Tagged: Philip K. Dick

Mindy Newell: Happy @#$%&!! 2017

I am in an incredibly shitty mood. My mom had a stroke—well, not technically, but the results are the same and she ain’t doing so good. My dad is a soul trapped in a useless body lying in a nursing home. On top of that wonderfulness, last night I couldn’t get the pizza I wanted because my favorite place closed and my two fallbacks were closed—huh? Isn’t New Year’s Eve one of the busiest nights of the years for pizzerias?—so I ordered one from what seemed to be the only one open and it totally sucked, but I still pigged out on it. Pigging out on something you enjoy is one thing, but pigging out on something that isn’t really that good? Dumb, dumb, dumb. And also, unlike some people who eat when they are upset, I’m one of those who don’t, so why I wasted $10.00 on something I really didn’t want in the first place I can’t answer.

And then there’s the reality that in 19 days a man who is the most incompetent, the most dumbest (and please, no letters on my grammar), a man who is treacherously close to crossing the line to treasonous behavior—just what the hell does Putin have on him?—will become the 45th President of these United States. We are about to go from the classiest to the assiest.

Happy New Year?

I don’t think so.

Im-not-so-ho, we’ll be lucky to get to 2018 with our skins still intact.

In other news, I recently finished watching Season 2 of [[[The Man in the High Castle]]], brought to you courtesy of Philip K. Dick (whose original book was published in 1962), Frank Spotniz (The X-Files), and Amazon Studios. For those not in the know, the premise of both the book and the series is: “What if the Axis powers had won World War II?” Well, that’s a simplification—there’s a lot more in there, particularly concerning not just alternate realities, but the nature of reality itself—but for the purposes of this column, it will do.

What is interesting—and somewhat depressing, as if I needed any more help in sliding down the ladder—is the reaction of some to the series, which, to tie it up with a bow, is: “Who needs a fictional fascist dystopia when the reality is already here?” I get it.   Doing some research for today’s column, I came upon author (The Name of The Rose) and philosopher Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay, “Eternal Fascism,” in which he lists 14 “properties of fascist ideology.” I won’t list all of them—I suggest you look them up, if you have the stomach for it—but there’s enough here to make me shiver:

  • Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class: Fascism uses the fear of economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups. Watch any of his campaign or “victory” rallies.
  • Fear of Difference: Fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate this…in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants. Muslim registry. A huuuuuge wall on the Mexican border.
  • Selective Populism: Fascists use this concept to delegitimize democratic institutions they accuse of “no longer representing” the Voice of the People. “The media are scum.”
  • Machismo: Fascists hold disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality. Grabbing some pussy, Trump? Or is she too fat?
  • Contempt for the Weak: Remember when Trump made fun of the reporter who has a physical disability?
  • Newspeak: Fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning. Hello, Twitter, and a 40-character limit.

And here’s an example of some of the tweets that The Man in the High Castle elicited, courtesy of The Huffington Post:

Jack Shafer of Politico on November 21, 2016:

 Emmett Hoops, teacher and linguist, same date:

And my personal favorite, from Indiana University School of Public and Environment Affairs PhD candidate and Brookings Institute alum Dave Warren, on December 22, 2016:

So the way I figure it is, that you should watch TMITHC on Amazon if you love Donald Trump because it will reinforce your faith in the marriage between politics and corporatism, or that you should watch TMITHC on Amazon if you’re scared of Donald Trump because it will reinforce your faith in the…what? The “It Can’t Happen Here” ideology? The “invulnerability” of our Constitution? The “It’s just a really good adaptation of a Philip K. Dick book” reassurance?

Happy fucking 2017.

Mindy Newell: Dick and Me     


“Don’t believe everything you read or hear, remember a large part of our world is made up of fiction!!” • Victoria Addino

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” • Albert Einstein

“Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.” • George Orwell,1984

“Am I the only one who knows? I’ll bet I am; nobody else really understands Grasshopper but me – they just imagine they do.” • Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

I haven’t read The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick, for many years, not since my “Introduction to Science Fiction” class in my freshman year at Quinnipiac University.

I didn’t love it, even if it had won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963, and even though it was one of those books during the 1960s that was blowing everybody’s mind in Haight-Ashbury and anywhere else where people were tuning in, turning on and dropping, and even though my professor waxed on and on about its brilliance. (BTW, I started college in the fall of 1971, the tail end of the social revolution was coming to an end – im-not-so-ho – since the spring of 1970 with the killing of college students at Kent State by the National Guard, and eventually lead to “Dance Fever with Deney Terrio,” “Disco Duck,” and polyester jumpsuits.)

That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate it, or I didn’t understand it. I just find Dick to be very depressing. Okay, okay, you can all guffaw and snicker at that, so let me rephrase: I find reading Dick’s works to be heavy going; his themes are overall incredibly morose… y’know: life sucks, and then you die.

No matter what life you perceive as yours.

The Man in the High Castle professed to be an alternate history – what if the Axis powers, i.e., Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire, less Mussolini’s Italy, had won World War II? – with what I guess you can call a twist ending (I won’t give away any spoilers here), but what it’s really about, and what is at its heart, is its questions on the nature of reality and the human response to what is a perceived reality.

This afternoon I watched the first two episodes of The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime, produced by its eponymous studio. Produced and co-written by Frank Sponitz (The X-Files), it’s a beautifully crafted series, obviously done with love, and is a “triumph of world-building,” as Entertainment Weekly put it. It captures the darkness, dreariness, and depressiveness of the book; more disturbingly, it also reveals the psychological acceptance of a “it-is-what-it-is” acceptance of life under the Reich and the Japanese Empire by the American public, with very little display of “heroic Resistance fighters” to be seen. But there is resistance; and that is what drives the story, at least on the surface.

My one complaint is that it’s very slow going; just like the book, you really have to pay attention. No bathroom breaks allowed!

Though I’m interested to see how Sponitz and his fellow writers handle what is a very complicated ending that asks very existentialist questions, I don’t think I’m going to be rereading the book any time soon. To paraphrase Sex and The City:

I’m still not that into Dick.

Martha Thomases, Mistress of the Universe?

Obama by Ross
It’s probably a good thing that I’m not in charge of the universe. Aside from the randomness of my whims, I am easily distracted by the shiny.

And I’m not good at debates. I froth at the mouth when I get angry, and my opinions require more evidence than I can supply in 90 seconds.

Still, I think political discourse is important. And, with a big election ahead of us next year, I think that comic book conventions might be good places to have it.

I’m not saying that we should invite more political candidates to comic book conventions. First, let’s invite more women and people of color and more LGBTQ creators. However, I do think that the people who shape our beloved medium have political (and moral and ethical) opinions that might be of interest to their fans, especially in regards to how these opinions shape their work.

Neither am I saying that panels should feature panelists arguing in favor one political party or another. Rather, let’s hear them talk about how issues – climate change, economic inequality, the Middle East, reproductive rights, the role of religion in the legal system, immigration – affect the kinds of stories they tell.

Decades ago, when I was first reading Philip K. Dick’s work, I remember being surprised by how many of his stories relied on the assumption that the temperature of the planet would rise drastically in the next century. This was long before the term “global warming” was a common expression in general discourse. It was an interesting nuance to his world-building: people had to stay indoors a lot more than they do today, and needed lots and lots more protective clothing. Later, I read a story of his that was very strongly anti-abortion. Politically, I disagreed with him, but it was still an interesting read. And it was a much more effective way to understand the positions of a person with whom I disagreed than the kind of screaming and yelling that passes as debate on our modern media.

Lots and lots of people who work in comics are progressives. Lots and lots are conservative. (If you click on that link, don’t read the comments. Really. Don’t read them.) For the most part, comic book fans are so used to being marginalized that we overlook these differences among ourselves to revel in the joy of finding others who like comics.

I think we can use this to our advantage in the marketplace of ideas.

The panels I imagine wouldn’t be intentionally slanted towards one position or another. The moderator wouldn’t have an agenda. Instead, creators would talk about how the issues of the day influence them creatively. I imagine this would mostly be about superhero comics, with their overlays of science fiction and fantasy. I may think that because of the Philip K. Dick stories I mentioned above.

Certainly, people who have rented booth space can express themselves in whatever ways the convention permits.  This isn’t even anything new. At all sorts of conventions, I’ve seen lots of items for sale that I liked and didn’t like. That’s cool. As long as I’m not personally hassled, I don’t care how anyone else spends their leisure time or dollars.

(Note: I consider myself personally hassled if someone shoots endangered species, describes another person only in relationship to that person’s sexual characteristics, or economically exploits people. I have boundary issues.)

The world is starting to notice that comic book fans are not all like the stereotypical fat kid living in his parents’ basement. As a group, we’re pretty well-educated and productive. We know things.

Let’s use these powers for good.




Emily S. Whitten: The Minds of Philip K. Dick

Before I get started on this week’s musings, here are a couple of housekeeping items:

1) Have I mentioned lately how great the other writers here at ComicMix are? It’s probably been awhile, so let me take a quick minute to do so (again). If you somehow found ComicMix via me and primarily read my column here on the site, a) Cool, thanks! and b) I highly recommend you give the other folks here a try. Even in just reading through the last few days of columns, from Mindy Newell’s thoughts on Battlestar Galactica to Marc Alan Fishman’s discussion  of guarding one’s creative integrity versus going for a payday and wider success, to Molly Jackson’s rejoicing over the awesomeness that is Agent Carter, I am reminded of how quality the folks who write for this site are, and how lucky I am to be amongst them. Anyone reading this site probably knows that already; but just in case you’ve missed out – check out my fellow columnists. You won’t regret it.

2) Speaking of Agent Carter (and I wholeheartedly agree with your column, Molly), I mentioned previously that I’ve recently taken over the duties of co-hosting (with Cleolinda Jones) a long-running podcast, Made of Fail, which is all about geek culture and properties. It’s taken a little while for us to get our first solo-hosted podcast in the can, but we’ve finally recorded Episode 76 of Made of Fail, and it should be up any time now. We talk about current TV shows, including Agent Carter, along with some movies we’ve seen recently and various and sundry other topics. So please don’t forget to check that out in the next few days if you’re in the market for a fun (we hope) new podcast to listen to!

And now, on to today’s topic, which is the works of Philip K. Dick and the movies we keep making from them. During the 53 years that he lived, Dick wrote 44 published novels and at least 121 short stories, and a remarkable majority of them revolve around the same themes: the sense of a greater intellect or system watching and controlling the small, in comparison, life and actions of a protagonist; actual conspiracies that the protagonist only realizes too late, or perceived conspiracies that are the result of paranoia; a character’s confusion at what is happening and inability to determine reality versus illusion; humanity evolving or devolving in ways that destroy or replace the status quo (often through changes in science or technology); and the examination of free will versus inevitability of future events.

In the same way that Raymond Carver’s stories, different as the plots or characters might be, share the feeling of dirty realism, Dick’s stories, despite great plot variation, feel universally grim or oppressive, with a general sense of something ominous threatening existence, and with a focus on the singular importance to events of one person’s perception and the choices guided by that perception. They do often, however, also contain the flicker of hope that comes from realizing that a struggle against what might feel inevitable can bear the fruit of winning back control of one’s choices, or a greater understanding of one’s place in the universe.

Perhaps that is the reason why, despite the ominous feel of Dick’s works, we keep making them into movies; and pretty popular movies at that. Among the most well-known are Blade Runner (based on Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep); Total Recall (based on the short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”); A Scanner Darkly (based on the novel of the same name), The Adjustment Bureau (based on the short story “Adjustment Team”); and Minority Report (based on the short story “The Minority Report”). As a culture, it seems we find appealing the idea that if there is a greater, if ominous, design behind what happens in our lives, we have the ability to choose to upset that design once we recognize the patterns of it and its effects, and the responsibility to strive towards doing so.

Minority Report is a particular favorite film adaptation of mine, probably in part due to the believable but still fascinatingly futuristic technology shown, which was grounded in and extrapolated from the tech of the time. It also strikes a chord through the major themes of both story and film, which revolve around free will versus determinism, and the idea that our every action is informed by the information we have at the time, which may or may not be “true,” as well as the idea that we can choose what kind of self we want to see or be.

In brief, the story is of a PreCrime unit of law enforcement, which uses three individuals with precognitive abilities to anticipate crimes before they happen and prevent them by arresting the criminals before they commit the predicted crimes (thus before they actually become criminals).

The action kicks off when the chief of the unit, Anderton, intercepts a prediction that he will kill someone he’s never met. He begins trying to unravel how this could happen, and in the process realizes that the predictions reported by the “precogs” sometimes differ, and that even though the computer analyzing their predictions collates data to produce the often-accurate majority report, there remains a possibility of a “minority report” in which the outcome is different. This suggests the idea of multiple future time paths, and the ultimate unpredictability of a world with so many changing variables, including each instance of human choice based on each new bit of information received.

Interestingly, the film differs greatly in its ending from the story, to the extent that (SPOILER ALERT) in the film, Anderton is framed by the antagonist to protect the PreCrime system, but PreCrime is dismantled after Anderton chooses not to commit the predicted murder, and it’s proved that the system is imperfect and an individual’s actions can change depending on the information received.

Conversely, in the story, the villain is trying to discredit PreCrime by showing that Anderton didn’t kill even though it was predicted he would; and once Anderton realizes this he chooses to kill the antagonist in order to save the PreCrime system. Ultimately, however, the theme and effect of the story is the same, in that once the individual is made aware of what he is predicted to do, and has a chance to examine the reasons behind why he may or may not want to, he chooses which path to take based on that, and the prediction turns out to be incorrect.

Of all of Dick’s themes, the examination of free will versus determinism is one of the most interesting to me; but I also have given some thought to which other Dick stories could be the next big screen adaptation; and have come to the conclusion that “The Last of the Masters” would have great potential in that arena. If you haven’t read it, it is an exploration of the conflict between the need for control, lack of empathy, and indifference to the individual that can burden a larger governing system, versus a valuation of individualism, humanity, and the desire for freedom that is so strong it can spur anarchic revolution.

One quote from the story which particularly highlights this theme is from the anarchist Silvia, in talking to the “government integration robot” who controls the local government: “My God,” she said softly. “You have no understanding of us. You run all this, and you’re incapable of empathy. You’re nothing but a mechanical computer.” In this examination of the dangers inherent in establishing a system of control, the story seems almost the next logical step after a movie like Minority Report – moving from the question of an individual’s freedom and the importance of choice there to the question of a society’s need for freedom versus its desire to maintain structure and the benefits and evils that are inherent in asserting control.

I feel that of all themes, this might be the one Dick struggled with the most, for in his stories I repeatedly find both the threads of desiring and recognizing the importance of individual freedom and empathy, and the apprehension that the result of giving individuals choice will inevitably be an attempt to establish or maintain a greater controlling body that will then remove some level of choice.

There’s a question of how to create an ideal balance underlying his writing that, despite his great volume of works, never seems to be fully answered; and perhaps that’s because it can’t be wholly resolved. It’s a conflict that, for all of the surreal or fantastical qualities that surround Dick’s works, is very real, and could make for a damned interesting story to explore on film. I’d like to see that someday.

In the meantime, I’m going to be checking out the newest entry into the on-screen world of Philip K. Dick adaptations, The Man in the High Castle (the new TV series that is available on Amazon Instant Video, yay!).

So until next time, Servo Lectio!