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Freewheeling Andy

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Posts posted by Freewheeling Andy


  1. It's been a while since I've been in here. Not actually been reading much. A Scanner Darkly, of course, which was great. A Nuclear Family Vacation had interesting stuff in it, and got more interesting as it went on, but I won't recommend it to anyone. There were a couple of business motivationy kinds of books: Innocent, by the innocent people, which was OK but not great, and ReWork, which is genuinely excellent and inciteful.

     

    Now I'm reading China Mieville's The City and The City, which might be the book that was purposely and expressly written just for me. Wonderful.


  2. It's a while since I read the book, so I'm afraid I'm not going to offer much on the specifics, but I will say that I thought the book was far, far better than the film. The film lacked lots of the depth and subtelety of the book, and skirted around so much of the substance - particularly those things that seem more centrally Indian, rather than the things that could be a slum-kid from anywhere on the planet in a fairly normal plotline - that after reading the book it just felt a bit wet and flat.

     

    Although, as I said, it's a long time since I read the book, so can't really add much more, specifically, to the reading circle yet.


  3. Can I just apologise for not engaging more on leading this discussion.

     

    I found the book both brilliant and fascinating, but I've been struggling to think of questions to lead the conversation along. And, typically, I've been very busy so haven't really had enough thinking time.

     

    Although, oddly, I was discussing it with a friend the other day, and he pointed out similarities to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which I've never read. Another of the great druggy books, apparently, which also has the same romanticising of drug culture yet is really, also, about as good a warning as you can get about why you really want to only dabble on the fringes.

     

    At least, that's what he said. I don't have the same reference point.


  4. Salt is the old-wives-tale solution, certainly for carpet stains, and it works pretty well. Although it won't get it all out. And, as Mac says, it leaves lots of salt - easier to wash off a shirt than a carpet or footstool.

     

    But yes, moisten the shirt, then put a pile of salt on it. It won't work on a dry stain, because the wine has to leach in to the salt I think.


  5. No worries, HV. We'll be discussing it all week.

     

    Ethan - fascinating stuff about PKD's personal life. I didn't know about the safe incident - clearly re-told as the bad cheque story. There are so many interesting little vignettes like that in the book. It's great, too, to have the perspective of someone who remembers the 70s that Dick was clearly writing about. In a lot of ways it really doesn't read like SF at all, and more like a parallel, slightly more extreme, 1970s.


  6. Given how many people voted for it, I hope a few more have read this book and are waiting to contribute, or have been away from their computers over the easter period.

     

    Also, I hope more have read it because it's a fascinating book - both as a narrative, with the very inventive detective plot; and as an analysis of the destructiveness of drugs and how they damage personality (and, in fact, as an analysis of what it in fact means to be yourself).


  7. As for the ending - I'm really, really torn on it. It feels that Fred is lost, completely lost, that his brain is mush; yet the fact that he knows that he should keep the blue flower and return it to the labs implies, perhaps, that his brain is nothing like as fried as the previous sections had suggested. It's left very vague, though.

     

    But even if he is fried and lost, and has been completely manipulated by the authorities and, effectively, sacrificed, we are told that the sacrifice is not in vain.

     

    It's fascinating to work back and realise that all through the process they've been trying to actually get him in to a place where his brain is so split that he has to go into the rehab program.

     

    -

     

    Generally speaking, it's actually quite a dark book, even if the end has a redemptive side, the book says very little positive about people. And it's not always easy to read. But the ideas driving the plot are fascinating and the characters often seem remarkably plausible and believable.


  8. Ooh. I hadn't spotted the Freck/Luckman split brain thing. Interesting idea.

     

    Anyway, in answer to a couple of my own questions, just getting started:

     

    I think the title is very relevent - the biblical phrase saying that we see ourselves through a glass darkly: that what we see through the mirror is ourselves reflected, but both obscured and we see a dark, starker, truth of ourselves.

     

    There's the specific section where Arctor/Fred is looking through the Scanner, and he sees himself as he really is, rather than how he thinks of himself; he sees all his failings. But generally, I think Dick is saying that the use of drugs often brings out the darker, harsher truth about yourself.

     

    -

     

    And, in respect to the druggie-ness of the book overall: my feeling is that Dick is writing what he knows, what he really knows. As he starts the book, he shows the warm, friendly glow - in places - of how taking drugs makes people feel better, feel like they're the good guys rebelling against the system, and the babbling, weird, but kind of entertaining conversations people end up having.

     

    But, over time, as they take more and more drugs and break down more and more, they get more and more paranoid - and he does a brilliant job setting up the idea of a drug and informant system that would make you astonishingly paranoid - and where the warm and friendly space gets more and more vicious. And it feels like lots of people I've known who started with cannabis and moved on to stronger stuff; or who've taken just too much of anything. Never as far or as extreme as portrayed in the book, but it's very familiar and it's clear Dick is writing what he knows.

     

    You can tell he still has good, enjoyable, memories of his drug-taking days, but has seen what it's done to him and his friends.


  9. This month's reading circle book is Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly

     

    Mind- and reality-bending drugs factor again and again in Philip K. Dick's hugely influential SF stories. A Scanner Darkly cuts closest to the bone, drawing on Dick's own experience with illicit chemicals and on his many friends who died from drug abuse. Nevertheless, it's blackly farcical, full of comic-surreal conversations between people whose synapses are partly fried, sudden flights of paranoid logic, and bad trips like the one whose victim spends a subjective eternity having all his sins read to him, in shifts, by compound-eyed aliens. (It takes 11,000 years of this to reach the time when as a boy he discovered masturbation.) The antihero Bob Arctor is forced by his double life into warring double personalities: as futuristic narcotics agent "Fred," face blurred by a high-tech scrambler, he must spy on and entrap suspected drug dealer Bob Arctor. His disintegration under the influence of the insidious Substance D is genuine tragicomedy. For Arctor there's no way off the addict's downward escalator, but what awaits at the bottom is a kind of redemption--there are more wheels within wheels than we suspected, and his life is not entirely wasted.

     

    So, we'll start with a few questions, and hope you can take it on from there:

     

    Standard ones:

     

    1: Who is your favourite character, and why?

    2: Was there a particular part you enjoyed more?

    3: Was this the first book by the author, and in the genre, that you've read, and does it encourage you to read more?

    4: Did you struggle with any of it?

    5: Was it overall enjoyable

     

     

    Some more specific ones from me:

     

    6: How do you think the title reflects on the book? What is its meaning

    7: What did you make of the unreliability of Arctor/Fred as a "narrator" (in the sense of, how did you view his experience as being worthwhile

    8: Do you feel that the ending was at all redemptive, or did you see it as unremittingly bleak? And, either way, why is that?

    9: How does the book relate to your experience with drugs/druggies?


  10. So, as it goes, here's my list, categorised as such:

    Blue = marvellous, one of my favourite ever books

    Green = good stuff, but not top ranking

    Orange = Pretty meh, really, either underwhelming or mix of good and bad

    Red = utter garbage, best used as fuel or compost.

    I'll add a note that some books, like On The Road and Lord of the Rings get particularly bad rating after I went back to them having quite enjoyed them first time around and realising they were entirely self-indulgent tosh that were a hideous battle to get through second time. I suspect that others I've not gone back to would be subject to the same kind of revisionism.

     

     

    The White Tiger Aravind Adiga

    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Junot D


  11. Going back a bit, the thing about Murakami and his use of sex is that it's very idiosyncratic. It's very unpornographic and very unsensual. It's cold, and it's described in a very functional kind of way. I think that it's used as a form of cypher, as just one of those things that is everyday life, for him, the way he talks about listening to jazz or making pasta. It's ritualistic and repeated, but in some ways it doesn't matter that it's sex. It's just that it's one of those things that happens in peoples' lives.


  12. Actually, no. I really quite like having fiction where the events are real, and the author imagines stuff that happens around the event.

     

    The trouble comes when the fictional character influences real-life events: then I have a problem with it, because it takes liberties with history which is something that begins to bug and rile me.

     

    If, though, a fictional character is an observer to major events, and is influenced by them, and is close to them, I think that often makes for very good fiction.


  13. I've lost 4, and gained 2. Of the losses, I don't mind Curious Incident or Tractors in Ukrainian, both of which are nice enough but pretty lightweight.

     

    I'm shocked that the excellent Plot Against America is off, given how much better than other Roth I've read it is; and even more shocked that the brilliant Kavalier and Clat has gone. It seems the editor is moving against New York jewish world war II books.

     

    Of the additions, The White Tiger is probably deserving, although it's not as good as the two I mention that have gone. And as for Oscar Wao, it's utter garbage and has no place anywhere except the recycling bin.


  14. On this theme, I'd thoroughly recommend some JG Ballard work. The mid-70s novels of urban breakdown and moral breakdown, in particular: Crash, High Rise and Concrete Island. Also some of the later ones, particularly Cocaine Nights and, less so, Super Cannes. Crash is considered the classic in the genre, the book that really shocked people. Ballard's work with The Atrocity Exhibition where he started experimenting with seeing how people reacted to the conjunction of sexual imagery and car crashes was the starter on this. There's a fair amount of fascinating commentary around it all, too, but really all you need to do is read the novel

     

    As mentioned elsewhere, Martin Amis sort of fits the bill, but is sometimes too clever for his own good; also Will Self - who is a far less annoyingly smug novelist than he is commentator.

     

    Michel Houllebecq probably fits the morally unclear bill, too, although I didn't actually enjoy Atomised at all.


  15. The odd thing here is that I thought the ending was ambiguous, but really never thought of it as a hallucination from a dying child. The ambiguity for me was whether the family was actually what they seemed, or was the son finally going to become a victim of his naive optimism and be taken advantage of by them.


  16. Like Kell, I thought it was very heavily weighted to the fantasy and fantasy horror side of things; and with Pratchett and Hitch-hikers, the comedy side. There's very little SF in there, which seems wrong to me. Particularly if you view 1984 and War of the Worlds as coming from a slightly different era.

     

    That said, given that I'm really not a fan of fantasy stuff, it's interesting that I've read 11 of them.

     

    Actually, I've been thinking for a while that I don't quite understand why Fantasy and SF are put together on bookshelves - they really are very distinct categories.


  17. I'm on "holiday" at the moment, and have hardly read a thing. And I can't really explain why. I will say that personal experience of reading stuff related to my destination has been pretty ropey. I love reading books about places; but I've rarely struck lucky reading about places I'm currently in. I don't know if that's luck, or because physical knowledge weakens my desire for written knowledge.

     

    Incidentally, my favourite Hong Kong novel is Fragrant Harbour by John Lanchester. Wonderful.

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