THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE by Philip K. Dick
To the list of dystopian cautionary tales suddenly relevant again (as if they ever weren't!) in the trumpian, post-truth, authoritarian-leaning era I recommend adding Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, which answers the question, What if Germany and Japan had won WWII?
If you've seen the Amazon adaptation, there is little resemblance. Character names are the same but the plot is very different; the subversive video of the series is, in the novel, a novel. Germany controls Europe, the eastern U.S., is expanding into the solar system and has attempted a"final solution" on the entire continent of Africa. From The Home Islands Japan controls South America, Asia and the west coast. A nominal U.S. neutral zone separates Nazi and Nippon territories.
The setting is San Francisco and the neutral zone, the reader learns of life in Nazi territory only from secondhand reporting.
The IChing or "oracle", the ancient Chinese book of wisdom, features importantly for all the main characters, and is in a way, another character through which Dick explores the themes of fatalism and enduring in a world in which there is no shining light on the hill, no safe refuges left to flee to- or take hope from. All is authoritarianism- of the brutish Nazi stripe or the more civilized Japanese variety.
Into this reality of despair is dropped the surprisingly bestselling novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, an alternate fiction in which the allies won the war, defeating Germany and Japan. A fiction unimaginable for some, a revelation of Truth for others.
As one would expect, the novel is contemplative, internal, philosophical, and the ending ambiguous (perhaps a disappointment to readers weaned on flattering sales pitches and attention-eroding tech gadgetry who find their way to the novel from the Amazon series), but Dick's The Man in the High Castle sheds insightful, unsettling light onto life under totalitarianism. A light very much needed these days. Highly recommended!
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SOUTHBOUND by Joseph Ferguson
"Society everywhere is in a conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members" wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in Self Reliance.
The protagonist of Southbound has assuredly never read Emerson but he knows whereof Emerson speaks. Cruising the literary highway of counterculture anti-heroes, Basement Man, transplant from Alabama, pulls up to a bar in New Jersey and we hitch a ride for this episodic portrait of his lifelong, booze-fueled rebellion.
From the tragicomic death of his friend on the docks of Hoboken to beaches a little less respectable for his presence ("Avast ye scurvy lubbers!") to a retirement home, Basement Man is aware but not resigned (to paraphrase Edna Millay). I've heard it said that 'your integrity to yourself is more important than your immediate life,' and that's a sentiment Basement Man would drink to: "Better a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy, spider!"
Southbound by Joseph Ferguson makes us look around and perceive the poetry in life. And that is a very good thing.
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Just when you think every stinkin' person in the WHOLE WORLD has turned (in the zombie sense) into a conformist, bourgeois SQUARE, and literature is about as well-coiffed and dead as Ivanka Trump, or one of those old-timely photos where folks propped up dead Uncle Horace and taped his eyelids open to be included in a formal family portrait, you stumble upon works such as Baby Jesus Butt Plug and Trump Chicken.
If you order and enjoy these books, please leave a reader review. That's the best way to thank an author whose work has brought you pleasure.
TRUMP CHICKEN: A Tale of the Grotesque
by bobbygw @bobbygw, bobbygw.com
A gourmet satire for sophisticated palates, Trump Chicken reminds me of Jody Scott's short satirical skewerings. And skewer Chicken does- gleefully!
In a folksy, shambling parlance worthy of the orange man himself author bobbygw's protagonist explains in a monologue just exactly how unpalatable Trump really is. A sort of Hannibal Lector meets Julia Child!
Hilarious and highly recommended!
By the way, there is this on the copyright page: "This fiction contains elements of visceral horror, black humor, the grotesque, and the monstrous. Due to its appalling content, it should not be read by anyone." You've been warned.
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THE BABY JESUS BUTT PLUG, a Fairy Tale
by Carlton Mellick III @CarltonMellick3, carltonmellick.com
Unnamed narrator and wife Mary answer an ad for a free baby jesus- but no using baby jesus as a sex toy! "If you stick this child in your butt, you'll damn yourself to hell" warns the old woman they get him from.
An acid-trip-gone-bad, comedic nightmare of emasculatory disquiet at the superfluousness of husband once baby comes into the picture; at the trivializing absurdity of corporatism; at the impotence of self in the form of clones who not only do not save the day, but can't stop themselves from fucking like bunnies and turning into zombies and eating each other in a house transformed into living internal organs.
Is Baby a surreal and macabre satire from the fevered imagination of one very sicko individual, or a true and factual tale of an old-lady curse come deservedly true on two perverts who do in fact use baby jesus as a butt plug? You decide.
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SPINWARD FRINGE, ORIGINS
A trilogy of novellas by Randolph Lalonde
In an era when most of the Galaxy is under the control of militarized, ruthless mega-corporations, one of the few remaining free societies is the remote Freeground Space Station. But events are threatening that independence.
When a group hacks into top-secret battle simulations and cleans the clock of the military's top trainees, Freeground brass recruit them for a secret "shadow ship" assignment to gather intel, new technologies and potential allies for the battles to come.
Author Lalonde describes Origins as "backstory, scene setters, the prequel I'll never have to write" for the Spinward Fringe Series (12 books so far). I haven't read the rest of the series, so i can't speak as to how it serves that function, but on its own Origins stands as an enjoyable, well written space opera.
The characters are likable enough and their interrelationships engaging enough that one is happy to cruise into battle with them. Lalonde wrote he wanted to create an experience that would "resemble that of watching a television show or movie." In that he succeeds.
There is a dark twist at the end (semi spoiler alert!) that leaves the fate of the main character unresolved, and this may disappoint some readers (maybe subsequent books in the series provide that resolution, maybe they don't), but I applaud Lalonde's willingness to take that bit of commercial risk. Recommended.
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UNIVERSE IN FLAMES
First Trilogy & Second trilogy by Christian Kallias
After generations of stalemate in the war between the Star Alliance and the Obsidian Empire, the Empire springs a surprise attack with powerful new allies and all but wipes out the Alliance.
The survivors flee blindly through hyperspace and end up near an unknown planet at the edge of the Galaxy. Soon a new Earth Alliance is formed with judicious lobbying by Olympian Goddess Aphroditis, who appears in a vision to Chase that sets him on a journey to discover his own destiny and previously-unsuspected fury powers. His success will be crucial to the survival of the new Alliance.
Enter Olympians, Furies (released from long imprisonment by Chase's twin brother and nemesis Argos), Asgardians and a dark unknown foe as Chase and the Alliance face one seemingly insurmountable challenge after another, losing ground while searching frantically for allies and answers.
I enjoyed the first trilogy, but on starting the second the formulaic construct of the novels became more obvious: Chase gets into impossible battles that he should lose but manages to find a brilliant way to win- usually via some previously unknown aspect of his Fury powers; the enemy inflicts devastating losses on the Earth Alliance, but it manages to survive and regroup and adapt. There are lots and lots of space battles.
Author Kallias does the formula very well and when I finished the second trilogy I wanted to continue journeying with these characters and find out what happens with the new enemy (not part of either side of the war) introduced toward the end of the second trilogy. The blending of space opera and mythology is a nice touch; if the third trilogy ever goes on sale I will buy it. Recommended for space opera lovers.
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DARK MATTER (BK 1 of HADRON Series) by Stephen Arseneault
Britannica, Part I of a 3-part series:
Jody Scott, "the greatest writer you've never heard of," (F&SF Mag) and recipient of enough critical praise and peer recognition to choke a small pony, did not make money from her writing! And yet she wrote full time, 5 or 6 hours a day almost every day for 40 years without having also to hold down a job.
How she managed that has been the subject of some speculation. As Jody's spouse and business partner for 30 years I figured I would spill the beans here and now, entre nous as it were, as to exactly what we did to earn a living.
When Jody and I meet in the late '70's she is selling Irondale Lots. This becomes the model for the land business we will found a few years later. But to understand what Irondale was, how it worked and how it came about we need to flashback a couple decades.
Some time after the Leites and Berkeley and Circle Magazine, Jody meets OT Wood, a brilliant painter, but not a model of mental stability. She thinks to herself, 'We should make a baby together, it's bound to be brilliant.' So they do, make a baby together that is, but OT's mom commits suicide in LA and they decide California is for the birds and make the grueling, pre-interstate trek up Highway 99 to Seattle. At that time considered the uncivilized end of the world, just before you tumble off the map.
OT is worthless as a breadwinner and soon gone anyway. With a kid to support, no family or friends in the area, no money, no savings, no welfare state to fall back on, Jody answers an ad in the paper for an Encyclopedia Britannica sales position, gets the job and hires a babysitter- even though she has no money with which to pay the babysitter.
The training and sales routines for the "Sperm-of-the-Month club," in chapter 17 of I, Vampire is based on that Britannica experience.
With her usual determination and skill, Jody is a smashing success! The babysitter gets paid and the checks started rolling in. She even manages to pen a novel during these years, but selling is a job and like all jobs, if you stop doing it, it stops paying you.
There has to be a better way than selling all day, raising a child alone and squeezing in a little writing when time and exhaustion allow.
Enter E.P. Jeff Jaffarian, one time pal of Richard Nixon, sometime photographer and pornographer, recent tax auction purchaser of a platted-into-lots-but-since-reclaimed-by-the-forest town on the banks of Puget Sound called Irondale.
(continued next time)
Reprinted from 2016 with a few changes.
Not much has changed in a year.... Oh wait, we have a new president, I almost forgot! Instead of America's first woman president, we have..... Donald Trump. (America's most overtly authoritarian, constitutionally ignorant, separation of powers-hating, science-denying, pathologically narcissistic bully president. About which 1/4 to 1/3 of the population is happy.) Go figure.
As Jody used to say, "The best revenge is to flourish and prosper," and "Don't let the bastards get you down." So.....
Happy Pride Month Everyone!
In 1977 when I marched in my first Gay Pride March (it hadn't yet morphed into a parade), I could not have imagined that in my lifetime there would be gay marriage. The prejudice was too deep, too institutionalized, too unquestioned.
Growing up I didn't internalize homophobia and as an adult I was self-employed which meant my livelihood couldn't be threatened, so for me personally it wasn't bad, but a lot of innocent people have suffered quite a lot from the cruelty of straight people. (Y'all have a lot to answer for!)
Jody was the most upbeat, youthful, interested, resilient person I've ever met-- by a considerable margin, and yet I could see even upon her the effects of growing up as a lesbian through the 1930's, 40's, 50's. Those were decades when you could get arrested, thrown in a loony bin and shock-treated, your livelihood, relationships, your future ruined by the scandal of being found to be gay. You could be killed almost with impunity by any heterosexual who felt threatened by your mere existence. (All still true in many parts of the world.)
Gay bars were routinely raided and usually owned by the mafia. And as we saw last June in Orlando, we are not immune even here, even now. And as we see with the election of Donald Trump, with his rule-of-law-threatening proclivities, even the rights now secured are not necessarily secure.
Jody and her pal Don were thrown in jail in Texas for a week for being queer, in the days before Miranda rights, and if not for her ingenuity in sneaking out a note to a lawyer, they might have been there much longer.
Jody died in December 2007. Domestic partnership for the state of Washington was only a few months old and we hadn't registered for it. (A fact that would get some play after she died when her son sued me 4 times because he didn't accept our spousal relationship.)
She didn't live to see the unbelievable momentum as state after state legalized gay marriage; as it became the law of the land nationally. I am astounded and thrilled about this, but it is also bittersweet; it comes too late for me and Jody.
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