Saving the World Through Science Fiction

Review: Saving the World Through Science Fiction: James Gunn, Writer, Teacher and Scholar, Michael R. Page, 2017.51jIRlPDtwL

Before I move on to the inevitable quibbles, let me say that anyone who is a James Gunn fan should buy this book. People who are curious about Gunn and his work should buy this.

Actually, since it’s the first and only book about Gunn, there’s not a lot of choice in the matter anyway.

I’ve long thought, even before starting this blog, that Gunn was an author unjustly neglected and that I should write a series on him. However, while I’ve done some posts on Gunn and read all his novels and most of his shorter works, I didn’t make notes on a lot of them. I’d have to do a lot of rereading and make careful notes.

Page has largely saved me the trouble. He says many of the things I noticed about Gunn. He also says many things I didn’t notice. Continue reading “Saving the World Through Science Fiction”

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Sailing to Utopia

The Michael Moorcock series continues with some more science fiction.

Raw Feed (1999): Sailing to Utopia, Michael Moorcock, 1963, 1997.Sailing to Utopia

Introduction” — Moorcock explains how the novels of this omnibus are collaborations in one way or another. The omnibus is dedicated to Robert Sheckley who, along with Philip K. Dick (I agree with Moorcock that the novels of Dick predict the flavor of our time more than the contemporaneous novels of Robert A. Heinlein) and Alfred Bester. Given Moorcock’s reputation of being an experimental writer in the style of the mainstream and his leadership in the “New Wave” movement of sf via his editorship of New Worlds, I was surprised to hear him chastise the “Angry Young Men” (I’m not sure what writers that refers to) as being concerned with little more than sex and power and corrupting “the tone and aspirations” of the modern novel. It was in Sheckley, Dick, and Bester that Moorock found the “substance” Victorian novels taught him to demand, and their work had more relevance, craft, energy, relevance, and imagination in Moorcock’s mind than many celebrated novelists.

The Ice Schooner — Unlike his fantasies which usually seem to fit clearly in the themes of the Eternal Champion, this early sf novel of Moorcock’s doesn’t seem to be part of the same series. However, in thinking about it, it has some of the same ideas. Arflane, the hero here, worships (as does the epitome of the Eternal Champion, Elric of Melniboné) a form of chaos, specifically the entropy symbolized by the religion of the Ice Mother. Like most Eternal Champions, he is doomed to not have domestic or romantic happiness. At novel’s end, he leaves New York to go north to find evidence of the Ice Mother. However, he leads love Ulrica Ulseen to New York where her suspicions about the fading Ice Age are confirmed. Her trip back to the Eight Cities to get them ready for the changing climate fits in with the notion of the Cosmic Balance constantly shifting due to changing circumstance. The adherants of the Ice Mother, especially the fanatically murderous harpooner Urquart, are devotees of an unchanging descent into entropy, sort of a combination of Law and Chaos in a static culture. Urquart hates what he perceives as decadence in the Eight Cities’ subconscious reaction to a warming climate. Arflare initially shares these feelings. Arflare helps, indirectly, to bring about a new Cosmic Balance. I’m a fan of stories set in polar regions and during Ice Ages, and I liked this baroque tale of iceships though I thought the land whales a bit silly. However, they were rationalized as engineered creatures. I liked the northern polar settlements went underground (or, at least, under ice) and used science to survive. The Antarctic-derived culture chose a more primitive static method. I liked the love affair between Ulrica and Arflare and the guilty conscience and miserableness from its adulterous origins. However, like many fictional romances, its origins seemed implausibly sudden. Continue reading “Sailing to Utopia”

The Roads Between the Worlds

The Michael Moorcock series continues not with sword-and-sorcery but science fiction.

Raw Feed (1999): The Roads Between the Worlds, Michael Moorcock, 1964, 1971.Roads Between the World

Introduction” — An interesting introduction in which Moorcock not only talks about the three novels in this omnibus but his relation to sf. Moorcock cites Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man as an influence which made me eager to read the novels in this omnibus. Moorcock has said he doesn’t have a lot of interest in “modern sf” but liked the works of Fritz Leiber, Philip K. Dick, and the Frederick Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth collaborations. This explains his dislike of Larry Niven and Robert Heinlein. He doesn’t like conservative sf with its preeminence of rationalizing with hard science its fantasy elements. For him, sf (he’s hardly alone in this nor is it an illegitimate stance) is a way to understand our world. The fantasy element in his sf is both a symbol as well as a device to move the story. He says these three novels trace the evolution of the “rationalist apparatus” of sf from “stage machinery” to symbolic writings. Moorcock also, as I didn’t know, worked as a writer for the British Liberal Party for awhile. These novels were written in one draft and very slightly revised for this edition. Evidently, they were written in a hurry to provide more traditional far for the experimental magazines Science Fiction Adventures and New Worlds.

The Wrecks of Time — I liked this novel a lot more than I thought I would. Its plot of Earths being built and destroyed and altered (and the inhabitants amnesiac about the alteration of their planet’s geography) reminded me of Philip K. Dick’s themes of what is reality and simulating it. The scheming groups of D-Squads and aliens obsessed with recreating the society that birthed them reminded me of A. E. van Vogt (also an influence on Dick). Continue reading “The Roads Between the Worlds”

Noir

While I continue to write up new material, I thought I’d return to an associate of Philip K. Dick, K. W. Jeter.

Raw Feed (1999): Noir, K. W. Jeter, 1998.Noir

This is the first Jeter I’ve read.

I enjoyed it, but I found it an uneasy and not totally successful amalgam of satire of what some might call “corporate capitalism” — though Jeter doesn’t use the term, horror, and straight sf.

Jeter was a friend of Phillip K. Dick and wrote, in two novels, sequels to Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and the movie Blade Runner and this friendship and work shows up here.

There is the characteristic confusion of humans and their simulacrum in the “prowlers” who evidently serve, in Jeter’s future, as risk-free sexual surrogates who gather sexual experiences in the Wedge and download into human minds.

Unlikeable protagonist McNihil (whose name, a play on nihilism, is the first clue to the satirical nature of the narrative) is, like Dick, an opera buff. German abounds, including an explanation as to the derivation of McNihil’s old job title – asp-head (a German pun on ASCAP – whose copyrights McNihil ruthlessly enforces — translated back to English). A sort of Dick-like (in the sense of a largely ignored and prolific author of paperbacks and lover of music) author and idol of McNihil shows up in Turbiner. (Jeter wryly notes that authors were particularly “mean bastards” in regard to copyrights.) Continue reading “Noir”

The Cosmic Puppets

And, with this, the PKD series ends.

Once upon a time I wrote a proper review of this, but it seems to have been swallowed by Amazon and left no trace.

So, you get my notes as a …

Raw Feed (2005): The Cosmic Puppets, Philip K. Dick, 1957.The Cosmic Puppets

An adequate and rare novel length Zoroastrianism fantasy by Dick.

The use of a Virginia milieu was interesting.

By coincidence, this book also uses the idea of buildings that are either fake or mutable in their temporal identity just like Dick’s Ubik.

I note that, even in this short of a novel, Dick seemingly couldn’t resist having a protagonist with marital troubles.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 5: The Eye of the Sibyl

For the concluding volume in the this series on PKD short stories, you get a retro review from 2004.

Retro Review: The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 5: The Eye of the Sibyl, 1987.PKD 5

Like the rest of this series, this fifth and last volume has most of the material arranged chronologically. If you didn’t know that, though, you’d think this was a book of ephemera, some literary odds and ends from a has-been author, some products that fell between the cracks during a distinguished career, a book only for Dick completists.

That’s a valid and a wrong impression. These stories from 1963 to 1981 come from a time when Dick was still producing great novels or, at the very least, interestingly quirky novels. Yet many of the stories here seem departures in theme and form and skill from Dick’s earlier works and even most of his novels from those 18 years. Many have never been published before; many were published in atypical venues, and many don’t have a lot of interest for those who don’t know about Dick’s life.

That’s not to say there aren’t strong stories here.  “The Little Black Box” introduces some of the ideas, with its religion of Mercerism — technologically mediated empathy and communion without salvation, that show up in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Those who see Dick as sort of a modern gnostic will find “Faith of Our Fathers” evidence of their belief. Its protagonist meets up with what seems an evil Demiurge who is masquerading as the ruler of world ascendant communism. “Not By Its Cover” is a humorous story about sentient wub pelts that insist on altering the texts of books they bind. And “Holy Quarrel” sees Dick at the top of his paranoid form as a computer repairman seeks why a military computer wants to launch a nuclear strike on Northern California. The answer may involve the sinister conspiracy of a gumball salesman. Continue reading “The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 5: The Eye of the Sibyl”

The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 2: We Can Remember It for You Wholesale

And the PKD series continues with a look at the second volume of his collected short stories.

Raw Feed (2000): The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 2: We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, 1987.PKD 2

Introduction”, Norman Spinrad — A very useful introduction in which Spinrad points out how Dick’s short stories, right from the beginning (these stories are from 1952 through 1955), were different artistically and thematically from other sf writers. While author collections, as Spinrad rightly notes, often have a sameness of style, incident, theme, and character and Dick was no exception, his sameness was unique. Spinrad sees Dick’s overarching theme to be a concern with empathy, the quality that distinguishes man from the mechanical, sometimes thinking, “pseudo-life” (particularly weapon systems) that menace his heroes. And those heroes are usually ordinary people trying to survive worlds of time paradoxes and shifting realities or the menacing security state. Spinrad notes that Dick didn’t do “action-adventure formula” stories or space operas or mad scientists or “fully-developed alien civilizations” or stories with “real good guys versus bad guys”. Dick did not write stories in a consistent universe or future history or feature recurring characters. But the most interesting claim by Spinrad (and I tend to believe he’s studied the matter) is that he invented the multiple viewpoint technique in sf (a technique Spinrad is fond of, indeed he took it to its extreme in “The Big Flash”). Spinrad claims “few if any writers” used it before Dick and that all writers who used it afterwards owe a debt to Dick.

The Cookie Lady” — Fantasy tale of vampirism by the title character who lures a boy with cookies and steals his life. Continue reading “The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 2: We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”