The Golden Man

The PKD series continues.

Raw Feed (1989): The Golden Man, ed. Philip K. Dick, 1980.the golden man

“Foreword”, Mark Hurst — Standard collection intro on why book was done and its history.

Introduction” — Brief tour of the life of Philip K. Dick, a subject as fascinating as any of his novels. We hear of Dick’s anger and love of sf and his friends in it (particularly Norman Spinrad and Thomas E. Disch but also Roger Zelazny and Robert Heinlein — who loaned Dick money and who, though Dick was almost completely opposite politically to him, Dick loved. His adoration in France, his fascinating life on the streets, his many loves of women and music, is all dealt with. It reminds me how much, more than any other author, I wish I would have met Dick while he was alive.

The Golden Man” — I’m sure too much prior knowledge of this story ruined my enjoyment of it. The story is structured to make one sympathetic towards the Golden Man (Dick comes up with an interesting assortment of mutants) and, as Dick points out in his story notes, this was the Golden Age of the sympathetic mutant in John W. Campbell’s Astounding and A. E. van Vogt’s Slan. At the end though, we are faced, like the androids in Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, with beings that seem outwardly human but are not. The pre-vision talent of the Golden Man was interesting, and Dick tried to go into some of its implications. The idea of a mutant’s sexual attractiveness was original and valid. The main strong point of the story is the turning of reader’s sympathy from the Golden Man to his hunters. Unfortunately, I spoiled my surprise. Continue reading

Year’s Best SF 2

The alternate history series continues with some qualifying stories buried in this review.

Raw Feed (2001): Year’s Best SF 2, ed. David G. Hartwell, 1997.years-best-sf-2

After a Lean Winter”, Dave Wolverton — This is the second time I’ve read this story, the first being in its original appearance in the War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, ed. by Kevin Anderson. I still liked its story of Jack London, during the Martian invasion depicted in H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, hiding out in the Arctic and watching a bloodmatch between dogs and a captured Martian. This time, though, (after reading Michael Swanwick’s “The Wisdom of Old Earth”, seemingly inspired by London’s The Sea Wolf), I was reminded that this is not only a clever use of London in the context of the central idea of alien invasion but also a further reworking of his theme of blood struggle in life and evolution.

In the Upper Room“, Terry Bisson — I originally read this story in its first publication in Playboy. I didn’t like it then, and I didn’t like it the second time around. It was not interesting. It wasn’t an insightful story about lingerie fetish or any other type of sexual fetish. It wasn’t erotic. It wasn’t satirical — at least not in any way that mattered.

Thinkertoy“, John Brunner — It was a nice surprise to see one of John Brunner’s last stories here. It was written for the Jack Williamson tribute anthology The Williamson Effect. According to his introductory notes, Hartwell says Brunner died before he could write the afterword for the story, but Hartwell speculates that it was inspired by Williamson’s “Jamboree”, a story I have not read. That may be true, but I also was reminded of Williamson’s classic “With Folded Hands” since, like that story, we have a man coming across a vendor of wonderful robotic merchandise, robots which eventually turn out to be very sinister. Here a widower buys the remarkable Tinkertoys which are clever, highly adaptable robots which can (rather like Legos) be assembled into several different shapes and do all sorts of wonderful things: answer the phone in several, customizable voices with Eliza-like abilities to keep the conversation going, integrate various household electronics, serve as worthy opponents in various games, and household inventory control. His withdrawn son, traumatized by the death of his mother in an auto accident, takes a real shine to the toys and programs them for all sorts of things, helped by his older sister. The protagonist finds out that the chips used in the Thinkertoys were originally designed as a Cold War weapon. They were to be dropped behind enemy lines to conduct various acts of subtle industrial sabotage: jam electronics, loosen valves, start fires, and mess up bearings. The children eventually use the toys to try and kill their father (The cold, impatient, malicious intelligence of the children reminded me of those in Brunner’s Children of the Thunder.). As to why, they explain, simply, “He was driving.”, referring to the auto accident that killed their mother. Continue reading


Yes, it’s time to get out that retro-review.

The occasion was listening to Samuel R. Delany on Episode 241 of the Coode Street Podcast.

He discusses Joanna Russ’ dislike of modern literary theories, his contemporaries Thomas Disch, Russ, and Roger Zelazny, his life in academia, and the futility of driving readers to your books. It’s the first time I’ve heard audio of him. He seems an interesting fellow (“interesting” is a favorite Delany word but I don’t think our ideas of “interesting” would coincide much) and engaging (perhaps because his speech patterns remind me of a friend’s).

As for my review, I would not change a thing since I wrote it on March 10, 2006.

Well, I would change one thing — the last sentence. It turns out I underestimated the appeal of an undecodeable story with an Ouroboros plot.

Review: Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany, 1975.Dhalgren

What to make of a novel once called “a vast monument to unreadability”?

First, I confess to not being a Delany fan. I think some of his popular science fiction criticism is worthwhile. He has a great talent for titles, and some of his descriptions have real poetic power. One need to look no farther than the opening page of his Babel-17 which heavily inspired the more famous opening to William Gibson’s Neuromancer. But his fiction leaves me cold, and I find it unmemorable for the most part though this one, the worst I’ve read, will stick in my brain.

It’s not accurate to say Dhalgren is unreadable. Large chunks of it make sense and seem to be following a narrative pattern — at least until the final “plague journal” segment. Our amnesiac hero, the Kid, wonders into Bellona, a city suffering from a recent and never specified disaster, meets some strange people, has lots of sex, takes up poetry and leading the Scorpions, a quasi-criminal gang. (Someone recently remarked on Bellona’s resemblance to post-Katrina New Orleans. It’s probably not entirely coincidental given that Delany wrote part of the novel in that city.) Continue reading