August 6, 2010
What would Philip K Dick and Stephen King’s love child look like if it grew up reading 1984 and watching Saw movies? Probably a lot like Inferno by Todd Riemer. There is the decaying dystopian society with requisite brutality and opression, a demon spirit and the ghost of a dead lover caught between two worlds, and well-crafted though rather graphic scenes of torture and abuse. This book is not for the faint of heart but it does have nice, tight prose and good imagery.
The hero of our story, Blum, tells us of his experiences through flashbacks and real time narration. We first meet him in a dream (which honestly put me off a bit, because I didn’t realize it was a dream at first and it seemed incomprehensible, but eventually I read past the first page and it started to make sense). We discover he has been imprisoned for years for rebellion against the oppressive regime that murdered his lover, who was at the time pregnant with his child. We follow him through escape, return, capture, resistance, and another insurrection. Along the way we discover he is being manipulated by a demon spirit called the Midnight Man who hopes to corrupt Blum completely so that he can take the Midnight Man’s place as a tortured and miserable ruler of hell. The Midnight Man holds the ghost of Blum’s lover hostage in the fires, where she will remain until Blum kills her murderers, thereby freeing her to be reborn into a new life.
Inferno is Riemer’s first novel, and is self published. Most of the time I am leery of self published books, because they tend to have grammar and punctuation errors that drive me nuts – more so than books from major publishers with copy editors. I was pleasantly surprised that that was not an issue with Inferno, although it has a unique, almost stream-of-consciousness, style that took some getting used to. Once I adjusted to the style, I quickly got caught up in the imagery of the book. If you enjoy dark stories and don’t mind graphic violence, this is a good read with redemption and a little nugget of hope at the end.
For those of you who prefer a multimedia experience, Riemer also has a website here for all things Inferno.
March 7, 2009
This is the second work by Dick that I have read, and I am sensing a theme. It is a sort of character study set in a severely screwed up near-future world, not unlike A Scanner Darkly (the other Dick novel I read). In Dr. Bloodmoney the world is screwed up because of war, not drugs, but the story is still all about what people do when things fall apart.
The novel starts with snippets of characters’ lives, drawing a picture of a world in which there was a terrible tragedy of miscalculation by the title character, Dr. Bluthgeld (German for blood money). A ‘high altitude test’ of a hydrogen bomb, which Dr. Bluthgeld had assured the world would be totally safe, went awry. Many people were affected by radiation, leading to mutations and the development of a few unusual abilities. Then, a few years later, a real war came along, and hydrogen bombs fell like rain, decimating most of the world. The story skips a few years, going from the day the bombs fell to abut 7 years later. People have started to rebuild, but the world is very different from what is was before the war. There are many more mutations, and not just of people. Animals have been drastically changed, many developing much higher intelligence. Some are even able to talk. Some of the phocomelus or ‘funny people’ – those with severe birth defects because of radiation – have new abilities, including telekinesis. There is no electricity and no gas, so people get around in wood burning or horse drawn vehicles. There is virtually no contact over long distances, because there are no more working satellite systems or phone lines, and many major roads were destroyed and not rebuilt. The only outside contact many communities have is with an astronaut orbiting overhead, alone, in a ship that was originally intended to carry him to Mars to start a colony.
In this setting, Dick explores how people react to losing everything, how they rebuild, and what they hold on to. His characters are very vivid, from those struggling to gain power, to those trying to seize the opportunity to show their worth in the new post-war world, to those just trying to believe there is still something to hope for after all the destruction.
January 4, 2009
Wow. This is my first novel by Phillip K. Dick (in fact, my first anything – I haven’t even seen Bladerunner). It was amazing. The novel is beautifully written to convey to truly screwed up nature of the drug culture and one particular man, Bob Arctor, who got caught up in it by trying to do a good thing. Both the imagery and the writing style itself bring the confusion and warped thinking of people who are totally brain fried through to the reader. Some passages reminded me of several Pink Floyd songs in their ability to help someone who hasn’t been there (at least not that far) understand.
A Scanner Darkly is set in a near or maybe even current future (at the time of writing anyway, in 1977) in Orange County, California. The main character, the aforementioned Bob Arctor, is an undercover nark who has also become an addict. As the book continues, Bob’s brain is gradually burnt out to the point he doesn’t realize he is both the nark and the suspect being narked on. It is wickedly funny in many passages, but also very sad since Bob started out truly trying to help get what he believes to be a dangerous substance off the streets, and ends up having his own life destroyed by the same drug. How this happened and why would be spoilers, but let me tell you, it is very depressing at the end. And it is made even more so by the author’s note. Dick basically says in the suthor’s note ‘This is what it is like to be in that life. We didn’t know what we were getting into. The price we paid could have been avoided if we had just stopped partying and tried to grow up, but dammit man it’s a high price for just wanting to have fun.’ He follows it with a list of his friends he dedicated the book to and based the characters on, all of whom who had died or suffered permanent brain damage from drug use. Very touching, but a serious bummer. I plan to follow it up with some Douglas Addams.