Monday, July 16, 2012

Monday Review: The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

This weeks review is a slight detour from the usual intersection of sci-fi and Christianity, in as much as it isn't science fiction, but it is written by one of the genre's big hitters, Philip K Dick.

It is, in fact, his last novel, and quite a diversion from his usual fare; not only is it not the science fiction he was known for, it was written from the viewpoint of a single, female narrator, both aspects which suggest that he could have broken into mainstream literature, had he not died shortly after completing this novel.

Also because of PKD's premature death, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer has unofficially taken the place of the final volume in the 'Valis Trilogy', Valis and The Divine Invasion (more of which at some point in the future).It is, however, only thematically linked, and very much a stand-alone story.

The initial premise of the novelis that some newly-discovered scroll frgaments cast doubt on the authenticity of the gospels. Already controversial bishop Timothy Archer (based on Dick's friend, outspoken bishop James Pike) subsequently goes on a journey of questioning his faith, risking his job and livelihood, and having a romantic subplot along the way.

While it does make for an interesting look at the nature of faith, the overall tone of the story is pretty depressing. It definitely isn't a sales pitch for any kind of religion, so one to avoid if that's likely to bother you. Various story events are also loosely based on the life of James Pike too, but that won't detract from Dick's story unles you are already familiar with the life and work of Bishop Pike.

On the other hand, if you like the storytelling and/or philosophising of Philip K Dick, it's an interesting deviation from his usual fare and shows another side to his talent.

Linky goodness:
PKD on amazon

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Tuesday Tunes: Top Ten Shades of Grey

Don't misunderstand this as milking the tenuous link. Oh no. What's happened is I've realised that this Top Ten malarky is actually quite fun, so why only do it once a month? You never know what you might stumple upon while exploring Spotify.

And while I probably could have created a Top Fifty Shades of Grey, that would have been rather hard work so I've settled for the usual ten.

10. Taproot: A Golden Grey
Taproot were discovered by that Fred Dibnah from Limp Bizkit. What more do you need to know?

9. Question: Earl Grey
A mellow little jazz number that Captain Picard would have liked. Jazz, Earl Grey, smooth. Engage!

8. Karen Matheson: Early Morning Grey
Are there any Gaelic speakers in the house? I really hope she's not swearing....

7. Trivium: A Grey So Dark
Sorry, your volume control is going all over the place today isn't it? We're going all thrash metal for a few minutes now.

6. Deerhunter: Fluorescent Grey
It's a slow starter, but once it gets into its indie-prog-rock groove (apparently they prefer the term 'ambient punk') it's actually pretty good.

5. Haywyre: Grey
Every top ten needs at least... well, at least one piece of electronica, so, um, here you go.

4. Kreidler: European Grey
More electronica, this time from Germany.

3. Spirit Caravan: Melancholy Grey
Low tempo, high noise doom rock... melancholy with teeth. Turn it up to eleven, and let the street know you're feeling blue.

2. Fat Jon the Ample Soul Physician: Berlin Grey
Seriously, that should be the name of a book, not a hip-hop producer. And as for the music, I'm not sure if it's supposed to be smooth jazz or some kind of trip-hop... Catchy tune though.

1. Kirsty Hawkshaw: Battleship Grey
This is exactly what I'm talking about: I've never heard of Kirsty Hawkshaw, but the combination of her vocals and the knob-twiddling of Tiesto that give this track a slightly Portishead-esque sound, and I'm hooked. (Turns out Kirsty was the voice of Opus III about 20 years ago, if anyone's interested.)

Now Spotify the Top Ten to check out what aural delights you're missing out on - and who knows, maybe I'll find another 40 to add to the playlist at some point...

Monday, July 02, 2012

Monday Review: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

I knew there was a reason for picking up an old copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four around Christmas time. And it was this: to make sense of Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.

Shades of Grey is the story of an ordinary young man, Eddie Russet, a largely unremarkable drone of the Colourtocracy, whose lot in life at the opening of the book is to undertake a chair census in the Outer Fringes.

And Eddie's adventures, for it is possible to have adventures in chair-counting, and his will they/won't they romance with the cute but feisty Jane Grey, lead us on a voyage of discovery about the world of Chromatacia, and the Rules by which its residents live.

Existing several centuries after the apocalyptic 'Something That Happened', Chromatacia is ruled by a hierarchy based on perception of colour, the monochromatic Greys being the working classes; Eddie, a Red, being fairly lowly; and the Purples being at the top of the pecking order. The technology is a strange mix of what had gone before: Model A Fords driving on self-healing organoplastoid roads, for instance; and life is lived under the ever watchful eye of Head Office - a name which, for certain sections of society, will instil rather more fear than that of Big Brother.

All of which is to say that this is a very Orwellian dystopia, but one with a dash of Ffordian madness. Shades of Grey is not as laugh out loud funny as some of Fforde's Thursday Next books, but it's a fun read if you like that kind of absurd humour, and definitely an original look at the dystopian genre, once you get your head around the premise of the Colourtocracy.

It could be said that Shades is a little light on plot; however, as the first book in a trilogy it does a good job of introducing the reader to a well-rounded world with plenty of hinted-at mystery, and sets the players up for the rest of the series. The supporting characters, too, seem to have taken a back seat to world-building, although I did find myself caring what happened to Eddie and Jane. But all that aside, the world itself is so much fun that who cares if the characters are only there to explore it and the plot doesn't kick in until book two.

From a Christian perspective, I have to mention the Word of Munsell, from which Chromatacia has derived its all-encompassing (but often nonsensical) Rulebook. The Rules start with a Golden Rule of sorts:
Everyone is expected to act with due regard for the well-being of others.
Then there are more potentially useful rules for the wellbeing of the state and its residents:
Marriage is an honourable estate, and should not be used simply as an excuse for legal intercourse.
A unanimous verdict by all the primes will countermand the Head Prefect.
But then the rules start to wander into the 'serving no useful purpose' territory:
Ovaltine may not be drunk at any time except before bed.
And of course, some are deliberately silly:
The cucumber and the tomato are both fruit; the avocado is a nut. To assist with the dietary requirements of vegetarians, on the first Tuesday of the month a chicken is officially a vegetable.
But the story makes the point that some of the rules are mind-bogglingly stupid. The number that lay between 72 and 74 was banned for reasons lost in history, as was counting sheep and making spoons. It also makes note that some rules were followed mindlessly for centuries, despite being obviously flawed:
Children under ten are to be given a glass of milk and a smack at 11 a.m.
Conversely, of course, such variations have also been abused by those seeking to take advantage of any tenuous loophole they could find; both approaches point out the potential for flaws in interpreting any ancient text, whether by mindless legalism or liberal loopholery.

Hopefully as the series progresses we will find out more about Munsell and his wisdom,but either way, I suspect this is going to be a series that gets better as it continues.


Oh, and let me just reassure my reader that there is absolutely no bandwagon-jumping intended here. Jasper Fforde does not specify how many shades of grey the title refers to. There may be fifty shades of grey, or there may only be three. It's probably not important. What's important is that this book will be a far better way to spend a few hours than certain other books you may have seen reviewed elsewhere on the interwebs.