Tag Archives: crime novel

Silence Once Begun (2014) – Jesse BALL

I think we all know that I’m a sucker for any book about Japan/set in Japan/written by Japan. And since early reviews for Jesse Ball’s Silence Once Begun were positive, I thought I’d check it out for myself.

Jesse Ball, an investigative journalist, has come to Japan to solve a mystery. He has heard a story, and he wants to solve it. In the 70s, a man named Oda Sotatsu turned himself into the police, confessing to a crime. What is interesting, though, is that he only did this because he lost a card game. And once he confessed, he remained silent until he was executed. As Ball trawls through the evidence presented to him 40 years later, he finds himself trapped in a web of deceit and lies.

Silence Once Begun is dedicated to K. Abe and S. Endo, and it’s easy to see why. Both Abe and Endo are major Japanese writers, dealing with themes of existential isolation in a post-war Japan, and though that’s not quite what’s going on here, you can delineate the through-line that led Ball to this place. Particularly in the first half, there is a vague sense of unease and oppression—even though the events of the crime took place almost thirty years earlier, none of the affected parties are willing to talk to Ball about it, and when they do, they all seem to contradict each other. Nowhere more has the spawn of the marriage of crime fiction and postmodernism—the unreliable narrator—been more present. And yet, when the key player in the events surrounding the Narito Disappearances himself is dead, perhaps that is all that can be done.

When I read The Cuckoo’s Calling earlier this year, I was struck by how formulaic the formal structure—Strike goes to each person, interviews them, takes notes, and thinks. Perhaps this is simply a result of the genre, but while Rowling seems constrained by this, Ball gets around it by actively drawing our attention to the (un)natural structure of his piece—though this is a novel, it is masquerading as a piece of true crime, so it would make sense for it to look like this.

There’s a weird tension in this novel that I am still trying to wrap my head around. So often in Silence Once Begun, the setting seems irrelevant to the story—despite the general Abe-esque tone of the novel, the fact that this is the story of an American journalist coming to find a story in Japan is rarely touched. Which is a shame, because the novel is set in Sakai, a dirty part of Osaka that is beautiful in its ugliness (I’m allowed to say that—I used to live there). This is particularly apt, since much of the action takes place in the 70s, a time when Japan was still moving fast towards becoming the modern behemoth it is today; and like all developing countries, it was leaving lots of people behind, a fact that opens up narrative possibilities like no other.

And yet, so much of the final act twist revolves around some very particular specificities of the Japanese legal system, including the fact that confessions carry an almost disproportionate weight in trials. It’s like Ball wants us, for long tracts, to ignore the fact that this is a white man telling a story of Asian people—until the very end. I’m struggling to think of another novel that ignores its unusual setting with such abandon for so long, only to make it important for the dénouement.

Silence Once Begun is a short, arresting read. Reading certain passages, you could easily believe this is a lost Abe novel, trying to come to terms with an increasingly isolated world in which we live, where each person’s lived experiences are seen to be as valid as every other’s.

(Unrelated to anything—the cover for this novel only reminds me that any novel about Japan is allowed to have no colours on its cover other than white, red and black.)

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The City & the City (2009) – China MIEVILLE

Two years ago, I was blown away by the brilliance of Embassytown. The ability to take spec fiction tropes and use them to interrogate a whole raft of ideas—ranging from linguistic theory to postcolonial critiques—reminded me why I love spec fiction so much. So here I am again, back to worship at the altar of the big, bald socialist that is China Miéville.

Somewhere in the depths of Eastern Europe, in a small city called Besźel, a girl has been murdered. But when Inspector Tyodor Borlú begins investigating the case, even he cannot imagine where it will lead him— Besźel’s greatest nemesis, and closest neighbour, Ul Qoma.

Though there are glimpses of the brilliance seen in Embassytown—including a gift for imaginative linguistics every other fantasy author on the planet would kill to have—The City & the City does not reach the heights of Miéville’s sci-fi masterpiece. His desire to stick slavishly to the procedural crime novel genre doesn’t give him the chance to move out of a fairly limiting structure and style, though there is no question he pulls of the style perfectly. And the twist ending is a little silly—I get that Miéville is a proper socialist, but the twist (“capitalism is the bad guy!”) undercuts the beautiful work he does in foreshadowing secret societies, rogue nationalists and perhaps even fantasy creatures.

Having said all that, the core concept at the heart of The City & the City is so brilliant, I can almost forgive the other stuff. This is a novel about the ways in which humans throw up arbitrary borders around our groups and the ways in which we exclude people from our lives simply because they are different. At first glance, the idea that two cities could occupy the same space seems inherently ridiculous. How could people possibly be taught to ignore the parts of their surroundings that are considered to be foreign? Remember, it is not just the space they share—they have a common history, a common archaeology, even a common architecture. How do you convince people that these identical things are really unique?

Yet that is exactly what we all do, each and every day we are alive. We teach ourselves to see the things we don’t want to as we walk through town—the charity workers trying to fleece our spare change, those supermarkets with signs written in a script we don’t understand, that homeless man begging for money.

Take, for example, my hometown. Though Sydney is widely held up as a successful model for integrating various ethnic and cultural groups into one city, so often, the real world application of these policies ends up more like these Miévillean (I’m totally making that a word, by the way) parallel cities. We all move through our lives taking in only the parts of the city that directly relate to us—we actively block out the ones that we believe have nothing to do with us. Taking this point to its logical conclusion is this novel’s greatest strength. By exaggerating the human characteristic, Mieville forces us to re-examine how we (literally) view the world around us.

Despite the genre and structure issues in The City & the City, an average Miéville book is still going to make you think about the world in which you live—who else would be able to come up with the cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma? Once again he proves that the best kind of spec fiction focuses on ideas and themes, and not flashy aliens and dragons

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The Skating Rink (1993) – Roberto BOLAÑO

I’m still working my way through Bolaño’s backlist, so that when I do get around to reading 2666, I will be well and truly prepared. The Skating Rink is his first published novel, and shows his first step away from the poetry he so loved, to the prose fiction he wrote to support his family. As such, it doesn’t hit the highs that his later works, such as The Savage Detectives does, but it is still a novel that stands up on its own two feet.

Three men in a small town in Spain are caught up in a crime not even they could imagine. Remo Morán is a successful businessman; Gaspar Heredia a nighwatchman in one of Morán’s trailer park; and Enric Rosquelles, a rather corrupt official of the town council. Taking it in turns to narrate the events leading up to the horrific crime, each man gives us his own version of events. And you’ll never guess who done it…

I’ve tagged this as a crime novel, but the only reason is that a murder that does take place. Really, it is the story of three men in love with two women, matches that are desperately unsuitable, and will make the men do stupid things. The eponymous skating rink, for example, is built by Rosquelles for Nuria Martí, the girl skating prodigy, screwed over by regional politics, and forced to leave the national skating team. He falls in love with her, and builds a skating rink in an abandoned castle on the outskirts of town, using council money for the construction.

For a woman who plays a fairly large role in the proceedings, Nuria is surprisingly ciper-like in her appearances. She barely speaks, and spends most of her time silently skating on the rink which has been built especially for her. Perhaps, though, this is what Bolaño was trying to achieve, for in the end, this is not a book about Nuria, despite her rather unfortunate end. I kind of like Rosquelles, even though he’s clearly corrupt, and clearly not a particularly nice man. It’s a great image – building a skating rink in the middle of an abandoned castle for a girl you love, even if the gesture is fairly misguided, and ultimately fatal.

Gaspar Heredia is perhaps the most easily recognisable character to those people who already have some familiarity with Bolaño’s other work. He is a poet from Mexico, and is eking a living out of doing rubbish jobs, and chasing girls around the trailer park, which is populated by a whole load of strange and wonderful personalities. Problematically, though, his narrative strand takes, for a long time, a backseat to the main action, and every time his point of view comes around, you are left wondering what on earth he has to do with the main event. His interactions with a homeless opera singer, and a mysterious woman who has a rather unfortunate tendency to wield knives in public places, are interesting, though ultimately confusing. It is not until the closing pages that everything comes together, and you are left wondering if the whole thing couldn’t have been a little tighter, and more controlled.

Arguably the biggest problem, though, with The Skating Rink is the fact that all three characters have voices that sound very, very similar. I understand that creating three distinct voices in a novel can be difficult, and Bolaño did it to perfection in The Savage Detectives, but here, it doesn’t quite work. They all seem disillusioned, sad, and desperately in love with a woman that they shouldn’t be.

This is not, perhaps, the most positive review of this novel you’re likely to find as you trawl the internet. It is clear that this is Bolaño’s first attempt at proper prose fiction, and there are a lot of flaws. I’m not sure it has a lot of appeal to anyone who isn’t a hardcore Bolaño fan, and if you’re looking for a starting point into his work, I rather think The Savage Detectives is far more interesting, and a far greater indication of his genius.

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Invisible (2009) – Paul AUSTER

There’s a recurring theme with the books I’ve been reading lately – they’re the only ones written in English in Kinokuniya that sound more interesting than Twilight or the hundreds of crappy, pulp airport fiction that lines the shelves. And while I’ve read some of those (not Twilight – I promise), there’s not a lot in the way of meaty stuff. So when I saw Paul Auster’s new novel, I picked it up, since I’ve been meaning to give him a try for ages.

Adam Walker, a student at Colombia University, meets an intriguing French professor at a party one night. The two discuss literature, and Adam’s desire to start a literary magazine so sparks Rudolf Born’s imagination, he offers to bankroll the whole thing. But as the plans advance, Adam begins to discover that Rudolf is not necessarily the calm, professor-type he pretends to be. One night, something happens that will change their relationship, and Adam’s entire life.

I like the fact that Adam meets Rudolf at every turn. He’s such a delicious villain, straight out of a 60s Bond film. He also echoes that classic children’s literature trope, where no matter how much the young protagonist complains to everyone else, somehow, there he is. And thanks to him, there is also an interesting moral question at the centre of this novel. Is killing someone in self-defence forgivable? And if so, shouldn’t you tell someone? Obviously, it’s the first part of this conundrum that poses the greatest moral dilemma, but the second half gives this novel oomph, and drives Adam and Rudolf’s relationship through the years. Despite this, it does seem to take a backseat to the slightly moustache-twirling antics Rudolph tends to get up to, and the other bits of the narrative structure that become more important.

For the most part, I like unreliable narrators. If done right, particularly as a final twist, having an unreliable narrator is a great way to have a novel resonate in the readers’ minds well after the reading experience is over. What happens here is even more of a mind-fuck, if you’ll excuse the expression. Adam Walker from the first section, set in 1967, is later revealed to be a friend of the narrator, a famous author. It is quickly established that the opening sequence is actually the recollections of Adam as an old man, dying of some terrible disease. In his final days, he wanted to, as some kind of catharsis, reveal the whole truth of his life, and did so in manuscript form to his old friend.

Of course, it is later revealed that James, the narrator, has changed the names in the manuscript, for fear of libel. What makes this even more confusing is that when James contacts Adam’s sister, Gwen, who plays a rather large part in the manuscript, she claims the whole story is made up. Who are we to believe, then? A dying old man, wanting to make peace with the world before he dies? James, an author who has admitted to changing certain things in the manuscript to protect people? Or perhaps Gwen, who vehemently denies any of the activities outlined in the manuscript? Doing some background reading, it seems that Auster likes to put echoes of himself into his novels, and from the beginning of Invisible, this is quite obvious. Adam, the literary student of the 1960s is a pretty clear author identification figure, but once James, the famous author, is introduced into the story, things become a bit more complicated.

In the end, we are left with bits and pieces of clues. The final sequence is truly bizarre, and seems completely out of place tonally with the rest of the novel, dealing, as it does, with an overweight middle-aged woman in the tropics. (There is a link, I promise, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers). It goes some way to providing answers, but seems like an odd place to finish.

The problem with Invisible is that it’s too short and slight to make any kind of lasting impression. The plot keeps things moving, and it’s a diverting read, but in the end, it’s not something that’s going to stay with you forever. Perhaps this is the problem with novels concerned about the way a story is told – while this is thought provoking while you are reading, once the point is made, there’s not much more to go on.

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This is How (2009) – M.J. HYLAND

Despite Di Morrissey’s weird objections to this book on her appearance at the First Tuesday Book Club, the fact that the other four members were raving about his book gave me enough justification to pick it up from work. I should mention that I have read Hyland’s earlier novel, Carry Me Down, and it left me cold. But what of this new one?

Patrick Oxtoby has left the big city in which he grew up to find solace and solitude in a small seaside village. He takes up in a boarding house with two other young men, and sets to work at a small mechanics. But his mother comes down to interfere, and as his temper rises, so too does the danger to those around him.

Moral ambiguity is something that is dealt with a lot in literary fiction – questions of right and wrong; of good and evil, and all these kinds of things make for excellent discussions about the human psyche. And Patrick is certainly not a bad person – and definitely not evil. Yet the act he commits (I’m going to spoil it for you, otherwise I can’t talk about the novel properly – he kills someone) is evil. Or, at the very least, morally wrong. There is no real reason for why Patrick takes a heavy spanner to his fellow boarder’s head, or none that I, as an outside reader, can see. All it seems to have taken is a little bit of constant niggling from his mother (something I personally identified with very strongly), and some weird altercations with some people in a bar. Is this really enough for someone to snap? Maybe for most of us, the answer is no. But at this time, in this situation, with these two people, it is enough for Patrick to snap.

It is clear from the outset that there is something not quite right with Patrick. Granted, he has just been through a breakup with a woman who had planned on marrying him, yet despite this, there is a deeper and greater sense of unease with patrick as our main character. He is very particular about certain things, he is definitely inclined to overthink every act (both his own and others’), and even though he protests to just wanting a friend to talk to, every time someone tries to connect with him, he is quick to anger, and simply becomes more grumpy. It is no surprise, then, that he should be so enamoured with the mechanic trade – a trade in which he can fix things, things that have a defined problem and solution. If I didn’t know any better, I would suggest that there is more than a hint of Asperger’s Syndrome in Patrick’s activities, and this is perhaps the closest explanation we have to understanding his actions. This is, of course, no excuse for the spanner incident, but his lack of understanding of social interactions makes him arguably more susceptible to breaking them in a more obvious way than simply not smiling at someone across the street.

And so, while the court case and eventual gaoling of Patrick goes on around him, he maintains his innocence. He didn’t mean to do it, so why should he be punished? His actions were not premeditated, so he isn’t really a killer, right? This question becomes less and less important as Patrick begins to realise the magnitude of his actions, and as he attempts to deal with his life in prison. The prison scenes are pretty interesting, with Hyland clearly (I hope) having done a lot of research into what makes these people tick. Having lived in a university college for the last three years, I can see similarities here. Put hundreds of people in a confined building, and social strata and systems form themselves, and Patrick must learn to fit in with the already established order.

The way he does this is most fascinating. His own preconceptions about criminals come into play, and while he spends time trying to distance himself from his cellmate – a convicted sex offender (who, I must add, is perfectly drawn) – he also begins to find friendship in the most unlikely of places in the most unlikely of ways. This ties into the ending of the novel, which is actually one of the best endings I have read in a long time. Patrick finally begins to accept his new life conditions, and while clearly still uncomfortable, he does manage to find solace in a person society deems to be similar to him, despite sharing little.

What is it that makes us so fascinated with the minds of killers? Certainly, from the popularity of Dexter (a brilliant television show, I should add), there is a market for this kind of exploratory fiction. But just as Dexter is wry and, in the end, a loveable kind of killer, Patrick Oxtoby is not. He is distant, cold, and impenetrable. This is How is a subtle novel that is hard to pin down at first, but it certainly provides some interesting food for thought for the enquiring mind.

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The Great Gatsby (1926) – F. Scott FITZGERALD

From obscure Albanian literature to one of the most mainstream American classics you can think of. My sister was cleaning out her room – was about to throw this out – and I nobly saved it from the clutches of the dreaded plastic bag monster. It clearly needed love and attention – and I was the only person nearby to give it what it needed… Hmm, that sounded less weird in my head.

Nick Carraway has just moved to West Egg. His neighbour, Jay Gatsby, is the most gossiped about man around. Nick’s cousin Daisy, and her husband, Tom, live on the other side of the bay, at East Egg. Events in the coming months will shake these four people to the core – three of them will be caught up in an ongoing love triangle, one of them will lose the love of their life, and one of them will die. And, this is the ‘great American novel’. What more could you want?

Let’s start with the big bits first. The label ‘great American novel’ is something that should be thrown into the bin, and moved to a tip, as fast as is humanly possible. No novel is the ‘great American novel’. Just as there is no ‘great Australian novel’ and the such. While this novel is very, very good, the idea that it somehow taps into the unique, timeless American psyche is, I think, a little wrong. What this novel boils down to in the end is love. It’s as simple as that. Each and every one of the main characters is driven by love, by desire, by jealously. They just happen to be in a time and space when this kind of thing seems to be heightened, perhaps because of the inter-war period, perhaps because of the relative wealth of these people – Gatsby in particular. These characters have nothing to worry about except their trivial lives – it’s a bit like a soap opera. A bit less dramatic, mind. If you aren’t a main character, though, you get a terrible plot line – Tom and Daisy’s daughter, who is only three years old, appears fleetingly for about ten lines.

I guess that’s the main thing that struck me about these characters. Each and every one of them is looking out for themselves and their own interests, they don’t care about anyone else around them. In the end, even love becomes something that has to be possessed, to be kept. The competition between Tom and Jay is not about love – it’s about who’s bigger. Which is why Daisy gets the raw end of the deal in this novel. Granted, she doesn’t do very much to help herself, but she really loses out in the end.

In this light, the ending is not perhaps what we might expect. The ‘great American dream’ would, I assume (I’m not American), involve getting the house and woman of your dreams, as long as you work for it. It is ironic, then, that the man who works so hard for his dream, Jay, is killed for attempting to pursue what he wants. The only person who gets his dream is the big, rich jock, Tom. Perhaps Fitzgerald is showing us just how silly and disillusioning the ‘great American draem’ actually is.

Despite a slightly clunky beginning, with some awful exposition, Fitzgerald is an excellently cautious writer. Well, perhaps cautious is not the right word. Tight, is perhaps better. The events of this novel are intricately laid together, so that the ending creates layers upon layers of answers, as well as more questions, that make you understand the motives and desires of the main characters. When everyone comes together at the end, something seems to click that makes so much sense. You have a vested interest in the person who died, and you wonder whether he really deserved it – though Nick would have you believe that he very much didn’t. The one question that remains in my head, though: did Daisy know what she was doing when she was driving the car?

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The Woman in White (1859) – Wilkie COLLINS

I think I may have already mentioned my love of the new Vintage Classics range, and this one has been sitting on my shelf since the beginning of the year, looking forlornly at me, waiting for me to pick it up. And I needed something big and brash to cheer me up from all those little books I have been reading lately. What better than a famous, wordy Victorian Gothic thriller?

After being saved from certain death by Walter Hartright, an art teacher, Professor Pesca decides to reward him by offering him a job at Limmeridge House – the ancestral home of the Fairlie family. There he meets Marian Halcombe and her beautiful half-sister, Laura Fairlie, with whom he promptly fall in love. Their love, however, is interrupted by Laura’s engagement to Sir Percival Glyde, who has a terrible secret. And what of the mysterious woman in white that seems to follow them around? And who is Count Fosco, really?

At over 600 pages, I was expecting this book to take forever to read. But somehow, I really raced through it – though I think that uni holidays helped with that. Even though Collins writes like every other Victorian novelist (slowly, with the need to explain every single thing that ever happens in great detail), the plot has enough drive to get past this, and power through. It tends to drag a little in the middle, when everyone is mysteriously falling ill, but really picks up in the last act, where everything becomes a desperate race to stop the true villain. Collins has created enough mystery and intrigue to keep even the most cynical readers interested.

I know that Laura Fairlie is supposed to be the woman that everyone wants, but really, she’s a bit of a wet blanket. She has the personality of a young child, and doesn’t seem to be able to make any decision of her own without either crying or fainting. Granted, she has a few moments, but it is really Marian that is the strong, independent woman that I really identified with. It is she who realises much of what is going on, and has the inteeligence and strength of mind to not scream at every opportunity. Both women do suffer, however, from the fact that they are female characters in a Victorian novel, and thus have the tendency to proclaim that they are “only a woman”, and therefore can’t possibly be as good as the men surrounding them. And considering that there are very few good men in this novel – even Walter is a bit boring, and tends to hysterics – it annoys even me.

This is apparently one of the first novels to consist of a collection of letters and recollections of each character – like in Dracula, called an epistolary novel, for those interested – and it works really well here. It helps that you never know who is going to make it and who isn’t – each of the narrators could just as easily be killed, because someone else can just tell the story. And Collins has enough in him to create unique styles for each of his characters – clearly a writer at the top of his game.

This book is a pretty clear explanation of why Collins was so popular during his time. It’s got almost everything you could want – thrilling plot, (fairly) interesting characters, intrigue, and a smattering of commentary on contemporary social issues to make yourself feel good while you read it. And, it’s stood the test of time, and is still a ripping good yarn.

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London Fields (1989) – Martin AMIS

Another week of insane uni essay, another Martin Amis novel to keep me amused. What is it about him? For all intents and purposes, I should hate the man. Some of his comments in recent times, especially regarding the September 11 attacks are not politically correct, to say the least. And yet, I always come crawling back for more. Well, when I say that, I mean that this is the third novel by him that I have read in less than a year. And for me, that’s pretty much regular.

In your traditional crime, there are always three participants: the murderer, the murderee, and the foil. Samson Young is an American writer who has a small problem – he can only write the truth. He has come to England in the hope that he will find a true story so outrageous, he can sell it as a novel, and finally make a name for himself. And he finds it. Three people Keith Talent (the murderer), Nicola Six (the murderee), and Guy Clinch (the foil). As these four people interact, their lives become inextricably linked, and not everyone will make it out alive.

This is an excellent meditation on story-telling. It is the insanely postmodern way (which, for the record, I love) in which Amis writes his story that makes this novel so well worth it. How are we to trust the written word? What makes us assume that those things which are written down are automatically better than something someone might tell us. Amis uses the written word here to show us the fallibility of both the media and the book industry, and how easy it is to deceive someone. Yes, he plays games with your mind the entire time, and you are never quite sure what is real and what is not (ironic, considering that Sam is an author that proclaims that he can only write the truth), helped by the alternating chapters of the book, and what Sam is actually doing.

There is a definite shift in the last third of the book – the final act. While the first two teeter on comedy (though, admittedly very dark comedy), the final act becomes this kind of essay on entropy, on what would happen at the end of the world. This novel is set in 1999, and you really feel that the world is coming to an end – London is a dirty place, and almost none of the characters have redeeming features. Even the small children are terrors – it is clear that the future will be a tough challenge. I really like this kind of stuff, and the impending sense of doom really works for me, as a stylistic choice in this kind of story.

A brief note on some of the criticisms of this book. Amis has been called a misogynist for his portrayal of Nicola Six in this book, a seemingly willing murderee. While she certainly knows and resigns herself to the fact that she is going to be murdered, it is she who holds the power the entire novel. She is the one who is constantly manipulating the other three men, and they are at her mercy at every stage. If anything, the women in this novel are far more assertive and powerful than the men, who have become sick and tired at the end of time.

In the end, London Fields is a highly rewarding novel. It perhaps takes a while to warm up to its full potential, but once it gets there, it really hits some excellent shots. Each of these characters are so terrible, you want to know exactly what they are going to do next. And the constant guessing of what is going to happen at the end will keep you on your seat until the very end.

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) – Philip K. DICK

I never read science fiction. I’ll watch it, but never read it. Odd, isn’t it? So when this book appeared on a reading list for university, I was not particularly thrilled. And yes, I have seen Blade Runner, the immensly successful movie which is based on this novel. I don’t really want to talk about how they compare – so we’ll see how we go.

Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter working for the San Francisco Police Department. He is assigned to kill ‘andys’ – androids that have found their way onto Earth from one of the prospering colony planets in the outer Solar System. He is not a happy man; married to a woman who cares more about her ‘mood organ’ – a device that drugs the user into feeling a desired mood, and constantly desiring a real, live pet – something that is considered a status symbol on this desolated Earth of the future. So when he is asked to take on the unfinished assignment of an injured colleague, he must ask questions about not only himself, but everyone else around him as well.

Philip K. Dick was an odd man. He spent a large amount of his life on drugs, creating a fairly unique body of work. This novel is no exception. While the world itself is not perfectly realised, the jargon he creates flows seamlessly. Much of the setting, though, is left untouched, allowing the reader to make up their own mind about the appearance of the world his characters inhabit.

A friend of mine once argued that science fiction was nothing but escapist. I beg to differ. I think that most science fiction writers are linked very closely with the world tof today, and the possibilities of tomorrow. Dick is no exception. He really tries to explore what it means to be human in this novel. But when humanity has devolved into a simple scientific test, how can we empathise with these humans who are trying to stop machines they have created from taking over their lives? It is the few non-human characters (many of whom are not aware of their heritage), that show any kind of human characteristics. This includes the ‘specials’ – humans who are not intelligent enough to repopulate the colonies, and are forced to live in slums.

Forty years ago, this was a bleak future for people to look towards. Echoes of the Cold War are all through this book, and the theme of invaders who look the same as us is a similar theme i nspeculative fiction of this time. Now, though, I think we look more at the ideas of humanity presented in this book – what it means to be human (as opposed to just American), and the responsibilities we have with technology. Not exactly ground-breaking territory for science fiction, but at the time, maybe.

I nearly made it – but not quite. Yes, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is very, very different to Blade Runner. You can see where some themes have come through, so similarities remain, but the entire plot is changed completely – characters gone, added, changed, and entire sequences ripped out, or moved.

I suspect that there are many better Philip K. Dick novels than this one. While Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is not bad – and Dick’s writing style is unique enough to keep you interested – the questions it raises are, by now, pretty stock-standard. Maybe I should investigate this author further, and see if anything better comes my way…

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