Thursday, 23 August 2012

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Phillip K Dick - Review

Eclectic Reader Challenge - Science Fiction....

I have moved back on track with the challenge, with a genre that could be described as one of my all time favourites... Science Fiction.

What made this more of a challenge than other genres was finding something that I wanted to read and hadn't - then I saw Philip K Dick on Amazon and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and suddenly realised I had never read that... why? I have no idea... it must have slipped past my radar... I even have John Scalzi's The Androids Dream which in many ways is a homage to PKD. I also love the movie Blade Runner which is based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Firstly I am glad that book and movie are different in many ways - I found the book equally exciting (in the action parts) and engaging. It raised a lot of questions about the world of Dekard more than are raised in the movie - very different premise and here is where movie and book separate. In the book universe the Earth is becoming uninhabitable after nuclear war and humans are encouraged to settle off world to continue the human race. Each settler is provided with an Andy (android) who are basically there salve.  Sometimes Andy's escape seeking to find freedom back on old Earth. This is where Dekard and his fellow bounty hunters come in. Bounty hunters work in association with the local law enforcement (but not part of them) and there role is to retire (kill) these escaped androids.

Due to the nuclear dust and fallout many animals and insects are simply extinct and owning a real live animal is seen as a social status. So much so that many who cannot afford the real thing buy robotic replicas - Dekard's sheep is one such animal android. The human population revere the religion of Mercer who daily battles to climb a mountain while being attacked - again and again he strives forward. Emotions can be controlled through a box providing the full range of feelings - set and scheduled for when you need them. An endless TV show of 'guests' and talk to keep you occupied and unaware of the world turned to dust and kibble.

Many humans are now sterile and going mad due to the nuclear fall out - those are not able to leave the Earth and are stuck here to slowly die. It seems in space no one is mad, sterile or dumb.

There are many questions raised in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - what makes the androids so different from humans? and what does it mean to a world where the living (animals) are revered so much yet killing androids is seen as a job that deserves a bonus for each success?

Dekard's world turns upside down tracking the newest android refugees - with almost human attributes the only difference - the only way to tell android from human is to test for feelings. The latest version of android almost fools even the best test and Dekard's feelings for one android almost cost him the mission and his life.

This is a brilliant piece of Science Fiction and yet I am not sorry I hadn't read it sooner. I will read it again but for now I just want to live with the ideas that are raised and wonder what the world would truly be like after a nuclear winter and would we too cling to religion that controls our feelings and long for home off the Earth with android salves?


Saturday, 11 August 2012

Creeping Creeps

So there has been a lot of talk on the net lately about the incident of harassment at Readercon this year.

Readercon Public Announcement

All this has had me thinking about fans and fandom and conventions... and most notably my first meeting of Wil Wheaton at Supernova in Melbourne - now to get it clear up front I didn't freak out or go all fan crazy at him - in fact I made sure I was polite, honest and respectful or his personal space. But that aside I had the pounding heart rate and blood rush of excitement - because hey I have followed this guy's blog, twitter, books, film and television career for so long I do honestly feel like I know him - or at least that part of him that is in the public eye. I also had some sense of entitlement to meet him - I had driven 10 hours to Melbourne, bought the con ticket, paid the extra to be able to get an autograph and lined up for a not short period of time... I had also brought my copy of The Happiest Days of Our Lives with me.

Lets step back in time a while - we find myself, wife and two friends, after our drive to Melbourne and the tram trip, at the convention centre...

After we arrived and got our wrist bands, and lined up... we waited for what seemed eternity to be allowed into the hall - I had checked out the map and knew where the autograph ticket could be bought - then saw the line... it ran the length of the hall. I decided (rightly or wrongly) to wait and see if it died down, instead lining up for Brian Michael Bendis (who was tweeting like crazy and even replied to my picture of his line up). We then hit the stands always watching the line for autographs to lessen - it never did.

So biting the bullet I moved to the end of the queue and shuffled forward. That took up a good 2 hours time waiting in that line... but it was worth it - I had come all this way to meet Wil (and Summer Glau but we are re-living my Wil experience here people!) and a simple wait in line was not going to stop me - especially when my wife would bring me pizza and coke!

After getting my tickets we moved across to the signing area and noticed that Wil's line was empty (he was due back in an hour) so we moved into another line - this time at the front! I must say the con volunteer who was manning that line was a hoot! We talked exchanged Twitter accounts and generally had a nice time chatting and waiting for Wil to start his next shift.

Here is where I managed to hold my shit together and (hopefully) came across as a normal human being!

Wil came out - said a fond hello to Chandler Riggs - he moved to his seat set aside his hand sanitizer and arranged the pens, checked with this assistant about something then looked up straight at my wife and I, smiled and nodded us forward.

I smiled back, laid my con photo down and copy of The Happiest Days of Our Lives "Hi Wil, I'm not sure if you can but I would like this signed instead" I gestured to the book. Holding in-check my inner fangaism.

Wil geeked out!

He grabbed the book hugging it close to his chest "My book!" I'm sure he almost squealed "My book has come back to me. You know I had this at my house! My wife wrote the front cover! I cannot believe this has traveled the world and come back to me!" He may have sqeed then I'm not sure.

Trying to keep the conversation going I said "Yeah I follow Anne on twitter, man she is funny!"

"My book!" He almost had a Golum look in his eyes - I was actually worried I was not going to get my copy back, he was still hugging it tight against his chest. I had a vision then of his running his pen over the con photo before racing back out to the guest area - taking my book with him.

Then taking a deep breath he placed the book down, open the cover, flicking through a few pages (maybe a tear welling in his eyes) and settled on the title page, pen now at the ready. "Who is it too?"

"Ben and my wife Anji" (I spelt it for him) I finally got to introduce her (she had been avoiding eye contact with the crazed Wil and talking to his assistant). "Hi" she said (keep the strange man happy, running through her mind)

Wil, still smiling, wrote

To Ben & Anji - 
Thank you for taking care of my words
Wil Wheaton

That explained it all and made me realise that fans, like us, and our actions (buying a book from a guy on the internet) can mean just as much to the artist/creator as their work means to us. Our buying this book that he created, self published and even posted out meant so much to him and his career as a writer.

I managed to keep my shit together the day I met Wil - Wil on the other hand didn't have a chance the day he met his love, his work, his life carried in the hands of a fan...

Note: some literacy licence was used in writing this post... truth may or may not be totally represented.

Note (the second): John Scalzi has a great guide for fans (and others) to avoid creepiness on his blog Whatever

Friday, 10 August 2012

Horns, Joe Hill - Review

Eclectic Reader challenge - Horror. I know I have jumped a few but I really wanted to read Horns it has been on  my night stand for months and I could put it off no longer!

I have really enjoyed reading Joe Hill - his debut novel Heart-Shaped Box was one of those books that blindsided me with it's intense and dark theme. His collection of short stories 20th Century Ghosts was equally brilliant and I can't stop reading his comic Locke and Key.

Horns is still in that dark horror zone and although from first impressions it hasn't effected me as much as Heart-Shaped Box the theme and character have been with me since I finished it last night.

The premise of Horns is basically dealing with loss of a love one - our protagonist Ig's long term girl friend Merrin had been murdered almost a year earlier - he was the prime suspect with a weak alibi and intent (she tried to break up with him earlier in the night). We find Ig on the eve of the anniversary and a strange thing has happened - he has grown horns from this head, people tell him there darkest secrets and with a touch he knows all their sin. He can also persuade people to commit the sins they desire. He is the devil.

Ig starts a quest to find out who really killed Merrin.

The story jumps backwards and forwards in time, filling in the back story which basically leads the reader along with Ig to final climax and confrontation. This is almost formulaic, in that it has been done before - there is nothing earth shatteringly new in the story or even Hill's writing - there is also nothing wrong with it! In fact it is a brilliant read - I had many a session where I just didn't want to put the book down... I had to read just one more chapter.

A great dark horror story, however if I had to recommend a Joe Hill book I still can't go past Heart-Shaped Box maybe the theme of a musician ring truer with me, maybe it was the time and place. Maybe I build Horns up to much with it sitting by my bed for so long. Still it is not a bad book and I did enjoy it.


Mr Midshipman Hornblower - C S Forester - Review

The next installment in my Eclectic Reader Challenge - Historical Fiction

I have always enjoyed the Hornblower TV series (when it was on at any rate) and was interested in seeing what the original text was like. Considering the series began in 1937 I was keen to see if it held up...

I decided to start with the Prequel (written in 1950) Mr Midshipman Hornblower, why? mainly because I wanted to start at the beginning of the story as opposed to the first book released... I don't think it really mattered - I just wanted to!

Set in the period of the French Revolutionary Wars this book is a series of short stories detailing Hornblower's eventual rise to Lieutenant. While Hornblower is a character the events and history is real - the power of the English Navy is awesome as they battle against not only France but Spain in both the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. This was the time of Nelson, a few short years before Napoleon and to keep it in perspective the US only commissioned it's first 3 Navy vessels in 1794, the year Hornblower joined the Royal Navy.

The stories in this collection included;

Hornblower and the even chance
Hornblower and the Cargo of Rice
Hornblower and the Penalty of Failure
Hornblower and the Man Who Felt Queer
Hornblower and the Man Who Saw God
Hornblower and the Frogs, and the Lobsters
Hornblower and the Spanish Galleys
Hornblower and the Examination for Lieutenant
Hornblower and the Noah's Ark
Hornblower and the Duchess and the Devil

The stories are well written with some fast paced action and lots of sailing... so much sailing and rigging and main sails and other sailing stuff I know little about... I understand why so many sailors like the Hornblower series! However even with this sailing and ship motif there is enough of a story line to keep a landlubber like me interested - so much so I am keen to get started on the rest of the Hornblower books.

This is a great way to learn about history through the eyes of a (not so average) semi-hero - a young man growing and learning about the Royal Navy, war, ship to ship battles and the struggle of command.

I am happy to recommend Mr Midshipman Hornblower and look forward to following his adventures again.