Part Two of my Summer Reading List has unintentionally given me a title that in turn gives me the giggles. Immaturity aside, on to the reviews!
1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
This is a funny little book with a funny long title. I think I fell in love with the title, first, which bumped it up on my to-read list. And I love how as you read the book the title begins to make the most perfect, lucid sense.
Dick’s vision of a post-apocalyptic future is stifling in its desolation. Earth has been ravaged by some sort of nuclear war, the detritus of which will gradually turn any terran-bound human into an imbecile. To escape the fallout, all but a few humans have fled to other planets. It’s an interesting backdrop to explore the social, moral and economic implications of android technology in human society.
If you’ve seen Blade Runner, you know the story. Rick Deckard, a middle-aged bounty hunter, is tasked with destroying six runaway Nexus-6 (ie, top of the range) androids. As he hunts down and kills the androids, who are remarkably human in almost every aspect, Deckard has to come to terms with what qualities separate humans from androids and ends up questioning his own humanity (and lack of empathy…).
It’s a short book; the plot is far from complex. What really struck me about DADOES were the elements of Dick’s bleak world. The mood organ, the consumerist social stratification based around owning increasingly rare animals, the creepy empathy box and the religion of Mercerism, the shallowness of Buster Friendly’s TV show (which put me in mind of the message of Fahrenheit 451) — these were never fully explained, preached about or used more than as an unsettling backdrop for the action. Which made their inclusion more profound and thought-provoking.
I think everyone will get a different message from this book. There are probably a hundred thoughts I could expand upon, but I won’t ramble. The main thing I learnt is that, on paper, androids are ridiculously easy to kill. At least Harrison Ford got beat up a bit before he succeeded.
2. Blood: A Southern Fantasy – Michael Moorcock
Not only have I heard Michael Moorcock’s name raised on the winds of many science-fiction/fantasy circles with great respect, his Wikipedia page is fascinating and Neil Gaiman cites him as an early influence. So I knew I had to get around to reading his stuff. I bought a whole stack of his books at a criminal price off a second-hand book store online. Unfortunately they didn’t have any Elric of Melnibone, so I picked Blood at random and plunged right in.
Blood is the first in a trilogy. I’ll try to describe the plot. It’s a delirious romantic-adventure set in an alternate southern America where the world is being torn apart by the appearance of “colour spots” — portals, or leaks, of pure wild paranormal energy. It follows four main characters with gloriously luscious names (Jack Karaquazian, Colinda Dovero, Sam Oakenhurst and the Rose — who is actually half human, half flora) who are jugaderos, or gamblers, by profession and by soul. They gamble their livelihoods on a strange supernatural game that involves creating and destroying worlds in other dimensions. Interspersed in all this are chapters set in the Second Ether, an alternate level of reality where a war is being waged in its formless seas between the Chaos Engineers and the Singularity.
When I said ‘delirious,’ I wasn’t kidding.
The calibre of Moorcock’s prose blows my hat off (well, it would, if I wore a hat). He’s really good. Somehow, despite being utterly befuddled, he kept me reading and reading. I was lost but I didn’t feel lost. This book is packed with fantastical ideas of a frightening complexity (multiple dimensions, inhabiting another persona) and yet somehow he manages it without totally losing the reader.
I felt like this book was a bit of a colour spot in itself — pure, unbridled exploration of the fantasy genre, pushing the boundaries of storytelling and of the reader. I’m not sure whether I enjoyed this book, and I don’t think it was the best introduction to Moorcock. I’ll see if I can hunt down an Elric. Perhaps that will offer something a tad more traditional. I’m still not sure exactly what I read in Blood.
3. Wool Omnibus (Books 1-5) – Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey. Hugh, Hugh, Hugh. The success story. The one who hit it big. Just like that. All of us aspiring writers are insanely jealous of you, and rightly so.
In 2011, Howey self-published a short story called “Wool” through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing System. I think he priced it at a few dollars. It got so popular that readers demanded more. From there he wrote Wool Books 1-7, all set in the same post-apocalyptic universe, and is working on 8 and 9. He recently signed a very lucrative book deal with Simon & Schuster while maintaining his rights to his work. Oh, and did I mention that Twentieth Century Fox has bought the film rights?
Wool Omnibus is a collected publication of Books 1-5 in the series. Book 1 is the original short story; 2-5 are much longer and form the continuous substance of the novel, with a couple of character POV shifts.
It’s easy to see what made Wool such a hit. It’s the characters. Lovable/relatable qualities + difficult circumstances = readers rooting for them with all their hearts. I like his decision to spend a whole segment on the tentatively blossoming romance between two sixty-something-year-olds. I like his feisty female mechanic-sheriff, Juliette. Who wouldn’t?
Howey’s writing style isn’t amazing but it’s unpretentious and because of that it works. The setting is well-researched and he has surprising twists in all the right places. The mystery of the subterranean silos — excellent. The poorly thought-out battle between the down-deeps and IT? Terrible — why and how did they think that violence would solve things? That bit was rushed and didn’t convince me at all.
Nevertheless, overall, a worthy work of science-fiction that focuses as heavily on characters as it does on plot. Jealous as I am, I recommend it. The only other thing I can gripe about is that the names are all so bland. Is everyone white and English? Surely in the future you’d see some multiculturalism in the silo? Or did all the countries segregate in the wake of the war? EXPLANATION PLEASE. It reminds me of the stories I wrote in primary school when my characters were Smith and Jones and Black. Even though I am Asian.
Stay Tuned for Part III: The Time Machine, The Graveyard Book, The Ring of Solomon, Puberty Blues…