last three years until now, the night before Peres is due to inspect his investment. Clive Pinkerman, who hosts a late-night, radio conspiracy show, announces on-air that he is going to break into the genetic laboratory to uncover a massive alien conspiracy he believes is housed there. Suddenly, Rick must juggle his time between stopping Clive, and making sure the experiment works so that the temperamental Peres will not be displeased.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Curious Anomalies

 

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