Book Review: A SCANNER DARKLY

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philip k dick a scanner darklyPhilip K. Dick
Vintage Books
1977

Cops and criminals have always been interdependent, but no novel has explored that perverse symbiosis more powerfully than A Scanner Darkly. Bob Arctor is a dealer of the lethally addictive drug called Substance D. Fred is the police agent assigned to tail and eventually bust him. To do so, he has taken on the identity of a drug dealer named Bob Arctor. And since Substance D–which Arctor takes in mammoth doses–gradually splits the user’s brain into two distinct, combative entities, Fred doesn’t realize that he is narcing on himself.

Having been reading some of Philip K. Dick’s novels that he wrote later in his life, circa the 1970s, you get the sense that the stories are more autobiographical disguised as science fiction. This could very well have been his way of coping with his increasing psychosis that he famously struggled with for most of his life. Reading A Scanner Darkly though, it’s almost like the sci-fi element was nearly forgotten, more of an afterthought, in favor of a look at an undercover narcotics officer slowly losing his grip on reality due to his own substance abuse.

The story has said narc named Fred who has been going undercover as a drug addict named Bob Arctor to infiltrate the source of a nasty drug named Substance D. A synthetic psycho-addictive drug, Substance D has a nasty effect of severing the connections between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, causing a break from reality that, more often than not, results in permanent damage. So then, during the course of the book, we get a ringside seat at watching Fred/Bob slowly lose his grip on his two manufactured personas and reality in general, as he is taking Substance D to maintain his front as one of the addicts he associates with on a daily basis. Due to his real identity being virtually unknown at the precinct he works for due to the scramble suit he’s required to wear while he’s Fred, he’s eventually assigned to watch himself as Bob, which doesn’t help with his gradual slip into his psychotic break.

Having now read this classic from Philip K. Dick, I have to say that A Scanner Darkly is really more of an at oft times uncomfortable look at the slow downward spiral of drug-induced psychosis. The only things that indicate A Scanner Darkly being a work of science fiction would be the inclusion of the aforementioned scramble suits, 3D Holocams, and that it’s set in the then-futuristic year of  1994. Otherwise, nothing could have been said about the year, and you would have thought it was set in the era it was written–namely, the early 1970s. There’s the slang, the mannerisms, the description of Southern California, and various other bits that indicate this. But, really, that’s all incidental to the story.

The novel is not so much a structured narrative, as it is a series of interactions between the characters (one of which is an oddly captivating yet slimy sociopath) while Fred/Bob is careening down a path that ultimately finds him stumbling almost Forest Gump style on the source of the drug, in a twist that’s worthy of Hitchcock at his peak. The captivation in reading this was, in fact, the William S. Burroughs style, which could very well be chalked up to the fact that Dick wrote this after a divorce saw him spiral into drug use, and having a number of homeless drug addicts come live with him at his house.

Overall, A Scanner Darkly was a rather unconventional science fiction novel, but a fascinating look into madness that tends to creep under your skin and remain there long after you’re done. Highly recommended, especially if you’ve only watched the movie adaptation.

Book Review: The WHOLE MAN

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john brunner the whole man
John Brunner
Ballantine Books
1964

Gerald Howson didn’t look powerful. His body was deformed at birth, leaving him with a face so ugly people didn’t want to look at him, and crippled legs that would never let him be as other men. But his mind was one in a billion – gifted with the ability to send and receive thoughts more powerfully than any other person on the face of the globe. At first Howson thought his peculiar ability was odd, and then he thought he might be able to get a little extra money by snooping on people. But when his ability finally was discovered by others, he became so powerful that he could use his gift to heal the minds of those who suffered from terrible emotional or psychological trauma…or he could withdraw into a phatasmagoric wonderland of psychic imagining, never to emerge into the real world of human experience again. Whichever decision he made, his life and the lives of countless others would never be the same again.

It’s funny how sometimes you happen across something by accident, and have it turn out to be a pleasant one (for once). For instance, I initially came across this particular book back in the later part of the Aughts, while visiting my then-girlfriend. In the basement of her apartment complex, along with the soda machines and washer/dryer machines, was a table that was set up for the residents to put stuff they didn’t want, but didn’t feel like hauling off to whatever approximate facsimile of a Goodwill they had in Abaline, Kansas. One afternoon, as I was down there to get a couple of cans of soda, I noticed a couple of mass paperback books that looked like they were published in the 60s, including The Whole Man by John Brunner. Inscribed inside the front cover of this book, in pencil, was DIDN’T READ IT, DON’T WANT TO in perhaps the more shaky cursive I’ve seen since my own in grade school. So, being the way I am, I went and adopted these two books, including this one that’s the subject of this review, to live with me.

That’s the way I am. Most people adopt pets or children; I adopt books. They’re my children. My therapist tells me I’m making good progress.

The Whole Man tells the tale of Gerald Howson, born in a military hospital in the middle of a civil war, to a mother who didn’t really want him to begin with, his father a revolutionary that was shot dead long before he was born. Add to this the massive physical deformities he had, including a slightly shorter leg, an asymmetrical face and, later on in his development, the inability to mature and grow beyond a few feet and never losing his “baby face”, while still maintaining his high-pitched childlike voice. Nevertheless, Gerald manages to make an existence for himself, however much of a pittance it is; until, one evening after a series of (for lack of a better word) events, he discovers that he’s not only a telepath, but a very powerful one at that. Which prompts a government agency of sorts to come in and take him to their facility where they specialize in helping telepaths and others of similar psychic phenomena to develop their talents without becoming a vegetable or turning others in their general vicinity into vegetables as well. Over time, Gerald becomes a very talented doctor, helping many others to develop their talents; but despite all of this, he still wrestles with the existential quandary of becoming a “whole man”. This leads to a soul-searching walkabout of sorts. And without letting on as to how it ends specifically, let’s just say he finds what he’s looking for. The end.

Yeah, it’s as much an ambiguous description as I can get, without spoiling things with a detailed description. But, for the most part, The Whole Man fairly decent. It’s kind of an exploration of the human desire to be loved and accepted in a society that at best pitys them, and at worst fears them to the point of persecution. Maybe not X-Men levels here, but in this book’s world telepaths are known to exist, but are given a nice positive spin thanks to popular action movies featuring very prominent telepathic protagonists. The way that this existential quandary is handled is surprisingly potent, while maintaining a rather easy narrative that seems to have existed back in the 1950s and 1960s. Real meat and potatoes kind of sci-fi writing.

Overall, The Whole Man was a rather good read, leading me to wonder what kind of person would get this book and not want to read it any way. The ending was maybe a bit too uplifting for my tastes, but that’s because I’m a hard jaded fan of nihilistic endings in my science fiction. If you come across this, check it out.

AUGUST 17: I’ve got two turn tables and a Meat Lover’s with extra cheese…

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NecRoSarX Chronicles Header

But “he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends. – 2 Corinthians 10:17-18

Sometimes I wish I knew how to go crazy. I forget how.

Also, this is apparently a thing in the UK:

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve consumed a pizza and then thought to myself, “Self, I wish I could really spin some jams” but never could.

::END TRANSMISSION::

AUGUST 16

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let's see who reads this

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. – 2 Corinthians 7:1

Tuesday. The further along this post-Evangelical wilderness I traverse in my ongoing daily wrestling with my faith, there are certain things that have come into focus that I had taken for granted previously in my early days as a Christian. For instance, Grace.

 

Grace has become just a codeword for works in a lot of evangelical minds. The point to see here is that we tend to get anxious about the way God is doing things. If he starts getting all overly generous on us, we want to call him off to the side and see if we can’t add a few rules and expectations in there so WE feel better. Michael Spencer, internetmonk.com

 

Grace is messy. Grace is scandalous. If I’m honest with myself, I would rather not have anything to do with grace, because of the simple fact that, as someone who acknowledges being made in God’s image, I tend to be wired for justice. So whenever I see someone receiving grace, instead of the justice they deserve (some might use the word “karma” instead)…well, it bothers me, to understate things.

Which is why there’s always a constant reminder of how much grace I’ve been shown throughout my four decades here on this planet. About how I’m a great sinner who fortunately serves a Great Saviour.

It’s not enough to say that I’ve been saved by grace. I have to be willing and able to constantly show grace. And in that aspect, I am a great failure. I suppose I will be until the day I’m gone from this world.

::END TRANSMISSION::

AUGUST 15

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For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. – Romans 14:8

Monday. It happened, finally. Again. Wherein I absentmindedly thought at one point, to myself: “I should catch up with Grandma sometime this week.” Followed immediately by my brain reminding me that, in fact, I cannot. Because she’s gone. Forever from this world. No more catching up. No more chit-chat. No more Grandma.

Now, suddenly, my chest hurts, and my eyes are leaky.

Also feeling a bit of building anxiety about the meeting with Gary later next week. Don’t know how that’s going to play out, or what it is we’re all going to be discussing. After everything that’s happened this summer, if somehow things work out that I won’t be helping out with the youth group for whatever reason, then…so be it. I’m merely a humble servant, and if I am deemed unworthy to be a part of the kids’ spiritual lives, then I accept my fate. We shall see.

As you may have guessed, I have something of an inferiority complex. If you only knew…

Reading A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick. Rather heady, in a simple kind of way. Bit more of a potty mouth than I expected, though.

::END TRANSMISSION::

PRAISE HIM FROM THE GRAVE SPECIAL

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praise him in the graveSorry about the lack of NECRO SHOCK RADIO sessions. There’s been things happening that have commanded my attention. So, I decided, while things are getting sorted out and I can get back to free time to get back to more Brutal Music Therapy, to slap together a collection of songs from my Praise Him From The Grave playlist, and share them with you. This was unplanned, and there’s no script and no editing this time; it’s totally off-the-cuff and from the guts. Completely raw. Listen and enjoy…

(featuring cuts from: BARREN CROSS, BLOODGOOD, The CRUCIFIED, DEAD ARTIST SYNDROME, DELIVERANCE, DEMON HUNTER, DISCIPLE, ETHEREAL SCOURGE, GRAVE ROBBER, KLANK, LIVING SACRIFICE, ONE BAD PIG, RED SEA, SIX FEET DEEP, SOUL EMBRACED, STRYPER, TOURNIQUET, VENGEANCE RISING, WASP, and WHITECROSS)

Music Review: ANGUIDARA – Anguidara

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ANGUIDARA - Anguidara

ANGUIDARA
Anguidara
Independent
????

Anguidara was one of those bands that I ran across during my tenure of exploring the Xian Goth and Industrial scenes back in the late 1990s and early-to-mid Aughts. I remember the band offering up this self-titled collection of their music as a free download from their website, and so I snagged it that way. Now, though, I can find almost nothing on the band; the Facebook page has nothing, and the Discogs entry only lists the compilations that featured one of their songs. Nothing on this or any other type of full-length release. And since the disappearance of Flaming Fish into the cyber-ether, I can’t seem to get much of a foothold on research into this. Kind of a bummer, really. As to the self-titled release itself…

It’s rather easy to merely tag the music on this album as “industrial” and leave it at that. That would be lazy; considering that, like the metal genre, industrial has many different styles and flavors to choose from, to just say “industrial” would do a disservice to the review.

The overall style is electronic based industrial, going from heavy and catchy on the first proper cut “Plague” and “SEOS”, to more ambient and darkwave pieces like on “Operate” and “Crystalize”, while peppering this dark landscape with samples and EBM textures.

Overall, this release wasn’t too bad. It’s only 34 minutes in length, so it went by rather quick, and I found myself getting lost in the soundscape. Fans of Icon Of Coil and Apoptygma Berzerk should look into this, if you can find it.

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