Tag Archives: book

Book Review: Do prophets dream of electric psalms?

The latest two books I’ve read are connected in an obtuse manner. The first was sci-fi classic, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, by Phillip K. Dick, and the second was all-round classic, The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran. The former questions what it means to be alive; the latter gives answers on how to live.

This was the first Dick book I’ve read. I saw Bladerunner years back when I was too young to appreciate it. However, appreciating the existential nature of the novel is a delight.
Language wise, I loved the abbreviations, the most notable of which is ‘andy’, a nickname that has very human connotations. Dick has a simple style, but paints a dreary picture very effectively. His characters are all a little eccentric, lost in a technologically denigrated world. Sometimes the dialogue was a little brash, a bit out of character, but that happened rarely.
Our protagonist, Rick Deckard, is a bounty hunter who tracks down and ‘retires’ renegade androids. The difficulty comes in how close androids mimic human behaviour, meaning that an empathy test has to be administered. The fun (but that I mean learning) of the book comes in when Deckard asks androids (and humans) the questions, and how he tricks them into revealing whether or not they are alive. Deckard at one stage ponders his own existence, and the book ends on an ambiguous note. When a book blurs boundaries like this it adds so much joy to the experience, and I found myself stopping many times to try and think through the philosophies. I can’t wait to read more from this clear master of sci-fi.

The Prophet is less plot engaged, and reads more like a self-help book. The Prophet, who is the protagonist, is leaving his town, and is asked by fellow villagers a variety of questions. These include “Tell us of Children” and “Speak to us of Reason and Passion”.
My parents gave this to me when I left home, clearly for good reason. Finally getting around to it has been a blessing (they highlighted the chapter on Children).
I’m not sure how much I can take away from it, but I will certainly use it as a reference book. For example, this quote is from the chapter on Work:

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out life’s procession that marches in majesty and proud submissions towards the infinite.

Good to keep in mind when you’re dragging your feet around the office.

These are two books I would highly recommend, and both will give you a slightly better grasp on life – albeit with completely different methods.

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Friday Fiction: Or Fact?

Fiction and fact go hand-in-hand. It’s a paradox, but they feed each other. Here’s a little story that may be a little personal, but it’s all in the perspective. Read on:

 

Mrs Bovran loved the first day of school. It was particularly enriching because she taught Year 1—the first ‘first’ day. She moved around the classroom, flitting from parent to parent, introducing herself, her smile constant, her eye contact strong, a bee with an over-abundance of flowers. She was in her element.

A few of the youngsters were bawling, wails and tears drowning the whole room in noise. It was always tough, the first day. Her first day had been a nightmare—not the kids, the teachers. It had been hard back then, but she had made it work. For her love of the children.

One little boy seemed quite stalwart when faced with retreating parents. They departed quietly, not a murmur or whimper to be heard from the child. Mrs Bovran marvelled, quite fascinated; had she had been blessed with a strong student?

Time moved on, and eventually all the adults left. It was just her and the kids. The tears had stopped (though there were still a few wet cheeks) and Mrs Bovran proceeded to give the students their first task. She always started with a colouring exercise, as this seemed to be the most comforting activity.

Taking her place at the Desk, she waited for the kids to finish and come to show her their work. One by one they came to have their efforts approved, followed by a new mission.

All except the boy who hadn’t cried.

Mrs Bovran noticed that he wasn’t doing his work, just looking around with a worried look on his face. Perhaps this was his nervousness finally coming out, Mrs Bovran thought. Maybe he wasn’t as strong as she had presumed. Fear had different ways of presenting itself, but Mrs Bovran was happy to help the children overcome it.

She invited the boy up to her desk.

“What’s wrong, Wally?” she asked.

No response. The child shifted nervously, meeting her eyes briefly, but not offering an answer. After a few more attempts she let Wally stand at her desk, in the hopes it would make him feel better.

Poor boy.

Minutes passed, the students lined up past Wally waiting for Mrs Bovran to approve their work.

And then, a noise.

A very loud noise. Mrs Bovran looked up. It sounded like a burst pipe. But then, screams.

The girls in line were screaming; the boys were laughing.

Little Wally had urinated. In his pants. Right there next to Mrs Bovran’s desk.

The teacher sighed, and went to call the cleaners.

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Friday Fiction: Final Freedom

I have to stop with the alliteration. It might start coming across as forced. I do find it to be the most beautiful form of rhyme.

Here’s my bit of fiction for the week, based on a writing prompt about, you guessed it, freedom. It’s a little dark, but that happens from time to time.

The land of the free. What a load of hogwash that is. Free to do as business and government and censorship let us. Free to walk the streets at night; free to be mugged and beat.

Nothin’s free these days.

The word sucks us in. Companies use it to lure the hungry into shopping malls, watching on cameras, rolling their finger tips together with greed, the trap sprung before the poor sucker is aware. Hell, you see those “Free 2 Play” videogames the media is bangin’ on about? What a joke. Games are about winning, and you can’t win nothin’ unless you pay. Your time or your money, it amounts to the same thing.

Governments the world over are striving for democracy. We’re free to vote—or not—and that’s real freedom!

Nah, sorry.

You see, we’re played with, strung along. What greater purchase is there than having your favourite brand leading the way? Christ, I mean campaigns are worse than Christmas, with the flashy lights, endless slogans, the piles and piles of money that go on behind the scenes.

And what about the mother of all freedom: Speech, our words, and thoughts, and ideas, and philosophies? That’s the last damn freedom you want because somebody, anybody, will come along as soon as you’ve expressed it and grind it into the dirt.

And of course, they’re free to do that.

It’s like a game of Snap—cards on top of each other until someone gets their grubby palm and smacks it down on top. It’s mine, all mine!

There’s one freedom I truly appreciate, but even it’s tainted. The freedom to bear arms. Bastards still make us get a licence. I have the freedom to defend myself, the freedom to carry a weapon at all times. But I don’t cherish it enough.

I don’t cherish the false freedoms afforded to me.

There’s only one freedom left.

And no one can take it away from me.

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Saturday Review: Catcher in the Rye

I missed this one at school. I read titles like 1984 and Birdsong (both of which had scenes that went down well in class). It still rings very true despite having made the transition from teenager to young adult. The gap isn’t very large.

The voice is the key aspect of the writing. Salinger utilises the ‘additive style’ of sentence structure. That is, it seems to add more and more and more to the thought that is initially introduced. It’s artful and deliberate in the exhibition of randomness. At one point Holden Caulfield (our protagonist for those who haven’t read it) says that he likes people digressing, in reference to a speech giving class. And that’s what he gives us. Aimless chat. But it shows the reader exactly what goes through a young boy’s head. The frustration and meandering. The babbling on and saying no. It’s the disaffected youth to the letter.

It’s quite annoying, actually. I doubt anyone likes Holden. Sure, they get it, they may sympathise, but no one is going to be on Team Caulfield. I know I wanted to belt him around the ears and tell him to buck up. But that’s precisely the point. His hypocrisy is our hypocrisy; his deceitful actions are ours. It’s also slightly annoying because nothing really happens. It manages to keep us reading because of the voice, but in terms of plot it’s mundane. We’re given this snapshot into the mind of a muddled teenager, but it’s more than enough.

What can I take away? It’s a great example of voice—little words like Chrissake and the constant repetition of ideas. It shows how the right character can make any situation intriguing. And it shows once again that writers love writing about writing.

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Friday Fiction: For The Zoo

When you tell me to write about an animal, I’m not going to be conventional. Mantis shrimps are probably the coolest animals in the world. Monogamous, always fighting, breaking the sound barrier, seeing 16 different levels of light—awesome. So what if they were massive? What if you wanted one for yourself? Read on for a tight little story.

Like a tightening rope the group of hunters converged on the rainbow beast. The rocky shore was difficult to traverse, but years of practice meant their footing was sure. They kept communication up, a colleague in sight at all times. This was as routine as the tide.

The creature eyed them warily, it’s sight stalks jutting to and fro, picking up movement all around. It didn’t move from where it stood, pointed appendages poised and steady. It could have run, but Mantii live to fight.

One of the hunters got too close. A barbed limb shot out, faster than any of the hunters could see. A bang disorientated everybody in the space as sound broke. Viscera sprayed out into the foamy water.

The body was pulled back towards the animal, but it flung the meat away, not caring for food. Only for blood. An excited chattering emanated from it’s mouth.

One of the men threw a javelin, a large, heavy spear with hooked jags along the head. It missed, glancing from the chitin of the giant cray-fiend.

It spun round, legs moving with extreme speed. Snap, crack. Another messy corpse went flying. The hissing grew louder.

The humans stood firm. They were inured to this, trained for loss, practised in bewilderment. Combating a Mantii was the holiest of battles; to kill one was a mighty glory.

To capture one was beyond imagining.

A hunter moved in from behind the monstrosity, a newly opened vantage point. He swung strong leather binds attached to heavy rocks. He aimed at the beast’s legs.

It barely hit, managing to swing around two of the multi-coloured legs. The critter instantly fell. Collapsing into the pools of water between the rocks, the sun glinted off its armour. Thousands of colours. It would have been wondrous were it not for the danger.

And it was still dangerous. One of the hunters, in her excitement, leaped up on a rock, letting out an exultation. She underestimated the beast’s reach.

Another bang, the air supercharged and burning. The smell of blood was filling their noses. A headless cadaver fell under the waves.

While it was momentarily distracted, the hunters’ final weapon was brought into place. A massive globe of crude glass, as colourful as the creatures exoskeleton. Carried by four hunters it was the tool that cracked a Mantii

Another leather sling, and the animal was subdued further. Unable to scuttle off, the brute was forced to look into the globe.

No man can see what it did. Cray-fiend see light in spectra beyond understanding. Whatever was diffused by this holiest of glasses sent it into hypnosis. From there it was only a matter of netting the body and carrying it off.

Raul stood back as his warriors heaved the subdued shrimp into a cage. He doubted it would hold, which was why they had to keep the globe in its field of vision. And make haste before the Sun fell.

He would be remembered now—the Master of the Mantii. When this beast died, he would wear its body as armour, splendid and impregnable. The animal was his pet now, and he would have to look after it.

 

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