The famous Philip K. Dick wrote some amazing books, but in his later years, penned a few stinkers. Fortunately, Ubik is one of the good ones. It starts out dystopian (the door to one’s apartment requires coins to open and close every single time) and quickly gets very weird, as characters become unsure of what time they’re in, or even how alive they are. It’s bizarre fun.
If you’re a child of the 80s, reading Ready Player One is like mainlining heroin-strength nostalgia. It’s so ridiculously fun that I frequently imagined author Ernest Cline giggling and saying to himself, “I can’t believe I’m getting away with this!”
I did that with Echopraxia and missed so much that I had to read it again. This book is as dense as those borderline-illegal molten chocolate desserts that are as big as a teacup but somehow weigh ten pounds.
Don’t skip a word. The writing is that tight.
Echopraxia is a sequel to Blindsight, and again author Watts explores the craziness of space, aliens, vampires (he makes them work, even more believably than he did in Blindsight), and how malleable human brains are. His central idea that human consciousness is like a flea riding a dog, thinking it’s in charge of everything, when really the dog, i.e., the rest of our brain, makes all of the decisions. (This is something that a lot of studies are actually agreeing with.)
In addition to all that, it’s a smart, fantastic read, and his best book since Starfish, one of my absolute favorites.
Recommendation: Buy it. It’s excellent on the first, second, and further readings.
Despite the title, this isn’t about 9/11. The three books in this collection were written in the sixties. They don’t feel like sixties books, though—these could easily have been written today.
The only humans left on Earth are on a single island, in a single city. There’s another city on the mainland, but a strange radiation barrier appears, dousing that city in radiation and locking the people on the island off from the rest of the planet.
There’s an enemy that may or may not exist beyond the barrier. An escaped prisoner finds himself in the middle of the radiation, but perfectly healthy. He meets Neanderthals and mind-reading giants as he tries to get home. Things get much weirder.
There’s an enjoyable strangeness to these three books. They’re a great combination of advanced technology, unintended consequences, and good old political intrigue.
While some of the dialogue was unrealistic, the stories are interesting, well-crafted, and smart as hell.
Recommendation: Get it at the library. It’s a damn good read, but not necessary for a shelf.
It’s easy to be a hero when you’re saving the entire world or galaxy or species. Which is why the hard-boiled detectives are the most heroic characters out there. They’re not out to ram the bad guy’s spaceship. More likely, they’re trying to find justice for a murdered little nobody, or get an intensely offensive (but innocent) man out of jail.
This dogged deathgrip on principle directs the actions of private detective Conrad Metcalfe in a bizarre future world populated by talking animals, drugs for all, and the most authoritative state I’ve ever come across. It’s dark, funny, fast-paced, clever, and chilling.
Recommendation: Buy it new and place it in a prominent place. I’ve got it on a shelf right over my desk.
The future, like the present, can be both wonderful and terrifying.
If you find yourself drawn to dystopian stories, ask yourself, “Why?” Is it because the future looks bleak? Or does a truly fresh start sound pretty good?
It’s okay if the answer is both. Feeling strongly about two or more completely contradictory things is deeply human (annoying, but human).