Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Black in Time


John Jakes Black in Time (1970)
I was a bit underwhelmed by Jakes' Mask of Chaos from the same year, but the promise of the cover - not to mention the creaking and possibly just a little bit crass pun of the title - made this one impossible to resist. It's the American future - meaning 1977 in this case - and we have time travel as an educational resource. Unfortunately though, one of those black militants has gone back in time to change the past so as to get rid of all white people and make Earth a black planet - just like one of those evil liberals behind the new Star Wars movies would probably appreciate; and worse, some right wing televangelist nutjob has also gone back in time hoping to change history and make it a white Christian planet; and thus does chaos ensue.

It probably doesn't need stating that this could quite easily have gone horribly wrong, and yet Jakes just about gets away with it, albeit at the expense of a coherent story. Online dunderheads have dismissed the novel as racist seemingly by application of the same logic which prompted my fifteen-year old overly literal stepson to announce that the television show Black-ish is racist, apparently because the word black appears in the title. Black in Time deals with race, obviously, and while it's certainly guilty of stereotyping, the stereotyping is consistent with the sort of broad brushstrokes you should probably expect from this kind of novel - basically a Richard Allen style pulp thriller with time travel.
Harold felt unwashed, hot around the eyeballs, queasy in the stomach. The buckets of Smackin-Good Chikkin from the Robt. E. Lee Chik-ateria eventually fetched in by Little Che did nothing to soothe his condition. In fact they worsened it. The stink of the greasy batter raped his sensibilities. The notion of eating fried chicken—or peanut butter, vichysoisse, anything—just prior to maybe toppling civilisation as they knew it struck him as perverse and frightful.

Aside from having been written by a white dude, Black in Time is a blaxploitation novel, more or less, at least by virtue of Jomo, our time travelling black power activist loosely based on Huey Newton and pals. Jomo isn't so much a bad guy as someone who needs to step back and think about what he's doing, and while he's a composite of numerous easily identified cliches, Jakes takes great care to account for why he's angry, and why he has every right to be angry, so he's never an entirely unsympathetic character; and for the record, he doesn't refer to anyone as jive turkey anywhere in the book. Jomo's white supremacist nemesis is, on the other hand, shown to be an unreasonable character, a believable evil presence without the need for either cackling or twirling of moustaches. These extremes are balanced out by Harold, our main character, whom it should be noted is 1) the lead in a mainstream seventies science-fiction novel published a mere six years since the abolition of segregation in America, and 2) a black man written without any of the stereotyping to which Jomo is subject.

Jakes eventually made his reputation with historical novels set during the American civil war, so his attention to detail is impressive and convincing despite the demands of the form. On the other hand, the time travel aspect is a bit of a mess and makes for an occasionally bewildering and even silly progression of narrative elements, but not so much as to muddy the message or the impact of the message. Black in Time may be hokey and dated, but I don't see the alleged racism, casual or otherwise. It's far from being a classic, but considering what it tried to say and when it tried to say it, it's anything but run of the mill.

The Valley of Spiders


H.G. Wells The Valley of Spiders (1905)
I didn't do very well with my last collection of Herbie's short stories, finding them generally patchy and of uneven quality amounting to things which might seem nice ideas as the mind wanders while doing the dishes, but which don't quite add up to a tale. It's hard to miss that a couple of these follow certain narrative conventions favoured by my fifteen-year old stepson, specifically that by which he came up with the saga of the raccoons with rainsticks.

He was back from a weekend at the ranch, and there had been rattlesnakes under the house. 'I called them raccoons with rainsticks,' he informed me, barely able to contain the pleasure taken in his own wit.

'Tell him how you came up with that,' my wife prompted.

'Well,' he began, figuratively taking a thoughtful puff on an imaginary cigar, 'we were in the bedroom and we could hear rattlesnakes under the house, and Courtlandt asked what it was, and I said it was raccoons with rainsticks!'

'What a great story,' I dutifully exclaimed.

Anyway, Wells employs more or less the same composition technique with tales centred upon the appearance of a weird and unusual thing, entailing the discovery of a thing which seems both weird and unusual, with the weird and unusual thing additionally named in the title of the story - The Moth or The Inexperienced Ghost being two examples. Despite being the father - or perhaps uncle - of modern science-fiction, there's not actually a whole lot of science here; although significantly, there's nothing traditionally supernatural, and that which falls outside the realm of anything sciencey should probably be termed either unexplained or just plain weird. These tales have the rhythm and mood of Poe - or what I vaguely remember of Poe - without quite invoking dark forces as anything much beyond a product of human imagination. I suppose therefore that this was supernatural horror catching up with the enlightenment, the death of God, and the industrial revolution.

Yet for whatever reason, I enjoyed this a whole lot more than the collection based around The Time Machine - or Poe for that matter. The stories were written between 1894 and 1905, roughly the decade from which Wells' better novels came, and so most of these are reasonably tight without too much of the whimsy or jabbering which characterised his less successful efforts. The Red Room succeeds as a ghost story in a universe which doesn't really allow for the existence of ghosts; Pollock and the Porroh Man achieves the same but with a more visceral mood which almost foreshadows Lovecraft; and The Crystal Egg serves as an intriguing pendant to War of the Worlds. As seems to be generally true of Wells' short stories, there's nothing here to match the likes of the hits, but it's nevertheless a decent collection in its own right.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Palm Sunday


Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Palm Sunday (1981)
Most of Vonnegut's novels constitute autobiography of one form or another. Palm Sunday goes a little further, being an assemblage of essays, reviews, newspaper articles, speeches, unpublished introductions to other people's books, and notes reminding the milkman that no further yoghurt will be required until the weekend; so it's the same sort of deal as Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, except ordered as a chronology with added material framing most of the reprints in the wider context of Vonnegut's existence.

There are several problems with this as a collection. Firstly the fifty pages of Vonnegut dynastic history covering four generations - or what felt like four generations - written by a distant relative is almost certainly more fun to read if you're actually a Vonnegut. Secondly, despite much of Vonnegut's oeuvre being approximately autobiographical, it's rare that he talks about his career as a writer - excepting parodies by way of Kilgour Trout - and I guess that was a good thing. Here he talks about the art of writing, about the business aspect, and about hanging out with other writers. Some of it's sort of interesting - notably what an arsehole Jack Kerouac obviously was - but somehow this daylight cast upon magic seems counterproductive, suggesting a Vonnegut with more than a touch of the Richard Stilgoe or Ronnie Corbett about him. There's a whole blogging genre out there born from young, slightly clueless university educated men who've decided to pursue careers as authors of Doctor Who novels, having somehow failed to make the distinction between the world of Camus and Genet and exciting telly adventures featuring outer space robot people; and whilst these young lads may well be as harmless and amiable as their work, their online musings are purest grade one ballsache.

Where I get my amazing ideas...

Analysing the genius of Stephen Moffat…

A day in the life of an unpublished author...

Wish me luck! I'm thinking of pitching a story pitting the first Doctor against the Sontarans…

Oh look, yet another charity anthology…


I suppose it's my own fault that I'm even aware of such twattery; but to return to the point, Vonnegut's reportage of certain aspects of his writing career unfortunately convey a similarly sense of indulgence, as though he's just got settled in his favourite armchair, pipe at the ready, and a wry wink as we embark on the first anecdote of many. You don't have to be crazy to write these books, but it helps!

On the other hand, even at his cosiest, Vonnegut mostly remains at least self aware and disinclined to brag.

I would add that novelists are not only unusually depressed, by and large, but have, on the average, about the same IQs as the cosmetics consultants at Bloomingdale's department store. Our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.

There's just about sufficient quality material laced through the collection to justify ploughing on through the cosier sections, observations regarding Dresden, Joseph Heller and Louis-Ferdinand Céline being of particular note.
Now is as good a time as any to mention White House prayer breakfasts, I guess. I think we all know now that religion of that sort is about as nourishing to the human spirit as potassium cyanide. We have been experimenting with it. Every guinea pig died. We are up to our necks in dead guinea pigs.

Palm Sunday is unmistakeably the work of the guy who wrote Slaughterhouse Five and the rest, with that same scathing wit and ability to cut to the chase; but it's nowhere near so good as the novels, and there's a seam of schmaltz running through it which jars almost as much as its peculiarly Stilgoe-esque cover.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown


Walter & Louise Simonson with Jon. J. Muth & Kent Williams
Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown (1988)

This was the comic book growing up. You can tell because of the prestige format printing, as it was known, with glossy high quality pages and a story told in four volumes rather than issues. Fancy.

There's little narration to spoil the illusion of something filmic, and the artwork is painted throughout, very striking, and kind of dark in ways which genuinely invoke Rembrandt and Goya. Nevertheless, this is still a pair of super types having a thrilling adventure seasoned with the kind of generic angst which has troubled Marvel heroes from the beginning. Havok and Wolverine are pitted against the schemes of three nuclear themed villains, of whom Meltdown is able to wield the mighty power of a nuclear er… meltdown; but he must first con Havok into absorbing the mighty power of a nuclear meltdown orchestrated by Neutron at an atomic power station in India; and he must then fight Havok so that he himself can absorb the mighty power of Havok's plasma blasts. I don't understand why he can't just go straight to the source and absorb the mighty power of the nuclear meltdown fresh from the cow, so to speak, particularly as he's chosen the name Meltdown. I suppose it could actually be his name - Gordon Meltdown or something - but that would be one hell of a coincidence, so personally I'm doubtful. There are a number of scenes in which we see Neutron moodily playing chess against no-one in particular with little Havok and Wolverine pieces on the board; and when the heroes have won the day, he opens a draw to fetch new pawns for a fresh game, chess pieces resembling Captain America, Spiderman and so on. You can almost hear those three dramatic notes of revelation in the background. But you can't mean—

Dan dan daaaaa!


The problem is not that this is in essence a ludicrous sixties telly Batman of a story, but that the gulf between the presentation and the narrative emphasises its inherent absurdity rather than fooling us into believing we're watching Tarkovsky like big boys do, all grown up and shit.

The art is accomplished but ill-suited, and I've never been convinced by Kent Williams' squirty looking people. He always makes everything appear greasy and turdlike - as though squozen from a tube, or even an arsehole - and Wolverine has a peculiar red nose and is apparently growing his hair into the shape of a mediaeval jester's cap. Meltdown might have gotten away with it were it not for those meddling kids as a couple of fifty cent comic books drawn by a more average talent, but it feels like Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius at the National Opera with Sir Ralph Richardson in the lead role, regardless of whether Sir Ralph Richardson can actually sing.

Never mind.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Doom Patrol


John Byrne, Doug Hazlewood & Terry Austin Doom Patrol (2006)
This is a stack of eighteen comic books picked up in continuation of my efforts to catch up with all those versions of the Doom Patrol which happened while I was looking the other way, and comprising a story John Byrne began during his run of Justice League comics. The strangest thing here was Byrne's decision to ignore all previous versions of the book, starting again at the beginning as though we'd never before met any of these characters. There's an editorial in the first issue explaining how this return to year zero has been effected so as to tell new stories without any crippling continuity getting in the way, although I have to say that John Arcudi seemed to do fine with the previous run of Doom Patrol, taking it somewhere entirely different without any need of a reset button; and for all its finer points, I still can't help feel that Byrne simply didn't want to deal with all that weird homoerotic Dadaism.

That said, I suppose there's an argument that Hans Bellmer and the Marquis de Sade probably don't belong in a children's comic; and so far as taking Doom Patrol back to its roots with stories thematically faithful to the Arnold Drake version, Byrne does a decent job without descending into pastiche. This is as mainstream as the book has ever been, although it's still reasonably weird when compared to - off the top of my head - silver age Superman. The premise suffers a little from somewhat modular Thunderbirdsisms with the tidily secret base from which the team go forth to fight crime and effect rescue operations, but this is at least a little offset by the characters, old and new, with their brain transplants, four-armed gorillas, friendly Confederate ghosts, and so on - and not forgetting a pleasing sidestep into alternate Doom Patrol realities somewhere around issue fourteen. John Byrne is quite good at this sort of thing, essentially pulling the characters apart, working out what makes them tick, and then spinning stories from whatever he's found - which he did to great effect with Alpha Flight back in the eighties; but apparently he's not very good at dialogue, which really shows in the wake of Chris Claremont having co-written those issue of Justice League which foreshadowed this book. It's not that the dialogue is bad so much as that it lacks Claremont's flair and thus exposes the fact that we're actually reading what may as well be a peculiar take on Scooby Doo. Characters think about what they're doing within their thought bubbles as they're doing it, or they describe that which we can see with our own eyes, or they point out that they would have got away with it were it not for that meddling Doom Patrol.

Despite this, Byrne's Doom Patrol has enough going on to keep it engagingly odd and even gripping, and the only problem is simply that it could have been better.

Fantastic Four versus the X-Men

Chris Claremont, Jon Bogdanove & Terry Austin
Fantastic Four versus the X-Men (1987)
I chose this as light bedtime reading on evenings when it seemed like Philip K. Dick's Exegesis might be a bit too much, which could justifiably be characterised as a retreat into childhood - although I was twenty-two when I first read this and not technically a child, just emotionally behind and lacking in worldly experience.

I brought the occasional Marvel comic back from school when I was a kid, usually borrowed from a friend. I quite specifically recall my mother sneering with unusual severity at the cover of Spiderman Comics Weekly #111, which would have been January 1975*, and which imprinted on me the idea that these things were trashy, shameful, and therefore forbidden. Normally she wouldn't have seen the comic but I had to get a parental signature so that I could join FOOM, or Friends of Old Marvel.

I didn't really go anywhere near superheroes after that, excepting a few issues of the Defenders and something or other reprinting the Inhumans. 2000AD and Doctor Who met most of my science-fiction needs and didn't seem to draw quite such opprobrium, possibly because there was no-one wearing a cape on the cover, meaning they could therefore be smuggled past the border patrol as something faintly cultural by virtue of not being American.

Then within about a year of leaving home at the age of eighteen, it suddenly dawned on me that I could now read that caped shit until my eyes hurt, and there was no-one to stop me. Furthermore, I now had the means to buy many different titles thus enabling me to keep track of what the fuck was going on in the wider Marvel universe. Part of the appeal of the Defenders had been the glimpse it afforded of a more expansive but otherwise mysterious narrative. I slipped into monthly expeditions to Forbidden Planet up in that London, usually spending about fifty quid at a time. I accrued a massive collection of American comics. Then around '92 it became obvious that I had to shed some of what I had accumulated for practical reasons, and it was mostly the Marvel stuff. Rob Liefeld had become involved and the current titles had all turned to shite, plus it seemed like a clean break might not hurt - kicking the habit as though it were an actual chemical addiction, all or nothing, and most of the caped stuff went.

Thirty years later, my curiosity has built such a head of steam that I've started buying back all those issues I once owned, which as mid-life crises go is probably healthier than sports cars or banging teenagers. The element of curiosity is my specifically wondering how bad those comics really could have been given that they clearly meant a lot to me at the time; and would the magic, whatever it was, have endured? Strangely, it has in most cases, despite my now reading these things with more brain cells at my disposal, being arguably more educated and more emotionally developed. I cleared out the caped stuff because it struck me as childish and therefore symptomatic of my own immaturity, and of course I held onto all that sophisticated stuff by Alan Moore and the rest; but only now have I noticed that this was itself an immature perspective.

I'm reading Watchmen instead of X-Factor. I'm a big boy now!
 
Anyway, I read the Mephisto limited series a few nights back. It was a lot of fun, but definitely a children's comic, and there's not much more to be said about it. Fantastic Four versus the X-Men is likewise a children's comic, but one written by Chris Claremont which might therefore be seen to epitomise everything which drew me to the genre and then kept me reading.

The story is fairly simple. Shadowcat of the X-Men is unwell and only Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four has the scientific knowhow to save her, but he experiences a crisis of confidence and refuses, fearing he will only make the situation worse. Dr. Doom, mortal enemy of just about everyone but also a brilliant scientist steps in, offering to cure Shadowcat; and they all have a fight.

Where Claremont succeeded was emphasising the soap opera aspect of these stories, and either sufficiently downplaying the more ludicrous elements of the genre so as to keep them from getting in the way, or else disguising them as something more like science-fiction. So maybe the superpowers, mutant or otherwise, are preposterous, but by passing our guys off as sympathetic monsters, we never have to think about the truly stupid stuff such as why anyone would dress up as a bat in response to the death of their parents, or even the absurd frequency with which strangers need rescuing from burning buildings. Instead of something which pulls towards the status quo of upholding justice and jailing bad guys, the world of our mutant superheroes is actually pretty fucking weird with plenty of wiggle room for shifting moral foundations, playing on the sort of subjects which will tend to preoccupy all but the most stupid teenagers. This dovetails nicely with that thing about comic book narrative being a case of messing up everyone's lives and then trying to get them straightened out - reforming the villainous Magneto as a sympathetic character for one. Claremont did this a lot, but framed his dilemmas in such a way as to present the illusion of there being something real at stake. Here we have Shadowcat, whose molecules are drifting apart, faced with her own extinction, and the writing, pacing, timing and art are so perfectly judged as to evoke genuine tragedy.

Claremont writes in the tradition of Stan Lee, moving his story along with a third person subjective narrator prone to rhetorical questions in Marvel Shakespearian.

Did you really think to do that much, Reed Richards?

As narrative, it's the opposite of Warren Ellis trying to fool us into thinking we're watching a film. It's chatty and probably a bit camp, but as with anything, you have to make some effort to work with the genre rather than expecting Sartre with capes and superpowers - an approach which will lead only to disappointment.

Here Claremont tells a story spelled out in huge, brash brush strokes with everything sign posted and plenty of sentiment, and somehow he gets the balance absolutely right, resulting in a story which is never too much or too little of anything, meaning that while it remains a book which seems obviously aimed at ten-year old boys, I can still read it at the age of fifty-three without feeling like I'm watching Dora the Explorer; because the elements which keep it interesting - the shock of the weird and the soap opera - don't speak to any one specific reading age.

I'm really glad that I grew up so much as to be able to read this sort of thing again.

*: I had to look this up, scanning through page after page of internet to find a cover I recognised. This search has additionally brought to my attention the fact of this particular issue having been drawn by Gil Kane, so I probably shouldn't have placed so much stock in my mother's verdict on this occasion.

Monday, 14 January 2019

The Exegesis


Philip K. Dick, Pamela Jackson (ed.) & Jonathan Lethem (ed.)
The Exegesis (2011)

Today is the first day of my reading Dick's Exegesis, specifically a thousand-word volume distilled from a much longer, rambling text most likely destined to remain unpublished. It's the size of a house brick and could be used to stun cattle, which is why it has sat untouched upon my to be read pile alongside Alan Moore's similarly hefty Jerusalem for a good couple of years. I generally prefer to read books which can be digested in three or four days - allowing for the fact that I tend to read for an hour in the morning, then another before I go to bed. Anything of greater length becomes a more immersive, demanding experience, one that isn't quite like reading a book, which additionally means that it really, really has to be something worth reading; which Jerusalem probably wasn't.

Jerusalem is informed by its author having discerned patterns which would seem to place his home town, and by extension himself, at the absolute centre of reality; which is fine, except Moore tends to avoid discussion of the possibility of his understanding being a simple matter of perspective and therefore fairly common - unless he saved that for pages following the point at which I lost interest and stopped reading. Everyone is at the absolute centre of their own reality, and it will always seem more significant than mere coincidence. My wife is related by marriage to Johnny Cash; a friend of her previous husband vividly recalls what a pain in the ass George W. Bush was as a child; my mother's school friend married the brother of a Beatle; my previous girlfriend was related to Charles Darwin; I used to enjoy a regular correspondence with Cosey of Throbbing Gristle; and there's this guy Ben who lives in Arizona, whom I know through the internet. We're about the same age, and had known each other, or known of each other for maybe five years before he realised I was an admirer of Philip K. Dick, with whom - it turned out - his father had been fairly close friends. Ben recalls Dick stopping by for dinner when he was a kid. At one point Ben sent Dick some of his own juvenile short stories, hoping for feedback. I can't remember whether Dick replied directly, but it seems that his quoting Robert Herrick's An Ode for Him - a poem beginning with the address, Ah Ben! - in the opening pages of The Transmigration of Timothy Archer was an affectionate acknowledgement; and I myself am at the centre of all these connections, or so it seems to me. I am therefore at the centre of modern culture which in turn stems mostly from myself, which I'll admit to finding endlessly surprising.

See?

It's not a big deal.

It's also sort of what the Exegesis is about, specifically Dick attempting to make sense of his reality as shaped, or at least informed by visionary - or hallucinatory, if you prefer - experiences arising from what were probably episodes of frontal lobe epilepsy. The difference between what Dick experienced, Alan Moore talking about himself for 1,266 pages, and my knobbing Darwin's great grand niece - or whatever the proper familial term would be - is that Dick investigates the convolutions of his own perception without ego, and with some understanding of all the philosophical gubbins necessary for getting to grips with the nature of reality.

I tried reading this before but only got so far, finding it incomprehensible; but apparently I'm more intelligent than was once the case because now, if not exactly light reading, it seems to have a more conversational tone and Dick's argument really isn't that hard to follow. This itself seems to relate to the ideas he discusses as the book opens, namely information travelling back to us from the future as tachyons - as consistent with the idea of a universe which emerges from entropy to achieve order and complexity.

The Constitutional guarantees of our country have been suspended for some time now, and an assault has begun on the checks and balances structure of the government. The Republic is in peril; the Republic has been in peril for several years and is now cut away almost to a shadow of itself, barely functioning. I think they are carving it up in their minds, deciding who sits where forever and ever, now. In the face of this no one notices that virtually everything we believed in is dead. This is because the people who would have pointed this out are dead: mysteriously killed. It's best not to talk about this. I've tried to list the safe things to talk about, but so far I can't find any. I'm trying to learn what the Lie is or what the Lies are, but I can't discern that anymore. Perhaps I sense the Lie is gone from the world because evil is so strong now that it can step forth as it is without deception. The masks are off.

He wrote that in July 1974. I am able to read it in 2018 either as a chillingly prescient prediction of the present, or an indication that nothing much has changed. Either way, I'd argue that it proves that Dick achieved a perceptive and lucid understanding of the world, regardless of where that understanding came from, and regardless of delusional episodes.

Day 2. Phil discusses the possible origin of the voices he hears in his head, usually delivering fragmented messages in Greek, often quoting maxims subsequently found in texts he's never read before, which proves that it's really happening. This reminds me of the incident with my friend Nelly and her narrowly avoided car accident. The accident was narrowly avoided through Jesus Christ levitating her Mini Cooper at the crucial moment and then gently placing it down, unharmed, on the other side of the crash barrier. This happened at two in the morning during one of her not infrequent manic episodes.

'How can you be sure it really happened?' I asked.

'Well, summink must have lifted me car up and put it down on the uvver side innit. How else do you explain that, eh?'

'And you say it was Jesus?'

'Well I dunno who the fuck else would of done it.'

Phil identifies one of the voices as being that of Asklepios, Greek God of Healing, and whom he describes as his tutor. He also discusses the Essenes, a pre-Christian sect of which Jesus Christ was reputedly a member. This information seems to be coming from the past, although there may be some subtlety of Phil's model of time which I've failed to grasp.

His testimony becomes a little more manic, reminding us that voices in the head are generally diagnosed as something akin to crosstalk between the two hemispheres of the brain which have ceased to communicate as they should, either through some naturally occurring condition or by taking a ton of drugs - as discussed in A Scanner Darkly which he was about to start writing. Phil seems to believe that this division is the normal default state.

This isn't to say that what he writes is without value, and it's certainly more than random gibberish. His discussion of the division of idios kosmos and koinos kosmos reminds me a little of Debord's description of the Spectacle, and then there are examples such as this which somehow feel right regardless of objective reality, and which neatly provide the building blocks of Phil's universe.

Sometimes for extended time periods the person (any given person) must of necessity be placed on hold - he must mark time until the rest of the cosmos is ready, since everything has to be coordinated. If it were not this way, we would soon have no cosmos. This is why we sometimes have the deep and acute intuition that we are accomplishing absolutely nothing, and no matter how hard we try we can't overcome what we call inertia. Actually, somewhere in the world other pieces of the puzzle must work out their paths so that we can join them; there is no other viable way to handle these things.

I also quite liked this one:

I submit to you that this entire cosmology which I've presented to you in these pages bears an organic relationship to my entire body of writing, to my basic theme of what is reality? I think I have transliminated - coughed up into consciousness - my subcontinent which has given rise to all my work and to all my theories and thinking.

Even though he says it himself, this at least underscores why the Exegesis is significant in terms of the body of his work, rather than simply being the bit where he lost it at the end.

Day 3. Last night I was too tired to read anything more demanding than Sir Les Patterson's Traveller's Tool, having been taken out by a combination of cold weather and Chinese food. I read the usual twenty-five or so pages this morning. I considered reading fifty for the sake of catching up, but it seemed like twenty-five was more than enough given that the material is fairly repetitive.

Phil reconciles how his visions of times past can be considered information travelling back from the future, although I didn't really understand the explanation. Nevertheless it seemed to work because I don't really understand quantum theory either, or orthogonal time, and his testimony now seems to impinge on both, although it's hard to tell whether or not he was entirely aware of this.

He also writes about Enough to Scare the Dead, a novel in progress which I guess he never finished. It was, or would have been, built on the usual themes, all the stuff we find in VALIS and The Divine Invasion, but the window dressing seemed at sufficient variance to suggest it would have made an entirely respectable novel in its own right.

There's also some speculation about the relationship between the Greek God Zagreus, and Jesus Christ - one for the old school Who fans there. Talking of Who, Dick mentioned some guy called Philip Purser in the pages I read yesterday. I wonder what Philip Purser-Hallard made of that passage, if he's read it.

Day 4. Once again I was too tired to read last night, having been to see Bohemian Rhapsody, the Queen biopic - never really my favourite band. The film was riddled with gaffs and even outright lies but was otherwise hard to dislike, like a big, amiable goofball of a movie. Meanwhile Phil continues to ramble on about time travelling backwards without the argument ever quite seeming to connect to anything external to itself until it stumbles on a reference to Phil having photographs of Victoria Principal, star of Dallas, taped all around his house; which seems oddly reminiscent of Zippy the Pinhead fixating on Loni Anderson in Bill Griffith's newspaper strip, somewhat tipping the precarious balance from ontological analysis over into just plain nuts. Once again I am reminded that my working model of seventies Phil as an enquiring and rational mind analysing its own madness by way of a thought experiment - a self divided with some potential irony in much the same way as is the world Dick perceives around him - is probably either wrong, or overly generous. There may actually not be a whole lot of difference between the Exegesis and George's notebooks in Peter Bagge's Hate comic, and it's only Dick's way with words which make it seem otherwise.


Day 5. Phil ruminates on the possibility of his religious visions being characteristic of a superman in the van Vogt mold, and that the question may actually be not so much why he received this specialist insight as why the rest of us haven't. The fact of the voices in his head being messages spoken in Greek, a language he doesn't understand therefore necessitating translation by someone who does, prove that they are real, he says, and so we're back to the mysterious force which levitated Nelly's Mini over the crash barrier, and how it must have been Jesus because she dunno who the fuck else would of done it. For a moment it occurred to me that it must surely be considered significant that nutcases - to use the accepted medical term - rarely seem to suffer from scientifically inspired delusions, but then of course I remember Andy with the mathematical equations and statistics of planetary rotation scrawled all over his wall in marker pen; and to be fair, Phil's musing gives a good impression of at least having its own internally consistent logic, which I'm not sure is true of - for two examples - either Richard S. Shaver or Robert Moore Williams.

After fourteen months all I really know is that I don't know anything except that it happened to me, and what I saw during that short time was real. That's not much to come down from the mountains with, for the edification of my people. Maybe there just is no common language between our space-time universe and the Eternal World.

Day 6. Once again, I was too tired in the evening to cope with Phil as bedtime reading, so I opted for something hypothetically less demanding. I chose Laughing Matter II, a 1977 anthology of mostly British humour edited by Kay Batchelor and Keith Maylin. Someone gave me the first Laughing Matter collection one Christmas, and even at the age of ten it struck me as kind of laboured, utilising material recycled because someone had noticed how well those large format Monty Python tie-ins were selling. I bought Laughing Matter II because it was in some second hand store for a dollar - seemingly a strange thing to find here in America - and I was curious because I was surprised that they had managed a second book; which suggested that maybe I'd missed something and the first one had been better than I remembered, or else that I'd simply been too young to appreciate it at the time. Anyway, it seemed less demanding than the Exegesis, and I hadn't actually got around to reading the thing beyond a quick skim.


It seems my initial assessment made at the age of ten had been pretty much on the money. No-one could possibly accuse Laughing Matter II of aiming too high. The humour is mostly based around comic misunderstandings experienced in a dizzying variety of situations - on the golf course, whilst out motoring, in the pub, or when discussing insurance at the office. There's a page of Irish jokes, because why wouldn't there be? There are excerpts from books published by comedy celebs of the day, Tommy Cooper, Harry Secombe, Patrick Campbell and so on, mostly stuff which probably worked a whole lot better on either stage or screen, the most depressing of which is an attempt to novelise a scene from Hancock's Half Hour by Tony's wife, an effort which well and truly kills the wit and timing of the original. Elsewhere we find zingers from The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, as hosted by Bernard Manning and Colin Crompton, a show which I recognised as being shit even as a kid. The zingers take wry sideways glances at the lighter side of sexual harrasment, amongst other subjects, and are helpfully illustrated with photographs of our hosts embellished with badly drawn pints so as to further invoke the side-splitting hilarity of the show.

Then we come to this:

Once you're done rolling around, hammering the floor with a fist and screaming with agonising laughter, there's a whole page of these, kindly supplied by the genius who brought us Fred Basset. The joke in this particular example seems to be the displeasure of the man whose grandchildren have just discovered his strawberries, and this one is the closest we come to an actual gag. The others mostly depict people noticing objects or other people whilst describing this act of observation. Graham, as he signed his name, presumably made a living out of this stuff.

As this digression doubtless will indicate, I am perhaps beginning to experience some Dick fatigue, if you'll pardon the expression. I've made it to page two-hundred of the Exegesis, and it's becoming thematically repetitive, even though he continues to examine the subject from different angles, at least not quite repeating himself in that respect. More frustrating is that he seems to accept the possibility of his mania being a self-sustaining delusion and therefore something he will probably never understand. The arguments constituting his continuing dissection of the nature of reality remain philosophically interesting in isolation, but the more one reads, the clearer it seems that it isn't adding up to much.

Also, it's probably not a great sign that I've started reading the editors' footnotes. I ignored them at first, resenting any break in the flow of the text, but the break has become necessary. On the other hand, Laughing Matter II didn't suddenly read like a sparkling treasury of repartee and chuckles in comparison, so at least that's something.

Day 7. It's starting to pull back together once more, which is nice. I suppose I'm at something of a disadvantage in that I'm not widely read where philosophy is concerned - although thankfully I've apparently read enough to be able to just about make sense of this, although I can never quite tell whether what I'm reading is profound or merely gibberish. It feels profound, but then what do I know? In places it also reads like certain pieces I've read in New Scientist and which I've mostly dismissed as meaningless quantum bollocks - the quantum computer which gives you an answer even without your needing to turn it on, the universe is a hologram, the electric universe blah blah blah… I suppose what matters is that it felt profound to Phil, in so much as that the composition of this great work did a job.

What I must realise is that it is a bourgeois prejudice to suppose that for something to have worth, there must be a practical application. The ancient Greeks knew that pure [philosophical] understanding for its own sake was, even just in terms of the quest, the highest value or activity of a man: Homo sapiens: man who knows.

However, look what this three year ongoing quest to understand, learn and know has done for me: joy, awe, peace, tranquility, a sense of purpose. Of personal worth - and above all meaning, from my awareness of God.

The essays which follow the above quote are particularly enlightening in examining Phil's mental state as patterns thrown up by a chemical imbalance whilst concluding that regardless of root cause - whether any of what he has experienced is real by some definition - the outcome is the same in terms of his own personal development; and that his revelation of March 1974, the event which the Exegesis attempts to explain, left him a different, probably better person in providing an arguably healthier purpose than deducing which secretive agencies were trying to get at him.

Day 8. I'm at page three-hundred, therefore nearly a third of the way through without any obvious ill effects as yet. I gather the editors have imposed some sort of thematic order on Phil's otherwise random musings. It works and the text seems to progress with some semblance of internal logic, or at least without anything which jars, which is helpful. Yesterday, for example, I came across the suggestion that where all of Phil's writing up until March 1974 should be considered as akin to the gathering of evidence, the books written after that date were mostly analysis - which seems a useful way of putting it.

On the other hand, there was also this. The symbol on the left is a variation on the ichthys, a symbol adopted by early Christian sects.


All this did was remind me of Was God an English Astronaut? by Tim Brooke-Taylor, a fake bestseller excerpted in The Goodies' Book of Criminal Records so as to take the piss out of Erich von Däniken's ancient astronaut theory.


See what I mean?

Day 8. First mention of Terrance fucking McKenna, but never mind. The holographic universe is apparently because holograms are formed from the interference pattern of two lasers, and our universe is formed from the interference pattern of two real universes, except one of them might be dead, which is where the Black Iron Prison comes from. Pages 300 to 350 seem unusually coherent given the subject, and are probably the pages you should read if looking for specific insight into the novels. I'm also interested to note how Dick's higher and lower realms - as David Gill describes them - of empathic and unpredictable man over unfeeling programmed machine - so closely mirror those of the Nahua cosmos as inhabited by the Mexica with its duality of heat and animation over cold and inertia. Equally worth noting is that Dick was already aware of the meme before it became common knowledge - specifically meaning self-replicating ideas rather than amusingly captioned pictures of Donald Trump.

Can anti-info have a life of its own? The problem of spurious info. The lie - look at the level it's raised to. It's pure death - but where does it originate? Does it have its own radio station? Yes - that's the first thing: I picked up. It yammers at us all the time. We are the battlefield.

It's possibly significant that he'd been reading William Burroughs.

Perhaps inevitably, the more I've read of this collection, the more I begin to see myself in there. I assume this will probably be the same for everyone. I'm now at about the same age as Dick when he was writing the Exegesis, the age of the mid-life crisis, the point at which sufficient time has passed for one to be able to look back upon formative years as though they were a foreign country, a perspective which tends to inspire an urge to dissect and examine and ask what the hell was that all about? I myself have memories of peculiar occurrences or realisations which probably would have seemed just as spectacularly apocalyptic as Phil's revelation had I been taking the same drugs.

Day 9. I'm particularly struck by how these points resonate with Nahua cosmology - a correlation which I noticed only yesterday. From our modern perspective, one of the oddest, most obvious peculiarities of Nahua cosmology - as distinct from Abrahamic equivalents - is its bifurcating into hot and cold rather than good and evil, and here Dick seems to have discovered a possible relationship between the two seemingly quite different models.

(19) The adversary of the brain, something which repeats itself; i.e., is static and not growing. The adversary is heavy, inert, and warps thought (and so actions) in dead circles around it. The brain is in dialectic interaction with it, freeing minds from its tug.

(20) Those minds warped into dead circular thinking imagine their thoughts still progress in a straight line. But in fact nothing new ever occurs to them. They therefore represent a reversion to fossil forms.

(21) Unfortunately, these people have been woven by the "magnet" into the power centers of mankind; this has long been so. They rule by lies and coercion.

Which again brings us back to the reality of wor Donald and those who got him where he is today. The thing with all of this is that had Phil genuinely been taken over by something masquerading as a first century Christian so as to expose the illusory nature of our reality, the Exegesis is exactly the text he would have written, for whatever that's worth. Whilst this may be the same argument as it must have been Jesus because I dunno who the fuck else would of done it, I'd argue that it's the same argument sent through college to emerge with a first class degree and then on to win a Nobel for discovering something weird and terrifying in the field of astrophysics.

Day 10. Phil now feels that he has answered the questions posed over the preceding pages and accordingly solved the mystery of just what happened to him in 1974. Needless to say the answer is itself of such complexity as to rule out the applicability of exclamations along the lines of I knew it!

Day 11. Half way though and approaching the material leading up to Phil writing VALIS - he may have solved the mystery but naturally there's still plenty to discuss - no well, I'd say that just about wraps it up for this guy. Erik Davies elegantly summarises this aspect of the Exegesis in his footnotes.

Just as Wagner philosophised through music, Dick philosophised through fiction - and in the Exegesis, made philosophy a kind of transcendent punk-rock machine music: repetitive, incessant, sometimes hysterically Romantic, but also a work that can be appreciated, not as a rigorous argument, but as a flowing pattern of variation, affect, rhythm, and return.

Day 12. Passages of VALIS begin to emerge from the text, although I only actually recognised one of them. Steve Erickson, one of the group who have helped edit and provide annotations to the Exegesis, notes the elegance of a particular sentence whilst admitting that he has no idea what it actually means, which is reassuring.

Day 13. Apparently what I'm reading represents about a tenth of the material, the rest being mostly paranoid ranting which is as such likely to remain unpublished; so that's good to know.

Day 14. More and more I'm beginning to find the Exegesis a bit too chewy to digest before bed, although for some reason I still find it quite engrossing in the morning over toast and coffee. Today I found this passage particularly thought provoking:

[47:696] This is world self-caused and self-generating and self-moved: what the Milesians sought as cause and origin of the world. There is no external deity and nothing prior to the world. This is God in Spinoza's sense. The pre-Socratics drew the right conclusions: if there was no adventitious deity to cause, control, drive and direct the world, then the world itself possessed sentient or quasi-sentient faculties and volition, "and [was] responsible for its own growth." What has happened is that religion - especially Christianity - restored the nonexistent adventitious anthropomorphic deity, the artificer-artefact model, so world was again not seen organically, as self-governing and alive and responsible for its own growth. Otherworldliness returned, and the Christians were "in but not of" world; they were hostile to world and saw world as hostile to them. they located God in a mythical place called "the pleroma." So world is depreciated and devalued and it is stripped of its life and volition. The work of the pre-Socratics is undone. God is not sought in world but over and against world, and he is sought in an alleged spiritual realm. Weird concepts such as "original sin" are brought into existence, and ideas of reward and punishment, turning the clock back to before the Milesians. The supernatural is evoked to explain phenomena, and the dark ages begin.

Day 15. It has occurred to me that what we regard as entropy may actually be the universe - which is an intelligence in its own right - assembling itself, but seen in reverse if time is, as Dick seems to suggest, travelling backwards. I'm not sure whether this means that I'm beginning to understand this stuff - because the Exegesis is beginning to seem more coherent than it has been - or whether it means anything at all. For what it may be worth, this passage from Folder 49 reminded me of Martin Bladh's Marty Page:

This is the essence of tragedy: the collision of two absolutes. Absolute suffering leads to—is the means to—absolute beauty. Neither absolute should be subordinate to the other. But this is not how it is: the suffering is subordinated to the value of the art produced. Thus the essence of horror underlies our realisation of the bedrock nature of the universe.

Day 16. I've just realised that Enough to Scare the Dead was Radio Free Albemuth; also, I've made it to page six-hundred. I'm finding some passages a bit chewy, depending on my mood, and have begun to alternate with P.J. O'Rourke's Republican Party Reptile which is lighter with better jokes. This is a reflection on myself rather than on Philip K. Dick.

Day 17. Phil believes that Christianity is the content of a system rather than the system itself, which is interesting. He thinks his own worst novel was Deus Irae, which seems like an odd choice.

Day 18, the day upon which I had presumed I would finish reading the Exegesis, based on my reading about fifty pages a day, half of that in the morning and the other before I go to sleep; but I've missed a few evenings so I'm still two-hundred and fifty pages short, but never mind. Here Phil acknowledges that his analysis of 2-3-74 has been going around in circles, and so turns his attention to what this repetition might say about the nature of reality and where he himself fits in. Following a fairly pleasing account of a discussion between himself and God on this very subject - written up as a conversation as though in a novel - he begins to wonder what role Satan may have had, and even whether he himself has been inadvertently praising the man downstairs all this time, having mistaken the devil for something more benign.

In other news, Jonathan Lethem's footnote discusses micropsia, a powerful hallucinatory episode common among children, rare in adults, in which the body is experienced as a vast, inert form over which a shrunken-to-pinpoint consciousness roves, as a Lilliputian roves over Gulliver. The sense of detachment from the physical universe, and a vast reorientation of scale, has a cosmic, trippy quality. Except when it's a symptom of something dire, micropsia is harmless; it can be terrifying, but also enthralling. This is mentioned as a potential medical explanation for some of what Dick experienced, and I'm inclined to wonder how this may relate to Return to Lilliput, reputedly Dick's earliest but subsequently lost novel, written when he was about fourteen.

I found this interesting because I too experienced micropsia as a kid, and this is the first time I've seen it acknowledged as a thing and given a name. It's also nice to know that it wasn't just me.

Day 19. Another interesting observation from David Gill in the footnotes - Phil's recurring discussion of empathy or the lack thereof may relate to guilt over what he perceives as his own possible inability to empathise in certain situations. This would explain his occasional tendency to be a bit of a tosser at times.

Day 20. I began to alternate with one of the Lemony Snicket books, The Bad Beginning, borrowed out of curiosity from my mother-in-law, a former teacher, but I don't think it's something I can really throw myself into. It's unambiguously a children's book, and specifically for small children, although exceptionally well written, witty and original, and lacking any of the cloying sentiment which often spoils the form.

Meanwhile, Phil's latest conclusion is that his Exegesis has failed, although it sounds like he means it this time, and as is noted in one of the salient annotations, this is one aspect which distinguishes Dick from other possibly manic theorists, namely that he seems to remain aware of the possibility of it all being bollocks - unlike Shaver, Robert Moore Williams and others if we're to pretend they're comparable. Indeed, Phil's analysis is often astonishing in its perception.

[75:D-9] I have been looking over Scanner, the intro to The Golden Man and VALIS. The continuity is pain, emotional pain; this goes back to Tears. It is obvious that I have no defence against pain, that I am a—lunatic, one driven mad by—not pain—but by a comprehension of pain (like the Buddha). Comprehension of pain (spiritual and mental, especially) is the basis of my writing, as is my awareness of the frailty of life and how easily it passes over into death.

Additionally he discusses the idea of himself as wise fool - one of those archetypes which occur throughout his fiction - and further examines the nature of reality in terms which, as it is pointed out in the footnotes, significantly arrive at the same place as certain ideas within the field of quantum theory. He sees himself as having uncovered some potential universal truth and accordingly laments his own inability to quite get to the bottom of it, writing that someone must come along and play the role of Plato to my Socrates.

I doubt that's going to be me, although I'm damn certain it wasn't William Gibson or Ridley Hovis advert Scott.

I should probably also mention that I've discovered Tessa B. Dick, Phil's fifth wife and author in her own right, to be a facebook presence. I sent a friend request along with a predictably nosy enquiry about The Owl in Daylight, her version of the book her husband was in the middle of writing when he died, and she responded and even answered my question, so I'm now virtual pals with the wife of the guy who wrote this thing; which is weird, and a kind of weird which has probably already been explained by what I've read so far. It's as though the Exegesis pulls you into its reality.

Day 21. The Exegesis remains a little too chewy to be read before bed, and now I've switched to Marvel comics, specifically the 1987 limited series pitching Mephisto against the Fantastic Four, X-Men, and other caped types. It's by Al Milgrom and John Buscema, firmly predates the comic book having grown up, and is therefore full of panels in which superheroes describe what we can quite clearly see them doing whilst explaining what they hope to achieve. It's doubtless artistically worthless but I'm nevertheless enjoying it tremendously, which - and I realise this may be reaching somewhat - puts me in mind of Dick's idea about God speaking through trash, pulp, or pop culture, and the value of that which we tend to ignore. That said, I have nothing interesting to conclude from this parallel, and it could simply be that I'm actually still an eight-year old boy.

Next morning I return to find Phil back to discussing quantum theory and how it may relate to his vision, a discussion which leads into his proposing that only a mad person could have experienced what he has experienced, and yet mad people don't generally consider themselves mad. I've actually known a good few exceptions to this, but the point was nevertheless worth making.

Zeno, the Sophists in general, saw paradox as a way of conveying knowledge—paradox, in fact, as a way of arriving at conclusions. This is known, too, in Zen Buddhism. It sometimes causes a strange jolt or leap in the person's mind; something happens, an abrupt comprehension, as if out of nowhere, called satori. The paradox does not tell; it points. It is a sign, not the thing pointed to. That which is pointed to must arise ex nihilo in the mind of the person. The paradox, the koan tells him nothing; it wakes him up. This only makes sense if you assume something very strange: we are asleep but do not know it. At least not until we wake up.

In light of observations such as the above, my take on the Exegesis is similar to my view of religion, or at least certain aspects of religion, namely that is any of it real? may not be a meaningful question and tends to miss most of the points that matter. Discussing whether 2-3-74 actually happened is probably as pointless as asking whether Philip K. Dick really experienced the events he designates 2-3-74.

That said, it's still tough reading in places, although that's probably inevitable given the subject; but on the other hand, as a body of work it either succeeds in what it sets out to do, or comes so close as to make no difference. Oddly, as an autobiographical autopsy on the nature of existence, it shares some common ground with both Grant Morrison's Supergods and Alan Moore's Jerusalem, both of which look for God in low and unlikely places; but where those two lack either humility or perspective, essentially being authors talking about themselves for way too many pages, the Exegesis - which isn't anything like so reader friendly - succeeds without ever seeming particularly self-indulgent.

Day 22. We're now mostly focussing on post-match analysis of The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, which is fairly interesting and brings the revelation that Angel Archer is Dick's own twin sister, the one who died at the age of six months, even though Phil didn't realise this while he was writing the novel. His musings now appear to be leaning a little more towards 2-3-74 having been an unambiguously religious encounter with not much ontological wiggle room, which makes for marginally less engaging reading. He mentions The Weaver's Shuttle as his first, presumably lost, novel, which is yet another one I hadn't heard of, and which Andrew M. Butler doesn't seem to have heard of either.

Day 23. It turns out that Dick was offered a small fortune to rewrite Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as a novelisation of Blade Runner, which would have meant Androids as it stood being withdrawn from print, and probably that he would never have gotten around to writing The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. He turned the deal down and instead wrote Archer for substantially less. He made the right choice.

We're now up to June 1981, and he's had a dream wherein he is given a prescription drug called Diatheon, a name plucked from the subconscious but which Phil believes refers to his ideas regarding theological duality; which inspires lengthy examination of the notion, concluding that Jesus exists as living information formed by the proximity of two persons inhabiting his brain at the same time, these being Phil himself and, I suppose, Bishop Pike who was the inspiration for the character of Timothy Archer. It's a bit heavy going in places.

Day 24. It's September 1981 and Phil seems to be aware that he is dying. He is preoccupied with the returned saviour whom he believes to be an individual named Tagore living in Sri Lanka. Each time the environment is damaged by, for example, the dumping of nuclear waste canisters in the ocean, a fresh injury appears on Tagore's already ravaged body. Naturally Phil believes himself to be linked with Tagore in some esoteric sense, much as the faithful are linked to Mercer in Androids.

Day 25. Here we're mostly concerned with the Bible as the container of the words which make up our physical reality and how this chimes in with whatever Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said about the noosphere. I'm not sure I understand everything Dick says, but it feels as though it holds together fairly well as an argument, as is true of the Exegesis in general. In any case it at least remains interesting. By December 1981 I gather he's seen rough cuts of Blade Runner and - contrary to the claims of useless fucking wankers on internet forums bleating about how Ridley Scott's movie represents what Dick was really trying to say and anyway movie adaptations shouldn't be the same as the books blah blah blah - he's not happy with it. In fact he describes it as the greatest defeat. There's also this unusually sobering passage:

[62:C-194] I survived 2-3-74 and wrote about it in VALIS and hence made my death my own - by living long enough to write about it, that is, I artistically and creatively depicted my own death, and this is the victory of the heroic over the tragic.

Day 26. Blade Runner is a fascist power fantasy, and God is that which separates us from the world and through which we perceive the same. Phil seems to be back with Tessa on the grounds of it being the right thing to do, despite feelings for some married woman or other. He also refers to The Owl in Daylight in past tense, as a novel he was unable to finish or which broke him, describing it as being about regaining gnosis and liberation. There's also a summary of the plot, although it doesn't reveal much.

Day 27. Here we're mostly concerned with the notion that whatever has been talking to Phil is in some way akin to the invisible Godlike aliens amongst us beloved of pulp writers, Blavatsky and others, which is discussed in scientific rather than theological or philosophical terms. I've realised that the popular idea of Dick's madness is that he spent a day gibbering about voices in his head, then would be lucid and able to discuss it rationally the next day, over and over like a light switching on and off. This is quite wrong as he remains approximately sane and rational thoughout - if the Exegesis is any indication - and consistently aware that whilst examining the fragile state of his reality, the validity of the reality which he proposes as a more plausible, fundamental alternative is itself not necessarily beyond doubt.

[54:K-27] [. . .] Angel Archer, as I recently realised, is the AI Voice directly for the first time expressing itself openly, which is why I can write a novel from the standpoint "of someone more rational, more educated, more—," etc., than I. This mystery is solved: I am nuts, but Angel, the AI voice, is not.

He also explains the phosphene visions of 2-3-74 as a mathematical communication, which actually makes sense. Elsewhere we get a bit more of the plot of Owl, and enough to make me wish the buggers responsible had allowed Tessa B. Dick to keep her version in print.

Also, the problem with Blade Runner came to me as I was making toast this morning - which itself seems a little Dick-esque: the film asks what if the androids are really like us?, where Electric Sheep asks what if we are really like the androids? If you don't see how these are fundamentally different questions - well, I was going to say you have no business working in the movie industry, but it probably means you're ideally placed.

Day 28. Finished at last, and it's interesting that despite the Exegesis being so personal a vision as to be impenetrable at times, and despite it being more or less a nine-hundred page train of thought, it never quite becomes either boring or a chore, unlike - off the top of my head - Alan Moore's similarly distended effort as discussed previously. Possibly this is because the Exegesis is not actually that personal a vision and describes a world which most of us recognise, at least on some level even if the mechanics of the dialogue seem esoteric. The distinction seems neatly summarised in Phil's assessment of his own Galactic Pot Healer.

[54:M-32] This, precisely, is the psychosis that manifests itself in Pot: the effort by a finite creature to suppose the divine without actual experience of the divine ends in disorder and incoherence and, as I so realised last night, the truly desperate. Glimmung is absurd and in fact a travesty and I knew it at the time; never was anyone so aware of the unbridgeable gap between the finite and infinite.

Which is probably why he never felt the need to formally declare himself to be a magician. Yet, the more I've read of this thing, the more I've been reminded of certain Shamanic models of reality, although I'm specifically referring to Shamanic models of reality which themselves seem dimly related to the writings of Plato and the like; so no, despite everything, and despite a few wisecracks earlier in this review - or diary, or travelogue, or whatever it is - the Exegesis is not born directly of insanity. Dick's focus may have been a few sandwiches short of a picnic, but his analysis of what he experienced is otherwise reasonable and occasionally fascinating, with its worst crime being a tendency to ramble.

I feel somehow changed by the experience of reading this, but maybe that's just my imagination.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

The New Adventures of Hitler


Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell The New Adventures of Hitler (1990)
I flogged all my copies of Crisis a while back, a decision I haven't had much cause to regret beyond the loss of John Smith's New Statesman - which in any case has since been collected - and the four issues containing The New Adventures of Hitler; which is why I tracked them all down on eBay, seeing as we're obviously not going to get a reprint any time soon with the current political climate undecided as to whether Hitler was actually a bad guy or just someone with some very interesting ideas who went about things the wrong way.

As you may recall, this first appeared in some Scottish arts magazine called Cut and in doing so inspired the resignation of its star columnist, Pat Kane of bewilderingly awful pop duo Hue & Cry. Kane objected that the strip represented a combination of gratuitous shock whilst simultaneously declawing the figure of Adolf Hitler to repackage him as a harmlessly entertaining tit - seemingly a contradiction, but never mind...

Labyani makes the point that fascism wasn't just a standard relationship between producers and consumers of cultural commodities; Jews in the death camp were the actual raw materials of such a process, their bodies being shovelled out of the gas chambers and industrially converted into soap, lampshades, toothbrushes. 'Of all the images of fascism this was the one which Nazis did not dare disseminate,' says Labyani, 'but it must always remain the image by which fascism defines itself.'

The New Adventures of Hitler constitutes an image of fascism which fascists, past and present, would quite like to be seen around: the Fuhrer's early life portrayed like J. Alfred Prufrock's, all bourgeois bumble and angst; references to hip pop music and comics culture; surely then, not such a monstrous man, nor such monstrous times?

The objections seem initially sound, but are unfortunately based on a very specific, somewhat loaded interpretation of no more than the first six pages.

For those who didn't get the memo, these New Adventures occur during a possibly apocryphal but certainly formative era of Hitler's existence, spent mooching off his more successful half-brother in Liverpool, England between the wars. He's basically an unemployable twat with delusions of grandeur, a profoundly underwhelming individual such as any of us might encounter - as based on what we actually know of the man. The point of this is not refutation of the myth of Hitler as a monster - as Pat Kane believed - but illustration of the monster as someone with whom we may already be familiar, someone who walks amongst us empowered and transformed by toxic mythology. It's the mythology of which we should be scared you see, because - as even Alan Moore will tell you - it's the symbols and metaphors which do the most damage. Discussion of Hitler, even as a clown, therefore seems preferable to the kind of enforced silence which fosters the mystery, maybe even the frisson of forbidden fruit, the thing which they don't want you knowing about…

Anyway, the point of this tale is that Adolf's legacy, all that bullshit about the Holy Grail and destiny, very much endures in the present political climate - at least since Thatcher - and that the dreams of this awful little man with a runny bottom weren't entirely put to bed in 1945, contrary to the publicity. It seems like something which needed to be said, and it's said beautifully here in a strip which feels like a peculiar combination of Hogarth and de Chirico, atmospherically speaking - despite the smart-arsed colorisation*.

Third World War and the other stuff in these issues of Crisis is about as good as I remember it being, but Hitler is a masterpiece, and so darkly comic that it's not actually funny. Anyone who comes away from the strip with a higher opinion of its star was probably already on the wrong side of the argument.

*: I recall a phone conversation with Aidan Potts of Inkling magazine describing how two of his colleagues - one possibly being Steve Whitaker - had landed the cushy number of colourising the previously black and white strips for publication in Crisis. 'They're taking the piss,' Aidan chortled, 'using wallpaper samples and everything.' I never really understood why I was supposed to have considered this such a wizard wheeze.

Monday, 7 January 2019

A Heritage of Stars


Clifford D. Simak A Heritage of Stars (1977)
It seems possibly ironic that the very last Simak novel I had still to read should be the one which most clearly expresses the themes over which I've been puzzling all of this time.

Simak left behind his rural roots in Millville, Wisconsin for work as a journalist in the big city, and it seems like he spent most of his literary career trying to write his way back home, to the rustic idyll of his childhood; yet having left, he never once went back, not even out of curiosity - so there's a puzzle there, considering how many millions of words he clocked up on the subject of brooks babbling through woodland disturbed only by old coots of the kind who customarily appear with a faithful hound in tow.

Here we have a variation on the quest narrative, one to which Cliff returned time and again, but a variation which really seems to capture everything he enjoyed about the form, and which - as I say - expresses itself with unusual clarity. Our questing band comprises - fairly typically for Simak - our sceptical author stand-in, a robot, a witch, a horse, a grizzled old man of the mountains, a mystic hippy chick, and an entourage of what appear to be ghosts. Civilisation has collapsed many centuries before, leaving Earth to return to wilderness across which our band treks in search of the Place of Going to the Stars, as described in myth and rumour. The Place of Going to the Stars is an ancient city of ambiguous construction on top of a bluff, which somewhat inspires questions about Spielberg and the timing of Close Encounters, but never mind. As ever, our intended destination is some lost state of harmony within the cosmic fellowship to which Simak occasionally referred - something like getting back into Eden, I guess. The interesting thing about A Heritage of Stars - at least to me in so much as that this is the novel in which it seems most clearly stated - is that for all that Simak's pastoralism may suggest certain new age sympathies, our author stand-in is very clearly identified as a cynic by contrast to the overwhelming and overwrought spirituality of at least two of his companions. The way through, Simak seems to suggest, is the middle ground, a mind kept open to possibilities whilst one's feet remain firmly planted on the good solid earth, doing away with the need of all the messy and unnecessary frills which come as part and parcel of religion.

It's not a big message, nothing flashy or demonstrative, just as the novel tends to amble quietly along, assuming very little; but few science-fiction writers have been able to say so much with such softly spoken words. It could be argued that, without any deliberation on my part, I may have saved his best for last.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Missing


Josh Peterson Missing (2018)
I went into this expecting something along the lines of a criminal investigation, partially due to the blurb on the back cover, and partially the Amphetamine Sulphate web page describing it as a true crime novella. I suppose it isn't that the description is in any sense inaccurate, but its meaning is broader than one might expect given the title of Missing with its implied absence of either bodies or evidence. Rather, the crime and that which is deemed to be missing is something of the contemporary human psyche. Reducing the book to its most basic state, it's Josh Peterson pointing out where we've all been going wrong over the course of fifty or so pages - a monologue randomly swerving into forensic digressions which illustrate the main argument without its principal points seeming anything other than incidental. It would be a rant but for the absence of wrath, or even anything particularly judicial. Practically speaking, this takes the form of a trawl through the minutiae of a daily existence most of us will recognise to one extent or another, even if we haven't directly lived each detail. It's mostly on point, or at least well-aimed, and so sobering as to be almost chilling.

I wish I had more to say about Missing, but the novella itself has already said everything; which is why you should read it. In fact, maybe everybody should read this one.