Read “Mr. Spaceship,” an early Philip K. Dick story

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“Mr. Spaceship”

by

Philip K. Dick


Kramer leaned back. “You can see the situation. How can we deal with a factor like this? The perfect variable.”

“Perfect? Prediction should still be possible. A living thing still acts from necessity, the same as inanimate material. But the cause-effect chain is more subtle; there are more factors to be considered. The difference is quantitative, I think. The reaction of the living organism parallels natural causation, but with greater complexity.”

Gross and Kramer looked up at the board plates, suspended on the wall, still dripping, the images hardening into place. Kramer traced a line with his pencil.

“See that? It’s a pseudopodium. They’re alive, and so far, a weapon we can’t beat. No mechanical system can compete with that, simple or intricate. We’ll have to scrap the Johnson Control and find something else.”

“Meanwhile the war continues as it is. Stalemate. Checkmate. They can’t get to us, and we can’t get through their living minefield.”

Kramer nodded. “It’s a perfect defense, for them. But there still might be one answer.”

“What’s that?”

“Wait a minute.” Kramer turned to his rocket expert, sitting with the charts and files. “The heavy cruiser that returned this week. It didn’t actually touch, did it? It came close but there was no contact.”

“Correct.” The expert nodded. “The mine was twenty miles off. The cruiser was in space-drive, moving directly toward Proxima, line-straight, using the Johnson Control, of course. It had deflected a quarter of an hour earlier for reasons unknown. Later it resumed its  course. That was when they got it.”

“It shifted,” Kramer said. “But not enough. The mine was coming along after it, trailing it. It’s the same old story, but I wonder about the contact.” Read More

Gaha: Babes of the Abyss (Book acquired and read sometime in May 2015)

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Jon Frankel’s Gaha: Babes of the Abyss is simultaneously familiar and estranging, a bizarre California crime-noir-dystopian shot through a druggy haze. It’s funny and weird, part caper, part adventure story, where everything’s just a little off (and more than a little sleazy). The easy comparison to Philip K. Dick is not unwarranted: Frankel’s satire is a dark mind-bender and a propulsive page-turner. Civil War, a genetically-altered ruling class, sex, violence, drugs, and real estate. The title is new from new indie imprint Whiskey Tit (Ms. Miette’s the honcho there, so you know it’s good stuff). Their blurb:

She was seventeen and all leg, banging the hell out of a pinball machine. I watched her play, my back to the bar. There was a cigarette going in her left hand with a cone of ash hanging off the end. The muscles in her bare thighs tensed up every time she bumped her pelvis into the coin box. As the ball shot toward her flippers she turned her feet in and banged with the right and then the left hand, knocking the ash to the floor. The red light on top of the machine started to turn and a police siren went off. It barked, “Pull off to the side of the road!” and she slapped the flipper, sending the ball up into a thousand-point hole. While the lights flashed and sirens sang she took a long drag off the cigarette.

I should have known better.

So begins Jon Frankel’s unflinching saga of Bob Martin, real estate pimp of Los Angeles in the year 2540, and his hapless, hopeless efforts to stay out of trouble in the company of 17-year-old Irmela von Dorderer and her big sister Elma.  He should have known better, indeed.

Read “Tony and the Beetles,” an early short story by Philip K. Dick

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“Tony and the Beetles”

by

Philip K. Dick

Reddish-yellow sunlight filtered through the thick quartz windows into the sleep-compartment. Tony Rossi yawned, stirred a little, then opened his black eyes and sat up quickly. With one motion he tossed the covers back and slid to the warm metal floor. He clicked off his alarm clock and hurried to the closet.

It looked like a nice day. The landscape outside was motionless, undisturbed by winds or dust-shift. The boy’s heart pounded excitedly. He pulled his trousers on, zipped up the reinforced mesh, struggled into his heavy canvas shirt, and then sat down on the edge of the cot to tug on his boots. He closed the seams around their tops and then did the same with his gloves. Next he adjusted the pressure on his pump unit and strapped it between his shoulder blades. He grabbed his helmet from the dresser, and he was ready for the day.

In the dining-compartment his mother and father had finished breakfast. Their voices drifted to him as he clattered down the ramp. A disturbed murmur; he paused to listen. What were they talking about? Had he done something wrong, again?

And then he caught it. Behind their voices was another voice. Static and crackling pops. The all-system audio signal from Rigel IV. They had it turned up full blast; the dull thunder of the monitor’s voice boomed loudly. The war. Always the war. He sighed, and stepped out into the dining-compartment.

“Morning,” his father muttered.

“Good morning, dear,” his mother said absently. She sat with her head turned to one side, wrinkles of concentration webbing her forehead. Her thin lips were drawn together in a tight line of concern. His father had pushed his dirty dishes back and was smoking, elbows on the table, dark hairy arms bare and muscular. He was scowling, intent on the jumbled roar from the speaker above the sink.

“How’s it going?” Tony asked. He slid into his chair and reached automatically for the ersatz grapefruit. “Any news from Orion?”

Neither of them answered. They didn’t hear him. He began to eat his grapefruit. Outside, beyond the little metal and plastic housing unit, sounds of activity grew. Shouts and muffled crashes, as rural merchants and their trucks rumbled along the highway toward Karnet. The reddish daylight swelled; Betelgeuse was rising quietly and majestically. Read More

Max Frisch/PK Dick biography (Books acquired, 2.19.2015)

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I took my daughter to the bookstore last Thursday, where she traded in a bunch of Junie B. Jones books for more Junie B. Jones books. Anyway, I didn’t intend to pick up anything for myself, but, well…
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Philip K. Dick — Kent Bellows

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“The Crystal Crypt” — Philip K. Dick

“The Crystal Crypt” by Philip K. Dick

“ATTENTION, Inner-Flight ship! Attention! You are ordered to land at the Control Station on Deimos for inspection. Attention! You are to land at once!”

The metallic rasp of the speaker echoed through the corridors of the great ship. The passengers glanced at each other uneasily, murmuring and peering out the port windows at the small speck below, the dot of rock that was the Martian checkpoint, Deimos.

“What’s up?” an anxious passenger asked one of the pilots, hurrying through the ship to check the escape lock.

“We have to land. Keep seated.” The pilot went on.

“Land? But why?” They all looked at each other. Hovering above the bulging Inner-Flight ship were three slender Martian pursuit craft, poised and alert for any emergency. As the Inner-Flight ship prepared to land the pursuit ships dropped lower, carefully maintaining themselves a short distance away.

“There’s something going on,” a woman passenger said nervously. “Lord, I thought we were finally through with those Martians. Now what?”

“I don’t blame them for giving us one last going over,” a heavy-set business man said to his companion. “After all, we’re the last ship leaving Mars for Terra. We’re damn lucky they let us go at all.”

“You think there really will be war?” A young man said to the girl sitting in the seat next to him. “Those Martians won’t dare fight, not with our weapons and ability to produce. We could take care of Mars in a month. It’s all talk.”

The girl glanced at him. “Don’t be so sure. Mars is desperate. They’ll fight tooth and nail. I’ve been on Mars three years.” She shuddered. “Thank goodness I’m getting away. If—”

“Prepare to land!” the pilot’s voice came. The ship began to settle slowly, dropping down toward the tiny emergency field on the seldom visited moon. Down, down the ship dropped. There was a grinding sound, a sickening jolt. Then silence.

“We’ve landed,” the heavy-set business man said. “They better not do anything to us! Terra will rip them apart if they violate one Space Article.”

“Please keep your seats,” the pilot’s voice came. “No one is to leave the ship, according to the Martian authorities. We are to remain here.”

A restless stir filled the ship. Some of the passengers began to read uneasily, others stared out at the deserted field, nervous and on edge, watching the three Martian pursuit ships land and disgorge groups of armed men.

The Martian soldiers were crossing the field quickly, moving toward them, running double time.

This Inner-Flight spaceship was the last passenger vessel to leave Mars for Terra. All other ships had long since left, returning to safety before the outbreak of hostilities. The passengers were the very last to go, the final group of Terrans to leave the grim red planet, business men, expatriates, tourists, any and all Terrans who had not already gone home.

“What do you suppose they want?” the young man said to the girl. “It’s hard to figure Martians out, isn’t it? First they give the ship clearance, let us take off, and now they radio us to set down again. By the way, my name’s Thacher, Bob Thacher. Since we’re going to be here awhile—”

Read the rest of “The Crystal Crypt” at Project Gutenberg.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — Peter Goodfellow

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Read “The Hanging Stranger,” A Short Story by Philip K. Dick

Five o’clock Ed Loyce washed up, tossed on his hat and coat, got his car out and headed across town toward his TV sales store. He was tired. His back and shoulders ached from digging dirt out of the basement and wheeling it into the back yard. But for a forty-year-old man he had done okay. Janet could get a new vase with the money he had saved; and he liked the idea of repairing the foundations himself!

It was getting dark. The setting sun cast long rays over the scurrying commuters, tired and grim-faced, women loaded down with bundles and packages, students swarming home from the university, mixing with clerks and businessmen and drab secretaries. He stopped his Packard for a red light and then started it up again. The store had been open without him; he’d arrive just in time to spell the help for dinner, go over the records of the day, maybe even close a couple of sales himself. He drove slowly past the small square of green in the center of the street, the town park. There were no parking places in front of LOYCE TV SALES AND SERVICE. He cursed under his breath and swung the car in a U-turn. Again he passed the little square of green with its lonely drinking fountain and bench and single lamppost.

From the lamppost something was hanging. A shapeless dark bundle, swinging a little with the wind. Like a dummy of some sort. Loyce rolled down his window and peered out. What the hell was it? A display of some kind? Sometimes the Chamber of Commerce put up displays in the square.

Again he made a U-turn and brought his car around. He passed the park and concentrated on the dark bundle. It wasn’t a dummy. And if it was a display it was a strange kind. The hackles on his neck rose and he swallowed uneasily. Sweat slid out on his face and hands.

It was a body. A human body.

Read the rest of Philip K. Dick’s early short story, “The Hanging Stranger.”

 

“The Skull” — Philip K. Dick

“The Skull” by Philip K. Dick

“WHAT is this opportunity?” Conger asked. “Go on. I’m interested.”

The room was silent; all faces were fixed on Conger—still in the drab prison uniform. The Speaker leaned forward slowly.

“Before you went to prison your trading business was paying well—all illegal—all very profitable. Now you have nothing, except the prospect of another six years in a cell.”

Conger scowled.

“There is a certain situation, very important to this Council, that requires your peculiar abilities. Also, it is a situation you might find interesting. You were a hunter, were you not? You’ve done a great deal of trapping, hiding in the bushes, waiting at night for the game? I imagine hunting must be a source of satisfaction to you, the chase, the stalking—”

Conger sighed. His lips twisted. “All right,” he said. “Leave that out. Get to the point. Who do you want me to kill?”

The Speaker smiled. “All in proper sequence,” he said softly.


THE car slid to a stop. It was night; there was no light anywhere along the street. Conger looked out. “Where are we? What is this place?”

The hand of the guard pressed into his arm. “Come. Through that door.”

Conger stepped down, onto the damp sidewalk. The guard came swiftly after him, and then the Speaker. Conger took a deep breath of the cold air. He studied the dim outline of the building rising up before them.

“I know this place. I’ve seen it before.” He squinted, his eyes growing accustomed to the dark. Suddenly he became alert. “This is—”

“Yes. The First Church.” The Speaker walked toward the steps. “We’re expected.”

“Expected? Here?

“Yes.” The Speaker mounted the stairs. “You know we’re not allowed in their Churches, especially with guns!” He stopped. Two armed soldiers loomed up ahead, one on each side.

“All right?” The Speaker looked up at them. They nodded. The door of the Church was open. Conger could see other soldiers inside, standing about, young soldiers with large eyes, gazing at the ikons and holy images.

“I see,” he said.

“It was necessary,” the Speaker said. “As you know, we have been singularly unfortunate in the past in our relations with the First Church.”

“This won’t help.”

“But it’s worth it. You will see.” Read More

A Short Riff on Shane Carruth’s Film Upstream Color

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1. I managed to avoid reading anything about Shane Carruth’s new film Upstream Color before I saw it.

I just knew that this was the guy who did Primer, this was his new film, and I wanted to see it because Primer was so strange and engaging.

2. Two immediate responses after viewing Upstream Color:

i). The desire to see Upstream Color again and

ii). The desire to read what other people thought about Upstream Color.

3. (My wife and I, reading the credits, pausing the credits, reassessing the film against the backdrop of the credits, arguing about the film, discussing the film, etc.).

4. I think it’s better that if you have any interest at all in Upstream Color that you just see it cold [update/warning: the comments section of this post is full of spoilers]. But I know that 100 minutes is an investment of time, so maybe you’d like some kind of précis or at least description. So, a loose attempt, which surely will devolve into fragments and references:

Upstream Color is a sci-film, sort of.

Or maybe its a mystery film about ethics and biology.

Maybe a nature film, sort of.

Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

Worms—parasites.

Theft.

Pigs.

Shades of Philip K. Dick, David Cronenberg, Terence Malick, but also something utterly original.

Mind control.

Trauma.

Ambient music.

Orchids.

Sampling nature.

Memory.

Swimming.

Drowning.

Creation: knitting, paper chains, music, seeds, life, children, etc.

A film that can and should be described as poetic.

It’s a love story, too.

5. It occurs to me that there’s a trailer for the film. I haven’t seen it yet. Should we watch it?

6. Does that do it for you? I don’t know how to do this anymore. Recommend things. I don’t know, the trailer makes the film perhaps look more pretentious than it is. It isn’t pretentious. It isn’t even confusing—just perplexing, haunting, troubling.

7. (Wanted: Quinoa Valley Record Co., complete discography).

8. My take on Upstream Color, spoiler-free, supporting-detail-free:

The film is about agency, about drive, about how the characters (and, implicitly, uswe, the audience, who identify with the characters on the screen) may be driven by something beyond us, something controlling us like a parasite (internal) or from afar like a ventriloquist (external). That even when we do assert agency the effect, the fallout, the shape lays beyond us, upstream.

9. (This morning, my wife telling me about her dream, a nightmare that our young daughter had ingested hallucinogenic mushrooms, clearly a response to the film).

10. I haven’t done a good job of really saying anything about the film. So, lazily:

I think Caleb Crain provides a perceptive and persuasive reading of the film in his essay “The Thoreau Poison.” He reads the film through the American transcendentalists, particularly Thoreau, of course, but also Emerson and Hawthorne. 

There’s also a piece at Slate by Forrest Wickman that perhaps over-explicates but nonetheless offers perspective, including elements of Carruth’s own take.

11. (I will avoid Carruth’s explanation of the film until I’ve seen it a second time. Maybe I’ll avoid his explanation forever).

12. A take on Upstream Color that I don’t quite buy into (the take is my own): The film perhaps invites us to find metaphysical entities in two of its secondary characters, both of whom exert influence (creative and destructive) over the primary characters. Something something godlike, something something devillike.

I like that the film offers this simple duality and then crushes it, shows something far more complicated, suggests a cycle far more strange.

13. (White orchid. Blue orchid. Yellow orchid).

14. Upstream Color features minimal dialogue and nothing approaching traditional exposition, but we still learn about its characters, come to feel for them, feel their desires and traumas. The film is cerebral and philosophical, but it’s also emotional, offering an aesthetic that sublimely overwhelms the viewer.

15. Carruth wrote, produced, directed, scored, photographed, cast and starred in Upstream Color. (I’m sure he did a lot of other stuff too). He also distributed the film himself. The entire filmmaking process was untouched by the Hollywood system. There’s so much hope for film as an art form in this knowledge.

16. Parting thoughts: See Upstream Color. Resist imposing whatever film grammar you usually bring with you to the movies. Resist the temptation to see the film as a puzzle to figure out. See Upstream Color.

“Beyond the Door” — Philip K. Dick

“Beyond the Door” by Philip K. Dick

Larry Thomas bought a cuckoo clock for his wife—without knowing the price he would have to pay.

That night at the dinner table he brought it out and set it down beside her plate. Doris stared at it, her hand to her mouth. “My God, what is it?” She looked up at him, bright-eyed.

“Well, open it.”

Doris tore the ribbon and paper from the square package with her sharp nails, her bosom rising and falling. Larry stood watching her as she lifted the lid. He lit a cigarette and leaned against the wall.

“A cuckoo clock!” Doris cried. “A real old cuckoo clock like my mother had.” She turned the clock over and over. “Just like my mother had, when Pete was still alive.” Her eyes sparkled with tears.

“It’s made in Germany,” Larry said. After a moment he added, “Carl got it for me wholesale. He knows some guy in the clock business. Otherwise I wouldn’t have—” He stopped.

Doris made a funny little sound.

“I mean, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.” He scowled. “What’s the matter with you? You’ve got your clock, haven’t you? Isn’t that what you want?”

Doris sat holding onto the clock, her fingers pressed against the brown wood.

“Well,” Larry said, “what’s the matter?”

He watched in amazement as she leaped up and ran from the room, still clutching the clock. He shook his head. “Never satisfied. They’re all that way. Never get enough.”

He sat down at the table and finished his meal.

The cuckoo clock was not very large. It was hand-made, however, and there were countless frets on it, little indentations and ornaments scored in the soft wood. Doris sat on the bed drying her eyes and winding the clock. She set the hands by her wristwatch. Presently she carefully moved the hands to two minutes of ten. She carried the clock over to the dresser and propped it up.

Then she sat waiting, her hands twisted together in her lap—waiting for the cuckoo to come out, for the hour to strike.

As she sat she thought about Larry and what he had said. And what she had said, too, for that matter—not that she could be blamed for any of it. After all, she couldn’t keep listening to him forever without defending herself; you had to blow your own trumpet in the world. Read More