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Happy Birthday to Myself, GRRM, and Sophia Loren; And a Missed Opportunity Turns into a Lesson Learned

I  have always liked that my birthday is the same as Mr. Martin’s as his books have inspired me since the late nineties, long before the HBO series came about. In fact, for a long long time I kept an email of him basically telling me off.

I volunteered at an E zine, and somehow my Editor in chief got GRRM to agree to an interview, and he was my favorite author at the time, and I was trying to make it perfect. I researched him thoroughly, had a list of questions and topics. It was a phone interview.

I thought I was ready, and this was back before cell phones were everywhere, so I was going to use my landline, and I forgot I had long distance blocked to save me from spending money where I shouldn’t.

I started to panic when the time came for the interview, and I couldn’t get through. I completely forgot I had the line blocked. So, Mr. Martin emailed me reminding me that his time was precious, and that I wasted an hour of his life that he spent waiting in his office, and I didn’t get another chance.

I felt like an idiot, but I also was in awe because he was like a rock star to me. I for a long time had GRRM listed as a contact in my email. Finally, I deleted it.

It was an AOL account, so I doubt it is still active now that he is insanely famous. I know a little free E zine would not be able to secure an interview today, and if you read this Scott, I am still amazed you got it back then. It was still an important non event in my life, that I will never forget.

I had an awesome list of questions too. The interview that never happened will be the most important event that didn’t happen to me in my life. It taught me a valuable lesson. You can never be too prepared. If you think you are, check again. And re -check. And double check. Also, your time is valuable, whether you are a famous author or someone writing on the side. Everyone’s time is valuable. And, it wasn’t a waste. I did learn something from it.

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Posted in Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

The Need to Write and Upcoming Birthdays…

There are a lot of  May birthdays for writers. So, I am going to list who is coming up. And of course, there are always some authors whom I have not written down or miss because my brain is imperfect and fallible. But, the ones i have on my handy dandy list are Roger Zelazny May 13th, one of my all time favorite authors. He happens to share a birthday with Stephen R Donaldson who wrote epic fantasy. So, most likely will do a shared post there.

May 27th is the birthday of Harlan Ellison, science fiction writer who also could be quite humorous. May 18th is Fred Saberhagen, another great science fiction writer.

A big oversight for me was skipping Robert E. Howard, the author of Conan the Barbarian. His birthday was on January 22nd in 1906. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs both influenced science fiction and fantasy in their earlier days and would influence the authors that would follow them.

I might deal with him on Burroughs’s birthday because I equate them in style and time period to each other. So, that might be a good place to address Howard.  Much like Tolkien and Lewis, writers of a certain time affect each other and the future and sometimes it is better to comment on them in a joint post anyway.

Part 2–That Need to Write…

I got lucky with a day off in the middle of the week from my day job so I find myself with the desire and time to write. I need to write. If I stop for too long a period I feel like a part of me is missing.

It may be hard to understand to those that don’t write. Although people in the habit of journal-ling I would think could understand, or anyone with a routine that is part of their being. For some it might be running or exercising. For others maybe it is going to the same restaurant at the same time on a regular basis. Whatever is part of your routine, you just feel off sometimes when you aren’t participating in it.

For about a week I got the great feeling of doing what I love to do on a regular basis. Now I am back to work and trying to fit it in around the cracks. I have always had issues finding the balance between work and play, important and not important. But, now I have a sense of urgency in that I don’t want to lose this thread I am on.

I want to continue this writing streak even if it means scribbling on napkins in a spare moment or jotting down ideas in the middle of the night. It is part of who I am and how I see myself. Being a writer is more of a calling than a job. You don’t have to write to survive technically.  But I do get more irritable and agitated the longer I go without it.

It is like listening to the perfect song for the mood you are in. It is work you do for yourself like a good meditation. It is cathartic and soothing. It is like I am letting things out that I have kept trapped in a little cage.

I need to write. It is part of who I am. And, I know I will find a way to keep it going because it means a lot to me.

I appreciate all who come by this way or follow me on twitter or word press because it means so much to a writer to have an audience. It makes it all seem so much more important. It is like the difference between speaking in a mic to a roomful of people or singing in your shower all alone.

Both can be great. No one will judge you in the shower, but it is important if you want to improve to get actual feedback. And as  a writer I am constantly looking for ways to improve. Not just my writing but my health, my life, and how I deal with the realities of a complex world. So, thank you. Thank you so very much. Hugs to all.

JenRae.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing

Andre Norton Female Pioneer, plus Patricia McKillip: It’s All about the Name, and Victor Hugo: Social Injustice Warrior, oh and in honor of Hugo, a Hugo Worthy Random Tangent…

I actually misplaced one of my lists so that is my excuse for missing Andre Norton, who influenced me a great deal. One could argue that without Norton, women and science-fiction would be mutually exclusive. She was the pioneer unless you want to count Mary Shelley. But Shelley had no idea that there would be a genre of Science Fiction, she was just writing a weird little short story on a dare. If it failed, oh well, she had a good time with her friends. Since it succeeded of course, that makes it a defining event in the history of Science Fiction and women writers.

Ursula K LeGuin I would argue is also a pioneer because she was perhaps the first, the first that I know of, that didn’t have to hide her gender behind initials or a pseudonym. She was unashamedly female, and it was obvious, blatant and there for all to see. Not many men named Ursula. I don’t know any, but who knows.

Andre, who was actually in real life named Alice Norton, used a male first name. She was the first female to be inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy hall of fame. She was a pioneer. Sadly she passed away in 2005. One of my other favorite authors, C.J. Cherryh used initials to hide gender, although I am sure everyone knows C.J. is a woman nowadays as well as Andre Norton, but when they were starting out in the fifties and sixties and even seventies, it was thought that most science fiction readers were male and would balk or not be as likely to read or purchase work written by a female.

I would argue the stereotype of sci-fi readers is still a largely white male base. Whether that is reality or not, I have no idea. But I grew up reading Andre Norton, C.J. Cherryh, Ursula K LeGuin and Anne McCaffery and Patricia McKillip. Katherine Kurtz was also big in the eighties, which by then gender wasn’t considered a bad thing or anything to worry about. Ursula had managed to knock that assumption of what readers would do to a female genre author completely out of the water with the success of her Earthsea Trilogy.

Vonda McIntyre is another one that I can recommend, and there are many, many more. Some of them wandered into historical fiction like Morgan Llywellyn and Colleen McCollough, some went to fantasy like LeGuin and Cherryh. I will say though, for these last two, I adore their fantasy, but I love their science-fiction even more.

Margaret Weiss who wrote many many fantasy novels with a fellow writer Tracy Hickman, called DragonLance which were largely inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, eventually tipped her toe into the waters of science fiction and wrote one solo trilogy plus one. Four books total, a planned trilogy and one additional book. They are called the Star of the Guardians books, and if you haven’t read them, you should. They have been at the top of my list for so long, and there is even a spin off series that I had to hunt down to find. I think I still might be missing one.

They deal with genetics, monarchy versus democracy, politics, and even transgender type issues in the spin off series mostly. They are phenomenal, and are so much better, sorry Hickman, from anything she wrote with anyone else.

Random Tangent Worthy of Victor Hugo…

Her sci-fi was what Hickman affectionately termed “Galactic Fantasy” what I have heard termed space opera in the past, basically if there is a divide in science fiction and you had basically two bins to place them into, one would be Star Trek, and one would be Star Wars.

And yes, I am simplifying it immensely. In reality there are dozens of sub-genres from Cyberpunk, to dystopia, to hard sci-fi, space opera, alternate history, and I am sure several I am forgetting. But if you have to, you can condense it into two bins. Star Trek, okay, you have some science in there. Here is your Heinlein, your Asimov.

In the Star Wars bin, you would have your Battlestar Galactica, your Stars of the Guardians would go here. Sure, it is in a futuristic place, and people seem to go places in space, things are mentioned but not too much. Basically, people use a light saber type of weapon, and it is all about the drama and the people and what they are doing.

In Star Trek, there are people, a few core indispensable characters but it is mostly about the situation. It is about the futuristic problem that they have run into. The plot is driven by the reactions to the futuristic environment or the situation they are in.

In Star Wars, it usually is a situation that is good versus evil and fate and destiny, and it is about how the characters find a way to come out on top.They typically aren’t reacting to the setting, the setting is the window dressing or the background, the problem usually revolves around a dictator, king, emperor, or evil guy, and the good guys must rally and find a way to free their planet, or people.

Basically, you can take this plot to Earth in the far past, or to a Middle Earth type setting, and voila, it still works. If you take Star Trek and do this, you get Star Trek 4, A Voyage Home. Not a bad movie, but it essentially is making fun of Star Trek, showing it as funny and ridiculous and contrasting it with the known world.

The science fiction becomes the joke, the part that is silly. It becomes soft sci-fi as opposed to hard sci-fi. The science is there, in how they explain how they get back in time, and go forward, but like most science fiction that needs to gloss over things, you don’t focus on how it works, it just does and you just assume the writer must know what they are doing.

/end of rant. Now, Back to the Post…Yes, Hugo does this in Les Miserables, he says, and now back to our characters….after going on a lengthy diatribe about society…talk about author’s presence being felt. Not subtle, at all. 

So to sum up, Andre opened the door, and Ursula knocked the door completely off the frame, and any genre writer who is also a woman, should be grateful to these two because if they hadn’t broke free who knows when it would have happened. They made what Weiss would do later possible.

I happen to think it would have happened eventually, but so much great fiction in genre or speculative fiction was published in the eighties. It would have been a tragedy if none of that had happened. So, I for one, am very grateful to these two, and the others who came before and have come since. We all make it easier and more possible for future generations of writers.

Part 2 –McKillip

Now, the other birthday I missed I was about to do a post on, and I let myself get distracted. I am blaming Mardi Gras. Although, it is really just poor planning. Patricia McKillip’s birthday was right at the end of February. Her Forgotten Beasts of Eld for a long time was one of my favorites. I had a rare edition, which I lent to a friend. The friend got the impression I gave it to her. And, it disappeared into the nether. I believe it got re released and I bought the new edition, but of course it isn’t the same. The picture of the cover art in the quote post is from the edition I originally had. One thing I learned from this, I have not lent out a book that I care about since.

If I let you borrow a book, trust me, that book isn’t precious to me. I believe McKillip also wrote the Riddlemaster of Hed, and I used to have an edition of this, I think it got lost in the great paperback trade in fiasco. It was also an old edition. I do have some old paperbacks still that survived.

Off the top of my head I still own The Gormenghast novels from the sixties, 1984 an edition from the 50s that unfortunately is falling apart, Cards of Identity which I believe is from the sixties, my LOTR editions which are from the sixties, and my Jack Vance books that are from the seventies or early eighties. First edition Lyonesse? check. Green Pearl? check. And an Avon edition of the Grey Prince from the seventies. I need to go through and see what else remains.

I live in a small apartment, so my paperbacks have been in storage, and so, knowing what I have isn’t something readily available to me at the moment, but maybe someday I will have it organized. That edition of Forgotten Beasts of Eld was from the late seventies and for a while would have been worth considerable money depending on its condition. A pristine copy could easily go for over seventy dollars. Considering i found it was the Salvation Army for maybe 50 cents at the time, it was a great loss.

Unfortunately, I had a fair amount of rare books that I gave away without realizing it. It is a lesson that I hope I have learned for good now.  McKillip was a good writer, Forgotten Beasts reminds me of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. Both deal with exotic beasts, and the importance of having an identity. McKillip focused on the name. The name of something had magical power, and knowing the name of the being could give you power over it. The power of a name is an old one in fantasy. At least back to Tolkien, and I would say back to the original tale of Rumpelstiltskin; names and knowing names have always been a big deal.

LeGuin’s Tombs of the Atuan also largely dealt with the power of a name, and naming things. So, this is a well tread idea, but McKillip makes it the most important feature of her magician, his power is in knowing the names of things. I would need to re read it to do a fair review of it, since it has been years. But, her books taught me a lot, in more than one way.

Part 3– Victor Hugo, Moral Crusader of the Nineteenth Century

Another birthday I missed was Victor Hugo. I all ready went on a rant about Les Miserables, which I have read, unabridged, translated into English. His style is the typical style of the nineteenth century. Nowadays we like our authors to be hidden in the background. A good author will blend in the background and not draw attention to his or her presence.

Well, Hugo’s hand prints are all over his work. His presence is very much there, and he stops the narrative more than once to go off on what he sees as the decadence of society and how this moral depravity affects the downtrodden. He was a lot like Dickens in that he saw it as his duty to show society what it was doing to the less fortunate. He used his platform to expose and highlight the problems in society.  Les Miserables deals heavily with several serious issues among them, poverty, prostitution, homelessness, and injustice.

The main character is imprisoned for stealing bread because he was starving. This simple attempt at survival follows him like his own shadow, he cannot escape this fate. This act always hangs over this character.

Fantine’s fate made me cry more than once. A girl who is in love with a boy. She falls in love, the boy was just playing around. She gets pregnant and is abandoned. There is no safety net back then, and being a single mother is not considered okay. Back then some women were even put in sanitariums for out of wedlock births, and often babies were put into other relatives care or orphanages, or into a baby minders’ care which often did not bode well for the baby.

In this situation, Fantine does everything in her power to take care of her daughter, she cuts her hair off, and sells it, she has her teeth yanked out, and sells them, she eventually sells her body and eventually gives up the daughter because she cannot take care of her.

Cosette ends up in a bad place but eventually she meets up with the main character, Val Jean, and he ends up adopting her and they go by another name and she ends up getting a schooling with some nuns and eventually ends up marrying and being okay.

But, it is her mother that always makes me so very sad. In today’s world, Fantine would have had some recourse; some way to get assistance. In her world, she made a mistake of believing her lover would marry her.  Hugo seems to feel bad for her, and shows step by step how she was forced into this awful life and how circumstances just kept getting worse. He doesn’t seem to condemn her for her actions but seems to blame society for allowing it to happen, and he doesn’t seem to believe Cosette deserves that fate and intervenes to prevent it.

He puts a spotlight on this problem as well as later on when there are many gamins running around wild. Gamins are street children who have no family and just fend for themselves, often they survive by begging or pick pocketing, and he seems to describe a ton of these, and these groups of children also appear to exist in Dickens’s world as well, so I can only assume that this was typical of the city during this time period.

No mandatory school, no welfare, no programs, you just ran about looting, and stealing  and hiding from the police. Cosette breaks out of this cycle because Val Jean gets her an education. Most of these gamins would not have access to this and outside of a charitable institution and occasional assistance, they would just be a drain on society as a whole for their entire lives, growing up into the criminals that must be jailed.

All in all, I found Les Miserables a dreary tale, but I suppose in the end there was light in the tunnel but it seems like sheer chance, and I can’t help but think had this been a true story, Cosette would have ended up Fantine Part 2. Being a fictional novel the author could get her out of that fate. Reality isn’t always that pretty.

What I learned by reading Hugo is also what I learned by reading Melville, and Dickens. There are more than one way to tell a story. And what may be fashionable now as far as language and structure, does change over time. Not everyone can read these books. I can but it takes serious dedication and work. You have to want to read them. In contrast, Jane Eyre  and Wuthering Heights are relatively easy to read.

So, it isn’t necessarily the era but perhaps the overbearing style of these writers. You get the feeling they know better than you and they have the moral high ground. They come across a little pretentious. Who knows what the future readers will think of our current works? Which ones will stand the test of time? Who will get taught in school? Will future students be studying Stephen King,  or something more obscure?

 

Posted in Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

J.R.R. Tolkien–Birthday Post part 2

Now on to Tolkien. Honestly, I am getting burned out talking about Tolkien but he still dominates Fantasy, so he will inevitably pop up in any conversation about it. Fantasy is just starting to diverge from the basic Tolkien-esque plot of country bumpkin becomes unlikely savior against the ultimate evil guy whose name cannot be said out loud.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Truth is, Tolkien loved the English countryside and there is a distinctly environmentalist spin in The Lord of the Rings. Since, I hadn’t dealt with this aspect of Tolkien yet, this might be the post to do so.

The talking trees, the tranquility and peacefulness of the shire. The lack of technology and the idealization of country life all point to his love of the past and of pre-World War Britain. I mentioned in a previous post Tolkien’s love of Beowulf and Saxon England, his love of pre-industrial England was obvious. And, one has to like how he has nature fight back, literally, the trees rise up and fight. In some ways, he was way ahead of his time.

Sometimes, looking back is a way of looking forward. Language and linguistics were his passion, and what he was a professor of, although I read that he could be hard to understand and mumbled when he spoke.

I have read that he didn’t intend to write a novel, but started out trying to invent a language, and the novel was the back story for the language which grew in the telling and eventually became a series of novels.

I was introduced to The Hobbit a long time ago by the Rankin Bass cartoon, with its folk-ish singing and cartoony looking hobbits. I think it actually made me cry when the dwarf king died. I guess part of me wished that he had another chance to redeem himself. Tolkien believed in an afterlife, even in Middle Earth, so it is possible that he found redemption there, but as a kid death seems so permanent.

The Hobbit was aimed at children, and is easy to read but the story is still interesting to read as an adult. Lord of the Rings is harder to read in that it is more descriptive and appears to be aimed squarely at adults. Before Lord of the Rings, most fantasy was what was termed Fairy Stories and were intended for children only. Fantasy was not aimed at adults for the most part. There were some unclassifiable stories like Gormenghast, called a Gothic Novel, because Fantasy was not an active label yet.

George McDonald was another early fantasist. Not sure if he was marketed toward children only, but an adult can get enjoyment out of it. C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles were also aimed at children primarily, of course.

This is what made Lord of the Rings so special, it was fantasy for adults, it made it okay for adults to read this. And, if we look back to the original Grimm’s Faerie Tales, children’s tales could be quite violent and gory. The fate of Cinderella’s step sisters and mom for instance, toes chopped off to fit into shoes and the step mom dragged behind a carriage until dead. Harsh. We think what children are exposed to today is harsh, but historically, children have always been exposed to some darkness even in the stories supposedly tailored for them.

The Lord of the Rings was originally one big novel, it was broken into three because the publisher thought it would be easier to market and less of a risk to do it this way. Tolkien did not write it as a trilogy. Also, it was subjected to illegal publishing in America via Ace. Somehow, the rights were not secured over here in the U.S., so an unauthorized version was being printed.

The Ace edition was in print for years, so that Tolkien actually put a disclaimer in the official copies asking his readers to only purchase the official copies since of course, he got no remuneration from the illegal copies. Eventually, Ace had to stop printing it as the rights got sorted out, but one wonders if having it out and about helped create the later popularity of it, as at first it was more of a cult following for college kids and was far from main stream reading.

‘Frodo Lives’ was sighted here and there showing that it was growing by word of mouth.The future writers of Dungeons and Dragons would be heavily influenced by Tolkien and create a whole sub-culture of table top gaming and fantasy culture.

This is going to seem unrelated, but the blip in the rights type of situation made me think of it. And this offers an example where the gap in rights actually made a significant difference. The Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life also had a time without secured rights. This actually saved the film from obscurity and actually was what contributed to it being a classic.  Because Columbia forgot or neglected to nail the TV rights down, any channel could show it whenever they wanted without paying any royalties or fees.

This made it free game, and an easy way to fill a TV slot during the holidays. So, naturally, it became something that was put on TV on many channels every holiday, until it became tradition. So, eventually, Columbia wised up, and said, ‘We should be getting paid for this’ or something along those lines, and secured the rights, but now these channels had been airing it every year, and it was expected that they would continue to do so, but now Columbia got paid, and It’s a Wonderful Life became a classic even though in its day it was a flop and not regarded as anything special.

The Ace fiasco might have helped the popularity in the end because it allowed more people to access it because the Ace copies were cheaper, of course. Interesting idea but I suppose we cannot know if it helped or not, but obviously, a writer like any artist, deserves to get paid for their work, and I am not suggesting otherwise. It was a gaffe on the UK publisher’s part. Possibly they didn’t see the US as much of a market for this book, if that was the reasoning, they were very much mistaken.

In summary, we are still dealing with the legacy of Tolkien and Asimov, and I think both will be pillars in their genres for many years to come.

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

Isaac Asimov– A Birthday Post Part 1

Part 2 will deal with Tolkien and Fantasy. It is a bit humorous that Asimov read and enjoyed The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien had read Asimov’s science fiction and liked it, apparently. They were both giants in their genre, and highly influential and still define their genres to many to this day.

Beyond this, they were very different. Asimov was a New Yorker, and an atheist. Tolkien an English gentleman and a devout catholic. Asimov wrote a lot of what we call Hard Science Fiction, which is a hard branch of sci-fi to successfully write.

For one thing, your readers, probably largely thanks to writers like Asimov, expect you to have knowledge of scientific processes. You have to do your homework and your research. There isn’t any excuses, or wand waving, or light saber battles here. Hard sci-fi can be very dry and cerebral to those that don’t read it often. It isn’t always done well. Asimov’s writing style was known to be dialogue heavy and bare of a lot of description, but he could always explain his science in layman’s terms.

He knew and worked with a lot of the greats in science-fiction. His editor was John Campbell, who has an award named after him, and he knew everyone. Heinlein, Ellison, Arhur C Clarke, Frederick Pohl.

I have a few books of his, the Foundation Trilogy, which might be more than three books, so perhaps trilogy is the wrong term, and Magic- The Final Fantasy Collection, which is a collection of his fantasy short stories he wrote. Asimov was quite prolific and wrote and published thousands of stories. He was the epitome of hard sci-fi for a long time. I enjoy Heinlein as well, because he deals with situations that kind of make you think. His characters were more developed in a way, but Asimov’s science was stronger.

Hard Sci-fi typically doesn’t make it into the mainstream media, the much softer “Space Opera” like Battlestar Galactica or Star Wars tends to dominate because the science is downplayed or not there at all, and more is focused on the characters. The only one I can think of that is actually called hard sci-fi is The Expanse based on a S.A. Corey series. I am excited for this show because of this, it is a thinking person’s science fiction.

I would argue West World could fit here as well, and possibly Orphan Black, because the science is at least mentioned which is more than some shows. I would say Orphan Black has the best of both worlds with unique  characters and a science background, but it is to be seen if the writers can continue to do the dance between the science and the plot. Asimov’s writing is still influencing Science-Fiction, and I actually enjoy reading heavy dialogue, it is kind of how I write as well so it gives me hope to know that a writer can be successful with that type of writing style.

His “Law of Robotics” also has affected a lot of the culture’s view on robots and machines and on their ability or inability to hurt people. Like in the Dick article I wrote, A.I, Blade Runner, many of these deal with robots who aren’t supposed to be able to hurt people going rogue. Asimov cemented the idea of making a robot incapable of harming a human. He is credited with coining the term robotics itself, and also wrote many science articles that were non-fiction to educate people on science.

Ultimately, a very interesting individual and writer that I would love to read more of. Feel free to add any comments on specific works and if he was an influence on your writing or anything I may have missed. This is the brief version, he was very prolific, this is just a basic overview of his life and work. I am aware I haven’t even scratched the surface.

Posted in Fiction, Life, Writing

Merry Christmas, Happy belated birthday to Philip K Dick and Michael Moorcock, and of course, Humphrey Bogart and any others I may have forgotten —Part 1

Okay, with the title out of the way, this is my belated post that I mentioned I would write. The one where I go on and on about Dick, and mention Moorcock, but mostly talk about Mr. Dick.  I assure you this post is about writing, and ideas, and fantasy and science fiction.

The reason for the Bogart mention, is besides the fact I am a huge fan of his movies, he was also a huge fan of writers and writing. So, I think a happy birthday is definitely in order, besides the old detective genre of movies has definitely affected how Hollywood portrays some of Philip K Dick’s stories. Blade Runner and Total Recall both have a taste of them, Blade Runner especially, has almost a feel of a Maltese Falcon type of feel with the detective/policeman voice over. My brain which is full of associations paused and just thought, ‘Harrison Ford, Blade Runner, Millennium Falcon, Star Wars, Maltese Falcon, Bogart.’ It can be truly wondrous how the brain works as I have recently seen Rogue One, and binged West World, my mind is just full of interesting connections right now.

In fact, Rogue One resurrected Peter Cushing much like an episode of TV did Bogart, to reprise a role. West World owes much in ideas and even its existence to Blade Runner, more than the original West World, which heavily influenced The Terminator which starred Schwarzenegger who starred in Total Recall, which was based on We Can Remember it For You Wholesale by Dick.

My brain is spinning from the universal connections some of these ideas have. To write something that permeates society so deeply and shows up so unexpectedly in so many different ways is I think many writer’s dream. I would say all writers but that begs an arrogance that I don’t possess.

I can’t know what all writer’s want, but I know what I would like. I don’t need fame, money is nice, but being rich has never been a goal of mine except as a child perhaps, but what I do crave is having a sense of permanence. Leaving something behind when I am gone, a deep carving in the rock saying ‘I was here. I lived, and I mattered, and this is what I stood for, this is what was important to me, this is my contribution to society. to my family, to myself, to the world.’

I think from what I have read of Philip K Dick, that he felt similarly. I can’t say the same because I will never know, but from the quotes I found, from the stories I read, he had a deep philosophical bent, which I also like to think I have in my writing, and meaning and legacy seem to have been a big deal. He had an existential streak that I also have, where the meaning of being alive, what it means to be human, what it means to exist was in the background of many of his stories sharing a strong strand of what does it mean to be real, what is reality, another question that I love to deal with. He was so effective at these two questions that I have found them, along with what is true, or the truth,  are the back bone of every story he wrote.

I received as a present a few years back a great book called the Philip K Dick Reader, it has all the short stories in one place. I know I have mentioned this in other posts, but I am a big fan of omnibus volumes.  I had seen the movies, I think Minority Report had come out sometime before I got the book and I expressed a desire to read the story. It always interests me in where adaptations decide to diverge and what they leave out, and add in. I have read Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and complained throughout the Depp movie  that was based on it because it just shared the name pretty much but not much else, so it is a double edged sword, knowing the actual stories, sometimes it ruins the suspension of disbelief that is required to make it real.

But, with Dick, even when it diverges, it is like the essence, the reason behind the story creeps in. Hollywood cannot get rid of the message, it is in too deep. Total Recall is a good example. It has a lot of 80’s action movie and heavy cussing in it, it is a Verhoeven film more than a Dick story, by far. But the thing is, the actual story is so short and I can honestly say they needed to add more to the plot to make it work. It couldn’t be faithfully adapted into a two hour movie, and that is largely the case with Dick’s work.

In the end, the story has an ambiguous ending, you can’t definitively say whether he actually was a secret agent that went to Mars, or whether he was a vegetable at the vacation place, you can interpret it either way, and the movie stayed true to that. Both interpretations work which makes you question what is real, which is the question behind the story, and the movie itself, despite all the explosions and distractions that were added to make it flashy.

Minority Report I felt was mostly true to the story, I expected it to be further removed honestly because that is the trend with Dick’s work, and in general. The movie Adaptation deals with this quite well, actually. Basically it is a writer’s job and purpose to create, to recreate another person’s dream and be totally faithful to it is hard, because in the end we all want to create something new. It is a struggle because is any idea new, then becomes a question in of itself.

I also binge watched season two of The Man In the High Castle. This is an amazon show, so if you have prime it is easy to watch because you have all ready paid for it in a sense by being a member. You don’t have to buy it again, or pay for it and it is all out there to watch, no waiting each week for an episode to air. I didn’t quite enjoy season 1, so I wasn’t eagerly awaiting season 2. In fact, I only watched it because it came out around Mr Dick’s birthday, so I felt like maybe I should at least see it. And, you know what, season 2 was actually very very good.

It even had some Dick-ish themes going along in the background. What is reality? What is the truth? What is good what is evil? Can doing a horrible deed end up being the right thing to do? I haven’t read The Man in the High Castle, unfortunately, I have heard that the series diverges a great deal, and that isn’t surprising. But, I can say, that I felt the message behind it, the feeling, the questions in the background, are true to his work. So, the writers kept that in. I am starting to wonder if it is possible to remove this quality from his stories, as even the most crazy adaptation has it insidiously there, somewhere in the background, you just can’t remove it.

Back to Blade Runner, because it also isn’t a particular faithful adaptation. I have read Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep?, it is a great story. Much like We Can Remember it For You Wholesale, it is short, and I can see the need to add much to the plot to make it a full length film. Dick loved Blade Runner, and saw it as an improvement on his story. The fact that it didn’t replicate his story didn’t seem to bother him, he in fact was honored that the creative team managed to spin this story out of his own. Ultimately, the question behind both stories remain, what does it mean to  be human? What does it mean to be alive? West World the TV show deals with the same questions as well as the movie AI, which was based on a Brian Aldiss story, which I have also read.

Yes, the movie again departs heavily from the source, but it is also a series of short vignettes. So, of course it would diverge by necessity.Aldiss was annoyed by the merging of his story with the story of Pinocchio, but again, Pinocchio deals with what it means to be human, to be real, what makes him a puppet and how he eventually becomes a real boy. When there are no more real boys, will the close approximation of one be a real one as it is the most real one in existence?

The same questions are asked and the story of the other, and how we treat who we regard as the other is dealt with similarly. Whoever is considered less than is seen as a threat, and ultimately considered disposable. The African slaves are an example of this in real life, the American Indians, the Australian aborigines, anytime someone is considered the ‘Less Than’ by others they are treated horribly and sometimes eradicated as a perceived threat. We are threatened by things we cannot understand, and robots, computers, androids are good representations of this fear, of this irrational destructiveness we have toward the unknown or the misunderstood of the perceived ‘Less Than.’

We can use science fiction to look at these problems in a way that gets around any programming we may have received in our lives. You can have false beliefs toward a whole group of people than watch someone mistreat a robot on a TV show or in a book, and just maybe it can open your mind, and cause you to question the very belief that you think of as reality even though what you witnessed on TV or in a book is outlandish and far from real.

By taking it out of reality, it allows us as people to question reality. By being supremely unreal and untrue, we can learn real truth.I feel that Dick knew that, and played on that in his works. A Scanner Darkly deals directly with what is real, perceived reality versus a definitive reality. I think what is real is one of fiction’s greatest questions and it can be asked in so many interesting ways.