I apologize, the last few posts have been shamelessly plugging my own book, but I promise, that’s behind us….for now. Let’s get back to the basics and review a couple books I read last week.
But wait, hold up, before we do, I’ve got a little proposition for you. So, uh… why don’t you shuffle on over here. A little closer.
Right this way. Yes, that’s correct, into the dark alleyway.
You’re a brave, foolish, slightly unhinged soul for following strange men into darkened cyber-alleyways, but I would have it no other way. Now, the reason I beckoned you in here with my ululating siren’s call is ’cause I’d like your help in brainstorming some upcoming blog topics.
I’ve done a couple posts now on writing related topics such as pacing, and creating likable characters, and as a whole these posts have been very popular amongst the Lazy Robot crowd. Now, my question to you, dear reader, is what would you like to hear about next? I can ramble indefinitely on any old topic you throw my way, but hey, if we can make it educational, then all the better, right?
So, what sorts of things do you struggle with in your own writing process? This is your chance to voice yourself and I’ll do my darndest to help you. Though, fair warning, I personally would not take my own advice, so there’s that…
Anyways, get down to the comments and let me know your ideas. I’d love to hear them!
Now, to the reviews!
Ubik – Philip K. Dick (For those who like mind-bendy, pseudo-time-travel stories)
You absolutely cannot discuss anything from PKD without using the word mind-bendy. It’s an inalienable right of the universe, or something. Seriously, try it.
See, told you so. *Obnoxiously sticks out tongue and waggles it suggestively* No, I’m sorry. Things got weird, and that’s not PKD’s fault. I apologize.
Anyways, Ubik is one of PKD’s most critically acclaimed novels and voted by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 novels ever written in the English language. Damn, if that isn’t high praise, then I don’t know what is.
I’ve read a fair amount of PKD, though I fully admit to having a long ways to go before completing his entire catalog (the dude wrote a ton of words, and I mean that as in a literal metric ton. You lay out all his words and I bet they weigh the same as an old school Volkswagon Beetle. But don’t hold me to that, ’cause I’m an American and haven’t a clue what a metric ton actually is).
Now, in the grand pantheon of weighty PKD words, Ubik is surprisingly accessible to all sorts of science fiction readers whether they be greenhorns or seasoned comic-con pro’s. That’s not to say that it’s a simple read, however. True to PKD form the concepts in Ubik are out there and strength the elasticity of your mind. But that’s a good thing.
Your brain needs to step out of its comfort zone every now and then. If you don’t do an ample amount of stretching before hand, then a typical PKD novel can lead to a couple mental strains along the way. Ubik is sort of an exception.
The characters are interesting. The concept is simultaneously simple, and intriguing, from the get-go. And the world-building is robust.
I think the reason Ubik is a fairly easy PKD read is because it waits until about halfway through the novel to really snowball into full-fledged what-the-fuckery.
BUT, by the time it does, you’re sort of ready for it.
Is this one of the best novels ever written in the English language? Pshaww… How can such a list even exist? Seems a silly subjective game, but if you ask me, when compared to other PKD novels such as A Scanner Darkly, The Man in the High Castle, Minority Report, or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, this doesn’t even rank.
Which shouldn’t reflect poorly on Ubik (a great, fun little read) but rather should point out what a brilliant writer PKD was (when he managed to keep his prose lucid enough for mass consumption.
Should you read Ubik? Yes, absolutely. Should it be your first PKD novel? Nah. Do yourself a favor and get Do Androids Dream… or the Man In the High Castle. But somewhere along the way you should definitely do yourself a favor and pick up Ubik if for no other reason than to tick it off your 100 Top English Novel’s Ever Written List. Don’t even pretend like you aren’t keeping track of them all.
The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett (For those who want to read a dated hardboiled detective mystery)
The Maltese Falcon was sort of the beginning of hardboiled detective mysteries. I’m not sure why I’d never read it before (I’m almost certain it was required reading in High School, but that just goes to show I don’t want to read anything ’cause I have to (what can I say, I’m a rebel)).
Anyways, I finally got around to it because a bunch of reviews for Time Heist kept mentioning my writing style having that dark, gritty noir’ish feel reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett. I couldn’t be sure if that was a compliment or not until I’d read the book, so I went ahead and picked it up a decade and a half after it was assigned to me in my Sophomore year English Class.
Consequently I wonder if this review could count towards the poor grade I most likely received in that class. Hm…might just get my GED after-all! Huzzah!
I like detective mysteries as much as the next guy and that’s what you get through and through with The Maltese Falcon. The writing is overall good, but it’s a product of its time (1929). Hammett obviously can’t be faulted for that because like it or not, we’re all products of our time, and I’m sure a century from now we’re all gonna look quaint and outdated, too.
But that’s the problem with The Maltese Falcon–it’s really out of date. The stakes, which pretty much boil down to a golden bird, aren’t really all that high by today’s standards. Unfortunately this makes it difficult to care much about what’s happening in the story. It’s just not gripping.
Though, let me hop on the other side of the argument real quick and say that’s a lousy reason to judge a book. So, with that in mind, I’m gonna go ahead and say that this was actually a pretty good book. A bit boring at times, which is purely a reflection of the times and not on the story itself.
If you’ve never read it, and you’re a fan of detective mysteries, then you should probably go ahead and pick it up for no other reason than it’s a classic. That’s not always a good reason for doing something. *Lord knows when The Maltese Falcon was handed to me in High School it certainly wasn’t a good enough reason*. But it’s the only one I can offer.
Altered Carbon – Richard K. Morgan (For those who like bad-ass science fiction with compelling world building, gritty writing, and a compelling storyline)
Altered Carbon was Richard K. Morgan’s debut novel back in 2002 and holy-butter-slathered-batman, IT IS AMAZING! I loved this book in a way I haven’t loved many books recently (no, not like that, you perv. Get your mind out of the gutter.)
What you get in Altered Carbon is a fascinating glimpse of the future where humans have settled the outer reaches of space and, along the way, implanted themselves with chips that save and load their consciousness so that when they *die* they can be reloaded into a new body, or what they affectionately refer to as sleeves.
There are some pretty neat cultural ramifications on this account because with enough money you can live forever, hopping from sleeve to sleeve. If you’re poor, well, you go on the stack until somebody with money buys you out, or they rent your body.
Our protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, was an Envoy (a super-soldier with some gnarly psychological damage that makes him a severely loose cannon). He’s no longer an Envoy (ya know, cause you can only play the loose cannon so long before you blow up something, or somebody, very important). So now, Takeshi is in prison, which means his mind is put into a virtual environment until he either works off his prison sentence, or until somebody buys his freedom in exchange for his services.
Back on Earth, that’s precisely what happens. Somebody, a rich old dude, needs Takeshi to investigate his murder which the police have dubbed a suicide. Now, this an interesting launching point because this rich dude’s mind has already been uploaded into a new body, but he doesn’t remember the events surrounding his death. Did he kill himself? Or was he murdered?
That’s the central question of the story and it gets Takeshi into all sorts of hijinks which he solves with no shortage of action in the way of high tech weaponry.
What can I say, I’m a sucker for gritty cyberpunk action adventure. But there is so much more to Altered Carbon, because the world building goes deep and deals with all the ramifications of these technologies on the resulting society. When done right, that’s science fiction at it’s best. How will the technologies of tomorrow shape the society of tomorrow?
If your science fiction story doesn’t bother with that question, then you’re doing it wrong.
But Altered Carbon is doing it so right it hurts. Lucky for me, Altered Carbon is only book one in a series of three following Takeshi Kovacs. I’ll report back on the rest of the series, but let me just say, if this is a genre you tend to you enjoy, you will *love* Altered Carbon.
If you don’t, then there is something very wrong with you. No, I’m just kidding. You’re perfect and you smell very nice.
Okay, that’s a wrap. Remember our conversation at the beginning of this blog post where I solicited you for topic ideas? Good, now get down to the comments and give me all your creativity.