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!
read more reviews
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.
read more reviews
In 1978 Passing for Human was published.
Also published that year was Natural Shocks by Richard Stern.
Jody died at the age of 84. Richard Stern died at the age of 84 a few years later.
Stern was called by the New Republic, "the best American author of whom you have never heard." Jody was called by the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction "The best unknown science fiction writer."
Random, insignificant coincidences to be sure, and interesting only because in 1978 Jody was also writing reviews of books and one of the books she reviewed was Natural Shocks.
Her career as a book reviewer was short-lived. She kept telling the truth about what she perceived as slice-em-off schlock being foisted upon the reading public by publishers and the toadying literary press. But as various book review editors kept trying to explain to Jody before firing her, 'our function is to sell books.'
Here is Jody's review of Natural Shocks by Richard Stern:
"Celebrity," writes Richard Stern, "is the vengeance of the unfamous. They turn the famous into stage settings. It's a way of paralyzing them."
Maybe this is what happened to Stern himself. He has been supported by Guggenheims and Rockefellers, has been gorged with plums and approval. His dustjacket fluoresces with praise from Bellow, Burgess, Richler, Roth, the roster of men who, because there are no Fitzgeralds or Steinbecks around today, are at the top of the American heap.
Did any of them really read this book? Roth tells us that Stern exhibits "a sweet purity of felling." I'd say he has about as much feeling as a piece of Portnoy liver. the only time the hero Wursup feels anything much, is when he discovers that his dying girlfriend's hair has all fallen out after her hospital treatment. What he "feels" then is a semi-prurient survivory thrill.
And Stern is no Camus delineating "lack of feeling" with a powerful grace; he's just another drudge mastering a few dull routines and repeating them for audiences who don't demand any better. His skill in developing a character runs to, "Dolly was a woman of rough intelligence, but the intelligence produced nothing but malice, like a machine which undoes at one end what it assembled at another."
Here is Stern describing a character he really loves, a rancidly "brainy" lecturer at Columbia: "There was Benny, in his party outfit, his great persimmon head coming from a steak-colored turtleneck... Benny had been chewing a salami; there were meat flecks on his large lips, and he exhaled spicy aromas."
Stern's male characters are blubbery fatcats, his women are wind-up dolls. ("Perfect little teeth spread in her wonderful cheeks, gleaming amidst the small lights hopping off her desk.") A good novel should enhance life (even if by satirizing it mercilessly as a Burroughs does) but for me, Stern and his admirers have the whole thing reversed: they strip the life from life and leave a slimy coldness that reeks of emptiness.
I contend that this honors-encrusted tribe of mendicants has been over-pampered for years. They are accepting the gravy without doing the honest work. Natural Shocks is a thoroughly rotten novel. It is a Book of the Month Club Alternate selection. This may say something about the state of "letters" in our country today.
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.
read more reviews
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.
read more reviews
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.
read more reviews
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.
read more reviews
DARK MATTER (BK 1 of HADRON Series) by Stephen Arseneault
FIVE TO THE FUTURE: All New Novelettes of Tomorrow and Beyond
UNO!.. DOS! ONE-TWO! TRES! QUATRO! by Ernest Hogan
A counter-culture figure from the wrong side of the tracks escorts a tabloid journalist through the barrio. When a riot breaks out they flee in his batmobile-like car to the secret lair of his scientist mother where they encounter a pyramid from outer space. Poking fun at xenophobia and linear thinking, Uno is an invitation to peel back the reality-mask of linear thinking and embrace the mutual contradictions and chaos of poetry. A theme Hogan seems fond of.
QUEEN OF THE CATS by Emily Davenport
Jean is the sole survivor of alien invaders. She adopts all the now-orphaned cats of the neighborhood. She is in turn "adopted" by Vad, one of the invaders. When these invaders are defeated by the lizard people, Vad, now sole survivor of his race, flees back to Jean, and she pleads for her life and his. The lizard person lets them live, and also leaves her a supply of cat food.
Moral: Taking care of others engenders empathy which decreases genocide, or, Cats are the universal solvent!
FOLLOW YOUR DREAM by Cynthia Ward
Set in a private Japanese girls school, there's the jealous, spoiled, rich brat; the girl who, in a hilarious and inspired bit of utterly delicious silliness, talks really loudly- like loud enough to shatter windows!, and is really a long-lost princess of the dragon riders; and her BFF who possesses superhero abilities and is really the orphaned daughter of the hovering spaceships. This is an homage to Japanese anime, very funny and one of my favorites!
DREAMWEAVER by Arthur Byron
Chess is a cynical cop working missing persons. A thankless and doomed exercise in futility in a world where people jump in time and place, intentionally or inadvertently, leaving no followable trail. A chance encounter places in his hand a magical talisman that leads the world-weary detective to discover, eventually, his own destiny.
WRITTEN ON RIBS by M. CHRISTIAN
Soviet-era Russians disseminate bootleg, illegal recording of western music on old X-ray films. Something I did not know and find fascinating! But as in all "prohibitions," this life-affirming demand is filled by for-profit criminals. Ribs does a wonderful job of conveying the sense of living under a repressive regime, the mundane and routine pettiness of it, and how repression rolls downhill.
The writing in Five to the Future is of uniformly excellent and pleasing quality, and although the editor put no thematic constraints upon the contributors, this seems a thematically cohesive collection to me. Not in the sense of "grey-quadrupeds-piloting-space-freighters" but more in feeling. With the exception of Hogan's story there is a certain nostalgia to the pieces, a wistfulness; and in all the stories humor is an element, sometimes crucially so. And Strange Particle Press has produced an excellent cover for the anthology.
The high quality of the book is marred by lapses in the proofreading (missing words, extra words, wrong words....), which are inexcusable, but few enough in number they can be overlooked by speculative fiction readers who will surely enjoy these talented writers and their deserving stories. Recommended.
(Disclaimer: Strange Particle Press also publishes Jody.)
read more reviews
the blog of Jody Scott
For more by and about Jody, from her spouse and literary executor, including announcements, never-before-published stories, free novels, and always exclusive content not available anywhere else in the known universe, subscribe to our mailing list.
Get blog via email or reader: