Minority Report – Philip K Dick

Having read Philip K Dick’s Man in a High Castle a while back I was delighted and excited to spot a copy of his story Minority Report in a second hand book store. I knew a movie had been made of the story starring Tom Cruise but otherwise knew little about it. I was initially disappointed to discover that it wasn’t a full length novel, but was “only” a short story.

However, having now read said short story, plus several more in this collection of short stories, I am back to being delighted and excited once more. I realize I am a little slow on the uptake, but Philip K Dick is a Sci Fi genius…..and as a predictor of the future (much like George Orwell was hailed for his dystopian novel 1984), this collection of stories sets Philip K Dick head and shoulders above his peers. (And I think I just got away with using the phrase Dick Head in a completely accidental manner).

Both Dick and Orwell died well before their time. Orwell was only 46, Dick was 54. Both were excellent story tellers, but where Dick was a master of Science Fiction novels (44) and short stories (121), Orwell was mainly known as a journalist, essayist and writer of realism and only wrote a total of 6 novels.

But, there are similarities. Orwell’s Thought Police and Dick’s Department of Precrime for instance are both there to punish the citizens for crimes they haven’t yet committed.

Of the stories in this collection it’s difficult to find the weakest link. The book opens with a strong lead story which is of course Minority Report. Set in the future, the Department of Precrime relies on the predictions of 3 “precogs” – clairvoyant humans who’s babblings are deciphered by the computer they are all linked to – who usually come up with separate but unanimous decisions about future murders about to be committed. I say these predictions are usually unanimous, but sometimes only 2 of the 3 will agree – so a majority decision, a majority report is published and the future murderer is arrested and charged for a murder they haven’t yet committed, based on the majority decision. Of course if there is a majority report, there is also the minority report which is the decision of the odd one out. The department has murders down almost 100% and everything is working well until the head of the department finds his name on a card, spat out by the computer, that predicts that he will murder someone who’s name is not even familiar to him. Since the computer and the precogs are “never wrong” a warrant for his arrest is issued…..can he escape and prove his innocence by getting hold of the minority report? Of course the story written in 1956 is somewhat different to the action movie filmed in 2002 which includes technology not thought of by Dick back in the 50’s but the principle is the same.

Imposter is the second story. Again set in the not too distant future, Spence Olham is part of a team designing a weapon to be used against invading Aliens. He is accused by a co-worker and the head of security of being an android imposter sent by the Aliens to destroy the weapon. (Movie of the same name made 2001)

Second Variety is 3rd off the block set in a dystopian future on a battlefield where the Americans have designed small but deadly A.I. robotic drones with pincers and sharp blades that slash the enemy (Russian) troops. These robots have been taught to replicate themselves in underground factories within the battlefield. But the authorities have underestimated the growing intelligence of the A.I.’s (Made into a movie titled Screamers in 1995).

War Game – takes place in a building where futuristic interplanetary toys designed on Ganymede – a moon of Jupiter – are tested for safety before being allowed to be sold to the public. The humans in general don’t trust the Ganymedans as they always seem to be on the cusp of invading Earth. One game is a war game, where a dozen soldiers attempt to attack and breach the defences of a citadel. After each failure the soldiers re assemble and try a different tactic. The testers suspect that the citadel may contain a nuclear device. The second game is actually a suit that once put on takes the wearer into an alternate reality….and the third game is a board game similar to monopoly, called Syndrome.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!

This story “War Game” is one where I am about to reveal the end of the story so if you intend to read it skip the next couple of paragraphs.

The testers of the games decide that of the three games only the Syndrome board game is deemed to be safe for release to the general population and doesn’t constitute a threat to mankind. A toy salesman takes one of the games home to let his kids try out. He decides to show them how to play. Having been familiar with the game monopoly gives him, he believes, an advantage and pretty soon he has acquired all the property, shares in businesses and money and he declares himself the winner. The kids look puzzled and point out that, according to the instruction booklet, the aim of the game is to get rid of your properties, shares and wealth….so in fact the father had lost and the kids played off again to find out who was the winner. The father, was annoyed that it had taken the monopoly rules and turned them on their head, but the important thing was that his kids were enjoying playing the game. And the quote a couple of lines …evidently it would sell well. Already the two youngsters were learning the naturalness of surrendering their holdings. They gave up their stocks and money avidly, with a kind of trembling abandon. Glancing up, her eyes bright Lora said “It’s the best educational toy you ever brought home, Dad!”

Dick wrote War Game in 1959 – incidentally, but inconsequentially, my year of birth – however I can’t but help seeing the parallels here with Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum and his Great Reset plan – You Will Own Nothing and YOU Will Be Happy.

OK SPOILER OVER

The next…the fifth story is What Dead Men Say – again a futuristic story where the dead can, if the body is chilled correctly immediately after death and monitored carefully, be revived for a series of “half-life” appearances. But when they try to bring wealthy businessman Louis Sarapis back, something goes wrong. The revival of his body fails, but seemingly from the other side of the universe his disembodied voice is transmitted over the airwaves creating all kinds of plot twists.

Oh to be a Blobel! is the next offering. A human who used to be an interplanetary spy and underwent treatment to change his physical appearance to the of a Blobel – a little like a huge jelly-fish – in order to spy on another planet, was initially told that his physical transformation would be a temporary thing. It turns out that this was incorrect and he would now spend part of his day in human form and part as this huge blob of jelly……which brings about numerous trials and tribulations in his life and his quest to find a woman who understands and accepts him. I believe that the story has a lot to do with how one sees oneself. Self worth and what constitutes “success”.

The Electric Ant – is a story about a man (Garson Poole) who, after having a work accident and finding himself in hospital is told that he’s not actually human, but some sort of flesh covered android. This comes as a great shock to him and after he is sent home we follow his thought processes in his search for the meaning of life….of his life that is….and how, or even if, his life affects those around him.

Faith of our Fathers – is about a communist dictatorship where the population is kept in line by giving them hallucinogenic drugs. One day Tung Chien a mid level bureaucrat is given an anti hallucinogen by a crippled street vender which allows him to see the world as it actually is. (Includes communism, drugs, sex and god.)

We Can Remember it for You Wholesale – is another futuristic story in which space travel is only for the rich. But for a fraction of the cost of a space flight ticket, you can have an experience implanted into your brain so that you actually believe that you have made, in this case, a trip to Mars….and they provide you with helpful souvenirs as memory prompts. It features reality, false memories and real memories. The story was adapted in the 1990 movie Total Recall starting Arnold Schwarzenegger….and the 2012 remake with Colin Farrell in the staring role. Douglas Quail has a boring office job. He has always wanted to visit Mars but has been constantly put off the idea by his wife. He then discovers a company called Rekal where you can have “false” memories implanted into your brain which make you think that you have been to Mars, along with all the sensory effects. However when under sedation to have the false memories implanted, somehow he regains some long ago erased memories of who he really is.

All in all this is a really thought provoking collection of stories and well worth the few dollars to acquire this 2002 printed 2nd hand paperback.

If you’ve never read any of Philip Dick’s stories, this book would be a wonderful place to dip your toes into the magical waters of his strange and wonderful mind.

Again, thank you for reading this post. Comments always appreciated.

A few movie trailers of Dick’s books made into movies – for your amusement.

A must for Zombie Fans

I’ve just finished reading The Return Man, by V.M. Zito. I borrowed it from the public library 4 days ago and given the chance I would have read it in one sitting, except of course life gets in the way of reading time. The book is an excellent take on the tried and tested Zombie story and is loaded with action, thrills and spills. If you’re a fan of Zombie books or movies, this book is an absolute must!

It’s not only me who writes in praise of this novel either. Here are some words by others to encourage you to read this book.

“Thrilling… crowd-pleasing.” –Publishers Weekly

“Hands down one of the best zombie novels I’ve read in a long, long time.” –David Moody, acclaimed author of AUTUMN

“A harrowing, haunting, and beautifully written novel…” –Library Journal

“… an action-packed, plot-driven thrill ride that is frightening and savage.” –Rue Morgue Magazine

“Highly accomplished… bloody excellent.” –Financial Times

“In a word: relentless.” –London Telegraph

“A hair-raising quest… Zito expertly piles on thrills, cliffhangers and numerous twists.” –The Guardian UK

“Compelling, captivating and at times hauntingly scary.” –Fantasy Book Review

OK, so for those of you who haven’t stopped reading this blog post and rushed out to buy a copy….here’s a brief outline of the story without giving up any spoilers.

Henry Marco…..formerly known as doctor Henry Marco….is now a bounty hunter of sorts. He finds himself living in the former state of Arizona, in what are now known as the Evacuated States of America – west of the great divide. The eastern states are known as the Safe States. Safe from what you may ask?…..Well go on….ask! Zombies are what. The eastern states being the Zombie Free Safe Zone and the western states, being handed over to the living dead, has supposedly been evacuated of all living humans….except of course for Henry Marco.

Marco’s new job is to locate specific zombies – ex family members of people living in the Safe States – and to make that zombie dead again…..permanently. To give the tortured soul, of that former human being, everlasting peace. He has a colleague who lives and works in the Safe States, who get the job contracts for Marco and who receives payment for the jobs as, when and if, they are completed.

The main reason Marco remained in the west, despite efforts to evacuate the living, is that he is desperately trying to find his own wife, who he suspects is dead….Zombified. Why does he think this? He thinks this because he found her car with bloody hand prints on the windows inside her car, AND a pile of entrails on the floor beneath the driver’s seat.

The story is set 4 years after the zombie apocalypse began and Marco, once a doctor who’s job was to save people, has now transformed into a Zombie Hunter. He sort of likes being his own boss and being responsible for his own destiny while being of service to others. But then he is given a mission by the head of Homeland Security…..a mission unlike any that he has been involved in so far.

Will he come out of this one alive? Will he complete the mission successfully? Will he find his wife and put her soul to rest?

You’re going to have to read the book to find out. It’s a brilliant page turner of a book. I hurried along the adventure with Marco, eager to find those answers and many more….but was extremely sad to finish the book. I want more. More Marco missions.

I was most upset to find out that V.M. Zito has only written one other Zombie story – a short story at that – which is a prequel to The Return Man with the title of Waiting Room.

See the source image

To quote Fantastic Fiction website “In the eerie abandoned corridors of St. Pius Hospital, professional corpse-finder Henry Marco is on a dangerous mission — to track and dispatch the Resurrected corpse of a man named Tim Patterson. The hunt will end in the dark waiting room of the sixth floor maternity ward, where Marco must confront the ultimate question: What meaning does life have to the dead?”

Waiting Room is not available at the library, but is available as a kindle download. I hate Kindles and don’t use them, but for V.M. Zito I will make an exception.

Many thanks for reading this blog post. Your comments are always appreciated. I shall endeavour….or for the Americans among you… endeavor….to write more regular posts.

Happy New Year …. plus 3 book reviews.

It seems like an eternity since I have written a blog post…..probably because is has been, almost, an eternity since I have written a blog post….or read anyone else’s – Please forgive me. A combination of being busy, being lazy and enjoying reading a few good books lead me to ignore my WordPress blog for far too long. However, a New Year deserves a fresh start.

Lets hope that the horrors of 2020 are behind us and let me wish everyone a hopeful, healthy and happy 2021.

One good thing about covid, lockdowns and a change of lifestyle is that I have had time to read a few more books over the last few months, and I’d like to offer up reviews of the last 3 books I’ve most recently finished reading.

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The first of which is a large format (coffee table sized) hard cover book by Tom Shone about the movies of Woody Allen, titled Woody Allen A Retrospective. Bought for me for my birthday, by my lovely wife. I’ve long been a fan of Allen’s movies – yes even the bad ones – and am not one to be put off by the bad press he’s received from the “Me Too Movement” and the police investigation into child molestation allegations. Allegations which incidentally were found by police to have zero foundation in truth. Allen even submitted to a polygraph test to prove his innocence…..something that his accuser, ex partner Mia Farrow refused to take. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned….and I guess when ones partner takes up with your adopted daughter, you are going to feel rather scornful. Readers please draw your own conclusions. I realize that some readers will be thinking something along the lines of “there’s no smoke without fire” but please judge the man by his work, not by unsubstantiated rumours about his personal life.

Anyhow, back to the book. There’s nothing earth shatteringly new to be learned in this book, for fans of Woody Allen, but it is a useful reference guide to his movies from the very beginning of his career in films (What’s New Pussycat? in 1965) up to and including the 2015 movie – Irrational Man. So, his last 4 movies – at the time of writing – Cafe Society (2016), Wonder Wheel (2017), A Rainy Day In New York (2019) and 2020 movie Rifkin’s Festival are not included in this retrospective.

His output is quite prolific averaging a movie each year and since very early in his movie directing career he obtained and maintained the independence to make movies on whatever subject and in whatever manner he wanted to. He is a creature of habit and likes structure. Now in his mid 80’s Allen shows little sign of slowing down and will probably die while directing or writing the script of yet another in his long list of over 50 movies. According to the opening paragraph of the book, he rises at 6.30am, gets his children ready for school, endures a short spell on the treadmill, then sits to write at his manual Olympia SM-3 typewriter – which was bought when he was 16 and still works.

The book is full of anecdotes, quotes, movie summaries and photographic stills from each movie covered and is a must for Woody Allen fans. No one could accuse him of being big headed about his achievements – if anything he is self depreciating, but at the same time, appreciative of the fame and ability to live as he chooses, that his career has delivered him. A couple of quotes to illustrate this are “I would hardly call it genius, but I do sometimes have a sudden flash.” – and – “(1973 movie) Sleeper showed me audiences enjoyed watching me, which I find hard to believe.”

He says that if he didn’t make movies, if he didn’t work, then he’d sit at home and brood and think and his mind would drift to unsolvable issues that are very depressing. On the subject of death a couple of quotes sum Allen up nicely one is “I do not believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear.” And the other is “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” I must say I’m with him on that last one.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, will keep it close to hand for reference, and recommend it whole heartedly. 5 / 5 from me.

The second book is a complete change of genre One Second After by William R Forstchen is a fictional tale about a very real threat, an EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) that sends catastrophic shockwaves throughout the United States of America. It follows the life of one man, a history professor and former US Army Colonel and his family, in a small North Carolina town. One minute enjoying every day life with all its modern conveniences and One Second After an EMP explodes over the centre of continental North America they are thrust back into the dark ages….the electrical grid and society as a whole in tatters.

I’ve read a lot of similar “Prepper” fiction before, but where as the typical prepper novel is about people who are usually prepared for an apocalyptical event, in this novel we take a look at the unprepared. At people who can’t even fathom, at least initially, what it is that has taken out the power grid and also caused all modern motor vehicles to suddenly stop….not to mention make planes fall from the skies.

I believe that it gives a fairly life like look at how quickly and how totally modern life, with all it’s morality, it’s rules, laws and principles, can come crashing down into chaos, anarchy and even cannibalism. It’s an interesting book to use as a talking point to discuss disaster preparedness – whether the disaster is natural or man made – with friends and family. As the preppers say “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

There is no electricity – so no ATM’s for getting out cash, no contactless payments, no transport, no refrigeration of food. Even hospital’s emergency back up generators were fried by the pulse and are out of commission. People die in their thousands in a very short time. There’s no power for pumping stations to supply water to cities. Food, water and prescription medication are in short supply. Things go bad very quickly.

I’m not going to discuss the story at all as I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I’ll just say that if dystopian or apocalyptic novels are your thing, don’t miss this book. I read it in two sitting I was absolutely hooked. If I hadn’t been so tired I would have stayed up all night to read it. Even if dystopia and the apocalypse are not your thing, it’s still a good book to read so that you can be aware of how thin our moral thread can be. How fragile civilized humanity is. If you’re not a Prepper before you read it….you will be after.

Read it – another 5 / 5 from me.

And finally…..drum roll please…..book number 3

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops by Shaun Bythell. This is Bythell’s third published book about his experiences as owner of a second hand book shop. The first two being Diary of a Bookseller and Confessions of a Bookseller – both former books are told in the format of a daily diary. I personally enjoyed both the Diary of and Confessions of a Bookseller as I am a self confessed bibliophile, eager browser of bookshops and a huge fan of Bythell’s rather irreverent humour….usually at the expense of his customers or staff.

Bythell’s latest offering is a change of format, written in paragraphs and chapters instead of the usual diary entries. He attempts to humorously categorize his book shop customers into various types and subtypes as well as taking a self depreciating look at bookshop owners and staff. I was looking forward to my usual fits of giggles and guffaws that I was reduced to when reading his two previous books. I’m not sure why, but this one fell flat and left me wondering if he’d finally exhausted his big box of bookshop anecdotes. There were still moments that made me smile, but no real laugh out loud moments and I must admit to feeling a little disappointed. As a book, albeit a rather small and thin volume of less than 140 pages, it is an OK read and I knocked it off in one evening. If it had been my first venture into Bythell’s world I would have probably been raving about it, but as a third book – sorry, but it didn’t meet the previous standards. I really do hate to say that, because I genuinely like the guy. I met him when he visited New Zealand’s book town Featherston when promoting his first book – the previously mentioned Diary of a Bookseller – firstly having a nice chat in a bookshop where I was doing a little 2nd hand book browsing (and buying as usual) and then at a speaking event to promote the book. He is a genuinely nice fellow and it pains me to speak badly of Seven Kinds of People.

If you’ve never read Bythell then by all means buy this book before you read the others….read it and enjoy it and then move on to the first and second books for a proper laugh.

Sorry Shaun but only a 2 / 5 for this offering.

V for Vendetta (2005) a mirror into tomorrow perhaps?

A couple of evenings ago I finally watched the 2005 dystopian political action movie V for Vendetta on Netflix and in this election time (this month in New Zealand and next month in the USA) found it a timely reminder for us all.

The movie, filmed in 2005 and set in 2020 – would you believe – contains some very pertinent scenes and quotes, a few of which I’ll be putting your way very shortly. But first a little background about its origins.

V for Vendetta began life in the 1980’s as a graphic novel penned by Alan Moore, morphed into a series in DC Comics and finally the 2005 movie. The title character V is shrouded in mystery – an anarchist revolutionary who wears a Guy Fawkes mask – who has vowed to bring down the fascist state. The movie is set in the UK after a nuclear war when the government is run by High Chancellor Adam Sutler – played ironically by John Hurt (you may remember him being the downtrodden victim of a totalitarian state in 1984). Here he is the all powerful baddy! He rules with a rod of iron, keeps the citizens in a constant state of fear in order to get their unquestionable obedience and things seem to be going his way until V begins to fight back.

So as not to spoil the plot I am not going to go into the story in any great length, but found some parallels between the movie and real life politics – or should I say rumours about real life politics – some would call them conspiracy theories but “rumour” is defined as – “an unofficial interesting story or piece of news that might be true or invented”. Before I go on, can I ask if anyone else has noticed, particularly over the last few years, how much disastrous news is spewed at us daily via the TV and on-line news media? Climate change, pandemics/viruses, shootings, terrorism, extreme weather events, water shortages, forest fires, the threat of civil war etc. The list gets longer with every news programme. Now watch this clip from the movie where the High Chancellor wants to make sure that the public keep in line….and have a real good look and listen to what is said and what is being shown on the nations TV screens in the movie.

One would have to ask if we as citizens of our countries are all being played by our governments – or the powers behind each nations individual government. WE seem, just like the citizens in the movie, to be kept in a state of constant fear as a result of news reports and rely on our governments to provide the answers and “keep us safe”, even at the cost of certain civil liberties. With that thought in mind I will give you a few quotes from the movie/graphic novel. V for Vendetta.

One would have to ask if we as citizens of our countries are all being played by our governments – or the powers behind each nations individual government. WE seem, just like the citizens in the movie, to be kept in a state of constant fear as a result of news reports and rely on our governments to provide the answers and “keep us safe”, even at the cost of certain civil liberties. With that thought in mind I will give you a few quotes from the movie/graphic novel. V for Vendetta.

“People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

“Knowledge, like air, is vital to life. Like air, no one should be denied it.”

“Since mankind’s dawn, a handful of oppressors have accepted the responsibility over our lives that we should have accepted for ourselves. By doing so, they took our power. By doing nothing, we gave it away. We’ve seen where their way leads, through camps and wars, towards the slaughterhouse.”

“They say that life’s a game, & then they take the board away.”

“Our masters have not heard the people’s voice for generations and it is much, much louder than they care to remember.”

“The ending is nearer than you think, and it is already written. All that we have left to choose is the correct moment to begin.”

“There’s no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill. There’s only an idea. Ideas are bulletproof.”

And these last 2 are very much worth thinking about…..“Equality and freedom are not luxuries to lightly cast aside. Without them, order cannot long endure before approaching depths beyond imagining.”

And ….. “Authority, when first detecting chaos at its heels, will entertain the vilest schemes to save its orderly facade.”

A movie to watch for entertainments sake, but also for the message beneath….the bones of which are captured in those last two quotes above. Make what you will of it all, but please cast your vote wisely this election.

Again, many thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Comments – even negative ones – are welcome as are likes, shares and follows. Until next time….

Apocalypse How? A book by Oliver Letwin. (Our dystopian future).

Oliver Letwin retired last year after a long career with the British Conservative party. He was involved in Britain’s Emergency Management Planning so has a pretty good idea about what can go wrong and how likely things are to go wrong. In this book he walks us through a Black Swan event – an event that is very rare and therefore often unplanned for.

This book is actually 2 books in one. Every odd numbered chapter tells a fictional narrative of a dystopian disaster brought about in 2037 when our dependence on cutting edge technology, at the expense of analogue/manual back up technology, proves to be our downfall. In this future world we have surpassed 5G and 6G and are now totally reliable on electronics, the world wide web of everything and 7G connectivity. So confident are our political and industrial leaders in modern technology that they have no failsafe, no manual, or analogue fall back in case anything goes wrong. Naturally, being a dystopian story, things do go wrong and when there is no safety net, no back-stop to save us – when things go bad, they go bad very quickly.

Every even numbered chapter deals with the facts of the matter. He writes here about how far our technology has gone thus far and the direction that we appear to be heading in. How politics and budget targets can push us toward the apocalyptic scenario that he has been warning about for several years already.

It seems that the better connected we become, the more vulnerable we become as our reliance on technology becomes a narrower and narrower focus. When we have no alternative back-up, no plan B, we are inviting trouble. Whether that trouble comes in the form of a cyber attack by a hostile state, natural phenomena such as a CME (coronal mass ejection – or solar flare), or an EMP (electro magnetic pulse – by discharging a nuclear weapon high above the earth) – our electrical grid and everything that depends on it could, in theory, fail.

Letwin explains how difficult it is to persuade politicians and industrial leaders to invest large sums of money to upkeep old-fashioned technology as a failsafe, fall back for a disaster that may never happen – especially when the new technology is 99.9% reliable. BUT should that 0.1% event happen…..what then?

In Letwin’s imaginary future world we are so convinced of 7G’s superior technology and connectivity that we don’t have a plan B. The speed that things go wrong, once the first domino falls is very scary with very worrying consequences. He talks us through what would happen from the actions (or inaction) of our political leaders during a disaster such as this, down to how it affects the man and woman on the street, particularly the old and infirm when the temperature drops below freezing and there is no electricity to make the heaters or central heating work. Without power there is no way to convey to the population any message from the government. We’d be on the doorstep of anarchy. Pretty much every service that we rely on fails as a result of the electrical grid going down and because most things rely on internet connectivity – there is suddenly no communication network, no GPS to guide us around the streets, driverless cars would not work, no street lights or traffic signals, no rail network, planes are grounded and those already in the air have no guidance system – chaos is all around. As a result – the food delivery system fails, no one can buy food anyway or anything else for that matter because by 2037 we have no physical cash anymore, hospitals can’t function, neither can the emergency services – everything is digital and relies on electricity and the connectivity of the internet to function. And to add to the problem, in this scenario Britain has gone with 100% renewable energy – solar, wind and hydro – all of which are very difficult to get back on line from a cold start – assuming that the infrastructure is still intact and functioning after such an event (if the transformers have not been fried by an electrical pulse)….but that requires an in depth explanation that I don’t have time to go into here.

This fictional scenario is even more frightening when you remember that the author is an ex politician who was working on preventing this and many other disaster scenarios. He knows how the political system works – or fails to work. It’s a wake up call to shake us all from our complacency. But will it shake us enough, or will we continue to blindly rely on the latest technology without maintaining a reliable alternative….just in case?

For anyone interested in dystopian scenarios, emergency management, or disaster preparedness (prepping), it makes and interesting and thought provoking read.

I read it in two sittings as it was so absorbing….and I am very interested in “being prepared”.

One mad scientist is all it takes…

I’ve just finishing the 3rd book in Margaret Atwood’s trilogy that began with Oryx and Crake (2003), continued with The Year of the Flood (2009) and finally concluded with MaddAddam (2013). Individually great stories but together, an exceptional epic story. Atwood has an amazing, imaginative and complex mind and this certainly comes out in her stories. I must say how much I respect her as a writer. She’s brilliant.

The first book, Oryx and Crake sets the scene for the other books. It begins in the aftermath of a devastating global pandemic (quite apt given recent circumstances with Covid-19) and is told from the perspective of a man named Snowman, who wears a bedsheet and lives in a tree by a lake. A strange ‘tribe’ of people known as Crakers appear to idolize him and seek guidance from him.

The story moves back and forth in time from present day post apocalypse, with Snowman telling the Crakers stories of the mythical Oryx and Crake who are seen as their creators and god like beings, and past times when Snowman was known by the name Jimmy. His parents worked for a science research company that made genetically engineered hybrid animals capable of growing extra organs (hearts, kidneys etc.) for transplant into humans.

We follow Jimmy’s life from his school / university days during which time his mother becomes disillusioned with the work that her company is doing and leaves both her job and Jimmy’s father and disappears. It is believed that she may be working for some underground subversive movement. Jimmy meets a very intelligent fellow student who calls himself Crake who is quite brilliant at both mathematics and science. They share an interest in online gaming and pornography. Jimmy’s passion though are words, so while Crake lands himself a top job in the science field, Jimmy ends up working in advertising. However they keep in touch and eventually their paths cross again when Crake offers Jimmy a job, at the company he works for, to promote a new pill called BlyssPluss which is meant to enhance both male and female libido, but also had a number of unrevealed side effects, one of which was to make the taker sterile. So you’ll have an amazingly multi-orgasmic sexual experience, but thereafter be incapable of reproduction.

Crake was also in command of a special secret experiment to produce genetically engineered ‘perfect’ humans. This all happened in a high security dome called Paradice, which was a secure home for this new breed of humans who Crake, never one for modesty, named after himself as Crakers.

I don’t want to give too much of the storyline away, because I don’t want to spoil things for you. There are many things that unfold during the story. One thing to bear in mind though is that all of the science involved is factual, is being done, or can be done, or at least in theory can be done. That in its self is quite a scary thought. Anyway it becomes clear who, why and how a major pandemic was released on an unsuspecting public…..and why Jimmy becomes Snowman, living in a tree, wearing a bedsheet and acting as some sort of guru for this new breed of humans.

The second in the trilogy – The Year of the Flood – introduces us to a whole new cast of characters many of whom are members of a group of eco-warriors known as God’s Gardeners. Again the chapters shift between present day and past to bring us a new focus on the pandemic, about the way people live, the way that society seems to have sunk to an all time ethical low and about the multitude of genetically engineered animals, now common place.

The new characters are many but the main focus is on former or current members of God’s Gardeners and their wish to live as natural a life as possible without government interference. They soon find themselves on a list of undesirables and face persecution. We follow several of the characters, Ren, Toby, Zeb and Adam One being the primary ones and examine their relationships with one another and their reliance on one another when things turn bad.

The shit hits the fan and people are separated from their loved ones, no one seems to know who has or hasn’t survived and roving bands of bandits and wild animals test their survival skills.

Again I don’t want to get into the plot too much as I’d rather you read all 3 books and hopefully enjoy them as much as I did.

The final book MaddAddam skillfully brings the characters and the plot lines of both of the earlier books together in a climactic finale where you find yourself saying “Oh I see….that’s how they’re related”. There is a coming together of long separated characters, happiness, surprises, the tying up of a number of loose ends left dangling in previous stories, as well as unexpected death and destruction….of course there is death and destruction – it’s a dystopian novel.

It’s a kind of warning, I guess, as to the direction that humanity seems to be heading and how we somehow yearn for self destruction. BUT it’s also about resilience, about unification and respect between the species. Let me just say that you’ll never look at a bacon sandwich in the same way again.

And it’s also a warning about how the actions and perceptions of one mad scientist…or should I say Madd scientist….can change the world forever.

If you’re into dystopia, read and enjoy these three books. Again, thank you for reading my blog-post. Likes, shares, comments and re-posts are all very welcome.

The Chrysalids – John Wyndham (Review and comment)

Hello all. Firstly a shout out to John Bainbridge (https://walkingtheoldways.wordpress.com) who suggested I read this book. Thanks John, it’s certainly an interesting story. I had read what is arguably Wyndham’s most famous story – The Day of the Triffids – when I was at school many, many years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it, as I did the movie and TV series that followed. I didn’t quite know what to expect of The Chrysalids though.

The story is one of 6 of Wyndham’s best yarns in an omnibus edition hard cover book that I picked up a few years ago and had been languishing on my bookshelves until the prompt by John to give The Chrysalids a read. The blurb on the cover states – “A thrilling and realistic account of a world beset by genetic mutations and of a community whose rules will not allow for any abnormality, even at the expense of its own children – and the chances of breeding true are less than fifty percent.”

The Chrysalids was first published in 1955. It is regarded by some critics as his best novel. An early manuscript version was entitled Time for a Change.

Amazon.co.uk: John Wyndham: Books, Biogs, Audiobooks ...

The story follows a young boy called David, who lives with his puritanical parents and sisters in a “closed community” where the bible is strictly followed. The part of the bible that describes how man is made as a perfect image of god, with 2 arms, 2 legs, five digits on each hand and foot etc. is strictly adhered to. Any plant, animal or human, found to be “deviant” in any way, by the local inspector, is destroyed – or in the case of humans, driven out to live in the Fringes or the Badlands. For humans, the flaw could be something as little as a birthmark, or different coloured eyes, or an extra toe…….”ACCURSED IS THE MUTANT IN THE SIGHT OF GOD”…well, you get the idea.

Early in the story, David has a dream about this fantastic city with things flying in the sky. He tells his older sister Mary about it and she advises him to keep quiet and not to tell anyone else. As David grows, he realises that he is different from the others, but not physically different. His difference, or deviation, or mutation, is in his brain. He discovers that he can communicate with his cousin Rosalind by thought….but it’s not communication by simple words, it’s more a wholeness…a communication that includes feelings, of what they call “Thought Shapes”. He then discovers that there are more children just like him and Rosalind, a group of eight of them scattered across the district, who can transmit and receive thoughts from others over several miles. Naturally, this would be seen as abnormal by the older generation so they have to keep their abilities secret from the “Norms”. They manage this just fine for a number of years.

Meantime, David meets a girl called Sophie in an area beyond the banks of their settlement. Like kids do, and have done for thousands of years, they play and have fun sliding down the bank. One time though Sophie’s descent carries her into some rocks and her foot becomes trapped. David tells her to undo her laces and slip her foot out of her shoe to free herself. Strangely, she refuses and continues to struggle, her foot however is firmly stuck. Eventually, with no other way to escape, she agrees to let David undo her laces and pull out her foot. As he does he sees that she has 6 toes, not the regulation 5. Rather than recoiling and branding her a mutant, he accepts her for what she is and helps her back to her house. Along with Sophie’s parents, David is now part of the inner circle who know about Sophie’s deformity. He agrees to keep it a secret and continues to meet Sophie to play on the bank and in the stream nearby.

One day however another, older boy happens along as the two play in the stream and he sees a wet footmark on a rock, clearly indicating 6 toes not 5 and tries to capture Sophie to take her to the elders – to report a mutant in their midst. David fights with the bigger boy and keeps him occupied long enough for Sophie to escape and run home. But, now that someone else knows about her toes, her parents decide to pack what little possessions they can carry onto their two horses and head for the Fringes. Naturally David is devastated that his friend is gone…forced to flee by the puritanical regime. And for his sin of mixing with the mutants David is flogged mercilessly by his devout father.

He confides in his uncle Axel – who is himself a widely travelled man (for their day and age) – someone who David feels that he can trust with his secret. Axel becomes a close friend and advisor to David and warns him not to reveal to anyone else about his ability to “thought shape”. He also tells David about mysterious lands beyond the badlands.

After a few years, unexpectedly, his parents have another baby, a daughter called Petra. When she achieves the age of about 5, Petra wanders off and falls into a body of water and struggling to make it to the shore – unbeknown to her, she sends out very strong thought shapes of panic and terror which are picked up not only by her brother David, but also by Rosalind who instantly drop what they are doing and sprint off in the direction of the transmission and successfully rescue her. Suspicions are aroused by a few other people who wonder how the two of them knew that Petra was in peril. They claim to have heard her calling for help. They then try to explain to Petra about her unusual ability and swear her to secrecy.

A little later on Petra is again in trouble when she rides her pony into the woods – a place that is off limits – and her pony is attacked by a wild animal and killed. Again she sends out loud and violent “thought shapes” and again David and Rosalind sprint to her rescue….but this time she had sent out such a strong signal that all 8 of the kids who had this “power” came running to her rescue. Unfortunately 2 of the girls were followed by a man, a stranger to them, who demanded to know what this group of kids were doing in the woods and how they had heard Petra’s calls for help, when he hadn’t and was in fact closer to Petra’s location than they. They managed to fob him off saying that they had definitely heard her and eventually he let them go on their way.

However, not long after this event, 2 of the girls were taken in for questioning by the authorities. The questioning soon turned to torture and one of them broke down and confessed to being able to communicate by thought alone. After using hot irons on her, the inquisitors gained the names of some of the children involved. Fortunately the girl managed to send out her thoughts to the others and warn them. David and Rosalind had no choice but to flee to the Fringes and onward toward the Badlands, taking Petra with them.

It becomes clear that Petra’s gift of being able to transmit thought shapes is significantly more powerful than any of the other children as she is able to contact others who share their abilities over a much larger distance. It also soon becomes clear that the authorities are not content with driving them away from the community when they form a posse to hunt them down. A reward is issued to take them prisoner preferably….or to kill them all. The kids are soon running for their lives – threatened not only by the pursuing posse, but also by the mutants and outcasts already dwelling in the Fringes and the Badlands.

I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who wants to read it by telling you any more of how things progress or the ending. But let me just say that Petra’s range of thought shaping is vast. More powerful than anyone else on earth. For anyone who likes a little SciFi or Dystopia it’s certainly worth reading.

My own thoughts….just the standard sort of thoughts…I don’t have the ability to send out thought shapes, is that the puritans (or Norms) are too set in their ways and are totally inflexible when it comes to anything that deviates from the normal. In their world you can’t have anything to do with evolution. An evolved being would be considered a mutant and destroyed. They are very reluctant to accept change of any kind and so live what we would term a rather backward existence. It seems that perhaps the old world has been destroyed by nuclear war – hence the genetic mutations and the Badlands where nothing grows and the survivors have gone back to a subsistence existence and have embraced the teachings of the bible for guidance. But the rigidity of sticking exactly to the Word is their downfall.

In modern life it’s a timely reminder to us all that “different” doesn’t automatically mean inferior and we need to embrace all types of people. Not turn them away or shun them for being different – whatever that difference may be. The current situation with the Coronavirus outbreak has sparked racism against the Chinese. We need to recognise that it’s not the Chinese people who are the enemy, it’s the virus.

Thank you again for reading my blog posts. If anyone else has read the Chrysalids – what was your take on the story? And again thanks to John Bainbridge for recommending the book to me. For anyone interested in history and walking in the UK, John’s blog is well worth a visit. The link is in the first paragraph at the start of this post.

Lecture 06 - Some Characteristics of SF

Earth Abides – an “end of the world as we know it” classic.

George R Stewart originally published “Earth Abides” in 1949, but it’s as readable and as prophetic today as it was then. This book is a CLASSIC (yes in big letters) – classic post-apocalyptic story. It deals with an end of the world as we know it situation – one that wipes out 99% of humankind – and follows, initially a lone survivor, and then a small group, who learn to depend on one another and to begin again. It’s not the literal end of the world – just the end of the world “as we know it”. We as humans have to adapt to change in order to survive.

I love a good dystopian novel/survival novel/even a good zombie (blood splattered) novel. And often-times I even envy the survivors – having a chance to start again with a clean slate – where hopefully they, and humankind as a whole, will not make as big a mess of things this time as they did the last time. Here there are no politicians, no corporations, no armies – doing the bidding of the political or corporate elites….just ordinary people with a will to survive. Earth Abides has no zombies, no gratuitous violence, and only implied sexual acts and either in spite of, or because of, this it is still a great story – of hopes, fears, strength and frailty of the human spirit, of quest, an adventure and a journey into an unknown future by learning from, and in some cases ignoring, the lessons of the past. But don’t get me wrong – there is death/murder and there are relationships and the usual relationship issues in this story.

This was one of the books I bought recently on my trip to the west coast of the USA. The story is based primarily in San Francisco (where I spent much of my time) and is a multi-generational epic. I highly recommend it. It’s not only about the quest for survival and a rebuilding (of a kind) of society. It makes you question things. To look at your own life and evaluate what’s important (the theoretical meat and potatoes of life) and what is merely gravy…trimmings… that are more there as a front to give the ‘right’ impression rather than having any real substance. It makes you look at the possibilities that a totally fresh start – either for humankind as a whole, or for ones self as an individual – could mean. Does a fresh start mean a clean break from the past or are there some things from the past worthy of carrying forward into a new future?

There are a couple of quotes, that may help in pushing a person to take the decision to make a fresh start, from the book, that I’d like to share with you. The first is “men go and come, but earth abides.” Which I think kind of puts our lives into perspective by which I mean that all our struggles and worries of today in our daily lives mean very little in the grand scheme of things. The worrisome things that keep us awake at night are not really worth the importance that we give them…..we live, we die, we become one with the earth…the whole ashes to ashes, dust to dust thing. The earth goes on regardless, so why not do what makes you happy? The second is “without courage there is only a slow dying, not life.” Sometimes you have to stand up – for either yourself, or for an ideal – even if it means swimming against the tide of public opinion. Live YOUR life, by your rules, not someone else’s.

It’s taken me almost 60 years to find out who I am, who I was, and who I want to be, and to figure out what sort of world I would like to live in – to be a part of…and what I can do to start to move me in the right direction. I am not an anarchist, but do believe that we have had a lot of pointless rules and regulations imposed upon us, by the people we elect to represent us. The same people who seem to think of new things to tax us for each day. We are being over regulated, our freedoms are being taken away (little by little in the hope that we don’t notice) and we are being taxed to death to finance the lifestyle of the rich and powerful. Sometimes I ask myself… would the end of the world as we know it be such bad thing?

As usual your comments and thought on this are appreciated.

“Goodreads” gives the book a 4 out of 5 and I’d certainly give it at least 4 out of 5 myself. They say “A disease of unparalleled destructive force has sprung up almost simultaneously in every corner of the globe, all but destroying the human race. One survivor, strangely immune to the effects of the epidemic, ventures forward to experience a world without man. What he ultimately discovers will prove far more astonishing than anything he’d either dreaded or hoped for.

A visit to the library….

A visit to the library was called for after an on-line chat with an author friend of mine who lives in the Czech Republic. We’d been discussing the “Lost Generation” of writers – they include Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Stein etc. and he had asked me if I had read anything by Max Brod.

Brod (1884 – 1968) was a prolific writer in his own right, but is mostly remembered as the friend of Franz Kafka, who, when requested by Kafka to destroy all his writings at his death….refused to follow the writer’s instructions and had the works published instead. So it’s thanks to Brod that so much of Kafka’s writings saw the light of day.

Brod was a German speaking Czech Jew – who later moved to Israel to escape the Nazi take over of the then Czechoslovakia. He died in Tel Aviv in 1968. He was an author, journalist, translator and a composer of music. A very talented man. He first met Kafka, at Charles University in Prague where they both studied, in 1902. The rest as they say is history.

Naturally my friend’s insistence that I read Brod had me intrigued so I set off for my local city library feeling for sure that they would have at least one of Brod’s books. How wrong could I be? Not a single book written by Brod on their shelves. Deciding to check out on-line book sellers when I returned home, I set about searching the library’s catalogue of books for anything at all mentioning Brod.

The only book I found at the library with any mention of Brod, was a novel by Australian based writer Marija Pericic called The Lost Pages – which is a fictional story about the relationship between Kafka and Brod. I picked it up anyway and will have a read of it later. I also picked up 2 other books. One about New Zealand writers who – although not as famous as the main members of “the lost generation” of writers – were New Zealand expat writers living overseas during the same period of time – called “The Expatriate Myth”, by Helen Bones.

The other book – the one I decided to read first – is by another Czech Jewish writer who went through the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, the short relief of the end of the second world war and the subsequent take over by the communists under Stalin – by the name of Ivan Klima. It’s his autobiography titled “My Crazy Century” – with the C and Z of the word Crazy highlighted in Red – giving you a red Cz – I assume symbolic of the many years that the Czech’s were under communist rule. I’m about a quarter of the way into this 534 page memoir – enjoying it, but horrified at how people were treat – first by the Nazi’s and then by the Communists. I will probably do a review of the book once I finish it.

Back at home I googled Bron’s books and was surprised at how few were available in English. It seems that the ones concerning the diaries of Kafka are available in English, but little else. The two main books of Bron’s that my writer friend recommended were only available in German. One called “Prager Kreis” (Prague Crisis or Prague Circle) printed in 1967 and the other “Streitbares Leben: Autobiographie, 1960” (literal translation being – Quarrelsome Life: Autobiography, 1960 – although there may be another meaning). I may try to get them anyway and struggle through with my basic schoolboy knowledge of the German language.

Whilst at the library, much to my wife’s dismay, I was perusing the discarded books on the “for sale” table. Four books caught my eye, so for the princely sum of $2, my own library has grown by 4…..even though – as my wife was quick to point out…..my shelves are already overflowing. Those books were – “Now and Forever” by Ray Bradbury which is a collection of 2 novellas – “Somewhere a band is playing” and “Leviathan ’99”. Bradbury is of course best known for the novel Fahrenheit 451. “Extreme Rambling” by Mark Thomas – a travelogue about hiking through troubled areas of the world. “New Scottish Writing” – which is a collection of short stories by writers from Scotland – printed in 1996, so not in actual fact all that “New”. The final book was “Afterlight” by Alex Scarrow which is a post apocalyptic/dystopian story – set in Britain in 2010…. after the oil ran out. I must say I do like a good dystopian novel….hopefully this one won’t disappoint.

So there we have it. The library failed to deliver on what I went for in the first place, but the books I chose – both to borrow and the ones I bought -should expand my knowledge and entertain me. I do love the library!

Please do make use of your own local libraries. In these days of belt tightening and reduced budgets, city councils will cut funding if they think the libraries are not being used by sufficient people. So please get out there and borrow some books. And I’d like to say a little thank you to all librarians and library volunteers who keep the libraries staffed and open. Well done, you are appreciated, and thank you very much.

DEADLINE….you can’t beat a good Zombie novel.

I love an exciting Zombie story

Two weeks ago I bought about 15 books from the local Lions Club charity book sale, one of which DEADLINE – by Mira Grant – I have just finished reading.

The book in question DEADLINE – the second book in a series of Zombie “Newsflesh” stories by Mira Grant.

Right now you probably have the same look on your face as my wife did when I showed her the front of the book I was so engrossed in – a look that said – Meh,  another Zombie book….they’re all the same.

But this one was different. Although it’s the second book in what is currently a series of 4 books (the first book was called FEED), it can be read as a stand alone story as you get to know about what happened previously very early on in the story. From then on you’ll be running hell for leather to the final page. Which incidentally has a double surprise at the end. For once, a Zombie story with an unpredictable ending. I literally said out loud – “Wow I was not expecting that!” – but it has set things up nicely for the next book in the series “BLACKOUT”.

It’s written from the perspective of former Blogger, now official journalist Shaun Mason, who’s blog about living with Zombies morphed into a major news organization called “After the End Times”. It’s set in 2041….after the initial Zombie outbreak of 2014 – which sparked, the end of the world as we knew it. It’s not just another Zombie story though. It’s not “the Walking Dead” – there are guns and bombs – but there is also political foul play, horror, miniature bulldogs (yes you read that correctly – miniature bulldogs),  the interplay or relationships between the main characters, journalism, suspense, action, science “Facts” to back up what was happening, mad scientists, sane scientists who appeared slightly mad…..and of course who could forget Shaun’s dead sister Georgina (who he refers to as George and whom I assume gets killed in the first book of the series) speaks to him, from the grave, in his head – and he talks back to her. Oh yes…this story has it all.

Described as “Perfect Summer Apocalypse Reading”, it is one of the few well written Zombie novels that I have come across and I ended up caring what happened to these characters. Sci-Fi Magazine praised the first book FEED as “The Zombie novel Robert A. Heinlein might have written”.

The blurb on the back goes as follows….”Shaun Mason is a man without a mission. Not even running the news organization he built with his sister has the same urgency as it used to. Playing with dead things just doesn’t seem as (much) fun when you’ve lost as much as he has. BUT when a CDC (Centre for Disease Control) researcher fakes her own death and appears on his doorstep with a ravenous pack of Zombies in tow, Shaun has a newfound interest in life. Because she brings news – he may have put down the monster who attacked them, but the conspiracy is far from dead. Now, Shaun hits the road to find what truth can be found at the end of a shotgun”.

All of which sounds quite exciting – if slightly incorrect – you should never EVER use a shotgun on Zombies -potential contamination from blood splatter is increased by using a shotgun as opposed to a bullet from a pistol or rifle…. (as you’ll find out if you read DEADLINE).

Mira Grant  – the writer – lives in California, sleeps with a machete under her bed, and suggests you do the same (not to ward off Zombies – this is California after all!). Mira Grant is the pseudonym of Seanan McGuire – winner of the 2010 John W Campbell Award for best new writer.

The 3rd book in the “Newsflesh” Series “BLACKOUT” was nominated for a Hugo Award…..and there is a 4th book FEEDBACK released in 2016 that I now feel I have a duty to track down and read.

The end of DEADLINE has me not knowing what direction the 3rd book, BLACKOUT will take. Must get on to reading that very soon. 

Meantime….my machete and baseball bat are beside my bed and this little lot are hanging behind my bedroom door…..just in case.

Are you prepared……for the Zombie Apocalypse?