Friday, September 26, 2014

Can-D and Other Matters

It's been some weeks since my last post. I've not been idle, for I've been drawing, writing, and taking part in various other weighty and time-consuming matters. But, as my humble blog is being plagued by referrer spam from the Ukraine, which creeps me out, and as the conventional wisdom seems to be that legitimate activity and real traffic drives these automated imposters out as the sound of church bells sends ghosts back to their troubled beds, I shall say...some things.

First topic. Science fiction has never caught my fancy much. I suppose it is the lack of affect. There are, of course, many exceptions, including Van Vogt, Bester, and Herbert. Heinlein and Asimov I read in my youth but outgrew. There are other big names I've sampled but found not much to my liking. Lately, though, the author I've grown most in appreciation for is Philip K. Dick.

I've written a bit about him before. You can see which of his books I've read recently on my sidebar. I think I enjoy them not chiefly for their genre qualities (which often are slight) but for their rather melancholy but intense human drama. His protagonists are always hapless losers and/or paranoid schizophrenics; they generally fall for beautiful, eccentric, unattainable young women and receive both tenderness and suffering at their hands. Wives are distant and cold or absent altogether. Much of this was autobiographical, I take it. His self-revelation in VALIS (which, for reasons I don't understand, is one of my favorites) makes this pretty clear.

One thing I appreciate about him is his willingness to grapple with religious issues in a serious way, asking questions and not doggedly pursuing some stale foregone conclusion. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, for instance, explores transubstantiation and communion, disconcertingly through the use of Can-D. VALIS, of course, is about a kind of religious quest, while Through a Scanner Darkly takes its title from I Corinthians 13. Flow My Tears is another good example, especially since he later believed it had been modeled on Acts, or something. Plenty of others abound. He was searching, searching and not finding, wandering into the desert like his friend Bishop Pike and perishing there, perhaps, but never settling for a glib or facile contentment with some received idea.

More than that, though, I read him for his humaneness. Characters to him are persons, evoking sympathy in the reader, and not lay figures moved about on a stage. And his handling of neurological or psychological anomaly is masterful. Nowhere else have I found such a true depiction of the fractured, warped perceptions of the disordered mind.

Next topic. My children and I have finished The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Lewis' seeming disdain for what he considers ugly, homely, or affected in physical appearance continues to bug me. It reminds me of nothing I've come across in Tolkien. But I was already unkind to Lewis in my last post concerning his work, so here I will say, my God, how beautiful the ending of Voyage is. My kids were spellbound.

It's strange, reading Lewis again after so many years, to realize how I'd internalized his writing. Time and again I come across a word, a phrase, or an entire sentence, and realize that something I'd thought my own had actually been lifted from his work. For example, in my recent story, "At the Edge of the Sea," I referred in the first draft to "sea-people." I was advised to alter this, and changed it to "sea-folk," a felicitous choice, I think; but now I realize that my "sea-people" came from the last chapters of Voyage. Altogether quite a writer, and not to be dismissed as some people do.

Voyage, incidentally, is where I learned the names of all the parts of a ship and other nautical terms. It's a recurring dream of mine to find myself crossing the Atlantic on the Dawn Treader.

Third topic. Something that really annoys me in planet-hopping TVF sci-fi is what I call the small planet syndrome. The most egregious offender is The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke crash-lands in a swamp on an earth-sized planet, and expects Yoda to be living right around the corner somewhere. If I told you, "Go to the third planet of the system of Sol, where you will find a man named Buddy," and you crash-landed in Madagascar or something, you'd be crazy if you met some random person and believed that they could take you to him. Maybe it was the Force? I don't know. I don't think it's even mentioned. But I haven't seen Empire since it was so sadly defaced by its maker, and I'll not see it again until they sell the original version (with models!) on DVD. Anyway, Star Trek is just as great an offender.

Well, I guess that's all I have.

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