Posts Tagged ‘colonisation of Mars’

Philip K Dick: Dr. Bloodmoney

January 31, 2019

51rslz-9fgl._ac_us218_I’m picking up my re-read of Philip K Dick’s novels after a Christmas break, and just finished re-acquainting myself with Dr Bloodmoney after forty years – so that must have been around the time I was working on my MA thesis. It’s hard to know where to start with it, really. If we go for the links with what’s gone before, then there are the first tentatives at colonising Mars, which in this novel are interrupted by nuclear war: the story jumps between the future of 1981 and 1988 and it’s clear that at some time in between these dates, US civilisation has been seriously disrupted by unspecified nuclear conflict. As usual, Dick makes the insanity clear: war was instantaneous, unexpected, nobody knew what it was about and it may have been an enormous mistake…

Or – and here Dick is off on another nature of reality trail – the war is caused by a madman who imagines that he is God and by concentrating his powers he can make war happen; he is plagued by his guilt at having been a nuclear research scientist responsible for an ‘accident’ at some time in the past, and obsessed with the need to atone for this. It’s certainly Dick’s most disturbing novel so far, for my money; he will go on to develop some of these ideas even further in Deus Irae.

Even after war, which may be construed as a warning from God, the remaining humans rebuilding their lives persist in behaving in the same old stupid and venal ways. Practical knowledge and skills are obviously vital for a surviving and recovering society: in the US they are a commodity, for sale as always.

As a narrative, it’s quite episodic and disjointed, though characters re-appearing provide some continuity. It’s a pretty nightmarish small-town world that Dick creates, of ordinary people as well as a host of mutations caused by radiation. The one unifying force in the crazy times is the prospective Martian colonist marooned by the war in orbit above the earth, broadcasting hopefully to those he passes over, and the forces of chaos are embodied not only by the scientist who has survived but also by an increasingly power-crazed ‘phocomelus’ – a survivor of the thalidomide drug which caused so much damage to newborns in Europe in the 1960s – who also enjoys supernatural powers.

It’s a worthwhile and chaotic read, with so many of Dick’s ideas up in the air at the same time that it lacks the power of many of his other more disciplined novels. But you have to admire the man and his ideas: he gets you thinking on so many different fronts…


Philip K Dick: Martian Time-Slip

January 6, 2019

5156jr1yvcl._ac_us218_At the outset, it’s hard to know where we are going or what to make of this one, really.

It’s entirely set on Mars, in the new Earth colony, which survives with difficulty and is looking to expand massively by encouraging emigration from Earth; there are the remnants of a dying-out humanoid Martian race who resemble the Aborigines of Australia, and who are either ignored or exploited almost as slaves by the colonists. Many of Dick’s novels feature colonies on Mars, perhaps reflecting the optimism about space exploration of his day – we are still five years or so before the Moon landings – as well as the relative lack of knowledge at the time about that planet. Obviously Mars performs the same isolating function as a desert island in earlier fiction…

Dick’s main concern in the novel, though, is with schizophrenia and autism (which is much more widespread in his future society than it is now) in various of his characters and how they cope (or do not) with their conditions. He shows a great ability to make his readers see and empathise – as far as that is possible – with those characters; the story itself seems almost unframed and unplanned: you can’t really see where he intends to go with the plot, but you know there will be a point to it all. It all develops quite slowly, though never failing to grip; it meanders, taking in a whole range of characters, and Dick’s focus is, as usual, mainly on ordinary decent people.

I did find myself considering what a trained psychiatrist would make of Dick’s exploration of the interior experiences and workings of his characters. Is the author an expert, or an amateur?

There’s also a strong anti-trade union line in the plot through one of the main characters, a repellent man who uses his power to manipulate and punish others. I wondered if Dick was here reflecting experience of unions in the US in his time.

Ultimately the plot hangs on the idea of both autistic and schizophrenic people to perceive time differently from the rest of us, to interact differently with it, and even to be able to travel through it. This makes the plot confusing at times, but I found the development and conclusion of the story very powerful. As always, Dick manages to confront us with real questions about the nature of our reality, about moral decisions, and about issues in the world today which we are apt to ignore: he frames those questions through fiction and approachable characters, so that we cannot ignore them.

While I am aware that there is a preference for not using the term schizophrenia today, I use it in this post for simplicity’s sake, because this is how Dick refers to the condition in his novel.

Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles

November 28, 2014

31ZJ8BB6C6L._AA160_So, I’ve revised the opinion I expressed a few days back, because this volume is surely Bradbury’s masterpiece. In places the language verges on the poetic, in other places he is still mawkish and sentimental, but the overall achievement is marvellous.

For some reason which I haven’t fathomed yet, The Martian Chronicles was published in the UK as The Silver Locusts, which meant I spent a while hunting for a book which I thought I didn’t have, but had all along. It dates from the 1950s, and is a collection of themed short stories, about Earth colonising Mars. The stories are dated from 1999 to the late 2020s, during which time Earth manages to colonise Mars, exterminate all the Martians, and then exterminate themselves back on planet Earth by having a nuclear war. Bradbury’s portrait of Mars is clearly not an accurate one, in terms of our current knowledge: for him and his characters, it’s basically Earth but a bit colder and the atmosphere is thinner. But the book is actually much more successful in having us as a species and a civilisation (?!) reflect on ourselves and what we do to our world and its inhabitants…

I was thinking about the silver locusts business, and realise that the silver may be the colour of the hulls of all the spacecraft heading for Mars, and the locusts represent the effect of the hordes of Earthmen taking over and trashing the planet. The Martians have only one advantage over humans – telepathy – and they try vainly to keep us off their planet, but ultimately fail, and are wiped out by a human virus. Remind you of anything? Their ghosts haunt the planet as humans colonise and reshape it the way they want. Thousands flock there, inspired by the dream of a new life. Remind you of anything? And white folks back on Earth are outraged when all the people of colour in the US emigrate en masse…

And the foolishness of our race knows no bounds – the war which everyone feared in the 1950s comes to pass, and the humans on Mars watch in horror as they see Earth glowing with nuclear war, and then all dash back patriotically to do their bit, leaving only a few lonely souls behind, to be joined by some who are sensible enough to flee the ruins of Earth in the hope of starting a new life. The story August 2026 There Will Come Soft Rains is wonderful.

It is very much a piece of its time. It’s barkingly unrealistic, beautifully lyrical, and a powerful allegory about many of the things that are wrong with our world. If anything of Bardbury’s oeuvre survives the test of time, it deserves to be this.

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