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  •  Phew... got a lot of reading done this week (18+ / 0-)

    due to some extended travel time (hello, cfk!):

    Finally read my first PKD novel, and I decided to start with Ubik on the basis of high recommendations (and a possibly forthcoming movie.)  I'd read some Dick short stories before, so it wasn't a completely new experience.   So... Ubik.  I get the sense that Dick is mostly a man of a million ideas and very little self-censorship, so the good ideas get thrown in with the bad as if he can't tell the difference.  And he's an awful prose writer.  Still, maybe the reason this is considered one of his best is that the good ideas far outnumber the bad, and the setup is so creepy and well-sustained that I'm really glad I read it.   (Lem has a really good essay on Ubik, incidentally.)

    Speaking of bad, I'm having a fun time with the entertainingly awful The Purple Cloud, by M. P. Schiel.   It was first published in 1901, and it's one of the early examples of Last Man on Earth apocalyptic literature, but... let's just say the cloud isn't the only thing that's purple.  Schiel is a terrible, terrible writer, but what makes it worth reading (apart from the historical interest) is that he wrote himself into a very tight corner, and as if by some miracle it forced him to come up with really imaginative, unexpected setpieces.  When everyone's dead there isn't much plot, much less for a six-part serial, so Schiel has had to hook readers any way he can... and while the main idea is kinda goofy in a fin-de-siècle way (our last man descends into madness, perversity, decadence, and Antichrist-y silliness), there's something enjoyable about watching Schiel test the strength of his narrative straightjacket.  Tentatively recommended, 'tho I still have about a third left.

    Also settled in for some of Gore Vidal's essays, and he's a really good essayist.  That's all.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 05:12:57 PM PDT

    •  Oh, as for re-reading: (15+ / 0-)

      probably Chekhov, more than anyone.  His effects are so precise and so perfectly shaded that I can't stay away... and his stories are so short that it's easy to dip into them frequently for return visits.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 05:15:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Have you read (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cfk, pico, melpomene1

        Dorothy Parker's short-short story "The Waltz"?

        Perfection in about three pages.

        I've enjoyed Parker's reviews more than her fiction, in general, but "The Waltz" is a masterpiece.

        Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

        by Youffraita on Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 07:38:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I did just now... Thanks! (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cfk, Youffraita, melpomene1

          Loved it, especially:

          I'd love to waltz with you. I'd love to waltz with you. I'd love to have my tonsils out, I'd love to be in a midnight fire at sea.
          and
          Still if we were back at the table, I'd probably have to talk to him. Look at him -- what could you say to a thing like that! Did you go to the circus this year, what's your favorite kind of ice cream, how do you spell cat?

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 07:46:49 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Some of my favorites (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cfk, melpomene1

            involve when he steps on her feet.

            But yes, it's the incongruity between what she says and what she's thinking that make the story so, well, true.

            Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

            by Youffraita on Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 08:13:34 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  hi ~waving~ (12+ / 0-)

      This sounds good!

      some of Gore Vidal's essays
      I am glad you had a chance to read.

      Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

      by cfk on Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 05:26:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The Futurological Congress (9+ / 0-)

      We've discussed Stanisław Lem in the past. I wondered what you might think of the adaption they're doing of The Futurological Congress?

      They've made some significant changes to the story.

      •  From what I can tell from the trailer (9+ / 0-)

        and reviews, only the last part of the film is kinda/sorta inspired by Lem - the rest is all Folman.

        I haven't seen it yet, but I think this is a mistake.  The novel is already on the very edge of too-many-layers, and that Lem still manages to wring something profound and sad out of a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-within-a-etc. scenario is pretty impressive, given how silly the setup is.  I'm not sure it can sustain more, so I assume Folman just ditched most of what Lem was trying to do and it became more about acting or whatever.   That's fine: good adaptations can be bold (see: Kaufman's Adaptation).  But this looks more like a train wreck to me, and the animation looks more sloppy than idiosyncratic.  I'll still give it a look.

        The book itself is quite good, but it's not among Lem's best (says I.)

        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

        by pico on Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 05:41:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Wow, that sounds good. Can't wait for that one. (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cfk, MT Spaces, Aunt Pat, pico, Youffraita
    •  Contact Ellid (11+ / 0-)

      She can perform purgative rites to remove all traces of books so bad they're good from your brain.

      I depend on her utterly.

      Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

      by Limelite on Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 06:02:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  "Dick is mostly a man of a million ideas and very (9+ / 0-)

      little self-censorship, so the good ideas get thrown in with the bad as if he can't tell the difference."

      Just so. He had so much zaniness mixed into his brilliance that he frequently gets lost in his own cartoons. It's possible that his peaks are his best short stories, where he has less room to get lost.

      He could have used a really good editor, and the money pressures and hard-living and self-abuse didn't help. But I loved the race against time element in Ubik, trying to solve a puzzle that kept getting harder, and the uncertainty about who or what to trust, and the incandescent weirdness.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 06:25:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  That sounds like a just critique... (7+ / 0-)
      I get the sense that Dick is mostly a man of a million ideas and very little self-censorship, so the good ideas get thrown in with the bad as if he can't tell the difference.
      Many of his novels, like Ubik, read that way.  It's as if they are in the shape and form of cheesy scifi novels -- and in that sense they can ultimately disappoint expectations -- but they usually end up as a vehicle for his meandering, with the endings seeming to emerge from the end without prior planning.  No master plan drives his novels from beginning to end.  The twist at the end of Ubik, for example, seems to be something pulled out of his ass so he could.  A lot of hive novels have that "ending pulled out of his ass feel to them." sometimes deliberately insulting to the reader's intelligence, as if to say, "I don't give a shit."  

      The way I describe it, I guess it would make people wonder why so many of us praise him so.  I guess because it's often very, very entertaining reading that spins off the rails, often with humorous satire or political subtexts.

      I'm not sure if I would agree if his prose is awful.  It varies.  He was extremely prolific.  I read Ubik back when I was in my late teens, early twenties, and I can't remember being impressed with the prose style, just the stories.  But some of them really excel.  Through a Scanner Darkly, for instance, has a classic suicide scene involving a stoner/libertarian (I knew plenty of those when I was a libertarian, eons ago) who is also a narc.

      I found the Freck suicide ready for pasting at Pastebin:

            Charles Freck, becoming progressively more and more depressed by what was happening to everybody he knew, decided finally to off himself. There was no problem, in the circles where he hung out, in putting an end to yourself; you just bought into a large quantity of reds and took them with some cheap wine, late at night, with the phone off the hook so no one would interrupt you.

              The planning part had to do with the artifacts you wanted found on you by later archeologists. So they'd know from which stratum you came. And also could piece together where your head had been at the time you did it.

              He spent several days deciding on the artifacts. Much longer than he had spent deciding to kill himself, and approximately the same time required to get that many reds. He would be found lying on his back, on his bed, with a copy of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (which would prove he had been a misunderstood superman rejected by the masses and so, in a sense, murdered by their scorn) and an unfinished letter to Exxon protesting the cancellation of his gas credit card. That way he would indict the system and achieve something by his death, over and above what the death itself achieved.

              Actually, he was not as sure in his mind what the death achieved as what the two artifacts achieved; but anyhow it all added up, and he began to make ready, like an animal sensing its time has come and acting out its instinctive programming, laid down by nature, when its inevitable end was near.

              At the last moment (as end-time closed in on him) he changed his mind on a decisive issue and decided to drink the reds down with a connoisseur wine instead of Ripple or Thunderbird, so he set off on one last drive, over to Trader Joe's, which specialized in fine wines, and bought a bottle of 1971 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, which set him back almost thirty dollars--all he had.

              Back home again, he uncorked the wine, let it breathe, drank a few glasses of it, spent a few minutes contemplating his favorite page of The Illustrated Picture Book of Sex, which showed the girl on top, then placed the plastic bag of reds beside his bed, lay down with the Ayn Rand book and unfinished protest letter to Exxon, tried to think of something meaningful but could not...

      It gets funnier as he survives and has a bad trip.  Scanner Darkly is a good example of a plan-free novel that just meanders interesting places and makes you keep reading.  The characters are great.  Unfortunately, people who saw the Keanu Reeves, Wynona Rider flick didn't get the full effect.

      I understand Ubik is in planning for a film.  I don't worry that they'll ruin it.  There are too many ways it could be turned into a film, although no two ways would be consistent with each other.  I'm not sure why Ubik gets such good press.

      •  Sorry, I should definitely clarify that: (6+ / 0-)

        I thought the prose in Ubik was awful, but I've heard - and this lines up with what you've said - that it varies wildly and maybe sustains itself best in A Scanner Darkly.  I'll probably get to that one next - I don't own a copy yet, but they've been pushing a lot of Dick at my local bookstore (there's really no way to make that sentence not sound dirty), so maybe I'll pick it up on the next trip.

        Thanks for the recommendation!

        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

        by pico on Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 06:53:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Could be worse. (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cfk, pico, Youffraita, ferg, RiveroftheWest

          You could be a Dickhead.  Or addicted to Dick.  

          Was watching Food Channel yesterday with my brother, one of the reality food competitions, and one contest judge said of a contestant's dish, "This is the worst thing I've EVER put in my mouth!" We had fun coming up with retorts to that.

          I most highly recommend Flow my Tears by Dick.  Also, Man in the High Castle (Hugo best novel winner) and Deus Irae (co-written with Zelazny).  

          I loved The Simulacra, and gave that one away a couple of times, although I don't think most people would put it amongst his best.  

          Thinking about this just now, it strikes me how much Philip K. Dick resembles the character Kilgore Trout, the (fictional) novelist often mentioned in Kurt Vonnegut's books.  Vonnegut described Trout as a writer of cheap pulp science fiction, not terribly well written, but with weird ideas.

          From Slaughterhouse Five: "“Jesus--if Kilgore Trout could only write!" Rosewater exclaimed. He had a point: Kilgore Trout's unpopularity was deserved. His prose was frightful. Only his ideas were good.”

          •  I've never read Dick (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cfk, MT Spaces, Mnemosyne, Dumbo

            but yeah, The Man in the High Castle is definitely considered one of his best by those who have actually read him.

            Wonderful:

            From Slaughterhouse Five: "“Jesus--if Kilgore Trout could only write!" Rosewater exclaimed. He had a point: Kilgore Trout's unpopularity was deserved. His prose was frightful. Only his ideas were good.”

            Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

            by Youffraita on Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 08:48:03 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

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