Sunday, August 30, 2015

Reality Is a Figment of Your Imagination

Phillip K. Dick liked to say reality is a forgery. His stories challenged reality. They challenged the norm. He fully embraced the drugs and counterculture of the sixties. At one point, it is said, he was taking 1,000 amphetamines a week, but I can’t verify this statistic. He suffered many mental breaks from reality, and his writing portrayed his strangeness. In the end, P. K. Dick was insane, and spent some time institutionalized after an attempted suicide in 1972. Dick lived in a different reality than the rest of the world, but that is what makes his books interesting.

Some say his identity crisis derives from the death of his twin sister. She died six weeks after their birth. His paranoia and schizophrenia come from the part of him that went missing when she died. He spent his entire life trying to find himself through the use of religion and drugs, and he shared the search through his stories.

Dick published 44 extremely strange novels and over 121 short stories. He worked in the science fiction genre telling stories of metaphysics, alternative history, religion, drug abuse, paranoia and schizophrenia. His writing voice screamed of an alternative reality, and his lifelong search for wholeness.

The books are not well written. Dick is not famous for his prose. He is famous for his uniqueness. When you finish one of his books, you sit back, and go WTF. The story does not draw in the reader rather its oddness hooks the reader. You find yourself trying to figure out where the story is going, and what is Dick trying to say.

At least eleven of his books have been turned into movies, Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report and The Adjustment Bureau are just a few. Only Matheson may have more stories converted to movies.

Recently I read The Man in the High Castle. He won his only Hugo Award in 1962 for this book. Japan and Germany won World War II. Germany controls the east coast of the former United States and Japan runs the West Coast. The middle part of the country including Denver is technically free.

We don’t meet the protagonist, Juliana, until half way through the book. We are introduced to her earlier in a scene about her ex-husband, but we don’t actually meet her until much later. Are we getting the story from her point of view; I’m really not sure.

I tried to stop reading the story a couple of times, but it strangeness kept me intrigued. After finishing, I still think about it. What did I actually read? What was the story about? I’ve come to the conclusion it is a schizophrenic’s view of post World War II, but I haven’t figured out what is reality and what isn’t in the book. Possibly, you should give it a try.

Be warned it is not an easy read. On a number of occasions, you will ask yourself, why I’m a wasting my time with this? It is also very non-politically correct, and many may find it offensive, but then it is a world ruled by the Nazis.

What makes a good book? Certainly a book should be well written. It should entertain. But shouldn’t it also cause us to question our beliefs and our values? After reading a book are we content to throw it on the floor, and walk away. I think, a good book is one that causes us to think about long after we have finished reading it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

An Analysis of Lois Lowry's The Giver

The Giver begins a tale that takes Lois Lowry nine years to tell, and four short books. Written in 1993, It tells us of a dystopian society in which mediocrity and sameness are celebrated. 

Individuality and success no longer exist. Everyone eats the same food, wears the same style of clothes, and every house is an exact replica. There is no color. Talk about sensory deprivation. Blandness and complete boredom for the people living there.

This society prevents anyone from being better than anyone else. Pride is not allowed. No one wins the game, and everyone receives a prize. It sounds a bit like Communism, maybe a lot like Communism. Maybe a little bit like education in the United States these days.

Maybe their society needed a little bit of Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison’s philosophy. He made his sons give back their participation awards. He wants his sons to get awards for winning, not for doing their best – Kudos to James Harrison.

The protagonist, Jonas, no last names in this society, has felt no emotions. He has felt no pain. These are not allowed. There is no love, compassion, or physical contact. Everyone is chemically neutered except for a few breeders. This society uses artificial insemination. His parents were assigned.

On the other hand there is also no violence, hatred or envy. No wants or desires anything, and if they do they are reprogrammed or “released.”  Would anyone want to live in such a society?

The Giver won the Newberry Medal in 1994. Over 10 million copies have been sold, and it has been made into a movie. It is on middle school reading lists as well as challenged book lists.

It is one of the most controversial books of our time. The Giver was definitely written for middle school students, but the subject matter is a bit complicated. Many parents find the content a bit mature for their children. Some religions find it offensive. I wonder how many students will catch the deeper meaning underlying the story.

I like dystopian or apocalyptic books. They challenge the norms. They say this is where we’ll end up if society doesn’t change. But I have to wonder, does Lowry want a society like this or does she wish to avoid this kind of society? I think many people might want to live in such a society as long as they feel safe and secure.