Book Recommendation: The Man in The High Castle

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It’s been a long time coming, this. Philip K. Dick’s look at an alternate version of the world where the Germans and the Japanese won World War 2 is nothing short of a spectacular example of speculative fiction.

How does he do it? How does Dick create such a mortifying vision of the world such as it never was, but could’ve been? How does he weave the essence of three differing cultures, so at war with each other; how does he navigate with such ease between philosophy and action, art and suspense; how does he spin it all into such captivating narrative?

Such skill as to leave you breathless. I’m not quite certain how to even begin to approach it, but I shall persevere, none the less!

After the war ended and the Axis won, the Japanese and the Nazis divided the USA amongst themselves, with New York acting as de facto headquarters to the Nazis, and San Francisco — of the Japanese.

The Man in The High Castle follows the lives of several very different individuals, often connected by the barest threads. They come from all sides of life — a Jew; a neutral Swede businessman who is more than he appears; a high-ranking Japanese Trade officer in the Pacific States of America, a puppet state of the Japanese Empire; a waitress, and an antiquary shop owner, amongst others.

To say what these characters go through would be to spoil an interesting read, and so I won’t. I will, however, tell you that a great deal of them read a book inside the novel; it’s a little piece of popular fiction called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, whose author writes about an alternate reality where the Axis Powers lost World War 2 in a manner that at first seems similar, yet is wildly different to the way in which our own history unraveled.

Is your head spinning from all the alternate realities yet?

Regardless of the answer, Dick’s depiction of a world thoroughly transformed by the Nazis’ victory is worth your time. Paragraphs like these will chill you to the bones; they will force you to ask yourself questions, to face uncomfortable truths and to dig deeper. Into history, into the present, even into the future.

P.S. Fascinating is Philip K. Dick’s use of the I Ching, the ancient “Book of Changes,” originally Chinese, adopted by the Japanese later down the line, is a book of oracles, used for divination by numerous characters across the book, in order to make decisions. I had never heard about it before–shame on me; nevertheless, it pops up time and time again, oftentimes affecting the choices of important characters.

Even more curious is the fact that Dick actually used the I Ching to aid him in writing the book and its outcome.

 

 

 

Sci-Fi Quote of the Day: 08/09/2017

I’ve been reading The Man in The High Castle, by Philip K. Dick. It…does not disappoint. Far from it. I’m only at the fourth chapter, but this alternate world in which the Nazis and their Japanese allies won the war has fired my imagination up.

A few paragraphs in particular got to me, and here they are:

““Am I racially kin to this man? Baynes wondered. So closely so that for all intents and purposes it is the same? Then it is in me, too, the psychotic streak. A psychotic world we live in. The madmen are in power. How long have we known this? Faced this?-And-how many of us do know it? Not Lotze. Perhaps if you know you are insane then you are not insane. Or you are becoming sane, finally. Waking up. I suppose only a few are aware of all this. Isolated persons here and there. But the broad masses…what do they think? All these hundreds of thousands in this city, here. Do they imagine that they live in a sane world? Or do they guess, glimpse the truth…?

But, he thought, what does it mean, insane? A legal definition. What do I mean? I feel it, see it, but what is it?

He thought, it is something they do, something they are. It is their unconsciousness. Their lack of knowledge about others. Their not being aware of what they do to others, the destruction they have caused and are causing. No, he thought. That isn’t it. I don’t know; I sense it, inuit it. But-they are purposely cruel…is that it? No. God, he thought, I can’t find it, make it clear. Do they ignore parts of reality? Yes. But it is more. It is their plans. Yes, their plans. The conquering of the planets. Something frenzied and demented, as was their conquering of Africa, and before that, Europe and Asia.

Their view; it is cosmic. Not of man here, a child there, but an abstraction: race, land. Volk. Land. Blut. Ehre. Not of honorable men but of Ehre itself, honor; the abstract is real, the actual is invisible to them. Die Gute, but not good men, this good man. It is their sense of space and time. They see through the here, the now, into the vast black deep beyond, the unchanging. And that is fatal to life. Because eventually there will be no life; there was once only the dust particles in space, the hot hydrogen gases, nothing more, and it will come again. This is an interval, ein Augenblick. The cosmic process is hurrying on, crushing life back into the granite and methane; the wheel turns for all life. It is all temporary. And they-these madmen-respond to the granite, the dust, the longing of the inanimate; they want to aid Natur.

And, he thought, I know why. They want to be the agents, not the victims, of history. They identify with God’s power and believe they are godlike. That is their basic madness. They are overcome by some archetype; their egos have expanded psychotically so that they cannot tell where they begin and the godhead leaves off. it is not hubris, not pride; it is inflation of the ego to its ultimate-confusion between him who worships and that which is worshiped. Man has not eaten God; God has eaten man.

What they do not comprehend is man’s helplessness. I am weak, small, of no consequence to the universe. It does not notice me; I live on unseen. But why is that bad? Isn’t it better that way? Whom the gods notice they destroy. Be small…and you will escape the jealousy of the great.” 

Brrr. Sure got a bit chillier, all of a sudden.

It’s good though, isn’t it, that chilling of the blood? Something tells me, this isn’t the last time I’ll be bringing this classic up on the blog.

The Unintentionally Helpful Villain #13: A Horrible Truth

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Seventeen-score men died unto that faithful night whence I chose to lead the disgruntled women–wives, grandmothers and daughters, one and all–against the brutal injustice of the patriarchy. The next morning they all wept and came to regret their actions. Their tears should’ve touched me…but only filled me with great distaste for all of humanity.

Thus did I learn that mine wife’s body can persuade men and women to act as its inhabitant demands of them. I attempted to call this ‘Feminine wiles’ but, alas, my ensorcelled quill–which acts as my sometime editor–took issue with this particular term of endearment.

Bah, if only I had the limitless magical energies that lay within mine vessel, mine body! Then I wouldn’t need suffer unwanted editorial opinions such as this.

Diary Entry #0198

I left the unnamed town, with its predominantly female population, behind me. I took A Horrible Truth with me, of course; such fine artwork has no place in a rundown little town with no name.

I particularly enjoy the strokes of the brush that painted it… Especially as they have been made by my own gauntleted hand. There is but one place in this insipid human kingdom in which mine wife would go, if she is pursuing the life of an artist.

Karogar, cursed be its name.

 

 

Writing Advice: Memorable Characters

How do we create memorable characters?

Well, you’d need a dozen eggs, a bit of vanilla and seventeen cups of sugar to make your average Mary Sue; or you could whip yourself good old-fashioned one-dimensional characters by doing the same thing you’d do to get stale bread — don’t spend any time cooking them up in the oven; just make sure they’re one-note ponies, one and all.

These are not examples of memorable characters? Alright, alright, I’ll try harder!

What the above-mentioned is example of traps that writers fall in all the time. Perfect characters and one-note characters are both leading causes of aneurisms among enthusiast readers. By their very nature, these archetypes are dull; not in terms of ‘good’ dull–characters you’re writing with the intention of bringing something to your story by virtue of this attribute–but the kind of dull that makes your story just that much more unreadable.

You don’t want that.

You want your characters three-dimensional and unique. You want them to have flaws and strengths, to be internally consistent and not alien to the world you’re building around them.

Sounds simple enough, right?

…Perhaps I should dig into these points, just to be safe.

Three-dimensional characters require hard work and a lot of time invested in them. A good place you could start off with is by modeling your character after a real person you know; it’s not a method I consciously use, but I’ve heard that some people go with it, and are pretty happy with how it turns out.

I like to use chunks of small details as building blocks. I dislike bombarding my readers with every small quirk a character they’ve just met has; rather, it’s important to remember that just as we don’t notice everything there is to notice about a person the first time we meet them, neither do our protagonists, point-of-view characters and so on.

Unless you’re writing Sherlock Holmes. If that is the case, however, let me pose a question…do you really want to be writing Sherlock Holmes?

Don’t forget that your characters have lived lives before they appeared on page 423 of your novel. Draw from their past; you don’t have to write detailed backgrounds of every single character to appear in your book, but it’s good to have an idea of where they’re coming from. Sketch that with a few quick sentences over lunch break or on your commute from work or university; or if you’re too lazy (and you really shouldn’t be), think about it.

Finally, if all else fails, you can always go back to my Writing advice about Villains, and read all about how they act as foil to your protagonists, allowing all parties to learn more about where they stand in terms of morality, ethics, decency and everything else!

 

 

 

Sci-Fi Quote of The Day: 03/09/2017

“The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity—a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.”

Today’s quote of the day is courtesy of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, a book I woefully regret for not having finished quite yet. Soon!

Saturday Night Gaming: Life is Strange Before the Storm – Episode 01: Anger, Pain and

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Minor Spoilers ahead!

The original Life is Strange was my favorite game for 2015, a year that was decisively NOT lacking in strong titles. Novice time-traveler Max and her best friend  Chloe’s story touched me in a way few games had before and few games have since. It was a narrative rich with humor, feelings, personal tragedy and a friendship that was very well worth the ultimate sacrifice. If you haven’t played it, I won’t spoil said sacrifice but, needless to say, you really should.

Before the Storm is not a sequel of Max’s story. It’s a prequel, centered on the (arguable) protagonist of Life is Strange, Chloe Price; the game takes place three years before Dontnod Entertainment’s narrative masterpiece, during one of Chloe’s lowest points. Alone, friendless, unable to move past her father’s death, Chloe gets into some pretty serious trouble for, of all things, spilling a beer.

Who’s to help her out but Rachel Amber, major character/mystery in the original Life is Strange, and Chloe’s best friend, after Max moved to Seattle. In the simplest terms, Before the Storm is about how these two characters meet, and the relationship between them.

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This new entry into the franchise is not developed by Dontnod Entertainment, but by Deck Nine, the former ‘Idol Minds,’ a studio best known for the Ratchet&Clank PlayStation 3 collection, which–let’s face it–isn’t a lot to go by on. They recently announced that they’re switching gears towards creating narrative-led projects and, if Beyond the Storm is anything to go by, Deck Nine might just be a studio to watch out for.

The more I think about it, the more I find myself drawing parallels between Life is Strange and Before the Storm. Both games begin with someone whose destiny is intertwined with Chloe’s, getting her out of major trouble; and while this time, time-travel is out of the question, Beyond the Storm is never the less steeped in the supernatural. These elements have, by now, become such a fundamental part of Arcadia Bay’s DNA that to have a game set in this setting but lacking in them would be tantamount to a crime.

Many of the characters Max met in Life is Strange are here; only, instead of seniors, they’re all freshmen and so are younger, less skilled in the art of being bitchy; but not for lack of trying. I’m speaking of course, of Victoria Chase, with whom you can chose to interact at one particular moment in Episode 1; she’ll call you Kari Price, even though she’s well aware of your real name. Although, I should say without spoiling the fun…screwing with someone in high school is never a one-way street. Take from that what you will.

Two original characters that never crossed Max’s path in LiS are worth mentioning: Steph and Mikey, a geeky duo of friends who play D&D and are absolute, adorable geeks. There’s an optional 20-minute scene between these two and Chloe which might very well be my favourite light scene in the entire episode.

Speaking of Chloe, three years before the events of Life is Strange is an interesting time to pick control over her; as I said earlier, it’s a very low point for our heroine, and being able to see, hear and even decide what goes on in her head once again reinforces that while she’s got a ton of baggage (and rightfully so), Chloe is also a very cerebral character. It’s the fact that this is hidden behind her tough-nut shell that makes her all the more compelling.

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Beyond the Storm is a little over three hours long, if you do every single conversation and look for all of the optional graffiti you can draw on walls, trains, cars, toolboxes, and whatever the hell else there is to draw on.

I’ll write a lot more about Before the Storm, and I’ll revisit Life is Strange by making a long video essay at some point in the future–probably when Before the Storm is out in full, so as to be able to create a thoughtful comparison between the two.

What I can say, based on this first Episode is this — Beyond the Storm is faithful to its predecessor in the best ways. Deck Nine has succeeded in recreating the touching narrative that made Life is Strange a hit, proving that lightning does indeed hit twice.

It’ll set you back 17 euro or $20; two more episodes are coming, with a bonus Mini-Max story for those that have pre-ordered the game, like yours truly. I know, I’m a sucker… But it’s worth it.

 

 

 

Fantasy Quote of the Day 01/09/2017

“Cruel it may be, but most of us enjoy what we do-and the Captain more than anyone. This is a favourite game, matching wits with a Raker. He is blind to the dead, to the burning villages, to the starving children. As is the Rebel. Two blind armies, able to see nothing but one another.”

I enjoy this, from The Black Company. Shows just how easy it can be for soldiers’ commanders to forget they’re throwing lives away in the face of outsmarting one another.