“Work the sentences, if you wish, so that they will mean something. Or so that they mean nothing. Whichever you prefer.”
The limited previews I saw for the Amazon adaptation are what pushed my interest in “the Man in the High Castle” to the reading point. Is the show any good? I haven’t watched it yet, but I’m intrigued. Nazis! Alternate history! Episodic storytelling! DJ Qualls! Ok, maybe not necessarily DJ Qualls, but the Nazis and alternate history piqued my interest. Having read a few other Philip K. Dick novels and handful of short stories, I wanted to see what he would do with the few pieces I knew about.
The only way to explain how I felt reading ‘High Castle’, and I hope this makes sense, is to say nothing actually happened, but no one bothered to tell me.
Similar to other examples of Philip K. Dick I’ve read, there isn’t what you would normally call “world building” going on in his books. It’s more like “world immersion,” as if you wake up to this new reality and although you have no idea what or who anything is, you assume that’s how it has always been. Like laughing along with everyone else even though you don’t get the joke, you don’t freak out and try to understand what’s happening around you in this new reality. Instead, you keep reacting and moving and speaking, picking up clues and understanding things as you go, hoping no one else figures out that you have no idea what you’re doing.
In that regard, I suppose Dick’s writing is as close to real life as one can get, just with slightly more advanced technology that you still don’t know how to work.
Sometimes this method works, such as in “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said,” where that almost literally is the plot. It works a little less so for “Time Out of Joint,” but generally extremely well for his short stories and in “A Scanner Darkly.” You learn the necessary facts of this new reality as you go. The important details are made clear because you need them to survive. You learn by doing, by living. It’s a ‘take only what you need to survive’ sort of writing style.
This style is great, and I’ve loved it in the past, and it’s why I enjoy Dick’s books.But here, with this reality and these characters, it left me constantly waiting. We never really moved forward. While the characters were steadily doing things and interacting with each other and proving they knew on another and were all connected, it never felt like they were ever moving about in the same reality. They kept doing but never moving. Acting but never affecting.
But here, with this reality and these characters, it left me constantly waiting. We never really moved forward. While the characters were always doing things and interacting with each other and proving they knew one another and were all connected, it never felt like they were actually moving about in the same reality. They kept doing but never moving. Acting but never affecting.
I kept turning the page. They kept going through the motions. And we all kept waiting to see where we were going and whether it was worth it.
But even as these characters met their ends and found explanations and tried to understand what they had learned from what they’d done, there didn’t seem to be much of a point to it. I was left holding a book that was more an unfinished thought then fully formed novel. I didn’t grow into understanding the reality so I didn’t care about the people in it, which was ok because the same could be said for any of the characters in it as well.
While this won’t turn me off reading more Philip K. Dick, or even deter me from checking out the tv show, this wouldn’t be the first, third or even fifth book by him I recommend. Not when he much better-written novels and stories to chose from that successfully pull off his immersion style of writing.
There’s something addicting about Matthew Hughes’ “The Damned Busters”, the first book in his ‘To Hell and Back‘ series featuring insurance actuary Chesney Arnstruther. After accidentally summoning a demon and causing the legions in Hell to go on strike, Chesney strikes a strange deal with the Devil and becomes novice superhero the Actionary. Well, at least for two hours every day with the help of the rum-guzzling demon Xaphan, a weasel-faced demon who’s watched one too many Cagney movies.
There’s something addicting about this book… even while there’s something not good about it.
I realize how that sounds, but I don’t know any other way to say it. I’ve been struggling with this feeling the entire book. The story is decent and clever, with a humorous style that channels Douglas Adams without truly capturing the absurdity that perfectly captured the essence life itself that Adams seemed to effortlessly put down upon the page throughout the Hitchhiker’s Guide series.
Perhaps just as Chesney is lost within the world of his comic book idol, Malc Turner aka The Driver, his adventures as the Actionary and the events of the book from the moment he summons a demon on, are intended to emulate that comic book atmosphere with characters that are almost bland in their cartoonish, stereotype roles.
When he smashed his finger with the hammer, did drawing blood cause him to summon a demon, or pass out and dream all of this? Chesney does seem like someone who might faint at the sight of blood.
Good thing “The Damned Busters” is just addictive enough and ends on a cliffhanger that I can’t help but be interested in the second of the trilogy, “Costume Not Included”.
I may not work at a bookstore, but that doesn’t mean I’m no longer a bookseller. Gas Station Burrito Used Books is open for business
I used to joke that all of the books I was buying and stockpiling and collecting, (because collecting is just the word hoarders use to sound less creepy) was my retirement fund. One day I’d be retired with nothing else to do but write and drink coffee and read. And yell at those goddamned kids to get off my lawn. I can’t wait to yell at kids. And I’ll get to do all this while wearing dapper old man sweaters. Probably with my new slacks, since I’d be at the age then to use the word slacks without sounding creepy. I’d be an old, respectable, non-creepy book collecting, slacks wearing old man. Life would be good.
Life would be good because I’d finally get to read all these books that I bought over the years; the ones that sounded interesting enough to take as advanced readers, or to buy for a few dollars at a yard sale or used book sale. They were interesting enough to buy, but never quite interesting enough to read immediately. Or I’d start reading one only to get distracted by a dozen other equally interesting titles.
Unfortunately, it just isn’t possible to hold onto all these books anymore. As I may have to with my actual retirement fund (the one that allegedly has real money in it, depending on the mood of the stock market), it’s time to cash it in.
When I moved in with my girlfriend about 99% of my books had to get boxed up; we simply didn’t have the room in the apartment. This didn’t stop me from buying more books, you understand, it only meant that the ones I had before went into storage. I even bought second copies of books I knew were boxed up because it was easier than digging through my storage unit (read: my parent’s attic)
By sort, of course, I mean fight about what had to stay and what to go. Books are very serious in this house. There have been tears. Those tears may have been mine…
The plan was to donate the twenty or so boxes of books and movies that didn’t make the cut to the annual used book sale at the Kenmore Library, but we missed the drop-off. Nothing’s going on with that room yet, so I suppose we could shut the door and ignore them until next year, or even donate them somewhere else. But that would require me carrying all of those boxes down the stairs and making multiple trips to wherever. Look, they just put up another season of Longmire on Netflix, I don’t have time for that.
Or, instead, I could put them up for sale. Then I only have to carry the books down the stairs one at a time. As they sell. And people give me money. Much better plan.
The movies are all doubles from when we merged our collections, so don’t judge me for selling my Bourne collection. Don’t worry, dude, I still have copies.
And the books, well, they’re a little bit of everything. From titles I bought for school to ‘advanced readers’ publishers sent out ahead of a book’s release, to terrible late-night Wikipedia rabbit-hole induced used book purchases.
There’s good and bad, the expected and ‘why, just why’ titles. It’s going to take a while to get everything posted and organized and sorted, so check them out, bookmark the pages, and keep checking back.
I’m proud of all my books, even the ones I’m selling off. There was a reason I picked up everyone one of them, something in every one of these books that made me take it home. I hope you find something in there you like, too.