Philip K. Dick: "If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others"

In September 1977 at the 4eme Festival de la Science Fiction in Metz, France, surrealist author Philip K. Dick delivered an astounding address with the title, "If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others." He wasn't joking. The speech spanned the themes that define Dick's work and also his life: visionary experiences, déjà vu, the simulation hypothesis, and the nature of reality. Far fucking out. Here are a few choice bits:

The subject of this speech is a topic which has been discovered recently, and which may not exist all. I may be talking about something that does not exist. Therefore I’m free to say everything and nothing. I in my stories and novels sometimes write about counterfeit worlds. Semi-real worlds as well as deranged private worlds, inhabited often by just one person…. At no time did I have a theoretical or conscious explanation for my preoccupation with these pluriform pseudo-worlds, but now I think I understand. What I was sensing was the manifold of partially actualized realities lying tangent to what evidently is the most actualized one—the one that the majority of us, by consensus gentium, agree on.

We are living in a computer-programmed reality, and the only clue we have to it is when some variable is changed, and some alteration in our reality occurs. We would have the overwhelming impression that we were re-living the present - déjà vu - perhaps in precisely the same way: hearing the same words, saying the same words.

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The "Into the Wild Bus" is gone

Every year, adventurous (and oft-unprepared) hikers who are fans of Jon Krakauer's book "Into the Wild" (1996) or the move based upon it have attempted the treacherous 20 mile trek on Alaska's Stampede Trail to the abandoned bus where Chris McCandless found refuge (until his death) in 1992. And frequently, hikers making the pilgrimage have had to be rescued. Two people have died during their trips to see the bus. From the New York Times:

The tourist trap is now gone though. Last week, the Alaska Army National Guard used a Chinook helicopter to airlift the bus out of its remote resting spot to an undisclosed location. State officials say they are considering putting it on public display.

The crew also removed a suitcase from the bus that held sentimental value to the McCandless family, according to the Alaska Army National Guard.

Carine McCandless, Mr. McCandless’s youngest sister, said the suitcase did not belong to her brother, but may have contained journals she and others had left behind on their own journeys to the bus.[...]

“Though I am saddened by the news, the decision made by Alaska D.N.R. was with good intentions toward public safety, and it was certainly their decision to make,” Ms. McCandless wrote in an email. “Bus 142 did not belong to Chris, and it doesn’t belong to his family. As for those that followed in his footsteps to where it rested, at the end of the day, their journey wasn’t about a bus.”

More from US Army: "Alaska Guard airlifts 'Into the Wild' bus from Stampede Trail"

image: Alaska National Guard Read the rest

Today (Thursday): Sasha Sagan and Ann Druyan in conversation with David Pescovitz

Today, Thursday (5/14), I'm honored to be moderating a free online conversation with two brilliant women whose work is a light in the darkness during these uncertain times. My friend Ann Druyan is the executive producer, writer, and director of Cosmos, the iconic TV show she co-created with her late husband and collaborator, astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan. From her work as creative director of the Voyager Golden Record to her numerous books, most recently Cosmos: Possible Worlds, Ann has spent her life sparking curiosity and wonder about the universe and our place in it.

Ann and Carl's daughter, Sasha Sagan, is the author of the new book For Small Creatures Such As We, a lovely, inspiring memoir exploring the intersection of science and spirituality in a secular home. The title is from a quote found in the pages of Contact, a novel written by Ann and Carl: "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love." Like her parents, Sasha has the passion, wisdom, and talent to simultaneously instill awe, hope, and skepticism through her creative work.

The conversation, hosted by the Jewish arts and culture organization Reboot, takes place at 2:30pm PT / 5:30pm PT. Pre-register on Zoom and Facebook Live. From the event description:

The Interplay of Science and Ritual in a Time of Flux

Over the eons, our relationship to science and ritual has been inextricably linked to our understanding of our place in the universe. Join Emmy Award-winning writer, director, producer Ann Druyan and her daughter, author Sasha Sagan, in conversation with Boing Boing co-founder David Pescovitz to talk about emerging philosophies that can provide hope as we struggle to adjust to our new normal on Earth.

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Listen to Daniel Radcliffe read Harry Potter

Wizarding World has launched a new Harry Potter at Home hub with crafts, articles, quizzes, and other fun activities for witches, wizards, and muggles alike. As part of the fun, they've invited actors, musicians, athletes and other celebrities to read chapters of the 1997 book that started it all, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. See below for the teaser video. The first chapter is now available read by none other than Daniel Radcliffe who played Harry in the films. Listen on Spotify.

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Michael Connelly's imaginary Blue Note albums

Police procedural novelist Michael Connelly is a connoisseur of jazz music so it's no surprise that his most famous character, LAPD detective Hieronymus 'Harry' Bosch, is also a deep enthusiast of the genre. (Connelly has a page on his personal Web site all about the "music in the novels.") Illustrator Russell Walks took those cues and his own penchant for Los Angeles noir and mid-century design to create a terrific series of imaginary Michael Connelly albums released by Blue Note Records.

"Most of these pieces were influenced or inspired by the work of Reid Miles, the designer who created somewhere around 500 covers for Blue Note Records in the mid-twentieth century," Russell writes. "I’m not breaking new ground here; Miles’ work has been the launching point for a thousand other designers and artists. Still, there’s something about the way these mid-century colors & typefaces just seem to fit Harry’s L.A., a place where shadows and sadness are as common as sunshine."

"The Bosch Series" (Russell Walks Illustration)

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Ray Bradbury's captivating explanation of his Mr. Electrico character's uncanny origins

As Ray Bradbury fans know, there's a curious minor character named Mr. Electrico who turns up in his creeptastic 1962 novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury always insisted Mr. Electrico was real but scholars never could confirm that. Then in a fantastic interview from 2010 by Sam Weller in The Paris Review, Bradbury tells the uncanny story of how he met the real Mr. Electrico:

...He was a real man. That was his real name. Circuses and carnivals were always passing through Illinois during my childhood and I was in love with their mystery. One autumn weekend in 1932, when I was twelve years old, the Dill Brothers Combined Shows came to town. One of the performers was Mr. Electrico. He sat in an electric chair. A stagehand pulled a switch and he was charged with fifty thousand volts of pure electricity. Lightning flashed in his eyes and his hair stood on end.

The next day, I had to go the funeral of one of my favorite uncles. Driving back from the graveyard with my family, I looked down the hill toward the shoreline of Lake Michigan and I saw the tents and the flags of the carnival and I said to my father, Stop the car. He said, What do you mean? And I said, I have to get out. My father was furious with me. He expected me to stay with the family to mourn, but I got out of the car anyway and I ran down the hill toward the carnival.

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Shut-in novelists with cancelled book tours promote each other online

Publisher's Weekly writes:

Not to be outdone by the children’s and YA authors "signal boosting" their fellow authors on Twitter, two novelists, Caroline Leavitt and Jenna Blum, are promoting their colleagues with an ambitious initiative called A Mighty Blaze. Anyone can participate in the conversations on A Mighty Blaze on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram about new releases, but for authors wanting their books to be signal boosted on these platforms, there are a few requirements: the book has to be traditionally published for adult readers, and the author’s book tour has to have been canceled.

You can find the Mighty Blaze Facebook group here.

And here is the rest of the Publisher's Weekly piece.

[H/t My long-suffering agent, Laurie Fox]

Image: Photo by Danny on Unsplash Read the rest

New book about the books that changed David Bowie's life

The incredible museum exhibition David Bowie Is included a list of 100 books that were not necessarily his favorites but rather those that influenced him the most. Author John O'Connell used that list as the basis of his own book, Bowie's Bookshelf: The Hundred Books that Changed David Bowie's Life, containing plot summaries, analysis, and his thoughts on how each text connects to Bowie. From John Quin's review at The Quietus:

O’Connell rightly reminds us that Bowie was a Mod and that his literary taste was consistently modernist: Camus, Eliot, Lawrence and Kerouac all feature here amongst others....

There are plenty of surprises here such as his love for true crime classics like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and travel narratives such as Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines. We learn more about Bowie’s friendships with writers like Hanif Kureishi and William Boyd. It’s also good to be reminded that Bowie loved a laugh and rated Keith Waterhouse. Humour features strongly with Viz, Private Eye, and Spike Milligan’s Puckoon all making the cut...

The singer’s Berlin years, the time of Low and ‘Heroes’, are linked with the inclusion of Berlin, Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin with its lowlife nightclubbing. There’s pleasure too in hearing that Bowie liked the revival of forgotten classics such as John Kennedy Toole’s wonderful A Confederacy of Dunces. And Bowie’s interest in modern art is underlined by the inclusion of Richard Cork’s book on David Bomberg and Arthur C. Danto’s thinking on Warhol in Beyond the Brillo box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective.

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Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation, RIP

Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of the iconic Generation X memoir "Prozac Nation" (1994), died today of metastatic breast cancer. She was 52. Wurtzel was also the author of Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women (1999) and More, Now, Again (2002), about her stimulant addiction. Several years ago, she wrote in the New York Times about the BRCA genetic mutation that can result in breast cancer and her own treatment for the disease. From today's New York Times obituary:

Writing about her final illness was a natural choice for Ms. Wurtzel, who had for a quarter-century scrutinized her life in relentless detail, becoming a hero to some, especially to many women of her generation and younger, but also drawing scorn. “Prozac Nation,” her first book, published when she was 27, was unvarnished in its accounts of her student days at Harvard, her drug use, her extensive sex life and more...

The book became a cultural reference point and part of a new wave of confessional writing.

“Lizzie’s literary genius rests not just in her acres of quotable one-liners,” (Wurtzel's lifelong friend, author David) Samuels said by email, “but in her invention of what was really a new form, which has more or less replaced literary fiction — the memoir by a young person no one has ever heard of before. It was a form that Lizzie fashioned in her own image, because she always needed to be both the character and the author.”

photo: detail of Prozac Nation book cover Read the rest

William Gibson profiled in The New Yorker

In the December 9, 2019 issue of The New Yorker, Joshua Rothman profiles one of the most influential authors in recent decades, William Gibson.

Gibson doesn’t have a name for his method; he knows only that it isn’t about prediction. It proceeds, instead, from a deep engagement with the present. When Gibson was starting to write, in the late nineteen-seventies, he watched kids playing games in video arcades and noticed how they ducked and twisted, as though they were on the other side of the screen. The Sony Walkman had just been introduced, so he bought one; he lived in Vancouver, and when he explored the city at night, listening to Joy Division, he felt as though the music were being transmitted directly into his brain, where it could merge with his perceptions of skyscrapers and slums. His wife, Deborah, was a graduate student in linguistics who taught E.S.L. He listened to her young Japanese students talk about Vancouver as though it were a backwater; Tokyo must really be something, he thought. He remembered a weeping ambulance driver in a bar, saying, “She flatlined.” On a legal pad, Gibson tried inventing words to describe the space behind the screen; he crossed out “infospace” and “dataspace” before coming up with “cyberspace.” He didn’t know what it might be, but it sounded cool, like something a person might explore even though it was dangerous.

(Image: William Gibson by Frédéric Poirot , CC-BY) Read the rest

List of popular books people started reading and then abandoned

When I was younger, I would feel so badly about abandoning a book that didn't grab me, I'd force myself to slog through it until the bitter end. Then I realized that there are only so many books I'll have time to read in my lifetime so it's better to make each one count. If I'm not consistently pulled into the pages, I drop the book and crack another one. Of course there are exceptions, but it mostly means that I've enjoyed nearly all the books I've finished reading in recent years. Related, here is Goodreads' list of the most popular books users of the service have abandoned.

(via Kottke) Read the rest

Inside Alan Moore's Head

With The Watchmen now on teevee, I hope that many more people will dive into the magickal brilliance of Alan Moore who co-created the original comic in 1987 along with other seminal works like V for Vendetta and Batman: The Killing Joke. Over at the Daily Grail, Greg points us to a fantastic web video series of 5-minute mind grenades with Moore. Below are two of my favorite segments in the 8-part series, titled "Inside Alan Moore's Head." You can also view them on YouTube.

image: Fimb (CC BY 2.0) Read the rest

When William S. Burroughs met Bob Dylan

Music critic Casey Rae's new book William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock 'n' Roll explores the vast influence that Burroughs had on musicians both underground and mainstream, from David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Patti Smith to The Beatles, Kurt Cobain, and Radiohead. In a Longreads excerpt from the book, Rae tells the tale of Burroughs's 1965 meeting with Bob Dylan:

Burroughs and Dylan took their meeting at a small café in Man­hattan’s East Village, the precise location of which has been lost to time and memory. “He struck me as someone who was obviously competent,” Burroughs later told Victor Bockris. “If his subject had been something that I knew absolutely nothing about, such as math­ematics, I would have still received the same impression of compe­tence. Dylan said he had a knack for writing lyrics and expected to make a lot of money.” Personally, Burroughs had little use for money beyond its utility in purchasing narcotics and avoiding hard labor. But he could easily spot élan, which Dylan had in spades. “He had a likable direct approach in conversation, at the same time cool, re­served,” Burroughs later recalled to Bockris. “He was very young, quite handsome in a sharp-featured way. He had on a black turtle­neck sweater.” Although they only met once in person, Burroughs left a mark on the younger artist. According to critic R. B. Morris, “There’s no doubt that he was greatly influenced by Burroughs’ wild juxtaposing of images and scenes, as well as subject matter.”

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The strange "No Frills" series of totally generic genre fiction books from the 1980s

The "No Frills" series was a collection of genre fiction paperbacks published by Jove Publishing in 1981 with plain covers, no author names, and maximally pulp plots. From Weird Universe:

Terry Bisson, who was one of the instigators of this project, reports:

Mystery was written by Clark Dimond, a men's mag editor/writer who also wrote for comics. The Romance was written by Judy Coyne (former Glamour mag editor) nee Wederholt The SF was written by John Silbersack, SF editor and now an agent. The Western was by Vic Milan (SF author) We were working on a No-Frills Besteller (by me) and A No-Frills movie (by film critic David Ansen) when the series was dropped. My partner selling the series was Lou Rosetto who went on to found WIRED magazine.

"No Frills Books" (Weird Universe)

More at this old post on Bill Crider's blog: "Forgotten Books -- Mystery" Read the rest

Patti Smith has a new memoir on the way

The inimitable Patti Smith will release a new memoir, Year of the Monkey, on September 24. A blend of reality and dreams, illustrated with Smith's Polaroids, the book captures her experience of a single year, 2016. From the publisher:

Following a run of New Year’s concerts at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore, Patti Smith finds herself tramping the coast of Santa Cruz, about to embark on a year of solitary wandering. Unfettered by logic or time, she draws us into her private wonderland with no design, yet heeding signs–including a talking sign that looms above her, prodding and sparring like the Cheshire Cat. In February, a surreal lunar year begins, bringing with it unexpected turns, heightened mischief, and inescapable sorrow. In a stranger’s words, “Anything is possible: after all, it’s the Year of the Monkey.” For Smith – inveterately curious, always exploring, tracking thoughts, writing – the year evolves as one of reckoning with the changes in life’s gyre: with loss, aging, and a dramatic shift in the political landscape of America.

Smith melds the western landscape with her own dreamscape. Taking us from California to the Arizona desert; to a Kentucky farm as the amanuensis of a friend in crisis; to the hospital room of a valued mentor; and by turns to remembered and imagined places, this haunting memoir blends fact and fiction with poetic mastery. The unexpected happens; grief and disillusionment set in. But as Smith heads toward a new decade in her own life, she offers this balm to the reader: her wisdom, wit, gimlet eye, and above all, a rugged hope for a better world.

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Unseen sequel to Anthony Burgess's "A Clockwork Orange" found in his archives

Attention, Droogs! A sequel to Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange has turned up in the author's archives. According to Andrew Biswell, director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, the 200-page manuscript, titled "The Clockwork Condition," "provides a context for Burgess's most famous work, and amplifies his views on crime, punishment and the possible corrupting effects of visual culture." From the BBC News:

Burgess himself described the work as a "major philosophical statement on the contemporary human condition", outlining his concerns about the effect on humanity of technology, in particular media, film and television.

It also explains the origins of his novel's unusual title.

"In 1945, back from the army," an extract reads, "I heard an 80-year-old Cockney in a London pub say that somebody was 'as queer as a clockwork orange'.

"The 'queer' did not mean homosexual: it meant mad... For nearly twenty years I wanted to use it as the title of something... It was a traditional trope, and it asked to entitle a work which combined a concern with tradition and a bizarre technique..."

Prof Biswell, who is also professor of English at Manchester Metropolitan University, said the author abandoned the manuscript when he came to realise "he was a novelist and not a philosopher".

"Unseen Clockwork Orange 'follow-up' by Anthony Burgess unearthed" (BBC Bews)

image: cover art for "A Clockwork Orange" (Penguin Books, 1972) by David Pellham

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For sale: home that inspired Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights

Ponden Hall, a nine bedroom house in Stanbury, West Yorkshire, England, is considered to be the inspiration for Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and sister Anne's Wildfell Hall. The Brontës spent a great deal of time on the property in the early 1800s. Now it could be yours. Current owner and Brontë superfan Julie Akhurst and her husband have put it on the market for £1.25m. In their twenty years of ownership, they've completed a major, yet careful, renovation and opened it as a B&B for other Brontë geeks. From the Yorkshire Post:

The most popular B&B room at Ponden Hall is the Earnshaw room. It features a tiny east gable window that exactly fits Emily Brontë’s description in Wuthering Heights of Cathy’s ghost scratching furiously at the glass trying to get in...

“We think that Emily based that scene on this room because old documents relating to the house describe a box bed in a room across from the library and you can see where it was bolted to the wall by the window. It is just how it is described in Wuthering Heights.

“Plus the date plaque above the main entrance identifies the hall as being rebuilt in 1801 and Emily’s story starts with that exact date,” says Julie who has had a replica box bed made for the room.

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