Today is 40 years since the death of science-fiction writer Philip. K. Dick (1928 – 1982), an American author who created addictive dystopian worlds where advanced technologies compete with humanity, where space-travel is not only available and optional, but at times essential to evade planetary catastrophes, and where drug-induced hallucinations become a new reality for all. The science-fiction books of Philip. K. Dick may not be the height of mastery in terms of their execution and in some ways do remain products of their time, but no one can deny their unparalleled creativity in setting out intriguing worlds of the future where there are layers and layers of unfathomable realities just beneath the one you see.
I. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 
Few people have not heard of this book, or if they have not, they have surely heard of Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner , which (and I would say it very frankly) is only loosely based on this sci-fi novel. In this story, set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, possessing a real live animal have become a social status akin to being one of the richest persons on earth because so few of them are in existence and, androids and humans co-exist in a world torn by the devastating effects of the recent nuclear war. Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter, has a task of “retiring” a number of criminally-minded androids who have recently escaped from Mars. The success of this book, and the film, lies in a way it taps into the very essence of our humanity – what makes us – us? Our thoughts, our memories, our emotions? If all of these can be “replicated”, does our sense of humanity become redundant? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a great sci-fi full of irony and suspense that was unfairly overshadowed by its cinematic counterpart.
Continue reading “Ranking Philip K. Dick Books (Ones I’ve Read So Far)”
The Memory Police [1994/2019] – ★★★★★
“They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time…when somebody says your name for the last time” (Banksy, re-quoting Ernest Hemingway). Yōko Ogawa (The Housekeeper and the Professor [2003/08]) wrote The Memory Police in 1994, and it was translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder in 2019. In this beautiful dystopian book, our young female character works as a writer on one curious island – there, things sometimes simply disappear from time to time, and with those “disappearances” come another interesting element – people soon forget these things completely, how they looked and what they felt like. For them, these things simply cease to exist. The enforcement of the memory erosion is the task for the special Memory Police, that ruthlessly detects and investigates any traces of disappearing objects, as well as hunts people that are still able to remember them. When one man, R, a book editor, is in danger of being caught for remembering disappeared things, our lead character vows to do everything in her power to save him from a terrible fate. The Memory Police may share some themes related to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Orwell’s 1984, but, in its spirit at least, it is a different book– it is filled with quiet, reflective moments and has its own special, eerie atmosphere. The premise may start with one absurd situation, but it soon transforms into something very heart-felt, as its characters try to make sense of one weird world that is slowly becoming devoid of one essential meaning. At the heart of Ogawa’s novel is the importance of memory and its preservation, which remains at the core of our history and our state of being conscious, free-willed and emotionally-complex beings. Continue reading “Review: The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa”
Sulphuric Acid [2005/2007] – ★★★★
This book is by a Belgian author Amélie Nothomb, who was born in Japan, but now resides in Paris. Translated from the French by Shaun Whiteside, Sulphuric Acid is a short novella which quite shockingly and darkly satirises our obsession with TV, in particular with reality television, and our idolisation of celebrities. Probably taking some inspiration from Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale (1999), Sulphuric Acid is a dystopia-set story in which millions of people tune in every night for a TV programme called Concentration, which recreates a Nazi-style concentration camp with real participants. People in this programme take either the roles of guards or prisoners, with cameras catching their every move. Nothomb packs a lot of ideas into her novella of just over 120 pages, and she is very interested to explore human responses to some unthinkable situations, as we follow the main characters – a beautiful young woman Pannonique, one of the prisoners, and sadistic Zdena, one of the guards. Continue reading “Review: Sulphuric Acid by Amélie Nothomb”
The Last Children of Tokyo  – ★★★★
Yoko Tawada sets her book in near-future Japan where the elderly regain their powers and live beyond one hundred years old, while the young become weak and sickly. Everyone is concerned in the story because, due to some catastrophe, “the human race may be evolving in a direction no one ever imagined” [Tawada, 2014: 14]. The central characters are an old man called Yoshiro and an orphaned boy named Mumei. While Yoshiro is the very definition of health and vigour at his age of one hundred plus, his great-grandson Mumei is feverish, vitamin-deficient, and in the course to face a slow death. This short dystopian novella, translated from Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani, is both beautiful and unsettling, and is a fascinating read, even though most of the time it reads like an essay on some highly imaginative dystopian future, rather than like a story with a linear plot. Continue reading “Review: The Last Children of Tokyo by Yoko Tawada”
A Scanner Darkly  – ★★★★1/2
In this novel by the brilliant science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick the setting is dystopia some time in future and the location is Anaheim, California. Bob Arctor (also known as Fred) is an undercover narcotics agent working for authorities while pretending to be a drug addict. His task is to trace dealers, including his on-off girlfriend Donna, to a source of drug supply. Other major drugs aside, the one drug which really causes havoc in the dystopian future is Substance D, a highly addictive matter, which, in a long-run, causes a strange and irreversible brain damage. Arctor knows all the dangers, but the problem is that no one is immune, and, soon, the undercover agent senses that he has gone too far in his goal to make himself indistinguishable from his drug addict pals. Due to the subject matter, this atmospheric story is far from being a comfortable read, but it is also fair to say that A Scanner Darkly is a philosophically and psychologically insightful work of science fiction with the strong character study at its core, as well as witty dialogues and a powerful message. Continue reading “Review: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick”
I. 1984  by George Orwell
Orwell’s 1984 will forever remain the dystopian novel to read. In the story, we meet Winston Smith who rewrites historical records for the Ministry of Truth in Airstrip One (formerly the UK), one of the future totalitarian states. The future world of surveillance, propaganda and brainwashing that the author imagines is a powerful reminder of the importance to stick to the truth and freedom of thought anywhere in the real world. Moreover, the novel has a particular relevance to modern times because there is a global concern now about data protection, fake news and privacy when browsing online.
II. Brave New World  by Aldous Huxley
Huxley presents an unforgettable world and vision in his novel. The year is circa 2540, and the humanity made unbelievable advances in genetics, sexual reproduction and sleep-learning. Presented as utopia, the world is actually a well-ordered totalitarian state where there are certain classes of people who should know their societal positions, and where happiness is achieved through a particular drug. The novel is as thought-provoking as it is enjoyable. Continue reading “My 10 Favourite Science Fiction/Dystopian Books”