Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination (1956); L. Sprague De Camp, Lest Darkness Fall (1939)

My brief thoughts on two November reads:

51py53jJ2lLAlfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination is fast-paced 1950’s revenge SF novel of teleportation, inter-planetary warfare, cargo cults, prison escape, gratuitous violence, rape, corporate/state intrigue, bio-modification, telepathy, atom bomb analogies and synaesthesia. This was enjoyable even with some of its shortcomings; a little dialogue on the comic book scale, and perhaps being too brisk and madcap here and there. Aside from the action, the most interesting thing about this book is the portrayal of an Earth society that has been completely restructured after the discovery of teleportation; widespread housing and transport reforms, economic and political upheaval, the return of diseases, Victorian morality, and new opportunities for criminals. I can appreciate how this book would have blown the minds of a teenager in 1956, and it’s still a fun read – and superior to his earlier novel, The Demolished Man. 4/5

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Lest Darkness Fall is a fun time travel novel from L Sprague De Camp (1939.) A 20thC American archeologist is in Rome when he is struck by lightning and transported to AD 536, and Ostrogothic Italy. He uses his wits and knowledge of 20thC technology and science to make a living – beginning with the introduction brandy and book-keeping. This in the face of local Gothic ignorance, Roman venality, and Church superstition, from which many of the novel’s humorous moments arise, and overall the novel has a light-heartedly comic tone. The protag eventually becomes embroiled in local and international politics, where he undertakes grander schemes to strengthen the Italo-Gothic kingdom in the face of Justinian and Belisarius’ Byzantine invasion; in come the printing press, catapults, and army modernisation, and a good deal of clever planning. Of particular interest is De Camp’s depiction of the Goths, who are presented favourably. They are lazy and ignorant, but religiously tolerant, and their custody of Italy and Rome’s heritage is ultimately preferable to possession by the rapacious, venal, and comparatively intolerant Byzantine imperialists.  Overall, this short novel is a pleasant mix of historical detail, comedy, romance, action and intrigue. 5/5

 

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Fritz Leiber, Swords Against Death

SWRDSGNSTB1979Over a few months I read Swords Against Death, a volume of fantasy short stories by Fritz Leiber featuring his Fafhrd and Gray Mouser characters; two companions, a tall barbarian and a shorter thief, who travel across the land on adventures. These tales feature lots of action, swords fights, imaginative spectacles and goodnatured camaraderie, and are overall good escapist entertainment. What follows are my observations and summaries about each story, in varying detail,  hastily written after completing each story.

The Jewels In The Forest (1939.) Here, Fafhrd and Gray Mouser are pursued to a tower among the woods, where they seek an unguarded treasure. To its credit, this is a story that promises fantasy genre thrills early on, and fulfills them; horse chases, sword fights, mysterious old men, a damsel in peril, tense scenes in a dark skeleton-strewn tower, and between everything is the camaraderie of the archetypal thief and his taller barbarian companion. This is the first Lankhmar story I’ve read. It feels like a more lighthearted and readable Conan story with less purple prose.  Good fantasy escapism and pulp thrills in forty pages. 3/5

The Thieves House (1943.) Here Leiber combines comic book moments with genuinely tense scenes (e.g., Fafhrd in the dark cellar, feeling something small and hard brushing his cheek.) In this and the previous story I thought the swordfighting stood out – better than I can recall from the handful of Robert Howard’s Conan stories I have read, because I could visualise the parries and lunges clearly. The authors love of fencing must account for his able swordfighting choreography here. 3/5

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The Bleak Shore (1940) is a shorter story at 12 pages. At the outset, the two companions are playing dice at the rambunctious Silver Eel tavern when they encounter mysterious pale man. He promises to send them to their death, after which they embark by sail, as if possessed, on a long journey across perilous seas to an island of doom. This short tale of mind control is narrated by one of the surviving slaves of F+GM’s ship after events. The mysterious man represents doom, and challenges the pair to resist his powers – can they resist? This a straightforward and enjoyable nautical story. 3/5

The Howling Tower (1941.) The story begins with the pair encamped in front of a dying fire a far-flung location, when they hear a peculiar howling sound like wolves. Their fearful guide informs them that the howling is rumored to be from an old tower across the grasslands. He disappears the next morning. There is a touch of HP Lovecraft and the gothic about this story; a tale of rescue, a long journey of foreboding through a barren plain, and an encounter with a grisly family history. 4/5

The Sunken Land (1942.) A rollicking seafaring adventure, horror, and the standout story of the collection. After finding an ancient key, Fafhrd falls overboard his sloop, and finds himself in the company of a Northmen sea raiding party who are headed for a fabled sunken city. There are more than a few Lovecraftian flourishes; eery wall carvings, phosphorescent walls, unsettling sea creatures shifting in the shadows. Best of all, Leiber has captured vividly the feeling of being swept along with viking-esque sea raid. 5/5

Continuing through my volume of book 2 of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, I read The Seven Black Priests (1953.) Here, the tall barbarian and his shorter thief companion are journeying through the cold hills and wastes when they see a strange volcanic hill in the distance, one with an indistinct impression of several giant faces below its summit. They spy a gleaming rock set within an ‘eye’ and resolve to steal it. This is a light hearted adventure tale, buoyed along by the pair’s sardonic banter and their encounters with the stone’s order of protectors, who ambush the protagonists in variously sudden, desperate, and inventive ways. This is also somewhat of a travelogue with much description of the cold landscape, its rock formations, frozen plains and suspicious cave mouths, along with scenes of outdoorsmanship, camping and hunting. A couple of twists prevent a predictable ending to an entertaining piece of low fantasy. 5/5

Claws From The Night and The Price Of Painease were read, and passed the time, but my impressions were not recorded. Of these, Claws From The Night was most memorable for its Lankhmar-menacing birds and their embittered owner. The latter story was more forgettable.

Bazaar Of The Bizarre (1963) seems to be a highly rated Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story, but I couldn’t get into it. It milks its central premise and theme, the illusory nature of a trinket shop in Lankhmar whose wares are extremely interesting to some, and junk to others; and has plenty of imaginative scenes and comic moments. But I found it all too whimsical and comic for my taste, like a Terry Pratchett story, and Leiber seems to be writing in longer fluid sentences than previously here, as if it was written by dictation. 2/5

Overall Swords Against Death has much to be recommended in it. Stories like Seven Black Monks, The Howling Tower, and The Sunken Land appealingly combine elements of action, the weird, and the gothic, with the camaraderie of the duo protagonists. This last element is central to these stories, and adds a wholesome subtext to the overall work; Fafhrd and Gray Mouser’s problems and antagonists are usually overcome by cunning, cooperation and teamwork, rather than by Conan and John Carter-like feats of superhuman prowess.

Dostoevsky, A Gentle Creature & Other Stories (OUP, Trans Myers)

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Here are three novellas that are concerned with showing the pitfalls of solitude and egoism, and how these can alienate the individual against other people as well as their own happiness. White Nights (1848) is a snapshot of Dostoevsky before his Siberian exile. It is much like his later fiction, a first person narration of a man who is in thrall to his reveries and imagination, which exist at the expense of relations with those around him. Meanwhile, A Gentle Creature (1876) depicts a pawn-broker whose miserly, proud, reticent and spiteful ways cause the suicide of his young wife at the outset of the story; in the narration he struggles to come to terms with her act. Lastly, Dream Of A Ridiculous Man (1877) depicts a ‘progressive and vile’ St. Petersberg man who resolves to kill himself, after which he dreams vividly of his death and his transportation to a utopian Earth before the fall of man.

The three stories are all first person explorations with reclusive, bookish and egoist narrators, who by their vicissitudes realise Dostoevsky’s truth of how men should negotiate life. Here, we should reject pride, spite, and jealousy, avoid separation from others and live life based on Christian ideals of being humble and loving one another.

Given how these methods and ideas also figure in his later works, I would call this volume a great introduction to the author. They are engrossing and profound pieces that can be read in one sitting. Myer’s translation feels fluid, avoiding the clunky and ponderous, so that Dostoesky’s febrile passages roll off the page. Leatherbarrow’s introduction is mindful of the reader by advising them to read it after the stories. It simply unravels the meaning of them by reference to the author’s life and his larger works.

Clark Ashton Smith, The Felicitous Chameleon of Weird Fiction and Fantasy

This is part one of what aims to be an overview of the short fiction of Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961) as found in The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies (Penguin, 2014.) Major plot spoilers will be avoided, with only minor plot details and ‘set ups’ revealed along with matters of setting.

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Like his contemporaries H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Howard, C.L. Moore and Fritz Leiber, Clark Ashton Smith was a writer of weird fiction and fantasy stories who flourished in the early 20th century while submitting his works to Weird Tales and similar pulp magazines. Now he is closely associated with H.P. Lovecraft, with whom he shared a long correspondence along with ‘Lovecraftian’ preoccupations with oblique malevolent forces, ancient beings, forbidden and dangerous knowledge, and primordial phenomena. CAS can then be enjoyed in this context, of Lovecraftian and weird fiction; but a reading of The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies also reveals an author of a more multi-faceted nature, one whose varieties of setting and tone place him as an author of literary relevance outside of the Lovecraft circle. This should be apparent by the following outline of a handful of his short fiction, one which summarises points of narrative, setting, and thematic content for each.

We begin our overview with The Tale Of Satampra Zeiros (1929.) This is weird tale that recalls the aborted theft of an abandoned temple by the narrator and his accomplice. The description of an ancient city overgrown with giant foliage is full of foreboding, while the apparition they encounter in the temple is in the Lovecraftian style. One aspect that distinguishes this story from the norm is the voice of the narrator, of a tone which captures ably the boastful, selfish and conceited nature of a thief:

“I can say without flattering myself, or Tirouv Ompallios either, that we carried to an incomparable success more than one undertaking from which fellow-craftsmen of a much wider renown than ourselves might well have recoiled in dismay. To be more explicit, I refer to the theft of the jewels of Queen Cunambria, which were kept in a room where two-score venomous reptiles wandered at will; and the breaking of the adamantine box of Acromi, in which were all the medallions of an early dynasty of Hyperborean kings. It is true that these medallions were difficult and perilous to dispose of, and that we sold them at a dire sacrifice to the captain of a barbarian vessel from remote Lemuria: but nevertheless, the breaking of that box was a glorious feat, for it had to be done in absolute silence, on account of the proximity of a dozen guards who were all armed with tridents.”

With baroque prose that is evocative of an ancient setting, Clarke deploys a cunning and arrogant anti-hero more like Jack Vance’s Cugel than the academic figure that is the Lovecraftian cliche.

TCTYSFLM1981The Last Incantation (1929) is about an old, powerful and feared magician who sits in a tower above a city, wishing to revive a former lover in order to rid his feelings of ennui. At five pages this is a shorter piece of narrow focus, about the problem of knowledge and memory. The necromancer’s appearance, dwelling and art are depicted in a fine detail that further indicative of CAS’s ornate storytelling, this time in the third person mode:

“Now Malygris was old, and all the baleful might of his enchantments, all the dreadful or curious demons under his control, all the fear that he had wrought in the hearts of kings and prelates, were no longer enough to assuage the black ennui of his days. In his chair that was fashioned from the ivory of mastodons, inset with terrible cryptic runes of red tourmalines and azure crystals, he stared moodily through the one lozenge-shaped window of fulvous glass. His white eyebrows were contracted to a single line on the umber parchment of his face, and beneath them his eyes were cold and green as the ice of ancient floes; his beard, half white, half of a black with glaucous gleams, fell nearly to his knees and hid many of the writhing serpentine characters inscribed in woven silver athwart the bosom of his violet robe. About him were scattered all the appurtenances of his art; the skulls of men and monsters; phials filled with black or amber liquids, whose sacrilegious use was known to none but himself; little drums of vulture-skin, and crotali made from the bones and teeth of the cockodrill, used as an accompaniment to certain incantations.”

In a shift of tone and setting is the next story The Devotee Of Evil (1930.) A local novelist, the narrator (and apparent stand-in for CAS) is at a library when he meets a man who has bought a dilapidated house that has been the scene of a grisly murder. By conversation he learns that his new acquaintance is devising a way to manifest pure evil. This is a macabre tale in suburbia that reminds me of Lovecraft’s early-mid period stories, and indeed I learned afterwards The Lurking Fear was a direct influence. It reminds me of The Music Of Erich Zann and Cool Air, where the protagonist meets an increasingly strange man. It’s also a departure from the baroque fantasy stories that have preceded in this collection. The Devotee Of Evil is less ornately told than these, in a stylistic shift that suggests Smith’s versatility. In any case, the passages of cosmic horror are as good as anything from Lovecraft, in this story about the nature of evil and problem of knowledge.

The Uncharted Isle is from 1930. After a shipwreck, a New Zealand sailor is washed onto a Pacific island where he encounters anachronistic phenomena, including beings of an inscrutable and curiously preoccupied ancient race. This is ultimately a tonal piece that contains little action, where the author depicts extensively the sailor’s feelings of disassociation through the first person perspective. It’s also an ambiguous story because it is unclear whether the protagonist’s experiences are imaginary, paranormal, or actual; seawater induced hallucination, time-slip, ghosts, or an isolated species of primordial man.

In The Face By The River (1930) a man comes to terms with the murder of a lover. S.T. Joshi notes that the story is an anomaly with Smith’s work due to its realist treatment of murder. It’s a credit to the author, then, that it is well done piece, a focused depiction of a murderer’s psychology in a contemporary setting. It is bolstered by some asides about the nature of time and the reality-shifting aspect of the murderer’s guilt, asides which would not feel out of place in Borges.

2013-JAN-Clark-Ashton-Smith-Lost-Worlds-cover-2In a return to the fantastic I next read The City Of The Singing Flame (1931), which is as good an account of inter-planetary travel as any. The narrator is a weird fiction author who is hiking in Crater Ridge, California, where he reaches two unusual-looking rocks. When he steps between them, he is transported to another world of an amber sky, violet grass, monolith-lined pathways, and a city of large red stone in the near distance. In an device that is emblematic of weird fiction the story is written in the form of journal entries that are found by a fellow author. Clark depicts an alien world full of unusual beings and phenomena that is evocative of irresistible yet foreboding promise for the narrator, most of all the singing flame which is the seductive centrepiece of the story. There are many Lovecraftian tropes in here, of dangerous knowledge, portals and strange beings, but CAS’s prose is unlike anything from Lovecraft; more visual, exotic, pleasingly rhythmic and felicitous (and more on this final aspect later.)

This story is followed by The Holiness Of Azadarac by Clark Ashton Smith (1931), a tale of time travel in a secondary world, Averoigne, that is modeled on a region in 12th and 5th century France. At the outset, a renegade Christian bishop plots to intercept a young Benedictine monk who has fled his mansion after obtaining proofs of his pagan practices and demon worship, including that of Iog-Sotot (Yog-Sothoth?) The narrative concerns what happens to this nephew after he is caught and transported seven hundred years back to the same location. This is a tale of the tension between the pagan and Lovecraftian versus Christian morality. It is also of a light and playful tone, as CAS plays with the cliches and archetypal characters of medieval literature; the venial cleric and his henchman, the young and naive monk, and the machinations and heaving charms of a femme fatale sorceress. Overall it’s an entertaining short story that feels like it’s told with a nod and a wink.

If we pull together this handful of stories then an idea of CAS’s versatility should emerge. Here we have seen the expected tropes and ideas that are expected of a pulp and weird fiction author; tales of tomb raiders, time travel, primordial gods, lost civilizations, forbidden knowledge, aliens, portals to other worlds, as well as macabre tales of murder – all very pleasing to those who come to Smith via Lovecraft, as myself. But Smith goes even further and wider by treating his intimations of cosmic horror and the macabre with the kind of exoticism, visual splendour and wry humour that would not be encountered in HPL. I cannot recall the sensuality and temptation of The Singing Flame and The Holiness of Azadarac in Lovecraft or Robert Howard (I have encountered it in C.L. Moore’s Shambleau.) Note also the humour to be found in Satampras Zeiros’s roguish arrogance – by no means the urbane academic protagonist that figures in much Lovecraftian fiction. Even further, witness the breadth of Smith’s settings, which encompass the exotic pre-historical fantastical secondary worlds of Hyperborea and Atlantis, the quasi-historical Averoigne, and the contemporary suburban settings of The Devotee Of Evil and The Face In The River.

And in all things he is felicitous. Smith enjoys deploying an unusual or archaic word or turn of phrase. This might be infuriating in other authors, but after finding the intended meaning the word choice is appreciated. I speculate that this is borne of Smith’s autodidactic education and poetic preoccupation, this ever-awareness of the specific impression of a lesser-used synonym, one that can also produce a more pleasing rhythm of sentence. Sometimes it is better to call a moth-like creature a lepidopter, describe decay as verdigris, or have a prelate be exigent where a bishop could be demanding. Thereby Clark’s writing can be, as well as other qualities, demanding on the reader. Like his progenitors Gene Wolfe and Jack Vance, re-reads and a dictionary can be necessary for a full appreciation of his short stories, but this appreciation reveals satisfying subtleties of visuals, tone, and meaning. This felicity and exacting attitude is how Clark is so capable of producing imaginative stories that deploy the tropes of Lovecraftian fiction, weird fiction and fantasy fiction with a variety of settings, protagonists, tones and structures, first or third person, supernatural or realist, in secondary worlds or contemporary, and being variously wry, elegiac, exotic, sensual or foreboding. This variety distinguishes Clark within his contemporaries as a most chameleonic writer.

Jack Vance, To Live Forever (1956)

1109611I read Jack Vance’s 1956 sci-fi novel To Live Forever, AKA Clarges, a book set in an advanced city that has conquered disease and mortality but remains a dystopia. To avoid Malthusian dilemmas of overpopulation life-lengthening treatments are administered in stages by the local government, but only in return for doing good works. The city’s inhabitants are thereby obsessed with their progression towards immortality, the four preceding stages of which form the rigid caste system.

The plot concerns Waylock, a man who has fallen foul of this society, having relinquished his right to be immortal by murdering a rival press baron. He is amoral, ruthless, dogged, and clever, an anti-hero of a similar type to Ben Reich in Alfted Bester’s The Demolished Man, (1953) another book about a resourceful captain of industry trying to get away with murder in a megapolis. At the outset of the novel Waylock emerges from exile, having been presumed dead. He strives towards reclaiming his immortal status, but he is consistently thwarted by a young immortal woman with a grudge against him. His tanglings with the femme fatale antagonist and make up much of the novel.

Waylock enters myriad jobs as we see both the winners and losers of his society: immortals, near-immortals, mental-cases, assassins, rebels, bureaucrats, and lackeys all feature. Here, Vance depicts a people who have attained immortality but whose lives remain in drudgery. He targets meaningless careerism (‘striving’) and the self-satisfied complacency of the comfortable. At the end of the book he offers a solution to this scene, a way of adding meaning to the increasingly long lives that are afforded by technological superiority. By this, the novel still has a social relevance after sixty years. In general terms he expresses the idea that man must have a level of meaningful level of adversity and ambition for his wellbeing.

This book is a fast read with a well constructed society and anti-hero figure, of interest to readers of Jack Vance, SF dystopias, as well as cyberpunk readers with its familiar tropes of mind-altering drugs, flying cars, skyways, simulacra, double identities and memory transfer. It’s an ideas book but not so heavy handed as to neglect our entertainment, and so it’s a joy to read the anti-hero negotiating his surroundings, and be among the variously mysterious, humorous, violent, and exotic aspects and personages of the city. The plotting is superb, the dialogue is witty, and the ending is satisfying. 4/5

Leigh Brackett, The Coming Of The Terrans (1964)

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The Coming Of The Terrans collects five stories from Leigh Brackett’s Mars setting, a planet closer to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter books than of reality, with its time-worn cities, dead seas, crumbling wharves, ancient canal-ways and wind-blasted mountains; a shabby and sandblasted land populated by bandits, caravans, tomb robbers, femme fatales, and iron-willed protagonists. This fantasy land is as implausible as it is fun. I will briefly outline the plots of each of the five stories along with their thematic preoccupations.

In the opening novella The Beast-Jewel Of Mars (1954), the tough Earthman protagonist seeks the secret of ‘Shanga,’ a process by which men revert back to the primitive state, back to ape and lizard, a process his girlfriend had begun before disappearing. The reverting properties of the Beast-Jewel allows some primordial Lovecraft and Howard-like spectacles, and a barbaric/civilised dichotomy. The latter is a common thread throughout this collection, where different Martian and Earth cultures come together.

Mars Minus Misha (1948) is a change of tone from the adventurous to the tragic, a tale of an outcast Martian child who enters the care of an Earthman scientist at his isolated research outpost. Here, the man of science is pitted against old Martian axioms and superstition. Of note are some descriptions of Martian culture and the importance of the canals, which are indicative of the quality of writing of the whole book. Here, Brackett depicts an impoverished Martian culture which places religiously the upkeep of their prehistoric canals before all else.

The Last Days Of Shandakor (1952) is the highlight of the book, a first person narrative where an anthropologist witnesses the last days of a dying Martian race in their advanced city of wonder while barbarians give siege outside the gates. In an intriguing twist, these are open. What begins in a rough-and-tumble tavern scene (not far from being Mos Eisley) ends in an elegiac story of Martian pride in tension with a will to survive, where an enlightened and proud race seek life and death on their own terms.

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Purple Priestess Of The Mad Moon (1963) contrasts the cosmopolitan trade cities with an older and more iniquitous parts of Mars, where an urbane protagonist is whisked away to a city of thieves to witness an ancient pagan rite. In common with many of these stories, a civilised, cynical, and educated Earthman is thrown into beguiling and eye-opening Martian ways.

Lastly, The Road To Sinharat (1964) is a relic hunting story with aspects of a travelogue, where a small party elude the authorities on their way to an abandoned city of immortals by way of several dens of iniquity, along old canal-ways and dried seabeds. As well as fisticuffs and adventure there is an environmental subtext, where a sustainable Martian subsistence is staunchly advocated in favour of a more transient Earth-derived prosperity.

Overall, these are wonderfully imaginative and exotic tales, well told. Throughout, Brackett evokes a sense of shabby romance, long faded glories, and the pathos of a proud, spiritual and self dependent race in its death throes, as they lose influence to an emergent culture of Earthmen materialists. Each of these stories are born out of this contrast, as cultural tensions play out in sensual narratives of high adventure, where the thin air is full of sand, spices, and the rustling bells of alluring and occasionally dangerous women. Brackett is foremost an entertainer and crowd pleaser who writes in style which is a marriage of the likes of Dashiell Hammett, C.L. Moore, and Robert Howard. Her writing has the broad and approachable appeal to be expected of a woman who would go on to write scripts for Howard Hawks and George Lucas. There is much here to enjoy, not only for science fiction enthusiasts.  4/5

Philip K. Dick; Dr Bloodmoney (1965) and Ubik (1969)

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Here are two books from Philip K. Dick that are included in his Library Of America collection, Dr Bloodmoney and Ubik .

Firstly I read Dr Bloodmoney from 1965. It presents a hopeful vision of a post-WW3 society emerging on the West Coast, with a successful barter economy and life going on much as before. Doctors, teachers, councilors, tobacconists, and their wives live among mutants in this admirably fleshed out world, some of the inhabitants having magic powers of the mind. The way PKD weaves all of these interesting people in and out of the story while giving us an insight into their thoughts can be very entertaining. There are too many to mention, but I’ll point out the motorised psycho-telekinetic flipper-man who is the town fixer, the little girl with a talking twin in her abdomen (who can talk to the dead), talking dog, intelligent rats, and the astronaut who is stuck in orbit and broadcasting radio to the world below. I mentioned there being a story, but it’s fair to say that there is no central plot, and that the story is a nebulous one involving the playing out of the arcs and interactions of several different people in one place.

This is one of his longer novels, but it reads buoyantly throughout, with many quirky moments, surprises, and a satisfying ending. Dr Bloodmoney is justifiably included in the Library Of America collection for the way it weaves the author’s typical themes and motifs of mental instability, contagious minds, double identities, and interesting assortment of vivid and quirky minor characters.  5/5

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Some months later I read PKD’s Ubik (1969), where a group of anti-telepaths find themselves in a tenuous world that is under the influence of their apparently deceased boss. This book is more highly regarded than his previous Dr Bloodmoney. However, while I believe Ubik is an entertaining book, it is also a flawed one, not as charming as Dr Bloodmoney, and definitely below the literary quality of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? and Martian Time Slip. I think this is because I figured out the plot early on, and also due to there being too many unremarkable minor characters who serve little narrative purpose, and who go from merely adding local colour and quirkiness, towards feeling like aberrant and unnecessary distractions for the reader; something which feels emphasized by their garish and peculiar fashions. Dick handled many diverse characters a lot better in his earlier Dr Bloodmoney, where the townsfolk are more vividly fleshed out, with a sense of their lives outside of the plot – unlike the near dozen ‘inertials’ who accompany the protagonist in Ubik, who are thin characters indeed.

However, Ubik is at least as good a treatment of illusory realities as something like The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch, and it fulfills many reader expectations by its treatment of double identities, wry comments on future capitalism, religious subtexts, and its chief theme of decay against regeneration. In this way, its occasionally meandering plotting and paper thin characters is redeemed partially by many typical PKD moments, as well as by its fast readability.  3.5/5