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Mike reviews: Emmanuel Carrère's I Am Alive and You Are Dead

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  • Mike reviews: Emmanuel Carrère's I Am Alive and You Are Dead

    Here is a Guardian review by Mike of a biography of Philip K. Dick. It contains some interesting info of Mike's own involvement with Dick in the 60s.
    'You know, I can't keep up with you. If I hadn't met you in person, I quite honestly would NOT believe you really existed. I just COULDN'T. You do so MUCH... if half of what goes into your zines is to be believed, you've read more at the age of 17 than I have at the age of 32 - LOTS more'

    Archie Mercer to Mike (Burroughsania letters page, 1957)

  • #2
    Mike reviews: Emmanuel Carrère's I Am Alive and You Are Dead

    And another --

    Crazy like a fox

    Emmanuel Carrère examines Philip K Dick in I Am Alive and You Are Dead. Michael Moorcock on one of science fiction's strangest sons

    Saturday June 4, 2005
    The Guardian


    Buy I Am Alive and You Are Dead at the Guardian bookshop

    I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K Dick
    by Emmanuel Carrère, translated by Timothy Bent
    336pp, Bloomsbury £17.99

    Like Hammett, Chandler, Faulkner and Eudora Welty, US writer Philip K Dick was first taken seriously in England and France. New Worlds magazine serialised his "breakthrough" novel Time Out of Joint in 1959 and I believe mine was the first published essay on Dick to suggest that he was something more than a good genre writer. People such as Maxim Jakubowski began to publicise him in France. New Worlds commissioned the late John Brunner to write the first appreciation of Dick to run in a national magazine.

    In 1965, after The Man in the High Castle won Dick his only Hugo award, I contacted his agent on behalf of the publisher I was advising. The agent said we could have any four Dick titles for £600, and an option to buy the next four at the same price. The publisher, perhaps believing books that cheap couldn't be any good, passed. I wrote to Dick saying he was being undersold. Dick, notoriously his own worst enemy, did not, as I suggested, change his agent. Had it not been for Tom Maschler, impressed by the enthusiasm of other writers, Dick might have been as indistinguishably published in the UK as he was in the US. At Cape, Maschler presented Dick, like Ballard, as non-generic, bringing him to a wider if not more lucrative audience. Younger writers such as Fay Weldon and Martin Amis became fans. And Dick's legend as the Acid Sage of Berkeley (though he only ever took one trip, a bad one) was established. Initially, he did nothing to dispel it. Already a mythomane to rival SF writer L Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, he discovered the reputation passingly useful as he enjoyed guru-status with the Berkeley young.

    In 1952, Anthony Boucher, founding editor of Fantasy & SF, serial mentor and customer of the classical record store where Dick worked, had published his first story. After that, Dick's chief inspiration, when he began turning out fiction for the dwindling magazine market, was his need to pay the rent. He wasn't the only SF writer of his generation to make wholehearted use of dexadrine and valium but for a while he allowed readers to think inspiration came from acid, far more chic in the 60s. Mostly, he was running, as prolific writers generally do, on adrenaline and caffeine.

    Emmanuel Carrère thinks the posthumously published social novels Dick produced were done to please snobbish friends and lovers. However, Dick was continually looking for the form which would best suit his ideas. No great stylist, his problem was that he had a hard time putting a story together without the conventions of genre fiction. His best work uses the methods developed in the pages of Galaxy by a group of writers including Pohl, Kornbluth, Bester, Sheckley and Harlan Ellison. What we today recognise as the "PKD future" is actually a collaboration between these socially conscious writers responding to Eisenhower's and J Edgar Hoover's America and specifically to McCarthyism. Unlike the conservative techno-SF writers, they actually predicted the world we know today.

    Dick began to produce twists on conventional dystopias. He lacked Bester's sophistication, Pohl's Marxism, Sheckley's irony or Ellison's eloquence, but he captured the readers' imagination as previously only HP Lovecraft (Carrère's other literary hero) had done. Educated by Quakers, raised in radical Berkeley, a born-again Episcopalian by 1964, he accepted the malignity of the consumer state, but questioned the nature of its reality.

    By the early 60s he had written The Man in the High Castle, Dr Bloodmoney and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, and was consistently exploring the themes which would make his wider reputation. Not all his contemporaries found his obsessions stimulating; they saw, in fact, the ruination of a talent. Ellison expressed it with his usual laconicism: "Took drugs, saw God. BFD." But Dick was on a roll, helped by God and the I-Ching. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (on which the film Blade Runner was based), Ubik and A Maze of Death led steadily away from his generic roots. Meanwhile he divorced his third wife, left the relative isolation of Marin County, returned to the city and married again, increasingly losing his grip on reality, eventually coming to believe that a spirit guide had saved him and his new-born son from madness and death. After a short spell in a Canadian rehab clinic, he left admirers and hangers-on behind, and wound up in Fullerton, outside LA.

    When Dick finally began to make money from foreign sales and film rights, he credited his spirit guide with helping release a secret store of cash. Living off this money, struggling with mental instability and an imagination no longer reined by genre demands, Dick produced little publishable work in the last years of his life. He devoted himself to a kind of sequel to The Man in the High Castle, called Exegesis, in which he tried to develop the notion that his world where Hitler and Hirohito had won the second world war was no more the real world than was this one. He became so strange that when I was living in southern California in 1979/80 I felt no desire to visit him. Some paranoiacs seem touched by divinity but equally they can be touched by banality. As with William Burroughs, listening to conspiracy theories could be exhausting.

    Never leaving his home for weeks, sitting in the dark, playing Dowland and the Grateful Dead, he became increasingly absorbed in his own myth, fed back to him by fans who, like Tolkien's crankier readers, could fairly be called disciples. Yet at an SF convention in Metz, he seriously disappointed fans who had expected a divine junkie and got a Christian missionary. He died in 1982, leaving hundreds of thousands of unpublished words, many of which have yet to see the light.

    It's a shame this book contains no index and does not refer to the half-a-dozen or so other critiques and biographies of PKD, nor to interviews, such as Charles Platt's, which was done towards the end of Dick's life and is a rather better journey into his mind. In his excellent Who Writes Science Fiction? Platt spoke respectfully of his subject, revealing a courteous, self-mocking man and recording a classic piece of monologue. Off-tape, Platt wanted to know if Dick was discussing his fiction or whether he really believed all he had talked about in his interview.

    Fairly typically, Dick switched to ironic mode: "Why, no, of course not. You'd have to be crazy to believe in something like that."

    Another friend, Tom Disch, had his own interview terminated by the intervention of Dick's spirit guide who said it was time for Disch to leave. A courteous soul, he complied.

    "Do you think he's crazy?" I asked later.

    Disch smiled tolerantly. "Like a fox," he said.
    Last edited by David Mosley; 08-12-2006, 10:32 AM.

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    • #3
      I read 'I am Alive and You are Dead' a few months back and it was a fantastic read. I've becoma quite an avid reader of PKD recently.

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      • #4
        I'm glad about that. I, too, think highly of Dick but some people construed my recent reviews (of 3 Stigmata and Mind of PKD) as anti-Dick. I'm only against the barmier myths which in my view don't help in any appreciation of Phil and his work.

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        Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
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        Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

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        • #5
          Well, I've yet to read his 'barmier' later works, but your reviews read to me as saying 'he was talented, but he was lumbered with a poor agent and his descent into drugs didn't help his writing any' not being anti-Dick, but simply saying 'he was good, but made mistakes and I'll admit that.'

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          • #7
            Wonderful review on the PK Dick book--thanks for posting it. As a Berkeley product and an L.A. inhabitant for most of my life, I was quite wrapped up in the Dick mythos, and followed his career closely...only to come unraveled by his various spiritual im/explosions near the end. Ironically, my experimenting with LSD and its ilk came around the time Valis and the other bizarre Dick books were emerging. Boy was I ever confused! Though, I don't think it was permanent... 8O

            Comment


            • #8
              Reviews

              Just finished Christopher Palmer's Philip K. Dick - Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern, Liverpool, 2003. Had some pretty good insights but your Dick essay above crammed more insight into far fewer words.

              Re: WW2 fiction. I always assumed the long wait after Jerusalem before Rome was due to the difficulty of writing The Holocaust while retaining, as you said above, moral authority. I also assumed that the the concentration camp sequence in The Dreamthief's Daughter was an attempt to steel yourself up for another go - sort of a dry run. Finally, there is a release date and my favorite series of yours will have come to an end. I almost agree with Claude Lanzman on why Shoah would only have been made as a documentary.

              Finally, did you read (and did you perhaps allude to above) The Separation by Chris Priest? If you read it, how did you react to it?

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              • #9
                Yes, that's about it. I didn't want to use Jewish experience, either, for my research into the camps, so I used the experience of others, mostly Nazis and non-political non-Jews and also had some very good material on Dachau, where the main concentration camp scenes take place. Kept it all in Southern Germany, which was Hitler's 'heartland'. Sadly, I've been unable to focus on Chris Priest's work and have never been able to discover any substance in it, but that's no doubt something I'm missing since he's very highly regarded. I did read a long essay about the book somewhere which didn't make me any more interested. It was accused of anti-semitism, but I suspect that's not the case. Another fairly long piece I read suggested it was 'pro-appeasement', which I suspect might be closer, since this is sometimes a 'pacifist' argument and Chris has described himself as a pacifist. If so, it would be in great company, since even FDR wanted the UK to make peace with Hitler, thinking Britain didn't stand a chance against Germany... Dreamthief material and also The Case of the Nazi Canary (Seaton Begg) in both MM's Multiverse and MacSweeney's was also spin-off from research done there, just as to some extent My Experiences in the Third World War were spin-offs from research done for Byzantium Endures.

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                • #10
                  Reviews

                  I am guite fond of Chris Priest's work. He is up there with one M.Moorcock in the list of writers whose work I read upon release rather than being put into a holding pattern.

                  With The Separation, I felt a kind of weird comfort. Being pretty pacifist myself, I had always been uncomfortable with my feeling that WW2 was justified. Chris' novel did not change my mind. What it did do was make me more secure in my own conclusion that it was that oxymoron, justifiable violence. By articlulating an alternative view that takes into account the psychological effect of WW1 (which also helps to understand Tolkein - but without altering my feelings about the problematical nature of his work) he went a long way towards resolving any ambiguity I felt regarding my own convictions.

                  Here, I have to bring up The Man in the High Castle. My wife is Korean. Her English is good but not totally fluent. I have been looking for Korean translations of my favorite books for her to read. The Man in the High Castle would be especially difficult for her because of the depiction of the Japanese as less evil than the Nazis. As I recently realized, she shares, along with many Koreans, a prejudice against the Japanese due to the appalling treatment of the civilians in conquered territory during WW2 and, in the case of Korea, long before. My previous girlfriend was Argentinian of German extraction. It was a few years into the relationship that I realized she had what I considered to be an anti-Semitic bias. She had become very close with my best friend who is Jewish, but the general bias remained and this was one reason I brought the relationship to a close.

                  I think of The Americanization of Emily. If violence is the only possible response to human evil, do it - but don't valorize it.

                  Comment


                  • #11
                    Although I hate violence, I doubt if I'd call myself a pacifist. Some things have to be fought for and I believe it was right to fight Hitler, even though it didn't really help Poland much (i.e. the reason France and England went to war) in the short term. That said, I think it was a war worth fighting, even though some argue that Britain would have done better to have bided her time and gone in when the Americans went in, except the Americans only went in because they were attacked by the Japanese and because Hitler declared war on America. I'm actually extremely bored with that particular angle of the 'what if' game. I prefer to wonder how war could have been averted by actions taken long before the shit hit the fan -- as in my Seaton Begg story about Hitler and Geli Raubel. I wonder what would have happened had the Allies supported the original Russian revolution, too (as in The Steel Tsar) but I suppose we can keep going back to 'turning points' pretty much forever. I suppose that word 'comfort' explains much for me, in that I tend to prefer confrontational imaginative fiction, though I'm not knocking fictional comfort food either. I just prefer it in Sexton Blake Library.
                    But that brings me round to an old NW argument about comfort literature and comfort literature pretending to be confrontational literature.

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                    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                    The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                    Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

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