Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Scanner Darkly

Philip K. Dick
Published 1977
Recommended for: drug users, acid-fantasy

Read from January 08 to 11, 2013 
Reviewed by Carol
★ ★ ★

I've started and restarted this review a number of times. With that in mind, I'm going to take a page from mark monday ( and share a multi-perspective review.

The .gif summation:


Recipe for A Scanner Darkly:

1. Take moderate amounts of the drug of your choice (recommend one with highly hallucinogenic and paranoiac qualities)
2. Allow to simmer while reading Less Than Zero
3. Stir in a random amount of a second drug (preferably one with potential for permanent brain damage--current versions of the recipe recommend bath salts)
4. Allow to cook in brain pan on high heat
5. Watch Rush, the movie.
6. Rinse and repeat until brain fully cooked

The literary critic:

Wandering, borderline incoherent narrative. Half-hearted attempt to tack on conspiracy theory at the end, which might have been effective had there been more building earlier. The story did surprise me in a couple of places, notably (view spoiler) which, while genius, does miss the consequence point he seems to want to make; and in the plot twist at the very end. Like the main character, Bob Arctor/Fred, PKD seems of two minds about the book: does he want to tell a story of extreme consequences to deliberate recreational drug use, or does he want to tell a mystery noir, with undercover agents, spying, illegal drug running, and conspiracies?

That said, character creation was brilliant. Each has his own way of interacting with drugs, his own purpose and own experience, and the intersections were fascinating. Barris with his experimental genius. Luckman with his pursuit of pleasure, Donna with her strangely drawn and arbitrary drug-use lines (ha-ha), and Charles Freck with his sad effort to self-medicate mental illness. I'm sure several of the conversations came out of real life; they are too absurd not to.

The psychological evaluation sections were interesting, and a clever device to give the reader insight into the world and Arctor, although the mumbo-science passed through my own tired brain. Stylistically, the language was essentially prosaic, but occasionally a phrase would catch my attention and stop me in my tracks with meaning:

"It will be a hindsight I won't even get to have. Somebody else will have to have it for me."

"And then he thought, Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then, briefly. Under very specialized conditions, such as today."

The personal:

Been there, done that. I get PKD and his motivations, I really do. His Author's Note was quite powerful, especially when he says "these people wanted to keep having a good time forever." Except it his book skipped the good time, the gentle slide into drug dependency, the slip of control from choosing to needing, personal charm eroded into manipulation. Had he done so, my sympathy for the characters would have been greater and my connection to the story deeper. I would have enjoyed it more if there had been more than the tiniest shred of redemption, some elements of joy and abandon to show the sheer delight of the "children playing in the street."

Three and a half tabs stars.

Cross posted at
Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences
Brian Yansky
Candlewick Press, 2010

Reviewed by Sesana
Three out of five stars

Publisher Summary:
A polite race of telepathic killer aliens, a ten-second world conquest, and one teenage boy collide in this wry, gutsy adventure.

Jesse is in history class when a formidable, efficient race of aliens quietly takes over the earth in less time than it takes him to brush his teeth. Most humans simply fall asleep and never wake up. In moments, everyone Jesse knows and loves is gone, and he finds that he is now a slave to an inept alien leader. On the bright side, Jesse discovers he’s developing telepathic powers, and he’s not the only one. Soon he’s forging new friendships and feeling unexpectedly hopeful. When a mysterious girl appears in his dreams, talking about escaping, Jesse begins to think the aliens may not be invincible after all. But if Jesse and his friends succeed, is there anywhere left to go? Brian Yansky offers a funny, grim novel packed with everything boys and sci-fi fans love: aliens, humor, action, and a healthy dose of triumph.

My Review:

A little disappointing, partly because the title just doesn't suit the book. Sounds like a kind of funny version of an alien invasion, right? Wrong. It ends up having a fairly serious tone, with a few lighter touches to keep it from getting too morbid. I don't have a problem with the tone, but the title needed to be changed to suit it.

But once I adjusted my expectations, it was decidedly not terrible. It has a definite whiff of summer blockbuster about it. The sort of thing that makes good money at the theater, but quickly vanishes from memory. It's a little heavy handed with all of the parallels between the alien invasion and the unsavory parts of human history. (This is JUST LIKE how American settlers treated Native Americans! Really! I'll tell you again in a dozen pages!) In a YA book, this would probably need to be pointed out, once.

The invasion itself is over on the first page of the book, so we don't even really get to enjoy that. It's unsettling, how quickly and easily it happens, but I would have liked to dwell on that Twilight Zone feeling. That's over way too quickly for me. No extended scenes of the main character discovering the full extent of the catastrophe. Most of the action after that point is done on the psychic level. But I've seen psychic powers and warfare done much better, so it really did nothing for me. Maybe somebody who'd read less SFF than me would get more out of it.

I did enjoy Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences while I was reading it, but it just wasn't memorable. If Yansky had been able to manage a comic (but not slapstick) version, I might have enjoyed it more. It's not a bad book, I'm just going to forget it very quickly.

Also reviewed on Goodreads.

The Forbes 25 Reviewers - #24 Greg

Today's guest is Greg.  Greg also posts at Books that Caught My Eye.

How did you discover Goodreads?
A friend sent me an invitation to the website back in April 2007. I originally just signed up for the website to keep a list of all the books I'd read.

What have been your most memorable Goodreads experiences?
Probably the fights. So, so many fights.

Name one reviewer not in the Forbes 25 that people should be aware of.
Just one? David, Brian, Dead Flamingo Jessica, Paquita Maria, Mariel; to name just a few.

What was your initial reaction to Amazon buying Goodreads?
I was a little worried that some of my reviews could disappear since a lot of my reviews are digressions only sort of about the book I'm supposed to be reviewing and because I have a tendency to swear a lot. Then I realized I don't really care if Amazon owns Goodreads.

How many books do you own?
I don't know. A couple of thousand?

Who is your favorite author?
David Foster Wallace

What is your favorite book of all time?
Infinite Jest

What are your thoughts on ebooks?
I hated them at first, now I'm ok with them. I like paper books better, but for reading some classics and things you can snag legally for free online they are pretty great. They are good for travelling, too.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
I think it's a wonderful, murky, creepy and disturbing thing. Just go to Smashwords, make sure you aren't filtering out the adult books and just look through the books just published for some quick laughs and a look into the weird psyches out there.

As a reviewer who doesn't get paid and just does this because he likes to write things sometimes I don't really like being bombarded with requests to review someones self-published book. Writing reviews for them aren't fun for me. I'm so irrelevant on Goodreads these days that I don't have to worry about these requests so much anymore.

Any literary aspirations? 
I wrote a novel about burritos a couple of years ago during NaNoWriMo. One day it will be edited and then I will be bombarding the other Forbes 24 reviewers with a barrage of requests to make love to my book in a review.