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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Hyperion by Dan Simmons

The hype in ‘Hype’rion is real. This book is awesome.

Picture1.pngEntering this story was like entering a chat room full of veterans, as a total noob. There were no expositions, no introductions, no explanations on the world order  for a highly allegorical story filled with passing references to things unknown. Yet, by the end of the book, I found myself transformed from “What is a Shrike?” to “What the Shrike!

The background is set in a distant future where humanity has spread across the galaxy under a decadent society aptly named as Hegemony of Man. Hegemony often finds itself in conflict with the original inhabitants and ‘intergalactic Ronins’ called Ousters, in their coercive efforts for incorporating every planet to their farcasted WorldWeb. Almost all of mankind’s technologies are controlled by an agglomeration of AIs known as TechnoCore, which also predicts future by extrapolating events from past and present, like Psychohistory in Foundation. The Ousters and Technocore, for half explained reasons, are obsessed with strange structures called Time Tombs in the distant planet of Hyperion. Time Tombs are surrounded by an anti-entropy field and are said to be under the protection of a legendary time traveling creature called Shrike. Seven selected individuals are sent on a pilgrimage to time tombs by TechnoCore for aiding Hegemony in imminent war for annexation of Hyperion to WorldWeb. If I may do a frail comparison with The Expanse, Hegemony is UN, Ousters are OPA, Pilgrims are crew of Rocinante and Shrike is the protomolecule in a macro scale.

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The Romanticist(John Keats) and the romancer(Dan Simmons)

Hyperion is also the name of an abandoned epic poem by 19th century Romaticist John Keats, and this novel draws huge parallelism with Keats‘ life and works. Along with that, the novel also expects readers to be familiar with Norse terminology, Biblical stories and many other things that I had no first-hand knowledge of. And further, the narrative treats readers like they are already familiar with the surroundings as much as any other Pilgrim is. But a well-conceived story line with fine prose, fascinating characters with well-developed stakes make the reading highly enjoyable even without any of above predispositions. Also I found the multiple pov unraveling of the universe more enjoyable than the usual biased view through the perception of a single character.

‘In Medias res’ is the literary practice of opening narrative amidst action; it enables the author to bypass superfluous expositions through variegated time lines and dialogues. Most of Hyperion’s story or story telling happens in a physical space by that name, where Simmons takes us through the intricate details of universe through character flashbacks. Rather fitting, I would say. Each Pilgrim story can be considered as a standalone book, and this seemingly fix-up structure with inside epistolary stories feels somehow supple even with main narrative’s expansive nature. Usual tendency among interconnected stories is to weave characters and events with each other through different vantage points; but here the stories more like separate novellas sharing same universe as those of Culture or Revelation Space. In a weird way, whole exercise reminded me of LOST.

Simmons has been offering theological, historical and literature allegories throughout the stories; often provoking our thought in its powerful narrative. Hyperion, Time Tombs and Shrike are a mystery for every faction in the universe to which everyone is somehow connected. Whole pilgrimage and Hyperion seemed to me like an allegory for purgatory and redemption. Each character has got his/her personal interpretation of Shrike and their own personal artefacts; like God being a different concept for each individual and faith being as personal as it can get.

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the Shrike Pilgrims

In Priest’s tale, Fr. Dure was modelled after historical figure of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the celebrated Jesuit palaeontologist who was exiled by Church for allegedly fabricating archaeological evidences of Piltdown Men. Bikura tribe, Tesla Tree and Cruciform were direct allegories towards the philosophy of afterlife and resurrection in Christian theology. I found it amazing and terrifying at the same time, along with story’s subtle critique on blind beliefs. Kassad’s space opera was spoiler filled and a bit timey-wimey like that of the Doctor and River Song, and was perhaps the weirdest among this weird lot. Third story involving the Poet Martin Silenus felt like a loose adaptation of Keats life, which could be tagged as paraphrased slash fiction. Sol and the ‘curious case of his daughter’ Rachel was the most compelling and emotional story for me. For Sol, Hyperion was the Moria Mountain for his personal binding of Isaac. Brawne Lamia’s (Lamia is the name of a poem by Keats) hard boiled cyberpunk detective story had the central plot of Altered Carbon up its sleeve as far as I was concerned. By the final story involving Consol and consequences of time debt in Interstellar travel; the universe has been wrapped up pretty nicely, though an excessive usage of Planet of Hats trope was hard to be ignored.

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confronting Shrike

After planet fall their ship Yggdrasil(the Nordic tree of universe) is said to have been destroyed by Ouster attack, and I couldn’t help but connect the burning of cosmic tree with end of the world, Ragnarok; thanks to Marvel. Time tombs and mystery of Shrike felt like a Skynet plot even from the interpretations of Ousters or AI. Also Simmons has done a commendable job in establishing the technological asymmetries between colonies and the Hegemony via farscaping and Hawkings Drive. I absolutely adored his attention to detail towards ways of old earth that tends to pop up now and then with romantic reverence, whether it is the usage of carpets or mythology or nomenclature of old technologies with archaic terms, like Benares for the Barge. Things were mostly explained as status quo and left to be picked up in the reading process. For example, Silenus house having real time windows to different planets had left me perplexed during Poet’s story, only to have it later explained by Siri (yes, Siri) as farscaster portals in Lamia’s story. I loved this style of writing and it left me like a teen who just got treated like an adult like he always wanted to have.

I would totally understand the criticisms against this novel though I have a strong leaning towards book that invests on plots over characters. The whole thing feels like an extended prologue or pilot episode; And the abrupt ending does kind of feel unconventional, like you have watched only the first half of movie Inception or MCU coming to a halt just before the first Avengers movie. If one has been waiting for a Then There Were None style big reveal at the end, or some clear explanations about the eeriness behind Shrike, the disappointment is all the more justifiable. But the whole thing worked for me, like the story being a book example for all those coffee mugs quotes and self-discovery movies that venerate journey over destination. I was rather blown away by the sheer scale of things, ensemble of genres, nonlinear narrative structure and the massive word and world building. And to me, the ending was ingratiating; maybe not in a comprehensive sense, but rather like a noob who has discovered his knack in a new game.

Keats never finished his poem, and Simmons leaving the first book in Hyperion quartet unfinished is strangely fitting, considering his fixation on the Poet. If it’s any consolation, I found The Fall of Hyperion quite satisfying and equally awesome, if you are up for the effort.

The Light of Other Days by Bob Shaw

bob-shaw-other-days-other-eyesThis short story is centered around Slow Glass- a futuristic glass that slows down light passing through it, there by enabling people to save old memories and places in them, like a live painting. The story deals with human emotions, sense of loss and art of letting go; than the implications of slow glass on a global scale.

Refraction_photoSlow Glass sounds like a realistic sci fi plot, something that might​ happen in future, though I am an absolute dummy on how. Maybe a futuristic metamaterial with tinkered refractive index. Light traverse differently through different medium and refractive index(the ratio of the velocity of light in a vacuum to its velocity in a specified medium) is the property of the material that determines its propagation. With a metamaterial of negative refractive index and stuff, the slowing down of light is probable. The science I postulated above is very primitive and probably a weird explanation as I mostly flunked my masters, yet keyword searches would help you pelt along.

If you strain yourself a little more, slow glass is an earthbound black domain, an escape strategy explained in Death’s End that involves slowing the speed of light below solar system’s escape velocity and thereby creating a hypothetical shrouded Dyson sphere for humanity to escape to . Though spoiled midway, this short story will leave an everlasting impact on you.

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“Light of Other Days” is the title of a 1966 Hugo– and Nebula-nominated short story by Bob Shaw. It was incorporated into a novel in 1972, Other Days, Other Eyes, which also dealt with issues of surveillance and privacy. The title for both the novel and the short story is drawn from the poem “Light of Other Days” by Thomas Moore.

It was also developed into a novel under same name by Stephen Baxter based on a synopsis by Arthur C. Clarke

Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers by Lawrence Watt-Evans

1931778This story and Coherence movie could greatly complement each other,though the latter one offers more thrill and grittiness to the concept.

In this first person narrative, a young man from the countryside shares with readers, his strange experiences at Harry’s all-nighter, where he worked his teenage days off. Harry’s All night Hamburgers could be considered as a Way Station, unlike Simak’s Intergalactic one, this version works on Interdimensional platform. Narrator encounters strange beings, multiple versions of same person and is occasionally seduced by the possibility of being an Interdimensional travel bug.

Most striking fact about this story is, that even in its pompous setting of parallel universes and wanderlust, it is essentially a pleasant travel motivation short. And the feelings I am left with, after the read, goes something like this.

I should make it to Banaras at least this year :).

full text available here for free read

 

The Crystal Spheres by David Brin

In this Hugo winning short story, David Brin looks back into our modern history to postulate a probable, though completely fictional explanation to Fermi Paradox. His interesting yet unclear universe includes Crystal Spheres – invisible envelopes, around every galaxy. Unlike the usual sci-fi route of metaphysical arguments, Brin’s Crystal Spheres are completely materialistic with seemingly protective intentions – like Kandor in Fortress of Solitude or dust cloud surrounding planet Krikkit in Hitchhikers.

Background of the story involves futuristic Earth with Interstellar travel and deep space dwellers,and Milky Way with ‘broken by accident’ Crystal Sphere. What troubles me is the entire breakage of so called gargantuan envelope in one single impact, whose physics and existence are completely unfathomable. God would have been like, ‘I need to shield every universe from each other, lets get the most brittle material for that’. Anyway, since then, humans were on an active SETI mission that ends in one solid clincher- unbreakable Crystal Spheres enveloping other universes. At the wake of the novella, a deep spacer is called for duty , on discovery of a broken Crystal Sphere, which could be humanity’s First Contact, and bright answer to many disappointing frustrated years.

cnhBrins argument actually aligns with the progressive Segan thought (aliens exists) and the relatively hegemonic yet pessimistic Hart- Tipler (where are they if they do exist) thought. Though fascinating and full of imagination, story didn’t work well with my rigid mind.

  • Included in The River of Time, collection, 1994, Bantam Spectra.
  • A well read audio version is available under this link starshipsofa

spoilers:

There were few things I couldn’t get my head around. Unnecessary word building, the whole idea of fixing cosmic stuff as Shards from Crystal Spheres and the voting out of night from Earth(?) would be a few. Also the incentive of meeting intelligent life seems far less convincing for suspended animation (or stuff) of a whole civilization (Natarals),since it practically bookends progress, leaving them inferior to the very intelligent life they seek so badly for.

The 43 Antarean Dynasties by Mike Resnick

Capture.JPGIn this Hugo winning short, Author intertwines the once glorious history of erstwhile Antarean Intergalactic dynasty and a guided tour happening in present through it’s remains. And a reader could relate with both sides, whether it’s the proud erudite romantic tourist guide, who is forced to chuck his pride and knowledge to make a living, or yokel earth tourists, keen only on the boasting rights and instagramming part of sight seeing.

Coincidentally I’ve been doing some readings on per-independent India and British Raj, while I came across the 43 Antarean Dynasties. Though panning over an Intergalactic scale, this story helped me understand the asymmetrical cultural shock and post colonial attitudes between the Orient and Occident, far better than any historical texts. Highly recommend.

“What is obscene to one being is simply boring to another”

A far better analysis can be found here, along with the free text to complete story http://martyhalpern.blogspot.in/2011/06/alien-contact-anthology-story-8-43.html

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti is a Nebula and Hugo Award winning novella and below review covers only the first installment of an ongoing series. An ambitious Wakandan-ish girl, also the very first person from her tribe to leave the planet, is left with the heavy responsibility of universal peace as some Romulans– ish race butcher her Starship,  which was on its way to Oomza University – this story’s StarFleet Academy.

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One is often insecure about his stand when it comes to registering his like or dislike towards a culturally or ethnically diverse work; which often leads to a personally unjust review, under peer pressure or the fear of being branded by the adjectives for intolerance, non progressiveness and their kins. I am unable to get my head around this old school racism or sectarianism, that forms the basic framework of Binti (also some how limited to protagonist’s particular tribe), considering the extremely diverse and pluralistic Intergalactic society, story’s universe is based on.

Okorafor is a really good writer, and I heavily appreciate the prose which consorted well with tribal girl narrative, and the non pretentious word/world/culture building; but as far as science fiction is considered, story is solid meh.

From a whovian perspective, the philosophy of Binti would be something like this – Hey, I can’t accept Martha Jones, but Sontarans are cool.

 

But, Afrotourism? Really?

also,

Bint(d)i- the red dot that decorates an average Indian lady’s forehead.