The Philip K. Dick Megapack – Philip K. Dick

It has been a long time between drinks, so to speak – my apologies on the delays in posting reviews! A month or so of either being very busy, or being sick, left me with little motivation to write reviews. The reading continued unabated, of course (except for one week of ‘ick’).

So, without further ado, let us resume our perusals of high and low literature.

Yours sincerely,

K.L.

 

MegapackDick

Philip K. Dick was the creator of science fiction short stories and novels which have been adapted into some of the great classics (and flops, let’s admit) of science fiction cinema. Bladerunner; Total Recall; Minority Report; The Adjustment Bureau; Paycheck; A Scanner Darkly and even the Terminator series of android assassins was inspired by the humanoid killing machines portrayed in the short story ‘Second Variety’.

This so-called megapack (the first in a series of about # megapacks; Dick was a prolific author) features a collection of fifteen of Dick’s short stories.

Dystopian futures, alien invasions, machine-rebellions, interspecies cultural conflict and robotic evolution are all featured. The range is broad, and there is even a brief touch of classical mythology in one story, ‘Strange Eden’.

A feature of Dick’s short stories is that nearly all of them seem to possess a ‘sting in the tail’, upon which the entire story turns, like a fish just realising it has been hooked. They are largely brilliantly imaginative and original.

Some favourites from this collection:

‘The Defenders’ – in which humanity has fled underground, leaving robots to fight for the mastery of Earth, with unexpected results. Possibly my favourite, possibly because it has a happy ending.

‘Second Variety’ – a chilling account of robotic evolution, with the machines following the same patterns of competition and conflict as the masters.

‘The Hanging Stranger’ – an almost 1984 flavour to the story, as though an intelligent, omniscient virus has infected your family and friends, and is using society to trap you.

Dick’s style is spare and almost journalistic; the stories mirror the Cold War preoccupations of the time, each story thrumming with an ominous sense that someone had started the countdown to annihilation.

 

If you read only one of these stories, let it be ‘Second Variety’.

 

K.L gives The Philip K. Dick Megapack 5 out of 5 nuclear apocalypses.

 

Advertisements

Scary Mary – S.A. Hunter

ScaryMary

A pedestrian novel: Outcaste high school girl meets highly desirable new kid. They fall in love. Her mysterious secret threatens to destroy them, until she faces catharsis by first confessing her dark secret (mandatory rejection at this point), then proving that things really do go bump in the night, and finally by saving everyone’s lives, vindicating herself and rekindling the romance.

If that is a mouthful, then let me summarise even more briefly by comparing it to Stephen King’s novel Carrie, but replacing mind-bending powers with mere clairaudience, and bullying ostracism with…well, more bullying and ostracism. Unlike Carrie, Mary rallies a sense of self-preservation and is the of-course-pretty Goth girl that everyone at school loves to hate.

Once more, pedestrian. I need to stop reading literary fast-food; it causes nothing but indigestion. No more slumming it in the $0.00-.99 range of ebooks, K.L.

For once, I would like to read a story about an outcaste school girl (or boy) who is:

a. Genuinely ugly

b. Has really bad acne from all the white face paint she cakes on, and,

c. Is not the target of unrealistic levels of bullying.

I’m not saying that such things don’t happen – but let’s try and find a protagonist who doesn’t force us to like them by virtue of being at the bottom of the schoolyard pecking order. It’s a boring, over-utilised trope that is indicative of a lazy imagination. An ultimately uninspiring read.

(To segue back to Carrie; that book is a brilliant depiction of a character who you start out repulsed by. King doesn’t want you to like her, and you don’t. Not until she starts learning to respect and assert herself, and in the end, you wish for her to get a little slice of happiness. The chance of which is masterfully ripped apart by the forces of her own mind, fractured by one practical joke too many.)

K.L gives Scary Mary 1 out of 5 well-used black makeup pencils.

A Job from Hell

A job from hell

A Job From Hell – Jayde Scott

 

This book is so awful (well, it is free) that I deleted it from my reader halfway through, then went back, re-downloaded and skim-read it just so that I could be scathing about it later, and warn you, dear reader.

 

That might sound cruel, but I have a number of objective criticisms of the story.

 

A self-described fat girl “with chubby arms and stumpy legs,” Amber takes on a job as housekeeper in a remote mansion in Scotland, to earn money for college the following year. She has been dumped by her boyfriend, Cameron, for putting on a few pounds, and is still mooning over him, determined that he simply needs a break, that their relationship will rekindle, and he will finally introduce her to his parents.

Having established her unflattering physical characteristics early on, the author then proceeds to tell the readers at every opportunity about her attractiveness, an irksome and repetitive inconsistency. “The blue skinny jeans looked really good on me, making my legs seem so much longer,”…. “After slipping into a black, long-sleeved top that emphasized my narrow waist and a pair of blue skinny jeans…”

 

The protagonist, Aidan, Amber’s erstwhile employer, is a sizzlingly hot half-millenia-old vampire, who refuses to drink human blood, or harm humans, whilst fighting his battles against the forces of darkness. Anne Rice’s Lestat was the first “vegetarian” vampire, and possibly should have stayed the only one; if not, then the Cullens should have been the last such group featured. It is unoriginal these days, to a stunning degree, made more so by Aidan’s special ability; he can control peoples’ thoughts, but has difficulty influencing or hearing Amber’s own; the most he can do is send her to sleep. Someone tell Stephanie Meyer that Edward has been wandering across novels…

That aside, he is the stereotypical romantic protagonist: filthily rich, good-looking, domineering, perpetually eighteen and emotionally scarred; Aidan has not been romantically involved since his last love interest betrayed him. This gives Amber a number of incentives to “win” him, and the act of breaking down his emotional shields immediately qualifies her to be the recipient of his affluence. Aidan is aware when they first meet that he and Amber are destined to be soul-mates, a fact which somehow vindicates his forcing her to fall asleep after a night out with him by using his vampire mental-judo, and then kissing her while she is unconscious, unable to provide or withhold consent.

That is known by adults as “date rape,” but she is ok with it (and so, apparently, is he); Amber immediately starts puzzling over her feelings for Aidan versus her ex, Cameron. She spends pages of dreary monologue, both internal and external (with her new BFF Cass), consistently failing the Bechdel Test, a pattern which is duplicated in most girl on girl conversations throughout the book.

 

Amber is consistently demonstrated to be both spineless and stupid. She lets herself be bullied by her brother into robbing a shack in the woods (stealing some magical gemstones which brings her to the attention of the supernatural community), and allows herself to be manhandled and sexually harassed by Kieran, Aidan’s brother without a single vocalised objection.

Her friends and associates in the book consist largely of a troupe of Aidan’s vampire and demonic buddies, who are quite happy to imprison her inside the house with no means of external contact, for her own safety. This illegal imprisonment at the hands of Kieran is described, “Why couldn’t Cameron pay me this much attention? If only he knew, surely he’d come to his senses. He’d know what a huge mistake he made by dumping me and he’d spend the rest of his life making it up to me because we belonged together…”

This is after Kieran physically bars her from leaving the house, stops her from using a phone, threatens to tie her up or handcuff her to the bed, flirts consistently (and unwelcomely), and then starts suggesting a sexual romp, stroking her cheek and telling her that his brother, Aidan, the love interest, doesn’t need to know. And Kieran is a Good Guy.

Her objections to curtailment of personal liberties are weak, as though she is a puppet whose existence is defined by those who control her; the possibility of leaving the Stockholmian manse and fleeing back to reality in London is considered objectionable.

Adrian’s (an occasional first-person narrator; how else would we get our exposition?) inner dialogue confirms this. Amber is his possession – “she was mine”, “my mate” etc; and as a result, imprisoning her and sexually touching her against her will is ok, because she’s bound to get over it one day.

 

If I met Amber in reality, the main descriptive term used would be “dangerously obsessive bunny boiler.” After her second kiss (because being kissed while semiconscious by an employer is what most people consider a positive), Amber reflects, “I had let him kiss me again. Seduced by the rich kid, only to be pushed away when he had enough of me. Apparently taking care of business in the middle of the night was more important than finding out whether the attraction between us was real.”

 

My objections could go on for pages. There were no redeeming qualities to this book.

 

K.L gives A Job from Hell 0 out of 5 juvenile wish-fulfilment fantasies.

 

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

 

Of course she gets turned into a vampire, in a blame-absolving, “It was that or you’d die!” turn of events. And some conveniently-timed magical spell allows them to walk in daylight and not require blood to survive.

Now all they need to do is sparkle.

 

The Witch Sea – Sarah Diemer

The Witch Sea

A lesbian short story, about a young woman tasked by her mother and grandmother with keeping an ancient and malevolant sea god chained on land, to prevent him from destroying humanity.

The sea god keeps sending emissaries to plead for his freedom, sea creatures who have been transformed into humans. Once an animal breaches the barrier between him and the ocean, it is transformed into a human being to keep him company in exile. Each night, they make their way to the edge of the bay, and stare out longingly at the ocean that Meriel and her maternal line have denied them.
Eventually the protagonist, Meriel, falls in love with one of the emissaries, a shapeshifted seal named Nor, and questions her role in imprisoning the god and his minions, who suffer continually because of her actions.

Ultimately, it failed to attract and maintain enthusiasm I felt for the premise. I felt like the backstory could have been fleshed out more fully; that it did not, lost The Witch Sea an opportunity to develop interest and depth. There were large logical holes – if the witches were so powerful as to deny a god his freedom, why were they living in poverty and solitude in a lighthouse on a tiny island? Surely they could think of better things to do? As the only human around, constantly casting magic to keep the god chained, where did Meriel obtain food and necessities?

K.L gives The Witch Sea 1 out of 5 fish trapped in bowls.

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

Meriel eventually sets the sea god free, watching her love transform and leave her forever. The lack of structure to the tale makes me wonder: what does she do next? There is no future hinted at here, and no future direction provided without the context of a town full of imprisoned people.