+ THORACIC DROP: < Deposit > news appropriate to this site.

+ AUTOGEDDON: Subscribe to Ballardian & receive automatic email updates

Happy birthday, Philip K Dick

Author: • Dec 16th, 2008 •

Category: features, film, Kafka, perception, Philip K. Dick, schizophrenia

ABOVE: Bizarre footage of the Philip K Dick android, whose head was unbelievably left in the overhead bin on an airplane, never to be found again.

If alive this day, he’d be 80 — today.

For some reason, it surprises me that Dick was two years older than Ballard. It always seemed to me that JGB was the ‘older’ writer, perhaps because, I think it’s fair to say, he came to his mature style earlier in his career than Dick did his.

To celebrate Dick’s phantom birthday, Pirate Cat Radio recently broadcast a two-hour tribute show, now archived here. Appearing as a guest is none other than Umberto Rossi, a man who scholastically straddles both Dick and Ballard, and who has translated Dick into Italian. This self-styled ‘hoodlum intellectual’ talks about Blade Runner and the various film adaptations of Dick, as well as the crossfire between PKD and Kafka.

The show’s main guest is David Gill from the Total Dickhead blog, and he ranges over many subjects that one would normally associate with Dick: schizophrenia, paranoia, the nature of reality, Phil’s supposed gnosticism, Dick’s encounter with the infamous ‘pink beam’ and the (still) shocking similarities between this experience and Robert Anton Wilson’s own ‘alien’ encounters, as well as something I’d never heard about: a rather strange sexual abuse theory that some people are using to explain away Dick’s obsessions. Gill also talks about Linklater’s film of A Scanner Darkly, and he praises it.

Besides interviewing Rossi, he also plays snippets from interviews he did with Tessa Dick, Phil’s wife, and John Alan Simon, the director of the forthcoming Radio Free Albemuth film adaptation. He also unearths a 1977 interview clip with PKD himself.

Note that the show opens with a Gary Numan track — which is interesting, in that Numan has been used to signify both Phildickian and Ballardian themes. I am interested in the connections between PKD and JGB, specifically their remodelling of the perceptual tools available to us. On the face of it, that’s not so strange: a number of SF writers in the 1960s were trying to achieve what Dick defined as ‘conceptual dislocation’, riding the winds of a decade of significant cultural mutation caused by global ecological concerns, the threat of nuclear war and a chaotic drug culture. According to Peter Nicholls in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, perception is ‘the philosophical linchpin of many [SF] stories’, and he lists five common types: ‘Stories about unusual modes of perception; stories about appearance and reality; stories about perception altered through drugs; stories about synaesthesia; stories about altered perception of time’.

More than a few commentators in the 60s saw schizophrenia as the only valid response to the enveloping world of information overload. In ‘Which Way to Inner Space?’ (1962), Ballard lays out the map of his own ‘infinite territory’, explaining what he would like to see in the new SF:

more psycho-literary ideas, more meta-biological and meta-chemical concepts, private time-systems, synthetic psychologies and space-times, more of the remote, sombre half-worlds one glimpses in the paintings of schizophrenics, all in all a complete speculative poetry and fantasy of science.

These schizophrenic ‘half-worlds’ are reminiscent of Dick’s desire to use SF to reveal:

our world dislocated by some kind of mental effort on the part of the author, our world transformed into that which it is not or not yet… There must be a coherent idea involved in this dislocation; that is, the dislocation must be a conceptual one, not merely a trivial or a bizarre one – this is the essence of SF … a convulsive shock in the reader’s mind, the shock of dysrecognition.

Dick, ‘My Definition of Science Fiction’ (1981).

Dick fashioned his masterpiece The Man in the High Castle (1964) as an alternative history set in a present recognisable in many ways, yet fundamentally different to that empirically observed outside the novel. He portrays a post-war period in which the Axis powers were victorious: the United States has been divided into three regions, one German-controlled, one under Japanese rule, with a buffer zone in between. On close scrutiny, High Castle, written in a decade of immense civil unrest, reveals a potent metaphor for the ‘real’ America, ever more authoritarian in its surveillance and control of its citizens, ever more ruthless in its expanding role as Global Policeforce. Crucially, the concept of the buffer zone, where resistance lies, revealing the inverted nature of the real world, is precisely in line with Ballard’s strategy.

For Dick, the danger elsewhere lies in what he terms our continual bombardment by ‘manufactured pseudo-realities’:

Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups – and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudo-worlds right into the heads of the reader, the viewer, the listener.

Dick, ‘How to Build a Universe that Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later’ (1978).

Similarly, in ‘The Coming of the Unconscious’ (1966), a discussion of surrealism published in New Worlds, Ballard suggests that ‘reality’ has become degraded, since the ‘fictional elements in the world around us are multiplying to the point where it is almost impossible to distinguish between the “real” and the “false” – the terms no longer have any meaning’.

Ballard and Dick saw the function of their work in analogous terms. For Dick:

I ask in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind.

Dick, ‘How to Build a Universe’.

While for Ballard:

The task of the arts seems more and more to be that of isolating the few elements of reality from this mélange of fictions, not some metaphorical “reality”, but simply the basic elements of cognition and posture that are the jigs and props of our consciousness.

Ballard ‘The Coming of the Unconscious’.

This is a process ideally described in The Atrocity Exhibition, where ‘the faces of public figures are projected at us as if out of some endless global pantomime, and have the conviction of giant advertisement hoardings’.

Just as Rossi draws the connection between Dick and Kafka, so too is the latter’s Metamorphosis a precursor to ‘inner space’ SF. As John Clute notes in the SF Encyclopedia, its ‘prose of hallucinated transparency’ presents a world ‘radically displaced from normal reality… a horrifying allegory of alienation in which a young man is transformed overnight into a huge beetle’. Elsewhere in Kafka, Clute points to the ‘confidence-man ingenuities of K., the protagonist of The Castle … [who] seems almost capable of forcing the 20th-century world to give him meaning and a room. Kafka’s work is Modernist, its fable-like quality indefinably dreamlike; his influence, which has been enormous, permeates much of modern SF’s attempts to get at the quality of life in dislocated, totalitarian, surrealistic or merely inscrutable venues’.

Ballard updated this Kafkaesque worldview for an age when technology provides even more opportunities for alienation, for the body and for hard definitions of ‘reality’ to lose their boundaries in a world of competing mediated fictions:

A lot of people mis-read Kafka in that they assume that in describing his particularly nightmarish world he saw it in an exclusively unfavourable light. I think it had invaded him, and this vast bureaucracy which is so impenetrable, whose value system is so totally elusive, had enfolded him and the whole power of his fiction rises from this ambivalent response.

Ballard, interviewed by Don Watson, ‘Closely Observed S/Trains’, New Musical Express, 1985.

Faced with the elision of the individual by bureaucratic or corporate demands, Kafkaesque ambivalence provided Ballard with a prescient ‘schizophrenic’ metaphor, what he terms an ‘immersion in the threatening possibilities before swimming through the other side’ — that’s the buffer zone. For Ballard, we have integrated irrevocably with technology and consumerism, making it impossible to be distanced from a ‘new landscape of values’. He therefore poses the question: ‘Do we owe more allegiance to multi-national companies or to royalty? Do I owe more to Avis Rentacar or to Queen Elizabeth II, after all it’s now the multinationals who provide the empire on which the sun never sets’ (Ballard, quoted in Watson).

Find all posts by

Older: «

25 Responses »

  1. i’ve never been able to get into dick. i tried a couple of times, but for me the writing itself seemed mediocre. friends of mine though, dickheads all, say i just haven’t found the right book; but i can pick up anything by burroughs, ballard or kafka for that matter, and i’m right at home, and engaged in the writing. from what i can see dick was a great idea man, and i do appreciate a lot of the films based on his work. i asked burroughs about him, and he too said that he just didn’t care for him. for me the first thing is the language itself, the words and the sentences, and if that doesn’t grab me i’m sure to soon give up the read. i would be happy to try something else by him if anyone has a solid recommendation that they could place side by side with the other writers mentioned. simon you called the man in the high castle a masterpiece. that’s one i haven’t tried, so maybe i’ll give it a go.

  2. I can see where you’re coming from, Johnny. I’m sure even hardcore Dick obsessives would agree that much of his writing is sloppy. He did churn out so many books to pay the rent and feed his family — and feed whatever it was that was eating away at him. I’m by no means obsessed with his work, but there are a few of his books that I can read over and over again. ‘High Castle’ is one. ‘A Scanner Darkly’ and ‘Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said’ are two more. The short story collection ‘I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon’ is stunning.

    ‘Scanner’ for me is the exemplar. Sad, pathetic, uncanny, alien, magical, spiritual, utterly banal, tragic and shocking all at the same time, in a way that the film just isn’t.

  3. i thought ‘scanner’ was a dud as well, but ‘blade runner’ has yet to be topped.

  4. I read a few of PKD’s books in the 1970s and enjoyed a couple or more. Too long ago to remember the titles.

    But similar to Johnny’s experience, the work didn’t impress me in the way that the work of WSB and JGB did; i.e., I didn’t make any commitment to reading everything I could find by him. The work was just some reading I did, looking for writers and writing I could perhaps become interested in.

    But I do regard his contributions to literature as important, just not very important to me.

    Much of it seems to adapt quite well to film though I am only familiar with Blade Runner and think it a masterpiece of film making.

  5. It annoys me how Keanu is the default cyberpunk/sci fi hero in films these days. He doesn’t have the range to change character. His voice and mannerisms are completely the same from film to film.

  6. I am not surprised to learn that you are not fans of PHil, since you seem to think that his brithday is Dec. 18. It is Dec. 16.

  7. Thanks for stopping by, Tessa — please understand it’s just honest criticism from the commentators. You can’t say Phil’s work is for all tastes; but even so, all people commenting here state that even if his writing is not to individual taste, there can be no denying his intellect, passion and strength of ideas. For what it’s worth, I’ll restate my admiration to you for Phil and the books of his I’ve mentioned above. And I enjoyed the radio show — and your contribution to it. This article would not have happened in the first place if I wasn’t coming from a place of admiration for Philip K Dick. I don’t as a rule write about authors whose work I dislike! As for the birthdate — that’s my mistake. The article was written a couple of days ago and only posted today, which is why it’s datestamped December 18.

  8. I though Linklater’s film ‘Scanner Darkly’ to be a perfectly good work. Sure Keanu is a bit naff, but given he’s playing a conflicted stoner-cop … I don’t think there’s any part more tailor-made for him. Downey Jnr is an excellent actor. As to the rotoscoping, it’s heavily criticised however I felt it added the necessary layer of unreality to the whole thing. I enjoyed it immensely.

  9. To me, PKD was first and foremost an ideas man. I think he could have just as easily written children’s books and conveyed his messages. There are so many wonderful ideas in his novels and stories, ways of making you look at the world a little differently than before you read them. In this respect he stands alone IMHO with JGB and WSB. I would add Martian Time-Slip as a cracking good read.

  10. Happy Birthday PKD. Love his books and wish there were more. An expert on tricks of the mind and psychosis….should be reqired reading for psychiatrists. Of course in Ballards universe the shrinks think they already know everything. “A refuge for bullies.”
    Love them both but PKD is so underrated.

  11. happy birthday to PKD indeed. to anyone else looking for the more extraordinary works, the VALIS trilogy is incredible, as is Radio Free Albemuth, which i believe was PKD’s first attempt at Valis before he wrote the titled novel. anyway, Valis is just as mindblowing as Scanner Darkly but more cautiously optimistic, imho.

  12. Hey, here it comes again, huh? Dick has a lot of interesting ideas but his writing is sloppy. Ok, sure. But let me remind ya that Dick is not a poet, he’s a novelist. And novels should be read as novels, not verse. A novelist is not a poet who happens to write in prose. We’re talking about a different match, a different ballpark, a different league, maybe a different sport. Surely Dick is no Ballard when it comes to metaphors and similes; he’s no DeLillo when it comes to finely crafted sentences and periods. He doesn’t have the rhythm of a Thomas Bernhard, nor the lush descriptions of a Thomas Hardy; he doesn’t have the verbal inventiveness of a Joyce, the bewildering verbal mix of a Céline or a Gadda. Sorry for the name-dropping, but it would like readers to understand that I’m no yahoo who has just read Dick and likes his stuff because he never tasted better food.

    Having said all this, remember that a novel is not just finely crafted prose, or D’Annunzio would be the greatest novelist ever. Writing a novel is telling a story, recreating or creating a place, inventing people who you never met but which remain with you as if you had met them; it’s a matter of architecture, time, space, whatever. And when it comes to all the other skills, Dick had them like the Big Names. The tricks he plays with narrative times may be as subtle and beguiling as Proust’s; his characters are as imposing and memorable as Melville’s; and the architecture of his novels is sometime terribly complex and incredibly sophisticated… Try the Trasmigration of Timothy Archer, or VALIS, or Flow My Tears…

    So we’re not dealing with a crap artist, and if he is (he told us, after all, ever read Dick’s Confessions of…), he’s one of those writers who can turn crap into gold–like Jim Thompson, for example. If I want prose, I go for Ballard; but if I want characters, I go for Dick any day of the week, any week of the month and any month of the year.

    And since we’re at it, Buon Natale e Buon Anno Nuovo, gente!

  13. I like “A Sacanner Darkly” a lot. It’s the most faithful of all the films made of Dick’s work and the small changes add rather than detract from the experience [‘Next’!]. I’m also a fan of Keanu when he’s in down beat mode [this, Thumbsucker] or doofus [Bill n Ted]. The rotoscoping was an inspired choice. The look of the film drifts from quite realistic to altered state, and gave the director huge scope on a next-to-nothing budget. I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite of Dick’s books as a movie, but it has many fine qualities.

  14. I agree, Fred, many disliked Scanner just because there’s Reeves in it, but I didn’t find it that bad. The rotoscope was an interesting idea, and it’s point is to inject the element of pulpiness in the film, it almost turns it into a cartoon but not totally, and that’s a feeling which mirrors what you have in many novels by Dick (not necessarily in Scanner), of a pulp novel which unexpectedly turns into metaphysical horror or mystical enigma, or gritty realism. I am not one of those who watch a film just because there’s a good actor in it, and for the same reason I’m not ready to throw a movie into the trashcan just because there is a purportedly bad actor in it. There are scenes that have been edited out that I’d have liked to see in the movie, some odd choices, but the film has a strong Dickian flavor–stronger than BR, where Deckard is too tough-guyish to be a real Dickian protagonist…

  15. umberto,

    re: your 12/23 post

    why do you take opposing views as some kind of personal attack? as gary lee-nova so eloquently put it, ‘I do regard his contributions to literature as important, just not very important to me.’
    i’m still curious about dick and plan on trying some books that were recommended, but so far he hasn’t worked for me. you mentioned jim thompson who i adore but i don’t see the connection yet. i don’t agree with your assessement of what the novel should and shouldn’t be, but having opposing views on anything is part of what makes life interesting. i agree with this short but sweet statement by paul bowles regarding novels, but i don’t expect others to agree.

  16. Some random reactive spewing on the comments above…
    Thanks for the link to the radio show.
    I was a teenage fan of Ballard and Dick, just as they started to be considered respectable in the early 1980s, and I have unashamed affection for both. What I think they have in common is that they are each revered more for the sum of their works, their overall visions, rather than for individual novels. Any given Dick novel can seem, in itself, insubstantial, but it always adds another layer or another angle to his universe. Ballard’s novels are all, ahem, “Ballardian” and we seem to celebrate their common themes rather than any individual exellence.
    Someone mentioned above that Dick’s novels were pounded out in a hurry for cash: all the more wondrous that he could produce highlights like The Man In The High Castle, Flow My Tears the Policeman Said, and A Scanner Darkly.
    A big difference for me between the two authors is that Dick is totally within the individual skins of his characters – their hopes, anxieties, and petty frustrations – while Ballard’s read more to me like cyphers for different states of mind.
    Regarding the Dick films, only A Scanner Darkly can really be treated as an adaptation. The others were filleted for alternative-reality plot twists, and even the milestone Blade Runner (although Dick-ian in spirit) left a lot of the book behind. It’s worth seeking out Linklater’s earlier, rotoscoped Waking Life: a very personal meditation on dreams and consciousness. It’s clear that Linklater really understands Dick and specifically wanted to make a faithful A Scanner Darkly. At first I thought that the rotoscoping would be used only for the scramble suits, but it does make some kind of sense. Keanu Reeves (I’m no fan of his) was the name whose appeal got the film made at all. The film is pretty good, and its one real flaw is that most of Arctor’s downward cognitive in NewPath is not shown, so that the sense of uplift that comes from his keeping the Substance D flowers (showing that some of his memory and therefore identity is still intact) is greatly diminished.
    I’m intrigued by the idea of a Radio Free Albemuth film…

  17. You’re all right and all interesting. It seems we each have a special place for him. I wanted to let you know that I never would have found Ballard when I was young if someone hadn’t turned me on to him. Let’s make sure the next generation knows who is. I can always enjoy lending a starter book. Especially in the USA where some people think we’re losing him.

  18. Are you in the US, Palski? In that case, you absolutely need to get the word out. Ballard does not even have a current publishing deal in the US — it’s an absolute travesty.

  19. I’m a big fan of both, read everything, and I would say Dick has more heart than Ballard, it’s that simple. True, Dick’s writing is often sloppy, but I’ve found it’s kind of engaging, as if he’s thinking with you: ‘oh dear, what next?’
    And nobody does slapstick metaphysics like Dick.

  20. Re: the PKD as sloppy writer argument, I remember reading a theory about there being two basic types of writer: those who have their stories well worked out in advance and who can therefore concentrate on their prose style, and those who don’t know where they’re going but are fascinated by certain possibilities and just want to see where these will lead. They may set up an intriguing idea or they may embody different philosophies in different characters. In any case – these latter writers set up their stories like experiments and then “stand back” to see how it turns out.

    Of course this is a simplification but I think that sometimes it does apply. e.g. a writer like Thomas Ligotti is of the first type (and Ligotti said he couldn’t stomach Dick’s “pulp style”). PKD is definitely one of the second type. This may explain why his prose style was simply serviceable (to be polite). You might say he really doesn’t care about the writing itself. He just wants to see where it will lead.

  21. Some consider the novels
    Counter-clock world, A maze of death, Dies irae and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch to be some of its best works.
    Someone not satisfied with its current Dick’s readings can try these.

  22. I’ve spent a long life doing little but reading. I first read PKD in the ’50s, when his short stories first started appearing in SF magazines; JGB when his first novels started coming out a few years later (though his first exposure to most of his public was on British TV). I’ve read all but a handful of the novels, short stories, interviews &tc that both men have published and feel qualified to correct some of the assertions above. They are arguments over personal taste and, as in music or the other arts, there can be no debate in such matters. I am a devotee of both writers and believe that they share many similarities–as well as major differences. Both are frustratingly unpolished stylists (the tone of Ballard’s prose in “The Kindness of Women”, for example, is cringe-inducing; some of Dick’s unedited DAW rush-jobs make one’s eyes water), yet both are writers of genius, regardless of the condescension, or even contempt, usually afforded their genre. Raw genius, in fact–so raw, so overwhelming, that these days neither man would be likely to be published at all if he was just starting out. Instead, each would probably be condemned by the times to fritter away the fruits of his talent (and madness) by blogging. Or Twittering.

  23. thanks for this, found the website while googling ‘consumer fascism’
    ~from ‘strength through unity’ search
    ~as i saw this phrase on a company business card
    ~left by a mobile access work platform sales rep
    …now this really is sloppy exploration!!!

    curious to me, i ended up at this specific article, almost directly without a tangible lead & find my favouite author, Kafka, as a sub-centre!?

    thanks for this, i haven’t read for c.20 yrs but will now look at Dick’s & Ballard’s books recommended here.


  24. […] вот хорошая статья о различных параллелях. […]

  25. I’ve neglected posting on the Ballardian for FAR too long, so here it comes! Fair warning! Hardly any rant, but here comes a slop-tub brim-full of my highly ignorable opinions!

    I’m a long-time PhilDickian, AND in my youth one of those occasional (or merely annoying) SF Fandom people they threw those Cons for (many of them -other than the Hugo and Nebula Award gatherings- were merely the way you marketed an SF-genre author/book back then), the drudgery of a book-signing promotional tour combined with lots of confused adolescents in ridiculous costumes) and I think the answers to many of the questions/criticisms above can be illuminated by the man’s terribly sad life. His long-term abuse of amphetamines unquestionably caused his early death from pancreatic failure. He used that class of drugs to knock out those “DAW rush-jobs”, and was famous (notorious?) for having having once used them to write a salable novel in six weeks. What kind of quality can you expect with that? (I suspect that only sheer brilliance and yes, genius could have successfully pulled it off.)

    I can tell his “speed-novels” instantly because they seem much more like the early “let’s explore one-idea” pulp SF novels that were prevalent in the 50s, where the cover art sold the book about as much as its content and authorship did. Unlike some “SF”-tagged authors like the incredible, lapidary world-craftsman Jack Vance, who pinwheeled off about 5 ideas per page that a lesser author could get a novelette (at least) out of, Phil’s tossed-off work done to pay the bills showed the dismal effects of that horrible stimulant class of drugs: simple linear plot structures, thin and poorly-developed characters, and that central idea or two that he seemed (to me) to drill-down-fixate on and explore with just enough genuine pro-writer-craftmanship to satisfy his publishers and fans like me.

    Yet his genius seemed to shine through even those dark curtains… so much so that he is still considered a major writer of influence, even after the HUGE setbacks to his career when the Fan Word was “Phil Dick? Oh yeah, he could have been a truly great trans-SF-genre writer- if he hadn’t fallen so deeply into that dope-and-speed drug scene that destroyed his mind and creativity….”. And my opinion is that his post-heavy drug use “sobered-up” work was essentially his own epitaph, a legacy set down with the furious drive of a man who knows he’s under an unavoidable sentence of early, untimely death (Phil lived 1928-1982), who wanted to cram what could have been a much greater career into the time left to him. THROUGH A SCANNER DARKLY is just that epitaph mingled with a warning – a true Dark Monstrance in the sense of the Latin root word meaning “to show”. In my 1984 DAW printing, he concludes with an “Author’s Note” that dedicates the book to the shockingly long list of all his friends who lost their lives and minds to drug abuse- and says “I myself, I am not a character in this novel; I am the novel.” On the back cover he’s quoted: “I believe that it is a masterpiece. I believe it is the only masterpiece I will ever write.”

    Was he a genius? Norman Spinrad said he was “…the greatest American novelist of the second half of the 20th Century”. Thomas M. Disch praised him as “A genius… he writes it the way he sees it, and it is the quality, the clarity of his Vision that makes him great.”

    John Brunner, ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brunner_%28novelist%29 ) author of the brilliant and scarily prescient (IMHO) novel “Stand On Zanzibar” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stand_on_Zanzibar ) (Hugo winner Best Novel 1969, & also of the parallel British Science Fiction Writer’s Award (for novels) that same year), called Phil Dick “The most consistently brilliant science fiction writer in the world.”. In 1978, Phil Dick’s “A Scanner Darkly” took the same BSFA award, as did our own JGB for “The Unlimited Dream Company” in 1979. (To give you an idea of the economics of being an outstanding writer condemned to the SF genre, I found out in an old fanzine that “Stand On Zanzibar” (which was reputedly submitted for editing as EIGHT HUNDRED pages of typescript) brought Mr. Brunner the princely sum of $1,500 US dollars of the time. (Mr. Brunner also was the first writer to conceive of a self-replicating, fast-spreading, out-of-control software network worm/virus in his novel “The Shockwave Rider”.) John Brunner’s career was eerily like JGB’s, in that (from Wikipedia):

    He was born at Preston Crowmarsh, near Wallingford in Oxfordshire, and went to school at St Andrew’s Prep School, Pangbourne then to Cheltenham. He wrote his first novel, Galactic Storm, at 17, published under the name of Gill Hunt, but did not write full-time until 1958.[1] He served as an officer in the Royal Air Force from 1953 to 1955, and married Marjorie Rosamond Sauer on 1958-07-12. His health began to decline in the 1980s, and worsened with the death of his wife Marjorie in 1986. He remarried, to Li Yi Tan, on 27 September 1991. Brunner died of a heart attack in Glasgow, Scotland on 25 August 1995, while attending the World Science Fiction Convention there.[2] Brunner was popular in science fiction fandom in his native Britain.
    Literary works

    At first writing conventional space opera, he later began to experiment with the novel form. His 1968 novel Stand on Zanzibar, about overpopulation, won the 1969 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel.[3] It also won the BSFA award the same year. It exploits the fragmented organizational style John Dos Passos invented for his U.S.A. trilogy, but updates it in terms of the theory of media popularized by Marshall McLuhan. “The Jagged Orbit” won the BSFA award in 1970. “The Sheep Look Up” (1972) was a prophetic warning of ecological disaster. Brunner is credited with coining the term ‘worm’ and predicting the emergence of computer viruses[2] in his 1975 novel The Shockwave Rider, in which he used the term to describe software which reproduces itself across a computer network.

    Mmmm… Thoroughly British Schooling (no Lunghua, of course), started efforts at “conventional” SF writing early, but soon moved from short stories to the novel, and did not go full-time until age 24… Brief career as an RAF officer…. suffered the death of his wife, but recovered with a new companion… dealt with poor health very privately…popular in Britain but much less so in USA (as far as I know)…., early eco-/techno-dystopian and Prophet-level status as an early predictor of eco-disaster. Best works use a “fragmented organizational style” (what would we call JGB’s ‘organizational style’ ?) and adopter of McLuhanesque “theory of media” I suppose back when anything novel in media presentation was labelled “McLuhanesque”… (I think the good Dr’s theories of and publications about his so-called “new media” and other labels he popularized are WAY overrated; he was timidly academicizing while his betters were boldly doing.) Coincidences eerie enough for you? Even their initials were JB, and both were so sadly struck down in their prime…

    To sum up, I think Brunner found and was blown away by JGB’s genius quite early (and MUST have been literarily influenced, I’ll leave it to experts to say exactly how.) Saying anything about relations between 2 geniuses and their works is always dangerous, and leads easily to folly. But I think it’s safe to say that Phil Dick too was similarly impressed by JGB – the pulp-SF genre-ghetto ALL 3 of these SUPERB NOVELISTS were consigned to would have made it inevitable at the time. I’d love to know if Simon has picked up on any Dick JGB cross-fertilizations, but I’m willing to wait for MY copy of THE Book to find out! 😉

    For the best Dick-JGB side-by-side, I’d pick Phil’s “Clans of The Alphane Moons” (how WOULD a planet inhabited by all the subtypes of seriously mentally ill people organize themselves into a functioning culture, and how would it function and appear to a “normal”?) I have this odd feeling that JGB would either have brushed this idea aside as the subject of a novel immediately, or taken it MUCH farther than Phil did… (I like to refer to Philip K. Dick as if he were still with us, because he wrote so much about Time being so slippery it didn’t really matter, from alternate-history to “Did THAT REALLY happen? And who says so, while under the influence of which drugs?”

    Finally I’ll kill this ramble off with recommending those new to Phil dip their toes in with “UBIK” – a work that is superb and is packed with haunting meaning on so many levels. He grapples with the most agonizing part of the Human Condition, the truth that “No, you can NEVER go home again- not even in your memories, it’s gone forever”… a realization which I believe played a part in the early brain-fevered death of Thomas Wolfe, who forever longed for a stone, a leaf, a door…. One of the few authors I’ve felt the need to make a personal pilgrimage to his grave.

    I’ve read the novel many times (always enjoying it more) and I STILL can’t tell you what UBIK is, other than it’s marketed like American laundry soap, and that it (my own gloss) “makes things like they were.” For example, a pencil sprayed with that handy-dandy colorful sweet-smelling can of UBIK (that EVERY modern home simply MUST own!) would slowly return to a tree trunk, a branch, a sapling, a seed, while the graphite would return to the original much larger ultra-thin, flat, sliding, slippery crystalline-molecule it was mined as, and I suppose the ferrule would become one or more small mounds of metal ore…

    As always, thanks for the party line straight to fellow Ballardians, DOCTOR Sellars! (Ahh, that long-deserved honorific rolls off the tongue and keyboard so satisfyingly!) Did you see that Discovery Channel show a few months ago, where some aviators and “closet-Crashmen” felt it would be a good use of substantial re$ource$ to go out into the desert, wire a tired old airliner up to the gills with cameras and crash dummies, and REPEAT that long-ago US-Gov’t. experiment (though they readily admitted there was little or no useful aeronautical and/or safety data to be gained) of letting an unmanned, not-really-controlled airliner into the dunes…. JUST TO SEE IT CRASH, SO WILD AND FREE IN ITS ENORMOUS RELEASE OF THE UNCONTROLLED KINETIC ENERGY OF A MASSIVE MACHINE IN FLIGHT?
    And with no annoying, banal flames to obscure the cameras’ views of the free kinetic breakup of the aircraft itself as the lovely swooping energy of Technological Flight transformed itself into…Something Else…..I LOVED IT! To dare to paraphrase the Oracle Himself, we might be able to tease out all the basic structures of the most repressed psychopathology of the Aerial/Spacegoing Man of today by intensively psychoanalyzing the minds of the people behind that project… And I found it MOST revealing in a Ballardian way that the most vigorous figure in the now-privatized human space-travel effort, the touchingly earnest Elon Musk of SpaceX Corp., expresses his fundamental, driving wish as one to “die on Mars”. I wonder….What could have happened to just being content with LIVING on Mars?

Leave a Reply