Musings/Träumereien/Devaneios

Frazzled Frenzy SF: "The Stand - The Complete & Uncut Edition" by Stephen King

The Stand - Stephen King

One of my favourite SF books was Stephen King's 1979 "The Stand", which I read in the full unadulterated double-doorstop version released in 1990, which was considered far to voluminous to release in 1979. This is the second time I'm re-reading it. How did it fare?

 

This is the sort of SF that is all too plausible, an accidental spill from a biological weapons facility releasing a plague-like virus which sweeps the planet in a matter of weeks, leaving 99% of humanity dead. King introduces a scores of protagonists, split into two camps of good and evil, the good 'uns drawn to Boulder Colorado through a shared dream of a 108 year old black woman, and the baddies under the control of supernatural drifter Randal Flagg.

 

King said he had been wanting to create an American Lord of the Rings, saying he:

 

“...just couldn't figure out how to do it. Then . . . after my wife and kids and I moved to Boulder, Colorado, I saw a 60 Minutes segment on CBW (chemical-biological warfare). I never forgot the gruesome footage of the test mice shuddering, convulsing, and dying, all in twenty seconds or less. That got me remembering a chemical spill in Utah, that killed a bunch of sheep (these were canisters on their way to some burial ground; they fell off the truck and ruptured). I remembered a news reporter saying, 'If the winds had been blowing the other way, there was Salt Lake City.' Only instead of a hobbit, my hero was a Texan named Stu Redman, and instead of a Dark Lord, my villain was a ruthless drifter and supernatural madman named Randall Flagg. The land of Mordor ('where the shadows lie,' according to Tolkien) was played by Las Vegas”.

 

If you're into Massive SF, read on.

Pax Americana: "Double Star" by Robert A. Heinlein

Double Star - Robert A. Heinlein

Implausible and impossible to put down- like all of Heinlein's books I've read its hero is a man of action and boundless self confidence, a wisecracking all-American cowboy figure who brushes obstacles aside, a genial dictator figure who knows that as long as he's left in charge everything will be o.k. The voice is always the same - and I can see why the new wake of science fiction writers reacted against Heinlein: Aldiss, Moorcock, Ballard, Dick. Heinlein's Pax Americana and paternalism vision of the future certainly does have fascist overtones. But he's still a great storyteller, his books filled with mind-bending concepts presumably achieved without the help of the consciousness expanding substances that inspired some of his successors.

 

Yes, the Bonforte character was a very macho autocrat...Who cares? Nevertheless, “The Great Lorenzo” doesn't quite conform to the macho 'tit man' narrator as Heinlein... although the authorial voice does creep through in interesting ways in his stereotyped descriptions of Lorenzo's camp-actor personality and co...Heinlein enjoyed challenging established ways of thinking, and for most of his great period of writing liberal politics was on the rise, so he took great pleasure in poking holes in political sacred figures.

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Crap on Repeat: "Two Kinds of Truth" by Michael Connelly

Two Kinds of Truth - Michael Connelly

I used to feel that I shouldn't like reading Crime Fiction so much, but then sensibly decided that a well written Crime Fiction book has as much "value" as any other book, however much the literary snobs may turn their noses up. Good writing is good writing, whether it's a spy novel or a romance, a whodunit or a family saga. When I had finished all of the wonderful Wallander books, I started looking elsewhere for Nordic detection. Helene Tursten's Inspector Irene Huss (Swedish) is wonderful as is Ake Edwardson's young, hip Inspector Winter, while Liza Marklund's newspaper reporter, Annika Bengtzon gets herself into some rivetting, nail-biting situations. Karin Fossum's Inspector Sejer (Norwegian) is great, as is Arnaldur Indridason's Inspector Erlunder (Icelandic)! These are all excellent translations (unlike the earlier Swedish thrillers by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, whose translations leave something to be desired). When I had got through all the Wallander books I was devastated, which is how I found these other wonderful Scandinavian mystery writers and a few others, namely their American counterparts. There is apparently something about the Nordic climate and temperament that makes for unbeatable crime stories! Unfortunately, it is looking like there won't be any more Wallanders since Mr. Mankell has gone to another plane of existence - though one can always hope.

 

 

If you're into Crime Fiction, read on.

Who am I? : "A Scanner Darkly" by Philip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick

I'm a big Pynchon fan, too, so don't get me wrong here, but it seems to me like the main difference between Dick's writing style and Pynchon's--or at least, the difference that mostly accounts for Dick being treated as a "pulp" author with some interesting ideas whereas Pynchon is considered a major "literary" figure--is simply that Dick tends to write in crisp, straightforward sentences that just directly say what he means to say, whereas Pynchon's writing is (in)famously dense with allusion and rambling esoteric figurative expressions to the point where it can be an intellectual exercise in its own right just trying to figure out what the hell Pynchon is trying to say.

 

All of which makes major Dick novels like “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” or “Radio Free Albemuth” sort of resemble, IMHO, what “Gravity's Rainbow” might have looked like if Pynchon had been working with editors who expected him to actually keep tight deadlines.

 

I think Dick was really gifted as a wry satirist, too, and this is something I think he's often under-appreciated for. Probably my favourite single episode in all of Dick's stories I've ever read--and I was quite overjoyed to see this faithfully recreated in the film adaptation--is still the "suicide" sequence from “A Scanner Darkly”. In short, I don't think Dick was ever bad at writing--he just doesn't seem to have had any real interest in the kind of writing that people like James Joyce or William Burroughs (or Pynchon, for whom to my mind it seems that both Joyce and Burroughs were major stylistic influences) were famous for.

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

On How to Spin a Top-Notch Yarn of Bullshit: "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" by Robert A. Heinlein

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein

The usual pretty crude pneumatic sex-fantasies cropped up... But women actually have a pretty dominant role in Heinlein's lunar society... It's a penal colony, and Heinlein reckons that means there are going to be far fewer women then men there - so he's come up with a system called 'line-marriage'... wherein a few women in a household share numerous husbands... And the head of the household is a woman... and women call the shots... Meanwhile, outside the home, women are treated with far more respect than they are on earth because they are so rare and precious... Obviously, he's not going to get any badges from feminists, but he does at least ask a few interesting questions about the way women were viewed in his own world...The characters explicitly reject using patriotism as a method to revolution.  

 

I think that Prof De La Paz's 'rational anarchism' is also expressed by Jubal Harshaw in 'Stranger', though not in as straightforward a manner. Both seem to say that it's not that hard to figure out what ideal behavior should be but expecting actual live humans to live up that is impossible. After accepting that point, they both want to move on. Yep, humans are hypocritical and sometimes hard to live with. What of it? The other big point of this is that only the direst situation (near term cannibalism here) justifies butting into other people's business. Sadly, this attitude is pretty rare today. The characters explicitly reject using patriotism as a method to revolution. 

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

The SF Lamp was Broken: "Six of Crows" by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows - Leigh Bardugo

After having finished “Six of Crows”, I would encourage anyone to consider the potential for SF to help us all drop our lazy assumptions about Realism, mimesis, and how any writing made up of words upon a page ever really relates to or captures some discernible, locatable "real world." As someone who prefers poetry over novels (Yep. I know I'm built that way), I turn to SF (science-fiction, weird fiction, fantasy) for the same sort of liberation from the tyrannous fantasy of the Real. Forget the mirror; look to the Lamp. Every piece of fiction is just that, fiction, and for those who read attentively and with appreciation of the power of the imagination. Dickens's London in “Bleak House” and Eliot's “Middlemarch” are just as artificial and speculative and weird as Carroll's “Looking Glass” world or Stoker's “Transylvania” or Barrie's “Neverland” or Mirrlees “Lud-in-the-Mist” or Jack Vance's “Dying Earth” or Peake's “Gormenghast” or China Mieville's “New Crobuzon”. All of these fantastic places are projections of the imagination. All of them hold prime value in the way they transport us away from our easy assumptions about what is real and then return us, much changed.

 

 

If you're into romancy SF, read on.

Beckettian SF: "The Man in the High Castle" by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick

“The Man in the High Castle” is my second favourite PKD novel, after “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. I read both novels in the same year, back in the day, along with “Ubik”, “VALIS” and “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”, and most of PKD's short fiction. Without doubt the most mind-bending year of reading I've ever had, and the one that hooked me on SF more than any other. The thing I love about his stories more than anything else is their mastery of chaos and illogicality. Reality in a PKD story is held together by the desperate hopes of his characters, and its always falling apart beneath their feet. Love it!

 

As for PKD's prose not keeping up with his ideas and co... I agree... and also agree it's often part of the fun. Although here, as noted, I found his writing mainly quite elegant.

 

I've been hunting around for speculation as to why PKD called Hawthorne Abendsen's book “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy”. Dick says in the book that the title is a quote from The Bible, but if so it is not in a common translation. You can find some speculation elsewhere; being speculative about a Dick novel means we'll be wandering into some fairly strange territory... I've also asked the question on my own blog, so there may be enlightening comments there.

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Thinking in Code: "Antao's Tetris Ported from Python"

 

If you want to have a go at my version of the game, you can install it from here at the Google Play Store (Python version running on the Chrome Browser here).
 
Any idiot can code, and many do. The skill is in understanding the maths and algorithms (speaking as an idiot who codes).
 
Lazy (or to be fair perhaps just poorly informed) people have taken to use the word "coding" as a synonym for software development. Actually, coding is tricky in and of itself (read the C++11 reference manual and tell me it ain't so) but it is still only the "bricklaying" part of construction, so to speak. Programming is creative and exploratory and stimulating to the imagination. It's a different way of thinking that serves people well in all sorts of life situations outside of software. So as a way to develop skills in logical thinking, problem solving and invention it's very useful. Not every child will go on to write software as an adult but having a basic understanding and insight into systems has to be a fundamental part of every child's education I say. If you don't understand the systems controlling your life how can you ever use them to your best advantage?
 
Actually the basics of code are not directly computer related at all. A simple binary device is an on-off light switch which says something like when I am 'on' my user is at home and when I am 'off' my user is away. A second light switch allows this develop into when both lights are on my user is awake and when only one light is on my user is asleep and so on. The code is what you make the light sequences mean. The same use is made of morse code, an abacus, flag signals , hand gestures, anything that can be logically explained to mean something for each different state. I think most children develop logic rather more quickly than we believe possible, and the only problem with computers is demystifying their apparent complexity when they are only ever very fast at very simple arithmetic and being given very precise instructions about what to do with all that speed adding numbers together.
 
 
If you're into Android Game Development, read on.

The Risks of Universal Enfranchisement: "Starship Troopers" by Robert A. Heinlein

Starship Troopers - Robert A. Heinlein
Word of warning. I’m going to discourse both on the book and on the Verhoeven’s movie.
 
He didn't include them as "grunts" probably because the training was sufficiently hard that most wouldn't have made it. If you read the description of the training it wasn't just 12 weeks square-bashing, it reads far more like Special Forces.
 
It might also have been because he was paying lip service to a society kind of modelled on 50s America where the ladies were the home-makers and females in the frontline weren't even on the radar.
 
However, having said that, we have the fabulous line about females in high rank and esteem:
 
"If the Almighty ever needs a hand to run the universe: hot ship pilot Yvette Deladrier" after Starship commander Deladrier brakes her ship's orbit to recover a lander that has blasted off late and which otherwise would miss rendezvous and all on board would perish. I’ve heard from a lot of my friends saying the movie version is utter shit. I’m not so sure. The thing is, Verhoeven was a master of taking existing texts and subtly pushing them into satire by overdoing Hollywood/MTV filming tropes. The viewer was encouraged to look at the films as broad entertainment and then ask what the actions of the heroes had to do with American culture. He did the same with Joe Eszterhas's scripts for “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls”. “Basic Instinct” is a detective story where the 'hero' is someone who's already gotten away with murder because of his badge, and who shoots another innocent victim before the film is out, while the 'villain' is never actually shown to kill anyone. She's chiefly a suspect because of her sexuality (which is why GLAAD picketed the film) and lack of shame about it. “Showgirls” meanwhile depicts a vision of Las Vegas as a patriarchal dystopia where every woman is judged on her body and literally every male character is a predator of some kind. 
 
 
If you're into SF, read on.

Argghh, Just One More Go Mum: "Exploring Tetris On My Own"

 

"but...but...the Spectrum is for educational purposes Mum! Honest, look it comes with a game called Chess and Scrabble!"

 



Ping pong, Pacman, Defender, Elite, Sabre Wolf, Manic Miner, Jetset Willy, Tekken Sensible Soccer, Mario, Sonic, NHL, PES, Fifa, COD, Forza, Dirt, Bubble Burst, Candy Crush, Donald Trump, Mickey Mouse... Never affected me in anyway whatsoever, thinking back, I still haven't handed in my Technical Drawing homework due in 1985. "Argghh, just one more go mum."

I grew up with a commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. I use to play games obsessively, especially Elite but it never impacted my social and family life. Apart from a bit of cop killing and drug, slave and alien artifact trading here and there I have grown up to be a well rounded member of society

I seem to be the only person in public spaces sitting staring into space, thinking without a device of some kind. Looking at other people using their phones, it seems that we're at the point where they're virtually programmed to reach for their phones as soon at every conceivable opportunity without even thinking about it. Often going through the same cycle, checking text, mail, news. Seems the whole concept of independent reflection has gone out the window.

 

If you're into Game Development in Python and Android, read on.

Darkness Changes Nothing: “Replacement” by Tor Ulven

Replacement (Norwegian Literature) by Tor Ulven (2012-06-19) - Tor Ulven;Kerri A. Pierce

“There’s no point trying to tell yourself that darkness changes nothing; maybe she believes that, maybe she doesn’t, but in any case it’s wrong, because darkness happens, it fills a space, and it could also be full of something like the way a drawer is full of silverware, or the earth is full of insects that scatter in panic when you lift a rotten log, even though darkness could also be a balloon, a balloon filled with black air.”

 

In “Replacement” by Tor Ulven

 

Because of its brevity and yet countless fathoms-deep complexity coupled with what is not easy text I tend to consider “Replacement” as an example of a novel that sifts the casual reader from the committed enthusiast. In the same vein as “Heart of Darkness” by Conrad and “Wild Highway” by Bill Drummond & Mark Manning in terms of seriousness of theme in a small expertly packed parcel, but providing a rather more difficult text to engage with,“Replacement” is an significant novel on many levels.

 

“Replacement” carries a matching authorial mood of darkness that is perhaps the seeds of meta-fiction; you are aware that the style of the telling of the tale is intricately woven into the fabric of the tale itself. The clarity and simplicity of the authorial voices in the two books above-mentioned is not present and you, the reader, are called upon to grapple with the text as part of the experience the book is offering up. And it's a hell of a lot shorter than “Moby Dick”.

 

 

If you're into Mundane Fiction, read on.

Fictionalizing Philosopher: “Philip K. Dick and Philosophy - Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits” by Dylan E. Wittkower

Philip K. Dick and Philosophy: Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits? - D.E. Wittkower

‘In Blade Runner, also, it is an authentic relationship to Being that is taken to be what essentially ensouls both humans and replicants. Such is the import of Roy Batty’s famous final soliloquy:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-Beams glitter in the darkness at Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die.”’

 

In “Philip K. Dick and Philosophy - Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits” by Dylan E. Wittkower

 

 

I just wanted to say that in my opinion any attempt to construct a coherent interpretation pf Phil Dick’s universe is missing the point. To be able to to construct a Weltanschauung of Dick’s writing we should focus only on philosophy. In all of Dick’s fiction time and causality are of the essence. The point is that, once time and causality become malleable, there is no hope of forming a solid, consistent interpretation of events in Dick’s fiction. That leads to our questioning the Nature of Reality. The focus shifts from epistemology - the problem of knowledge - to ontology - the way different realities are produced. This shift, according to Brian McHale, is precisely what defines the transition from modernism to postmodernism. In its resistance to coherent interpretation, "Ubik" is similar to certain more "literary" works of the 60s, for example the “nouveau romans” of Robbe-Grillet, or Richard Brautigan's "In Watermelon Sugar". (Granted these are very different stylistically). Is it because Dick is writing SF that so many assume the incoherence is sloppiness rather than a deliberate rhetorical strategy?

 

I think Robbe-Grillet was perhaps deliberately, not just stylistically, trying to put thinking and theorizing about the art of writing into the structure of his novels to create novelty, as writing, which he called “Noveau Roman”. I don't know what Brautigan was trying to do, but Phil Dick's subjects and concerns about reality weren't about writing per se, but about living. I don't think he was trying to deliberately create a new kind of writing or novel. That doesn't mean his works are narrowly interpretable, but many, many SF novels have time travel, space/time warps, and so on, but are interpretable. Interpretations or readings are just perspectives which aren't meant to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Reasonably consistent interpretations are possible, such a everything-is-perfect's Jungian analysis. Works like Phil Dick's makes people want to interpret them and present many overlapping and partial possibilities of interpretation and perhaps ultimate impenetrability.

 

 

If you're into Literary Criticism on Phil Dick, read on.

Goodreads' Censorship: G.R. Reader's Off-Topic

OFF-TOPIC: The Story of an Internet Revolt by G.R. Reader - G.R. Reader
The closest source I have to hand "the doctrine that knowledge, truth and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute" does seem to cover some of the arguments dealing with Goodreads' censorship. I don't deny that the world's a complex place but when you get down to the nitty gritty I don't see a third space we've carved out for yourselves between relative and absolute values. Literature is not just a social pursuit - if it was, it would be a hobby. Name an education free of the teaching of it in our society? And why would it be universal to our society in that way? It is, in Donne's sense, involved with our social sphere in a way that buying small-gauge railway models is not. But if you are determined that literature is just a social pursuit then indeed, we have no further point to discuss.
 
Amazon are compelling us. One may wish to view it simply as they are offering each of us a choice, and that if sufficient numbers of us choose then we will have in effect voted to change our society - in ways we may not have considered, in ways we may not want, in ways that a minority of us who have never purchased anything from them are powerless to resist. They are no more compelling us than cigarette manufacturers, or the government, or drug dealers, or manufacturers of greenhouse gases, or the nazis, and so on, and so on. I see the logic of laissez-faire capitalism, even extended to the cultural and social sphere. 
 
 
If you "suffered" at the "hands" of GR, read on

 

An Operating System for a New World: "The Algorithm of Power” by Pedro Barrento

The Algorithm of Power - Pedro Barrento

“ ’Are you saying that ecological balance has been achieved through the collapse of the consumer society, media and democracy?’ ”

 

In “The Algorithm of Power” by Pedro Barrento

 

 

The idea that authors have to know science to write SF is laughably reductive, comically self-important, Mr Science Degree probably, and just provably untrue, as non-scientists Ballard or Banks demonstrated, as but one of many. You can describe a technology without knowing how it works, as a character this might work better than any attempt at omniscience... depends on the book! Exposition can be narcotic but often needs resisting.

 

We've got 6, no wait 7.5, soon to be 10-11 billion people all shitting in the ocean (metaphorically), we've got all kinds of other problems besides global warming. Fixing global warming would just get us on a path to be able to even talk about the root causes (late-stage capitalism and overpopulation) that we can't even mention today without freaking people out. Mostly, but we could get along with many more people if all those people weren't operating under the belief that their lives will only have meaning if they have MORE. The economic system/cult we are busily exporting around the world puts very near zero value on all the valuable things in the world like human life and nature and water and air and our very biosphere, while making greed and waste and obsolescence and evanescent zeroes in bank computers the highest possible aspiration for any human culture. With our values so screwed up, we would still be slowly murdering the planet with a far lower population.

 

No, the idea of the novel as a piece of esoteric, self-indulgent showmanship aimed at making the reader feel part of some occult intellectual elite is dying a welcome, although belated, death. Barrento's novel is anything but.

 

 

If you're into Portuguese SF, written originally in English, read on.

Amazon Cloud Drive Shutting Down Unlimited Storage: Outrage galore!

AND THEY WANT ME TO PAY 236 EUROS!! Outrage galore!
 
Nope. Not gonna happen.
 
Amazon offered "unlimited" storage to paying users then acted surprised when people started using it "creatively". They could have remedied that by implementing a 2TB limit or whatever for paying users and left everyone on the free tier with a 25GB limit, but they chose not to.
 
That's fine, it's their prerogative, but to make out that somehow Amazon hands were tied is somewhat misleading. Welcome to the world of money. Cloud storage was inevitably to hold its trusting customers to ransom one day...
 
People often say "you don't need to keep high res originals unless you're going to print large copies", but I think that's a bit misleading. Maybe I'm a geek, but there are times when I want to zoom in to, say, a street sign and work out where I took an old picture (non-GPS), or look at the time on someone's watch, or perhaps crop it to just a single face to print a portrait or use it as a profile image; and if I only have a low res copy, that can be difficult or impossible. I never know what use I might have for a photo in the future, so I always want to keep the full-size originals just in case. Having originals makes a big difference if you want to crop and edit photos. Also, screen resolutions are never going to go down. The days when your 640 x 480 pixel photo filled a screen have long gone....
 
I have paid great heed to Schofield's Law for many years: "It's not IF your hard drive fails, its WHEN...".

 

 

 

If you don't use clay tablets, please read this.

 

Don't Throw the Baby Out With the Bath Water: "Ubik" by Philip K. Dick

Ubik - Philip K. Dick

"'I am Ubik. Before the universe was I am. I made the suns. I made the worlds. I created the lives and the places they inhabit; I move them here, I put them there. They go as I say, they do as I tell them. I am the word and my name is never spoken, the name which no one knows. I am called Ubik but that is not my name. I am. I shall always be. ‘“

 

In “Ubik” by Philip K. Dick

 

 

This would feel like a meaningless read indeed if it wasn't, in fact, a very FUNNY one, full of a dry humor. In Ubik the characters are taken in such a subjective maze of crumbling reality, unexpected time-travelling and personal doubts, that it becomes a materialization of the absurdity of the human condition, in the form of an exhilarating fiction. If you are not into the humor of Kafka and Borges, it makes perfectly sense that you are not sensible to Dick's one. What makes Ubik a wonderful read still today? Dick didn't nail everything too tightly to the plot. The result may seem a potpourri but his worlds live and breathe. If he were writing now this book would make him a rebel and, given what he was like, would give most editors / publishers gray-hairs. It also begs the question (of others in the genre): Can you really do that?

 

I think the current fascination with Dick seems tied to the fact that most of his most popular books have dystopian or control themes. The other worldliness, or just around the corner-ness, of his stories, make it seem fictional, therefore enjoyable, yet also real and possible. I had been seeing a resurgence in sales of his books a couple of decades ago. This is just a speculative thought, but I wonder: If we had really been reading him for a spooky window into the future, then that means that the "seeds of the future dystopia" already started back then. Nixon had been around in Dick's time, but Reagan and the Republican nasties was their second coming. AI was only just poking its nose into things. 2000 was around the corner. Was Dick one of our clues to the future?

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

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