Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K Dick

What are you up to?

Reading a Dick novel.

A what!

"Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said"

Dude, is this your coming out?

my what!!

^True story.Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.png

In a highly reductionist view, this novel is Borne Identity on drugs and in reverse, with Dick’s own domestic Jason.

Jason Taverner is a ‘six’, a genetically superior elite human, both in looks and skills. He is wealthy, extremely successful as a TV musical personality and well popular among ladies. Though written a bit insolent with narcissist tendencies, Taverner is a reasonably decent man, maybe as much as Bester’s Foyle. After being attacked by a parasitic life form, Jason finds himself in a warped reality where every evidence of his existence has been erased, from minds of people and public archives.

The plot that follows is very surreal and dream like, there are no constants or focal points as far as the narrative is concerned. Its like being in a half lucid dream, where you are conscious about things you need to do, but are paralyzed to do so. Story’s varying premises with broken shards of reality don’t entail any rational conclusion as well. The dystopian society is more or less an NPC filled open world where neither the writer nor the protagonist is interested in fleshing out any of the characters, or the central narrative. And if you are someone who insists on stories making logical sense or involving conclusive tropes, this might be a bit off putting, even with the expected messiness of a PKD novel.

Speaking of Dicksian weirdness, the usual suspects were there in open – authoritarian state, radicalized students, genetic superiority, patronizing men, futuristic society, pornography, mind altering drugs, yadda yadda yadda. There was this one specific aspect of the Welfare/Authoritarian state that disturbed me. Going from a well known celebrity to nobody, our protagonist finds it almost impossible to do the very basic things like traveling, eating, shopping etc without being picked by police for his lack of identity. And I found his struggles through the underground economy to avoid labour camp prophetic towards current refugee crisis and rising nationalistic sentiments. Another disturbing element was the random act of kindness by the end of the book, like some sort of apology against novel’s racial selectivity. It is nagging me more than novel’s incongruous epilogue since that unprecedented ‘act’ forms most of book’s title.

[Spoilers in below para]

Well, later contemplations frustrated me even more. The alien creature Taverner got attacked with, at the start of the novel, the one incident that triggered the warped realities in first place was neglected into oblivion ever since, with zero revisit even by epilogue. Maybe the attack was the hidden twist, a ‘bardo’ between the incident reality and the one in which Taverner finds himself lost. And a ‘Jacob‘s Ladder’ reading was intended of novel’s open interpretation. It will actually elucidate the rationale behind story’s lack cursory or even deus ex machina explanation for Taverner’s survival, if one considers the madness that followed as an uncollapsed limbo. 

Whatever the case is, ratiocination wasn’t Dick’s primary objective here and it is better to sit back and enjoy the book on its own illogical terms. I am more inclined to parody it as the Android cried me a river though.

These words from early pages of the book perfectly summarizes my feelings, towards this book and PKD in general.

“The terrible power, he thought, of illogic. Of the archetypes. Operating out of the dear depths of the collective unconscious which joined him and her- and everyone else – together.”

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All Systems Red by Martha Wells (The Murderbot Diaries #1)

32758901.jpgDo Androids dream of electric sheep? Our half droid here sure loves TV series.

Gurathin hesitated. “It’s downloaded seven hundred hours of entertainment programming since we landed. Mostly serials. Mostly something called Sanctuary Moon.” He shook his head, dismissing it. “It’s probably using it to encode data for the company. It can’t be watching it, not in that volume; we’d notice.”

I snorted. He underestimated me.

Martha Wells ‘The Murderbot Diaries’ can be compared with Nnedi Okorafor‘s ‘Binti‘ in narrative style: first person accord through a marginalized character, in a serialized story, structured through novellas. I didn’t go well with ‘Binti’, but, ‘All Systems Red’ hit all the right spots. It was refreshingly short, minimal in execution, well fleshed and lively, despite its premise where, literally, all systems were red.

Protagonist is a security bot -half android and half human, like a cyborg, and from the story it can be inferred that this futuristic society has co existence of humans, bots and special purpose half bots. Interestingly and also a bit disturbingly, the murderbot is never assigned a gender or a name, and is almost treated as a property by the expedition team than an individual, thanks to the universal SecUnit armour that covers everything organic and metallic. Author doesn’t treat this as an existential problem, as the Murderbot itself is content with strict work interactions.

“SecUnit, do you have a name?”

I wasn’t sure what she wanted. “No.”

“It calls itself ‘Murderbot,’” Gurathin said.

I opened my eyes and looked at him; I couldn’t stop myself. From their expressions I knew everything I felt was showing on my face, and I hate that. I grated out, “That was private.”

The silence was longer this time.

As I progressed further in the story, I started to identify myself with the Meursault like SecUnit than its human companions. Its shy, prefers face and expressions hidden under visor, and escapes loneliness by watching television series. Murderbots have a governing module as per job purpose, and their decision making is strictly through game theory probabilities, but the organic parts make it constantly self aware during the process. Even now I am feeling a little discomfort in addressing Murderbot as Murderbot or it; turns out Shakespeare was wrong, there is a lot in a name.

Format of the story is reminiscent of classic tropes, where a bunch of diverse individuals have to make their way out of trouble through smartness and wit. Basically it is a science fiction adventure with some hard sci-fi and cyberpunk elements, like descriptions of expedition and alien environment, corporate contract control, elements of Westworld and Culture like the bio boasts etc. But, the perspective of narrative is worth mentioning, like the title suggests, reader is taken through the com logs and thoughts of Muderbot, which gives the whole thing a coming of age feel; and it is infact weird and amusing to discover oneself through the eyes of a ‘lower species’ like android/cyborg/synthezoid. It also subtly questions morality, existence, trust and friendship over human reluctance to escape from conventions of contemporary society.

I was more or less constantly reminded of Halo and Master Chief during the read. Anyway, this book is a prime example of how fun and uplifting reading could be, and I am more than eager to enter the next installment.

 

The Vision, Volume 1&2 by Tom King

Picture2.pngThis comic has a laughable formula, and in first look is a quixotic attempt to sell the family life of an Avenger. Yes, Hawkeye worked, but here the variables are entirely different. Vision is a synthezoid, and probably everyone’s least favourite.

King’s take on Vision reminded me of Gaiman’s Black Orchid run, reinventing a not so mainstream character, by embracing the original handicaps with fresh perspectives. I read a little deep into fan letters and found these words of King himself, “For me, Vision is the chance to explore the alienation that sometimes attract people to comics, the tension that comes from not being normal in a society that demands normality“. This summarizes the series so perfectly, comic is still a misfits medium, despite the cameo popularity during major movie releases. Vision maybe an Avenger, who has saved the world multiple times; but he is always an outsider to societal standards, and is forced to make do with that.

20848449._SX540_Vision felt less Marvel and more Vertigo or Image in execution. Virginia’s mental struggle to balance morality and motherhood, Viv and Vin’s longing for acceptance in normalcy and image of Vision torn between his identity, loyalty and family are going to stay with me for a long while.

The story had a running monologue in flashback, though the panels moved in real time. This monologue in initial issues were illustrated in ‘purple’ boxes with creativity and affection. Towards the final issues the independence represented by ‘purple’ colour gave way to aggressiveness of ‘red’. This synesthetic approach managed to maintain a whole universe with its intricacies in background, which could have easily overshadowed the former narrative. I adored the pace, and cross tie in elements and throw backs. Though introduced via Agatha’s prophecy the disturbing <i>Wanda</i> story line from golden ages formed a strong physiological backing here, and it was devastatingly beautiful.

To conclude things with brevity, King’s miniseries is more than just paranoid people making androids paranoid. It is Vision’s Planet Hulk.Picture1.png

The first words the synthezoid ever heard were the words of his father.

“Welcome to the world of the living”, Ultron said. “You will never know, but a half-life.” His father continued: “I am Ultron 5–, but you shall call me Master”

“Yes Master”, the synthezoid replied. “Why have you called me to life?”

“Not to ask such human like questions, Android!”, Ultron answered.

The synthezoid crossed his arms. “I somehow sense you speak the truth Master, Yet I am consumed with curiosity.”

“Such emotions are for humans fool”, Ultron said. “You and I were born for better things!” Ultron then explained: The synthezoid had the ability to control its own body mass. He could become light enough to float on air itself or walk through impenetrable steel walls. Or he might become massively strong and at the same time unbelievably heavy.

When Ultron had finished, Vision said: “You have told me only what powers I possess, not what I want to know. Who am I, what name is mine?”

“No name, Clown”, Ultron said. “What need has an inhuman slave of a name, even a number? I gave you a mind so that you can obey me, not dispute me.”

The synthezoid objected. “Then, the mind is of no use if it cannot question.”

“Think what you like, Android,” Ultron said. “But you shall perform the mission for which you were created.”
“You must kill the Avengers.”

 

Origin by Robert Langdon

Well, I won’t lie. I had fun. Origin-Dan-Brown-Pdf.jpgDan Brown novels are like Michael Bay movies, both were once cool and are now timeworn by overstaying the welcome. Well, if you are content with what to expect, both could still be solid no brainier entertainments. But this one surprised me, by being bad. I was more curious about whether everything in this book will remain in Spain or move to Catalonia by the time I finished it, than the promised big secret. ‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition’, right?

For the fifth time in a row, existence of the world is threatened by a ‘secret’; unraveling of which, requires a complicated scheme of identifying patterns and solving codes hidden in modern art and literature by nefarious cults over centuries. And again for the fifth time in a row, it is up to Harward symbologist Prof. Robert Langdon to solve this mystery alongside his brand new disposable female Boswell, while being chased by Police, though cooperating with them is a perfectly logical option. I was all in for this formula, but Brown decided to up the game by giving Langdon a personal Jarvis and his own version of conspiracy reddit filled with cancer inducing hash tags. And if you, like me, are expecting some continuation or even mention of the Childhoods End scenario, Inferno had left us in, prepare to be disappointed; it gets zero mention at all. The trans-formative discovery at the end of the book, which is the primary incentive for readers, was doomed to be a presentation on thermodynamics and diffusion physics from the very start, despite the over dramatic built up of an Apple event. I was left all the more infuriated by Brown comparing his big secret with Copernicus’s heliocentrism, Darwin’s evolution and Einstein’s relativity, while all he did was to pretend like he just invented the genre of cyberpunk.

3.danbrownI might have grown too old to enjoy this, but more importantly, I think Dan Brown has grown older. You know it’s too far fetching when Langdon has to deduce corporate logos such as Uber, to show his specialty of ‘romance in short notice.’ Dan Brown repeatedly asserts Langdon’s female companion as a woman of her own, and then goes ahead to prove her otherwise. He was trying too hard to be cool, by hook or crook, from Asimov, Clarke, Blake to Star Wars and Fermi Paradox and Ted Talks and Neil deGrasse Tyson. And there were product placements, I don’t know whether that is a thing for books, but, CNN, Uber, Tesla, Apple and FedEx do seem to have their hand in sponsorship. Below is a cringy example

“In reality, Edmond loved attention, and admitted to keeping his plane at Sabadell only to have an excuse to drive the winding roads to his home in his favorite sports car—a Tesla Model X P90D that Elon Musk had allegedly hand-delivered to him as a gift. Supposedly, Edmond had once challenged his jet pilots to a one-mile drag race on the runway—Gulfstream vs. Tesla—but his pilots had done the math and declined.”

Usually data dumping and random facts in Dan Brown novels concatenate to some extent, here they weren’t conclusive at all, even If one ignore the significance. Also most of the things that he explains as cutting edge technology like bone conducting headphones, dark web, advancements in AI were already too main stream to incite any awe; and he seemed to have saturated the conspiracy resources from the past as well. Also the world is more liberal to have been shattered by the prospectus of religion or death of it.

Guggenheim Museum and Sagrada Familia.png
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Despite everything, this book had me hooked. I finished it in a day, and there isn’t a single book that can boast that in recent times. I was fascinated by the introduction to arts and architecture like Guggenheim Museum, Sagrada Familia and other works of Gaudí. The book had its redeeming elements, the edginess that might have been appealing to your teenage self openly and your old self as guilty pleasure. Atheism and Christian imagery, Historic figures and mysterious cults, Langdon figuring out codes that no one else can and feeling embarrassed that it had taken him so long, Artemis Fowl-ish know-it-all-do-it-all technocrats, over dramatic introductions, pompous arts and academics, edgy philosophy, extreme displays of royalty, loyalty and fanaticism, factoids and verbatims, matter of single digit minutes spanning over chapters in double digits, forgettable ladies etc. And above all, Robert Langdon surviving a fall. There were many serious deviations from Dan Brown’s usual structure as well. Langon came out more as a gunter researching on Halliday than the eminent scholar of ancient history he is renowned for. Also whole episode happens in Spain, or what is now Spain, rather than the Universal or Eurasian aspect of previous installments. Who knows, maybe he is counting on the Catalan referendum.

Origin is the least entertaining work by Dan Brown in my opinion, at least among Robert Langdon series. Nevertheless, if you are up for a no brainier, fast paced, conspiracy filled read, this book has you covered. There is enough to make you feel like an armchair conspiracy theorist, though it may not be the best use of your time.

Langdon watched the phone plummet down and splash into the dark waters of the Nervión River. As it disappeared beneath the surface, he felt a pang of loss, staring back after it as the boat raced on.

Robert,” Ambra whispered, “just remember the wise words of Disney’s Princess Elsa.

Langdon turned. “I’m sorry?”

Ambra smiled softly. “Let it go.”

I have decided to follow the wise words of Disney Princess Elsa and let it go, at least till the next book. 🙂