Cecily's book reviews

In general I've written reviews of every book I've read since I joined GoodReads (RIP) in May 08, along with one or two I read prior to that. More recent reviews tend to be longer (sometimes a tad too long?). I always carry a book, though I don't get as much time as I'd like to get engrossed - life is busy, but in a good way. Too many of my favourite authors died without writing enough! Apart from reading, and writing about reading, I enjoy Scrabble, good restaurants, woodland, and attending the theatre.
Ubik - Philip K. Dick, Michael Marshall Smith A clever, original and often very funny sci-fi story. It is about psychic power battles, the nature of death, alternative reality and changing the past. Or not.

It was published in 1969 and starts off in a sufficiently plausible but amusingly implausible 1992. In particular, the clothes take the flamboyance of the late '60s to extraordinary heights, for no obvious reason, other than fun. On the second page, we meet a man wearing "a tabby-fur blazer and pointed yellow shoes", which is fair enough, but only three pages later, an elderly man wears "a varicolored... suit, knit cummerbund and dip dyed cheesecloth cravat". After that, you're on the lookout for them, so here are more:

* "gay pin-stripe clown-style pajamas"
* "a sporty maroon wrapper, twinkle-toes turned-up shoes and a felt cap with a tassel"
* "electric yellow cummerbund, petal skirt, knee-hugging hose and military-styled visored cap" plus gauntlets. And that's a man.
* "a cowboy hat, black lace mantilla and Bermuda shorts"
* "wrapped in a superior and cynical cloud of pride"
* "floral mumu and spandex bloomers"
* "natty birk-bark pantaloons, hemp rope belt, peek-a-boo see-through top and train-engineer's tall hat" (a man, as most of these are)
* "hip-hugging gold lamé trousers, yet somehow created a stylish effect. Perhaps the egg-sized buttons of his kelp-green mitty blouse helped... he exuded a dignity"!
* "a shift dress the color of a baboon's ass" (a man)
* "fuchsia pedal-pushers, pink yak fur slippers, a snakeskin sleeveless blouse and a ribbon in his waist-length, dyed white hair"
* "the elastic band which - fashionably - compressed her breasts... had elegant embossed fleur-de-lys"
* "tweed toga, loafers, crimson sash and purple airplane-propeller hat"
* "green felt knickers, gray golf socks, badger-hide open-midriff blouse and imitation patent-leather pumps"
* A girl wearing jeans, a canvas work shirt and muddy boots is told she's "dressed oddly"!

Another distinctive feature is that every chapter is prefaced with a short advert for Ubik, and each one demonstrates a different and amazing use for the wonder product. Each ends with a slightly worrying caveat about only being safe if used exactly as directed.

Twice, characters say "so it goes", which I assumed was a nod to the famous catchphrase of Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/129649718), but both were published in the same year, so I guess it's just a coincidence. There is also mention of a dead parrot, but that can't be a nod to Monty Python as their famous sketch also dates from... `1969! Spooky, eh?

Runciter's space transporter is called Pratfall II.

Anyway, the crux of the story is the constant battle between people with psychic powers (such as precognition and telepathy) and "prudence" organisations that supply "inertials" who block such powers (often by using such powers themselves). Who are the goodies and who the baddies in such a setup: "A policeman guarding human privacy" or "trying to turn the clock back"?

Glen Runciter is the larger than life figure who heads one such prudence organisation, and Joe Chip is his right hand man. Pat is a new recruit who can change the past in such a way that people don't even know it. She and Joe may or may not have a thing for each other.

They and eleven of their best go to Luna for a rather mysterious job. After that, things turn strange: perceptions of reality shift, and time seems to slip back as well. Some objects age, some change, but not everyone's experience is the same. Are they going back in time, or is the past receding, or are they in some other reality? The only shame is that from this point on, the clothes are less mad.

Joe is the principal character trying to work out what is going on, how to survive and so on. It's hard to explain further without spoilers.

Dick's 1992 is very commercialised: you have to pay for almost everything, though it's mostly coin-operated - even one's own front door! When someone couldn't find a coin and tried to dismantle the lock, it threatened to sue him!

But on Luna, "All our medical care... is free. But the burden of proof that he is genuinely ill rests on the shoulders of the alleged patient." A few governments might like that idea, especially the word "alleged".

Dick doesn't foresee mobile internet etc (who did?), but the pape machine is rather like a printer connected to the internet.

Runciter's wife, Ella is at a moratorium, in cold-pac half-life. She died, or near enough, but is in cold storage which provides a sort of life-extension. Most of the time she's unconscious, but she can occasionally be contacted; how many times, over how many years depends on lots of factors around the death and the freezing.

The moratorium and its inhabitants are significant plot elements, but are also used to explore the fuzzy boundary between life and death. Runciter consults with Ella, but how is this different from using a medium to consult the properly dead? Those in half-live can sometimes communicate with each other, "wandering through one another's mind gives those in half-life the only -", but they can't initiate contact with those outside. "'She exists... she merely can't contact you.' Runciter said 'A metaphysical difference which means nothing to me.'"

* "Herbert felt the weight of the hand, its persuading vigor". Runciter's hand (and vigor).
* "Nothing touched his mind... He chuckled, but it had an abstract quality... his voice always boomed, but inside he did not notice anyone, did not care; it was his body which smiled, nodded and shook hands." (Runciter again.)
* A messy apartment "radiated the specter of debris and clutter".
* "On his face, a feral, hateful expression formed, giving him the expression of a psychotic squirrel."
* "His voice had a squeaky, penetrating, castrato quality to it, an unpleasant noise that one might expect to hear... from a hive of metal bees."

Currently reading

The Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy
Sebastian Peake, China Miéville, Mervyn Peake
Mervyn Peake