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CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: MarzAat (IP Logged)
Date: 25 February, 2006 06:02PM
In _Star Changes_, editors Connors & Hilger suggest that Philip K. Dick's _The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch_ owes something to CAS's "Vulthoom".

Misters Connors & Hilger, have you or anyone else written about this connection at greater length? Or, at least, established that Dick actually saw "Vulthoom"? Tim Powers said Dick liked CAS's _Lost Worlds_ collection, but, unless I'm mistaken, that didn't have "Vulthoom" in it.

If anyone cares or keeps track of these things, I've been steadily reading Smith for a bit over a year. The coincidence of reading Powers' _The Stress of Her Regard_, with its opening quote form Smith, and seeing Powers at a convention panel on Smith led me to sample his work starting with _The Last Oblivion_ and then moving on to _Rendezvous in Averoigne_ and _Star Changes_.

I actually read some Smith probably twenty some years ago, specifically, "The Return of the Sorceror" and "Ubbo-Sathla". Those are pretty undistinguished stories, and I forgot their plots and wrote off Smith as a bad Lovecraft imitator.

I'm glad I gave him another chance.





Randy Stafford
Saint Paul, MN

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Scott Connors (IP Logged)
Date: 25 February, 2006 06:27PM
No, we cannot show for certain that Dick ever read "Vulthoom." That is why we used the word "may." Since, as you note, Dick had a copy of LOST WORLDS, and apparently liked what he read, and also since GENIUS LOCI was quite available as late as the early 1960s from Arkham House, it is not an unreasonable leap to speculate that he had read it, leading one to the conclusion "if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and @#$%s like a duck, it probably ain't a rooster." To be honest, though, even if we had Dick's copy of GENIUS LOCI with the relevant portions of "Vulthoom" underlined in red, we'd still have used "may," since the whole notion of assigning influences to a clinical degree of certainty strikes me as a little ridiculous.
Where did you see Tim on a CAS panel? Arcana? I remember that I was supposed to attend the year he was GoH, but couldn't make it because I broke my arm.
Glad that you are finding Smith of more interest today.
Best,
Scott

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Raven10 (IP Logged)
Date: 26 February, 2006 06:37AM
I never expected a comparison between two such distinctive writers to be made. After all, their work is from such very different genres. Nor do I share the view of MarzAat, that Clark Ashton Smith was simply a "bad Lovecraft imitator". In fact, these days I actually prefer the writings of Clark Ashton Smith to HP Lovecraft. Clearly, Clark Ashton Smith had a better command of english, along with a superior style of writing. Lastly, I don't even want to get into the argument over whether or not Philip K Dick was inspired by or copied any works by Clark Ashton Smith. Looking forward to your replies.

Julian L Hawksworth

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: MarzAat (IP Logged)
Date: 26 February, 2006 04:00PM
Scott,

Thanks for the information about GENIUS LOCI.

You're quite right that even if we had a copy of it with margin notes by Dick, we couldn't establish any direct inspiration. Many authors admire works they never try to imitate. And I'm not really interested in any evidentiary chain that shows Dick copied "Vulthoom". In the brief reading I've done on Dick's remarks about THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH, I've never seen him mention CAS. And, frankly, given Dick's prankster tendencies, I'd be skeptical of it anyway.

However, I am wondering, if you grant the possibility "Vulthoom" inspired Dick's novel, if any one detailed the similarities between the two. A listing of similar quacks and waddles might be interesting.

Yes, it was Arcana I saw Powers at.


Julian,

I did think CAS was a bad Lovecraft imitator -- before I read more than "The Return of the Sorceror" or "Ubbo-Sathla" or any of his poems. I certainly don't have that opinion now. (I still maintain those are not very good stories though "The Return of the Sorceror" at least earned CAS some money in his later years.)

As to which is better, I think they were trying to often do two different things. Lovecraft, in his best work, was doing clinically toned hoaxes. Smith, from what I've read so far, was often conjuring up prose dreams using his poetic gifts. I would certainly agree that, as poets, CAS is clearly the superior talent.

Tim Powers has said Dick liked at least some CAS, but, so far, I haven't noticed any obvious similarities between the two apart from the possible "Vulthoom"-STIGMATA link (after it was pointed out to me). However, while I've read most of Dick, I haven't read everything, and my knowledge of CAS is definately limited.

I think Lovecraft had a much more obvious influence on Dick than Smith.

I wouldn't go so far as saying Dick and CAS wrote in different genres. Their differences in tone and approach doesn't seem much more different than HPL and CAS. HPL and PKD's science fiction was all about a starting point of something resembling the modern world (even if a bizarre or satirical version in Dick's near future tales)and violations of consensual reality in that world. CAS rarely bothers (again, from my limited readings) with that starting point. The exoticness is more pronounced from the beginning whether it's in the characters' jobs or the setting



Randy Stafford

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 14 April, 2017 04:38AM
I have not read anything yet by Philip K. Dick. When younger, the movie Blade Runner, which I din't like, put me off. And I was also repelled by his destructive drug abuse and seemingly liberal disorganized living. Total Recall however was a fantastic, haunting movie, and teased my curiosity about PKD.

I would like to try his work. Do you recommend The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, or others of his books, as worthwhile reading? I have already in mind the following possible titles, after reading reviews and synopses:

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Ubik
Now Wait for Last Year
The Penultimate Truth

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Radovarl (IP Logged)
Date: 14 April, 2017 07:37AM
The movie adaptations of Dick's work bear only the most superficial resemblance to his fiction, for the most part. Total Recall is based on the short story "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale", and while the central science fictional premise ("implanted" memory) is more or less shared by both, that's where the similarities end. The new Amazon series based on The Man in the High Castle comes closer to adapting the novel of the same title faithfully.

Nevertheless, as someone who has read all of Dick's novels (except Vulcan's Hammer) and much of his short work, I can give you a few recommendations for where to begin. I would suggest skipping the stories, at least at first, and go for the better novels (listed below). He only really gets ramped up into full phantasmagoria mode after about a hundred pages, but when he does get there it's glorious. Be forewarned, though, that if your distaste for "liberal disorganized living" (whatever that means) runs deep, you might find his work in general truly anathema--there are no well-adjusted Dick characters, and most of their lives are very, very disorganized on a number of levels, psychological and otherwise.

These are a handful of the best of the best, IMO, in no particular order:

Ubik
A Scanner Darkly
Martian Time-slip
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
VALIS (really, the whole loosely connected trilogy, which goes on to The Divin Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer--late works which show PKD at his most sophisticated but also his most deranged)

I would avoid the following, until you've exhausted the best stuff and acquired a hankering to know what his lesser efforts can offer:

A Maze of Death
The Cosmmic Puppets
The Unteleported Man
Vulcan's Hammer (which is universally considered to suck, so much so that I haven't bothered to read it, and I'm a PKD nut)
any of his "mainstream" novels (which frankly are mostly identical in plot and characterization to his "scifi" but eschewing the trappings and tropes of the genre just end up being depressing without being entertaining).

These are still good, just not the place to start. Anything not mentioned is still worth trying. YMMV



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 14 Apr 17 | 07:40AM by Radovarl.

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 14 April, 2017 02:06PM
Thank you very much for your recommendations.

Radovarl Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
...
> Be forewarned, though, that if your distaste for
> "liberal disorganized living" (whatever that
> means) runs deep, you might find his work in
> general truly anathema--there are no well-adjusted
> Dick characters, and most of their lives are very,
> very disorganized on a number of levels,
> psychological and otherwise.
...

That is allright, as long as the imaginary qualities are good. I respect anyone who has a great sense of the weird, bizarre, and fantastic. I think I have also developed some empathy for PKD; he seemed to have had a very difficult life, socially and emotionally.

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 20 April, 2017 03:21AM
Not sure if I will want to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, even if it has interesting philosphical thoughts on the interrelation between man and machine. Because it seems to present an extremely dark and depressing future (frighteningly convincing too, when viewing the latest developments of robotics in combination with destructive politics). The Penultimate Truth, on the other hand, seems to paint a symbolic picture of the globalistic financial elite of today that controls media and politics, in a way that would stir the rebel and warrior inside me. But Do Androids ... seems merely sad.

Not sure where the dividing line goes for me. I like the weird and grotesque, and the (grimly) philosophical on a cosmic level. But social commentary too close to the suffering of everyday reality, can be unbearable. Drug problems and disruptive marriages, I can bear to watch as ingredient parts of a story, ... but suffering of children or animals, and the devestation and pollution of our Earth, I have seen enough of, and it makes me too upset.

Besides, Do Androids ... is one of the most widely read science fiction books. Almost every SF geek has read it. WHY should I fill my mind with the same thoughts that everybody else carries around?
Obscurity is sweeter.

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 24 April, 2017 08:42AM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> Do Androids ... is one of the most widely
> read science fiction books. Almost every SF geek
> has read it. WHY should I fill my head with the
> same thoughts everybody else carries around?
>

I surrender! He, he ...! After all, I do read Arthur C. Clarke and H. P. Lovecraft, both consumed by the masses. To have a small selection of four to five, carefully selected PKD books, and leave out Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is unthinkable! That would be like having a collection of Lovecraft which exclude At the Mountains of Madness or The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

I cannot be a completist with any of the numerous excellent authors I have discovered over late years, ... I am a too slow reader, ... must pick the best of the best only, or those titles that best suit my personal interests. I really enjoy this selective challenge. It is a stimulating test of one's accumulated insights and intuitions. I was a completist in younger years, for H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Jack Vance, but that is enough.

Anyway, I will leave a report here of my thoughts, when I get to PKD in my reading pile and have read him for the first time in my life.

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Radovarl (IP Logged)
Date: 24 April, 2017 09:41AM
I heartily approve your surrender. Dick's novels can be emotionally taxing, as one of his (maybe "the") central themes is empathy and lack thereof toward fellow beings. Whenever the question in one his books, as it is in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is "What does it mean to be human?", his answer is always basically that it is the ability to empathize with one's fellow sentient creatures. The road to illustrating that point is usually strewn with the broken psyches of those characters who fail to fully realize this goal, i.e., to be fully human. I personally find the electric (literally) sheep in Do Androids Dream a little goofy, but the gonzo overuse and abuse of scifi tropes by PKD is his signature. He very intentionally sort of slips in the serious literary themes under the radar of the genre spectacle--he lulls you into thinking you're reading a lighthearted scifi romp then smacks you with the heavy stuff when you're not looking. I think this is why his mainstream work falls flat for me.

Anyway, I wouldn't shortchange myself by skipping any of his major novels. Unread PKD is a nonrenewable resource, and it would be a shame to miss what little there is.

Have you tried any Cordwainer Smith? Based on your stated reading preferences I suspect you would enjoy him.

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 24 April, 2017 04:16PM
Radovarl Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> ... the gonzo overuse and
> abuse of scifi tropes by PKD is his signature. He
> very intentionally sort of slips in the serious
> literary themes under the radar of the genre
> spectacle--he lulls you into thinking you're
> reading a lighthearted scifi romp then smacks you
> with the heavy stuff when you're not looking.


That is interesting. I do appreciate a serious mindset as foundation for literature, ... it also adds a sense of realism to the fantastic and bizarre.
Perhaps then, he is more a serious social writer, than genuine top level science fiction writer? Using science fiction settings as back stage decoration for his other intentions?

I have not read Cordwainer Smith. I heard he is very imaginative and colorful, perhaps too loosely so.

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Radovarl (IP Logged)
Date: 25 April, 2017 04:51PM
I'm pretty sure that "serious social writer" and "top level science fiction writer" is a false dichotomy. If I understand you, you seem to be saying that good science fiction writers cannot have a serious message, that it's all for fun and show. While I don't think serious social commentary is particularly crucial to achieving top rank in the SF field, I would certainly argue that they are in the vast majority. After all, even "hard" (as opposed to "social" or "soft") SF can be recognized primarily by its examination of potential technological/scientific advances and their impacts on society. This is why The Forever War is SF and The Hunt for Red October is not. A list of "serious social science fiction writers" considered to be top-level:

Kornbluth
Pohl (The Space Merchants)
Heinlein (literally everything)
Asimov (The Caves of Steel, Foundation, et al.)
Vance (Alastor series, Demon Princes, et al.)
Lovecraft ("The Shadow out of Time")
Dick (everything)
Aldiss
Haldeman
Ellison
Herbert

and so on... I think it's more difficult to name SF writers who aren't doing this than to come up with those who are. Granted, CAS is probably among them.

Regarding Cordwainer Smith: If you are a fan of CAS's more bizarre flights of fancy, Cordwainer Smith will seem tame by comparison. Yes, he uses a highly idiosyncratic style and his idiom takes some time to adjust to (though I wouldn't charactize it as "loose"), but the effort is well worth it. Not to be missed by any aficionado of fantastic fiction. As the title of one of his paperback collections eloquently claims, "You Will Never be the Same".



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 25 Apr 17 | 04:53PM by Radovarl.

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 26 April, 2017 03:58AM
Radovarl Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> ... If I understand you, you seem to be
> saying that good science fiction writers cannot
> have a serious message, that it's all for fun and
> show. ...

No, I don't mean that. I was merely curious if PKDs main interest is concerned with social and spiritual issues. Arthur C. Clarke's science fiction, for example, seem to approach from the opposite direction, he was grounded in science and technology, that was his big interest. But he was also a "serious" science fiction writer, with interest in the human condition, in evolutionary and spiritual development. ("Serious" of course doesn't have to include the human condition, it can exclude social commentary, and focus on cosmic philosophical perspectives. What's serious and important, is in the eye of the beholder.)

Van Vogt and PKD seemed to share a similar interest for the human mind, in mental expansion and development, what is illusion and reality, psychology, social interaction, etc.
The "hard" science fiction elements in van Vogt's fiction, seem not so much grounded in science, but to be more approached with an intuitive vision of the future (which yet is haunting and can be very convincing!). I have no idea of PKD's particular approach to the "hard" science fiction elements. And it doesn't really matter, it can be interesting literature either way. It will be an exciting journey to discover his works.

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Radovarl (IP Logged)
Date: 26 April, 2017 09:54AM
In that case, yes, PKD's approach is quite similar to van Vogt's, and is in no way like Clarke's hard scifi. PKD's all about exploring inner space rather than outer space. He's also a complete wackadoodle like Van, and filters everything (especially notable in his post-2-3-74 work) through a mystico-religious lens that comes across as straight up mental illness to the rational-minded. It's probably a little more complicated than that; his biographer calls him an "entertainer of beliefs", and I think that's pretty accurate. He would let himself go down the rabbit hole of whatever pet notion struck him at the moment, and this makes his novels both unusually compelling and deeply troubling. He was seldom in complete control of his own process. The results, at their best, are glorious. On the other hand, he was the kind of personality that sucked all the oxygen out of the room. I suspect I wouldn't have liked him very much, personally.

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 26 April, 2017 01:57PM
That sounds great! I very much look forward to reading his work.

Art and literature should always be ecstatic. Otherwise it is a waste of my time.

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 26 April, 2017 08:42PM
Quote:
I have not read anything yet by Philip K. Dick. When younger, the movie Blade Runner, which I din't like, put me off. And I was also repelled by his destructive drug abuse and seemingly liberal disorganized living. Total Recall however was a fantastic, haunting movie, and teased my curiosity about PKD.

BLADE RUNNER is not very faithful to DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP. It is a somewhat nihilistic film whose point of view (to the extent that it has one) is to deny the distinction between machines and authentic human beings. This is the opposite of the novel's intent.

TOTAL RECALL is a fun, lighthearted film compared to BLADE RUNNER; but like everything directed by Verhoeven, it is imbued with an ultracynicism that is not very faithful to the full spirit of PKD's writing. For instance, the short story on which it is based ("We Can Remember it For You Wholesale") is ultimately very different.

PKD was no nihilist. He was preoccupied, almost to a paranoid extent, with the difference between truth and illusion, but that is because he believed the difference really mattered.

Rumors of his indulgence in the 60's drug culture seem to be exaggerated. It is based on the fact that he was part of the culture, wrote about the culture, and his own mental health often seemed shaky. His novel A SCANNER DARKLY is reasonably understood to be an anti-drug novel.

His personal life was, admittedly, a mess. His relationships with women were unsuccessful, deeply painful, and often led to paranoid and obsessive preoccupations. Often this is reflected in his writings. At his best is able to step outside of himself and wink knowingly at his paranoia. At his worst he seems to dive deep into bitter misogyny.

I have not read too many of his novels (maybe 6 or 7). But I have read most of his short stories, and many of his short stories stand out in my mind. Some of these (the ones I can match with their titles from memory) include:

"Roog"
"The Alien Mind"
"I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon" (a/k/a "Frozen Journey")
"The Exit Door Leads In"
"Explorers We"
"The Days of Perky Pat"
"We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"
"Rautavara's Case"
"Out in the Garden"
"The Father-Thing"
"The Pre-Persons" (This one may piss you off).



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 26 Apr 17 | 08:54PM by Platypus.

Re: CAS and Philip K. Dick
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 4 June, 2017 07:44PM
PKD's later novels, which I feel less interested in because they seem to be not so much science fiction, but mainly focused on drug abuse and psychological breakdown, and very serious in tone, I still decided to check these out on audio to save my eyes (my eyes aren't very good anymore), since these books are so highly regarded. Same with Martian Time-Slip, which seems to be mainly about schizophrenia, and to be pessimistic and depressing.

I found these excellently read versions on youtube:

Martian Time-Slip

[www.youtube.com]

A Scanner Darkly
[www.youtube.com]

VALIS
First version, with more introductory details:
[www.youtube.com]
Second version, different reading, easier to hear:
[www.youtube.com]



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 4 Jun 17 | 07:50PM by Knygatin.



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