Philip K. Dick, virtual humanity and (oops) Hellboy

Betimes, I'm a bit of a sci-fi buff, and looking at the blogs of some folks here (richb, Scott Hudson, James C. Liu and grahamm) on bsc I guess it often goes with the territory of being an engineer. It was kind of funny for me to see Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot" make it to the silver screen as the paperback with its shining silver face was the first book I ever chose for myself (I was 10 and I still remember thinking "wow, a robot that knows itself - would it have a soul, and if so, where would it come from?"; sadly Asimov never tackled those issues but he did create a lot of inventive stories by stretching the constraints of the 3 Rules of Robotics).

Recently I've indulged my reading habit with:

  • some fibre - a mixture of political analysis (Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival) with some pop-pol (Michael Moore's Stupid White Men), and light but not lightweight business (Tom Peters' colourful Re-imagine!)
  • plenty of brain-carb's (remember, they're good for you) and -candy (sweet stimulation) using a steady feed of classic but lateral SF, including:
    • a first-time read of Philip K. Dick's awesome The Little Black Box (out of print, sadly as it contains many wonderful stories including We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (an astonishing story that was Hollywood-ized as Total Recall) and The Pre-Persons (against which my convenient rationales for certain choices simply dissolve); you can see some of PKD's "inventions" on technovelgy; I think the empathy box (and the black box from the title story of TLBB ) is an interesting way to think about how technology may create new ways to create social connections and to share or even simulate experiences; the Philip K. Dick: Reason, Mind, and Being article has some interesting analysis on PKD's stories about emphathy as the defining quality of humanity; (I actually wonder the opposite - maybe the virtual experiences that are possible even today with TV and movies can actually overload our empathic intelligence by providing us with the occasion for empathy without the opportunity to act); PKD has a heap of movie credits too if you like to stimulate your optic nerve as well as your brain
    • a re-read of the first four in Douglas Adam's HHGTG series, just so that I could read the final Mostly Harmless in context
    • a first read of William Gibson's  Pattern Recognition and a re-read of Idoru - Gibson explores the same human territory as PKD, but does it in a relentlessly realistic modality using a unique technical and dense literary prose - if you haven't read Gibson, sample a few paragraphs of an online copy of Neuromancer or Virtual Light or Mona Lisa Overdrive

But just for a change, I've over-dosed on media this last week with a whole 5 hours of TV (I watched local news a few nights, and did double-damage with Kill Bill 1 and 2 on rental VHS - definitely fun-ky). And I saw Hellboy last night (a slight but pretty entertaining movie, entirely due to Ron Perlman's ability to invest his chunky red character with some attitude; best lines (honest): "crap", "crap", "crap" and towards the end he alternates to "damn"; it does a pretty good job of keeping some dark material ok for under 12's with  the result that it's a bit lacking for adults).  Speaking of comic-derived movies, I guess there's not much hope that the few comics (oops, graphic novels) I've sampled since I was 13 like Hellblazer and Sandman (forget the horribly unimaginative Harry Potter franchise - the Books of Magic are Neil Gaiman's real thing) will in any way survive the transition to moviedom. If only Peter Jackson was a closet Gaiman fan... guess we'll have to wait till he's done King Kong to see if he's going to stay in the SF/fantasy genre and maintain the quality of his LOTR films...

Read on, gentle reader...


While you are feeding you brain you might want to read "The Puppet Masters" by Heinlein if you haven't already. Rather interesting take on manipulation I think.

Posted by PatrickG on September 15, 2004 at 09:10 AM PDT #

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