Tag Archives: Philip K. Dick

Qualified

With his new film Inception, Christopher Nolan proves once and for all that he is the only mainstream filmmaker qualified to adapt Philip K. Dick’s fiction, despite the fact that he has never actually tried to do so.

Nolan’s second feature, Memento, is Exhibit A in my argument that he and not Richard Linklater should have been the one to film A Scanner Darkly (more on that subject here). The bipartite structure of Memento, with one storyline running in reverse chronology to merge with the second in real time, would be an excellent way to make Bob Arctor’s schizoid breakdown visceral and frightening.

Meanwhile, the dreams-within-dreams setup of Inception proves Nolan should take over the pending remake of the vapid Total Recall and wrench it back in the direction of “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.” Though, given how thoroughly he works out his themes in this demanding film, Nolan might well look over Ubik or Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and think, Been there, done that.

So, what has Nolan done with Inception? For one thing, he’s broken the curse of The Director’s Pet Project That Follows a Big Success. Inception is no Heaven’s Gate or 1941 or Last Temptation of Christ. If the phenomenal success of The Dark Knight made Inception possible, we can only be thankful that Nolan spent the better part of a decade working on his script before he cashed in his chips.

For another, Nolan has made an intellectually challenging movie that packs a surprisingly strong emotional punch. Nolan’s fondness for intricate plots and puzzle-box structures has led some critics to brand him as chilly and distant, but Leonard’s monologue in Memento about the impossibility of healing without being able to experience the passage of time is one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen in a film.

In fact, Inception plays as a companion piece to Memento in that its hero, who practices corporate espionage by literally infiltrating the dreams of his targets, is also a deeply wounded man frozen by grief over a lost wife. Like Leonard Shelby, he also finds a way to transcend his handicap and attain a kind of peace. After a single viewing, I’m still not sure about the steps that bring the hero to that resolution, but never once while watching Inception did I get the feeling that the director was simply jerking me around. In expect all will become clear after a few spins in the DVD player, just as Memento revealed its elegant setup and oddly satisfying conclusion after a little extra quality time.

Meanwhile, the nice thing about Blade Runner is that it departed so drastically from its source material that a new take on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep might very well fly. If Christopher Nolan wanted to take it on, you wouldn’t hear any complaints from me. After all, the man’s qualified.

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Friday finds

Berlin WallEven if you’re too young to remember the thrill that ran along the world’s spine when the obscenity of the Berlin Wall was finally erased, you’ll get a lump in your throat reading this piece about the wall, and this reaction to the piece. The picture above, which shows East German soldier Conrad Schumann vaulting over the barbed wire barrier that was the first phase of the wall’s construction in 1961, is one of the most enduring images of the Cold War, but you may be surprised to learn of Schumann’s life after that glorious moment.

Agatha Christie fans who need to develop their upper-body strength can go for the burn with this one-volume edition of the complete tales of Miss Marple, which gathers 12 novels and 22 short stories into a mere 4,032 pages. At a thousand pounds — that’s its price, not its weight — this limited-edition tome will make the mystery fan in your life into a championship arm wrestler. 

W.H. Auden — documentary filmmaker? To say nothing of department store Father Christmas? 

How a forgotten mystery novel by science fiction writer Roger Zelazny came to light.

A trip to Concord. You know — where the grapes come from.

My favorite Manny’s moment of all time was the day I cut school in the middle of the week and walked in and, to my disbelief, saw my HERO, Pete Townshend standing at the back counter talking to Henry. It was the first time I’d ever seen him anywhere other than onstage . . . It’s unimaginative cliché, but, I felt like I was in a dream as I walked up to Pete and Henry . . . just in time to hear, with my own ears, Pete ordering (and this IS verbatim . . . my brain RECORDED it!) . . . ’10 Telecasters, 15 Stratocasters, 5 Jazzmasters, 5 Jaguars, 5 of those Corals, 3 Gibson Stereo 355s . . . ‘ Henry is scribbling furiously, looks up and says, ‘You really ought to try the Gibson SG Special, Pete. It’s the best buy out there.’ Pete chuckled ruefully. . .’ Okay, Henry…spend MORE of my money, three of them too then . . .’ (About two and a half years later, Pete would throw me an SG Special from the stage of The Metropolitan Opera House).”

The foreign language you haven’t learned may in fact be your own

Feeling a little burned by that new Bob Dylan disc? How about downloading some Basement Tapes instead? And while Dylan authority Michael Gray has not yet held forth on the new disc, the auspices aren’t very good

So, one of the key intellectual influences on the development of modern conservatism was . . . a comic strip. Why am I not surprised?

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is the next Philip K. Dick novel up for a film adaptation. I’m already on record as having been underwhelmed by Richard Linklater’s version of A Scanner Darkly, so let’s see how this one comes out.

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Fifteen big ones

Via Lance Mannion, I have discovered the meme known as 15 Books That Will Always Stick With Me. This meme is so powerful that one needn’t be tagged directly to succumb to its awesome level of Not Lameness. In fact, I’m going to emulate Lance by dividing the books into pre-high school, high school and college categories. And once you’ve read it, don’t consider yourself tagged. Consider yourself invited to participate with a list of your own special books.

Pre-high school

THE OCTOBER COUNTRY, Ray Bradbury: A tall decanter full of dreams. If memory serves, I got into Bradbury via the film version of Fahrenheit 451, which was on TV quite a bit for a while, and which I liked mainly for the glorious music by Bernard Herrmann. I had already devoured R Is For RocketThe Illustrated Man, and The Golden Apples of the Sun, but this is the collection I always think of when somebody asks me about Bradbury in his prime. These stories were culled and revised from Bradbury’s first book, Dark Carnival, and are some of the most macabre stuff he ever wrote.

WHY I AM NOT A CHRISTIAN, Bertrand Russell: The title essay is the reason I never finished confirmation classes at the church my parents were flogging me into every Sunday. Does a book’s impact get any more personal than that? 

DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? Philip K. Dick: My introduction to PKD came from a small library of paperbacks that lined a couple of shelves in my seventh-grade science teacher’s classroom. The back cover promised all kinds of smutty science fiction fun. What I got was a cage-rattling meditation on the nature of human identity, and an undertow of tragedy that just about knocked me sidewways at my tender age.

THE ASCENT OF MAN, Jacob Bronowski: My introduction to Bruno came via the Channel 13 broadcast of the BBC series, and as soon as it was done I got a copy of the hardcover book by joining the Literary Guild. Did I understand everything I read. Of course not, but the effort did me good.

GODS, GRAVES, AND SCHOLARS, C.W. Ceram: A great popular history of archaeology, loaded with Indiana Jones stuff as well as some excellent leads on other works of history. I learned about Cortes and the conquest of Mexico from this book, which led to a lifelong fascination with the subject.        

THE HEIGHTS OF MACCHU PICCHU, Pablo Neruda: My introduction to the greatest poem by one of our greatest poets came about through a science fiction story, “Come to Me Not in Winter’s White” by Roger Zelazny and Harlan Ellison, which I read in Ellison’s collection of collaborative stories, Partners in Wonder. Art is where you find it. 

High school

CANNERY ROW/THE PASTURES OF HEAVEN, John Steinbeck: After coming across a beat-up copy of Travels With Charley in a Sea Isle City bungalow, I spent the summer between my freshman and sophomore years reading every Steinbeck title I could get my hands on. For my money, these are his two best novels.

A FAREWELL TO ARMS/IN OUR TIME, Ernest Hemingway: The next summer was spent plowing through the big guy’s works, which didn’t take as long as the Steinbeck Summer, so I filled out August with a few Herman Hesse titles. (This was the mid-Seventies, when high schoolers looking for stirrings of transcendance felt obligated to read Siddhartha and Steppenwolf.) Since I was also going through my Sorrows of Young Werther period, the romantic longings in A Farewell to Arms really struck a deep chord, and I continue to admire the spare music of Hemingwway’s short stories.   

THE GLORY AND THE DREAM, William Manchester: Mid-20th century American history, from the arrival of the Bonus Army marchers in Washington D.C. to the eviction of Richard Nixon from the White House. Narrative history at its finest. I think it’s a tragedy Manchester never got to finish his three-part Churchill biography.   

WRITINGS AND DRAWINGS, Bob Dylan: Lucky me. Not only was Blood on the Tracks my first Bob Dylan album, but 1975 was a great year to be a Dylan fan. Blood on the Tracks came out in January, The Basement Tapes was released (in water-down form) in June, and all through the fall I followed the glamorous wanderings of the Rolling Thunder Revue in the pages of Rolling Stone, and Desire came out so early in January that I have a hard time remembering it as a 1976 release. Somewhere along the way I acquired  this collection of lyrics, album cover notes and poetry in a slick tan cover, which is the reason I knew most of Dylan’s other albums by reading them before I listened to them.

INTERVIEW WITH HISTORY, Oriana Fallaci: I never made good on my teen fantasy of having an affair with the diminutive hellraiser, but I did the next best thing and spent a lot of quality time with this collection of interviews, in which Fallaci made Yasir Arafat, Henry Kissinger and the Shah of Iran (among others) deeply and profoundly regret the day they opened their doors to her. Kissinger once said that agreeing to talk with Fallaci was “the stupidest thing I ever did.” Years later, when I found myself bumping shoulders with Kissinger at a buffet table, the only thing I could imagine saying to him was, “Damn, Henry, Oriana really pounded that one up your ass, didn’t she?” And yet I kept quiet! What demon possessed me, that I behaved so well? 

College

RED HARVEST, Dashiell Hammett: After the farm wagon dropped me off at Livingston College, I batted some of the straw out of my hair and headed for the campus bookstore, where my very first purchase was this detective novel by a writer I’d been hearing about for some time. It has the most perfect opening of any noir book I’ve read. I think I spent the rest of the semester talking out of the side of my mouth.

MATTERS OF FACT AND OF FICTION, Gore Vidal: I’d long had a vague idea of Gore Vidal, but it took someone lending me this book while I spent several weeks recovering from a bout of mono to show me what I’d been missing. Exemplary essays and reviews that opened up a lot of new horizons for me. In fact, one of the reviews led me to . . .

THE POWER BROKER, Robert Caro: When I wrote The Last Three Miles, I had in mind doing something with a bit of the same historic sweep that makes this massive biography so engrossing. Robert Moses’ heroic image as the master builder of New York City was overturned by Caro’s examination, which takes in virtually every significant trend affecting mid-20th century America and New York City, and shows how one man really can make a difference — for good and for ill. The book’s level of detail is daunting, its argument commanding, its scope breathtaking.      

PATRIOTIC GORE, Edmund Wilson: My introduction to the Civil War as something more than a collection of dates and battles with odd names came through this massive collection of essays on the era’s literature. Abraham Lincoln’s ritings, William Tecumseh Sherman’s diaries, Mary Chestnut’s diaries . . . and Carl Sandburg’s cornpone myth-mongering, praised and/or debunked as the occasion demands.

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PKD pulls his weight

As it prepares to ship its second volume of Philip K. Dick novels, Five Novels of the 1960s and 1970s, the Library of America has told GalleyCat that the the first volume, Four Novels of the 1960s, is the fastest-selling title in the LoA canon and the new book is on track to match that success:

The first PKD volume, published last year, shipped 23,750 copies with an exceptionally low 5 percent return rate, GalleyCat notes:

But how does Dick stand up against the heavy hitters of American letters? The LOA’s first collection of Jack Kerouac novels shipped just under 15,000 copies in its first year, with a return rate of 10 percent. The two-volume collection of Edmund Wilson’s critical writings from the 1920s to the 1940s shipped a combined total of 9,250 copies, with returns at 12 percent. And the American Poetry: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries anthology clocked in at just under 4,200 copies shipped (8 percent returns).

I wonder what PKD would have said, back when he was cranking out novels just to keep himself solvent, that someday his work would be paying the fare for Edmund Wilson and Jack Kerouac?

The GalleyCat blogger suggests that a volume of early Kurt Vonnegut works would be just the thing for the LoA catalogue. Funny, I had the same idea just recently. In fact, I’ve made three batches of suggestions for the LoA: starting with Chester Himes, Charles Portis, Iceberg Slim, Walter Tevis and Robert Silverberg, continuing with Charles Bukowski, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert E. Howard, John D. MacDonald and Susan Sontag, then adding Upton Sinclair, Patricia Highsmith and Frederick Manfred.

I’ve got another batch coming up before too long.      

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