Monthly Archives: February 2012

My First Amazon FREE Day! Sunday, February 19

Rush over to Amazon for my first free promo on KDP Select. Load your Kindle with a wild journey through the African countryside.

Facing the Son, A Novel of Africa

 Go here.  NOW!

And thank you for making the trip.


Ubik, by Philip K. Dick

1969. Written five years before PKD experienced his 2-3-74 vision which he then spent the rest of his life exploring, researching, recording, challenging, buttressing, re-examining, and relating to his body of work.

Ubik–you’ll have to read the book to get the meaning of the term–unspools in a future (1992)Dickian world where corporations are interplanetary, the government is global, communication is by fixed-line vidphones, and telepaths, inertials, and precogs read telepathic aura. Oh, and time is fungible.

When Glen Runciter of the Runciter organization is wakened in the middle of the night due to the sudden disappearance of yet another of his telepaths, he is concerned enough to “consult his dead wife” in Switzerland. And we enter PKD-land.

A ruthless competitor prompts Runciter to assemble a team of inertials for a project on Luna, and then….

But I don’t want to lay out the plot. Too much is going on in Dick’s world. The story is enjoyable and you need to read carefully, flip back and forth sometimes to keep it all straight. Life and death, time and space, forward and backward, energy and entropy are slippery concepts in Dick’s hands. Of course no one is what they seem, but neither is the entire tale what it seems. That’s what I like and admire about Dick’s novels and stories: they take up residence in my pea brain and bug me long after I’ve finished them.

And trying to explain what Ubik is about I feel is only a subjective retelling of the bones of the story, a retelling which can’t do justice to the reading/thinking/puzzling experience. A retelling which reduces a story to just a story. Or more likely, I’m just not up to the task. I can’t tell you with great confidence what the story is about because I believe the story is so expertly told that it will have a different meaning for a different reader.

In Exegesis by PKD, he talks alot about Ubik, (Ubik the book and Ubik the term). He talks alot about Runciter. The novel is one of the several works which figures prominently in his exegetical exercise. In a way, he seems to believe that his body of work, of which Ubik is an important waystation, presaged his 2-3-74 vision. His work became clearer to him after he saw through to the informational underpinning of the universe. That sound crazy to you? Well Dick wasn’t crazy and he wrote more than a half million published words (who knows how many unpublished) after 2-3-74 in pursuit of an understanding of that vision.

Ubik by itself stands as an entertaining read, a sci-fi tale that challenges our concepts of reality, life, death, and the big one: why are we here? Serious topics explored in a whimsical, playful, smart narrative with oddball characters at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid.  Misfits like Dick up against the man, trying like hell to make some sense out of this life down here on earth.

Ubik is more than a fun sojourn into PKD-land. But if that’s all you get out of it, it’ll work that way too. Me: I can’t get it out of my mind.

Follower Love Giveaway Hop

A father’s enduring love for his estranged son propels him on a mission to West Africa.

The trip misery piles up but nothing can deter Matt Reiser from finding his son.  Except his son.

Use this code: RD36Z at this site for a free copy of Facing the Son, A Novel of Africa.

Or for a 99 cent copy click Kindle.

Back to the hop here.

A Darker Domain, by Val McDermid

2008. A cold missing persons case in a Scottish mining town reopens an unsolved twenty-two year old kidnapping and murder and leads Detective Inspector Karen Pirie to a pair of “unrelated” disappearances which together unravel the complex relationship between the miners and the most powerful man in Scotland.

If that sounds like a huge story, it is. We’ve got: Class warfare. Gender warfare. Abuse of power. Press connivance. Provincialism. Nationalism. Union busters and scabs. Art versus commerce versus love. Marital infidelity and betrayal. Families versus families versus neighbors and friends. Murder, robbery, conspiracy. And the 1984 miners strike in Great Britain.

Plus, to set the clock ticking, a young child is in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant from his missing father.

I admire Val McDermid and so do alot of other people. She’s won a shelf of awards and has had her characters and novels brought to life in acclaimed TV programs and serials. She doesn’t need me to write a few words about anything she’s done as journalist or novelist. Her place is secure. My two stars will twinkle in the nighttime sky unseen by anyone but me.

But I barely got through this book. Which made me wonder why we like one book and not another. What makes us connect to a character, say, or a voice? Why do we fall deeply into one story and not care about another? It isn’t simply that one book is well-written and another one isn’t. McDermid writes expertly. She is a master of her craft. I have read other work by her and been blown away.

I like the genre. I lived in London–not Scotland, I admit–and traveled the novel’s terrain. I remember the time and the history of the miners strike.

But reading this book was a chore. So why didn’t I just chuck it and move on to something else? No one forced me to keep reading. That’s what puzzles me.

I kept reading even though I felt led along by made-up characters purposefully created to bring out the class warfare etc as listed above. The plot was overly complex and over the course of four hundred pages it unfolded backwards, as any good mystery does, at a snail’s pace. It didn’t help that nothing was much of a surprise. It didn’t help that nearly all the characters were unlikeable, with the exception of the protag, DI Pirie. It didn’t help that–without giving anything away–a key character explained everything he did in a fifteen page letter, the epistolary equivalent of a drawing room confession, making that character utterly despicable in the process.

McDermid’s fans will probably tell me to get stuffed. Even though the author has deep heartfelt passion for the community of miners, that’s not enough to make for a great or even a good book. Her passion is genuine. The well-crafted book though is a failure. It is flat. It is predictable. It is paint-by-the-numbers.

I guess I’m getting to the reasons why I don’t like this book. But does that translate to why we don’t like one book over another? Do we need to believe, to be surprised, if not wowed, by either story, voice, or character? Do we need to be transported somehow somewhere? Do we need to be more than entertained? Do we need to look up from the book and consider our world a bit differently? What makes a story work, resonate, remain with us?

Don’t have those answers yet. Will keep trying.

Looking on the bright side though, if someone with McDermid’s talent can turn out an occasional clunker, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us. We might just turn the tables on the writing muses and toss off the odd winner.