Caught up in 2016 with new releases from favorite authors Haruki Murakami and Neal Stephenson. Then after lamenting the difficulty in finding time for dedicated book-reading, T turned me on to audiobooking, ie. the blessed ability to multitask whilst consuming literature—mostly sci fi from there on out, and the start of a proper PKD bender.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami
I wanted to like this book, and to an extent I did like this book. I definitely liked it more than his last book 1Q84, which is one of the few Murakami books I disliked more than liked. Still, I guess my overall impression of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is inevitably colored (lol) by disappointment. I can’t help but wonder if it’s because Murakami’s writing has changed over the years, or if it’s my perception of him as a writer as I myself have changed. Or some combination of the two. I discovered Murakami in my emotionally tumultuous mid 20’s when I was working in a used bookstore, and so I collected and devoured his works over the course of just a handful of years. I mentioned not enjoying 1Q84, and perhaps not uncoincidentally that was the first Murakami book consumed in my 30’s—age at which I was performing a bit of a personal about-face. And now in my mid-30’s is it any wonder that I find my reaction to Murakami changed? Plus maybe I was wrong to make Colorless Tsukuru my go-to gym read. Maybe the soft dreamlike quality of Murakami’s storytelling doesn’t hold up well against elliptical-induced endorphins. Certainly he offers up the usual meandering poetry, emotional enigmas, unrequited loves, and musical and literary asides. His use of color in this one appeals to my own interest in color symbolism and synesthesia. But maybe there’s something tired about the passive narrator this time, something frustrating about the false rape accusation, about the relationship infidelities, about the melancholy which seems less mysterious and more stagnant repetition. Maybe I didn’t care for this book as much as I hoped.
Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson
Another gym read. Neal Stephenson doing hard sci fi, of course I pounced on this one as soon as it was released. The first 2/3 of the book was near perfection for me. Although, like with Murakami, my enjoyment of Stephenson has changed since my initial fascination and since my departure from the PNW. From “outside” I can detect more of that particular flavor of eccentricity in his writing and find that I don’t relate as well anymore, I guess now no longer immersed in that PNW background chatter. I enjoyed things much more once the cataclysm had occurred and the narrative was firmly locked in space, followed by the numerous complications and catastrophies and tasty science. The final third of the book was both interesting and entertaining, but I guess I enjoy Neal Stephenson best when he’s explaining theory of things, how things work, how things interact, and all the complexities in between. When it gets to messy interpersonal scenes and action sequences, my attention tends to wander. Felt like this final third was more of a prelude to the next book. Having essentially shown that the various fragmented survival groups of the beginning of the book have indeed survived and gone on to evolve their own societies, I have to wonder about the group that struck out for Mars. Is there a sequel in the works? Seems like a lot of material ripe for narrative cultivation. At the same time, I find myself struggling to emotionally connect with such a sudden wealth of characters introduced here at the end, even if they’re descended from those we connected with in the first 2/3. In any case, I enjoyed the book, but the end left me feeling a tad disoriented and incomplete.
Neuromancer, by William Gibson
Yet another gym read. And maybe I’m realizing I often fail to retain the books I read at the gym, even if in the moment I’m thoroughly engrossed. And Neuromancer is such a cyberpunk MUST that I’ll probably be revisiting it in the near future. Feel like this is a book that requires more than one pass since Gibson seems to be a writer who doesn’t overexplain, rather he immediately immerses the reader in his world and tells them swim or don’t. Having read over the Wikipedia synopsis I’m reminded of vague shadows of narrative I consumed in sweaty 45min increments, but so much of it is just wtf, I did not retain it. So, Neuromancer, I’ll be coming back for you. This is a MUST.
VALIS, by Philip K Dick
One of Philip K Dick’s final works, and probably one of his weirdest. You can tell that the membrane between fiction and nonfiction here has thinned to the point of borderline biography. This was my first real PKD read. Sure, I read the short story Total Recall years ago, but I really struggle to recall any of it. Did not make an impression at the time. And I’d always heard critique of PKD as a writer with great ideas but terrible delivery. I don’t know, now that seems BS. T turned me on to audiobooking with this one, PKD’s prophetic/schizophrenic alterego Horselover Fat and samples of his rambling Exegesis, threads of philosophy, theology, revelation and lasers. Perhaps it’s the best introduction into PKD, because you can almost see him building to this moment, bits of previous works shaping and reshaping similar themes, whereas here in VALIS, it’s laid bare. At at the same time it’s perfect in its brilliant failure to pull all those threads together. It’s perfect in its incoherence. The final scene of the book, a vigil in front of a TV. Online you’ll find The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer presented as books 2 and 3 of a VALIS trilogy, but I feel like that’s trying to force subsequent books into a system that doesn’t fit. Read VALIS alone as its own thing and I think you’ll better glimpse the frenetic compulsion of its author.
THE EMPIRE NEVER ENDED.
Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
An enjoyable space romp with some nice tech twists and moral/philosophical questions about the nature of war and of humanity. The appeal was similar to that of Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers. That kind of thing, which is to say, not exactly my thing, but no regrets.
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, by Edwin Abbott Abbott
Somehow never managed to get into this one, so the audiobook ended up being the perfect method of delivery. I want to think I saw an abbreviated cartoon when I was a kid, but the satire and social commentary is where this little gem really shines, which is all the more unexpected since I’m pretty sure any cartoon would have avoided these features. Classic.
Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem
Sort of isolated outpost with strange HAPPENINGS and explorations of psychology alongside hard sci fi. I don’t know. Solaris hits a lot of buttons for me. It’s been adapted to film a number of times, none of which I’ve managed to see, and evidently the critique is that screentime is too often preoccupied with the romantic relationship rather than the psychological ramifications as described by the book, and of the alien intelligence in the ocean. This is the sort of philosophical sci fi that deserves a second read/listen, because I’m surely not retaining enough of it, but Lem leaves a huge impression, and a desire to read more by him.
Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
Simmons gets a lot of praise, and this book in particular. But my feeling after reading it was only so-so. He presents a sort of Canterbury Tales format, which gives an opportunity for multiple narrators and different flavors of narrative—horror, sci fi, mystery, romance. Maybe I listened to this one on too many Sbahn trips, because my memory of this book is one of earphones and sweat and errands and the carrying of heavy things rather than I feeling of cohesive narrative. Maybe it’s just not the book for me. The allusion to the Wizard of Oz at the end was just too much. I don’t like any of these characters haha.
Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan
Cyberpunk detective noir. Where Neuromancer was gritty and grimey (and glorious), Altered Carbon feels polished to gleaming, maybe benefiting from a better insight into the the implications of future tech. Impressive world-building and questions revolving around mortality/immortality and identity. Some interesting female characters too. Finally. Worth a reread to pick up more of the politics and backstory, but I’m not sure if I feel compelled to read on in the series.
The Disaster Artist, by Greg Sestero
Finally a book appropriate for gym session reading, and a must after having watched Rifftrax take on Tommy Wiseau’s infamous hard-to-watch movie The Room, the book adding annotation and context and even empathy to a truly cringeworthy cult film. The backstory is far more interesting than the movie. But that should come as no real surprise.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
I had to really steel myself to start this one and keep going with it. Not an easy world to immerse oneself in if you’re already teetering into melancholy. Actually had to put it back on the shelf for a spell and revisit it later when I was more fortified. It’s a beautiful story though. Gaunt like its characters, stark like its landscape. I had to be ready for it. I was listening to the final scenes while washing dishes, crying unapologetically, tears and snot, it would’ve been comical if it hadn’t felt so raw and perfect. I’d been standoffish at first, this being a sort of father-son story, a father’s love note to his son, and part of me bristled at this, as I’ve always felt, as a daughter, somehow robbed of the sort of love a father should feel for his firstborn, his son. I was firstborn, but daughter, the wrong gender, and therefore a wall was always there. But that’s my own stupid baggage. And the further I got down The Road with the Man and the Boy, the more it didn’t matter, because it was fundamentally a story about love. In a weird way I saw T as the Man and myself as the Boy—love and heartbreak in that direction. Then I saw myself as the Man, and Haku, my soft-hearted flower of a Samoyed, as the Boy, and my heart broke in that direction. So much ache, so much goodness. My only critique would be the very, very ending. It felt unnecessary.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, by Philip K Dick
Both enjoyed and annoyed in turns. I found most of the characters deeply unsympathetic and often one-dimensional. PKD often receives criticism when it comes to his female characters, and Flow My Tears exhibits fine examples of shallowness and misogyny. Not to mention the protagonist Jason Taverner exudes chauvinism, entitlement, and is generally unpleasant and untouched by karma. BUT the overall plot, the question of Taverner’s mysteriously vanished identity, does keep one turning the pages, pages which do yield up the surreal, the paranoid, and the philosophical—enjoyed but annoyed, enjoyed but annoyed.
The Divine Invasion, by Philip K Dick
A sort of sequel but not-sequel. Not as good as VALIS, maybe because it lacks the immediacy and blurring of reality of its predecessor, but certainly continuing in the same thematic vein, oscillating between standard PKD paranoid near-future dystopia and by-now familiar gnostic meander.
Gather Yourselves Together, by Philip K Dick
Early PKD literary fiction which employs some interesting seed ideas recognizable in their more fully-mature forms later in VALIS (like Carl’s book of philosophy vs the Exegesis). Funny, reading books out of order.