Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

“If you have it, does it matter if it’s real?”

Overview: San Francisco lies under a cloud of radioactive dust. The World War has killed millions, driving entire species to extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remain covet any living creature, and for people who can't afford one, companies build incredibly realistic fakes: horses, birds, cats, sheep...even humans. Rick Deckard is an officially sanctioned bounty hunter tasked to find six rogue androids. They're machines, but look, sound, and think like humans

So yes, I’ve finally read “The novel that inspired Bladerunner” and although BOTH movies are great, the book was far superior. This was my 2nd Philip K. Dick book after A Scanner Darkly and this man’s imagination is astounding. This kind of novel defies understanding. 

One of the biggest themes in the story is empathy, something that distinguishes humans from androids. The novel asks us what deserves our empathy, and twists that in surprising ways. Once we start to see the androids as something akin to human, the book goes a completely different direction.

One of the more interesting aspects of this book was how real animals became pricey commodities and a symbol of status. Decker, the main character, desires a living animal, and he obsesses over it to an almost comical degree. This is where the title comes in, he owns an electric sheep and wonders if the androids have their own humanlike desires. I’d highly recommend this book to any SF fan, even if you’ve already seen the movie. 

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

“He has a habit of repeating himself. So it goes”

Overview: Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

This book is oddly engaging, unpredictable and just plain weird. This type of work can not be copied because it so utterly original.

I didn’t know what to expect from this book, I had never read Vonnegut before and didn't know what this book would be like. Vonnegut does an excellent job mixing history with war criticism and science fiction. It seemed to me an unlikely combination, which is probably why this book is so peculiar.

The premise is simple: we follow the non-linear narrative as told by Billy Pilgrim, sandwiched between the author-narrator’s opening and closing chapters – so from that perspective, it makes for an unexpectedly different read if you’re used to going from A to Z.

The circumstances surrounding the bombing of Dresden during World War II are central to the story, not only the author-narrator’s fascination with it, but also the role it plays in Billy’s life. What I liked about Billy’s narrative is that we’re never sure whether his alien abduction and apparent time-traveling has any basis in reality, and I’m quite a fan of this sort of ambiguity. 

Vonnegut also put himself, along with his characters, into the story, which is weird since Martin Amis did the same thing in his book Money, which I just finished.

Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis

Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis

“Fucking, fighting, drinking, smoking, swearing - all in a day’s work”

Overview: Money is the hilarious story of John Self, one of London's top commercial directors, who is given the opportunity to make his first feature film. He is also living money, talking money, and spending money in his relentless pursuit of pleasure and success. As he attempts to navigate his hedonistic world of drinking, sex, drugs, and excessive quantities of fast food, Self is sucked into a wretched spiral of degeneracy that is increasingly difficult to surface from.

Money has a wild style, moment to moment ravings and feels super realistic. It is outrageous, nerve-racking and makes you think twice about drinking so often. The story is exciting, as the hero is a reprobate, using alcohol, drugs and sex to hide realities from himself. The writing was terrific. Amis described the life in Los Angeles, New York and London very well. If you need a linear story with an upright hero, you won't like this book. 

The lead character is loathsome, the plot contains some really twisted moments, and the language is a bit more flowery than I normally prefer. Throughout the book, John Self (the hero/anti-hero of the novel) really started to grow on me. While this was my first Amis novel, I doubt it will be my last.

Here’s a quote that seems to capture the “flowery” style of writing:

"Each life is a game of chess that went to hell on the seventh move, and now the flukey play is cramped and slow, a dream of constraint and cross-purpose, with each move forced, all pieces pinned and skewered and zugzwanged… But here and there we see these figures who appear to run on the true lines, and they are terrible examples. They're rich, usually."


The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

“Japanese love on a fishing island never seemed so interesting”

Let me start by saying that reading so many stories about Japanese teenagers in love wasn’t planned, it just sort of happened. Also, this was the book I picked up after I had to put down “The Coup” by Updike after 80 pages. 

So, let’s jump right into it. Mishima was crazy. He formed an unarmed civilian militia for the avowed purpose of defending the Japanese emperor in the event of a revolution by Japanese communists. On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four members of his militia entered a military base in central Tokyo, took the commandant hostage, and tried to persuade the soldiers at the base to join them in supporting the emperor and overturning Japan's pacifist Constitution. When this was unsuccessful, Mishima committed suicide by seppuku at the age of 45.

Overview: Set in a remote fishing village in Japan, The Sound of Waves is a timeless story of first love. A young fisherman is entranced at the sight of the beautiful daughter of the wealthiest man in the village. They fall in love, but must then endure the calumny and gossip of the villagers.

The Sound of Waves was published in 1954 and is a coming-of-age story about Shinji and his romance with Hatsue, the beautiful daughter of the wealthy ship owner Terukichi. The story has been adapted for film five times.

I really enjoyed the story, probably because the writing was characterized by its luxurious vocabulary and decadent metaphors, its fusion of traditional Japanese and modern Western literary styles, and its obsessive assertions of the unity of beauty, eroticism and death. The ending was strong, and for lack of a better word, fulfilling, much like the way Mishima described the setting of the beautiful island on which the majority of the story takes place.