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ON MY NIGHTSTAND - Summer 2016

EXCLUSIVE TO MILLVALLEYLIT: Jennifer Egan's S.F. school daze

Is Jennifer Egan the Lindsey Vonn of novelists?

The Jennifer Egan connection

If you read Steve Jobs by Isaacson (didn't everyone?) you know that in 1984 Steve was madly in love with Jennifer (aren't we all?), brought his latest Mac (remember the "1984" Superbowl ad?) to Egan's mother's San Francisco apartment and installed it in Jennifer's bedroom. Nerd palpitations, I'm sure. What you don't know:

EXCLUSIVE TO MILLVALLEYLIT: Jennifer Egan's S.F. school daze

Pulitzer prize winning, A Visit from the Goon Squad Chapter 3 begins with a description of an all girls school in San Francisco's Sea Cliff and plaid jumper uniforms. Jennifer attended Katherine Delmar Burke school in Sea Cliff with MillValleyLit Editor Perry McKleroy King.

Burke's Gurlz:

 

Jennifer center (magnified from above). Voted most likely to have a charmed life. ; )

Perry McKleroy King, future MillValleyLit Editor, center 2nd row. Oddly, next to J. King (no relation.)

Jennifer Egan gets all Dickian on us

(Philip K. Dickian)

“Black Box” is a sci-fi thriller about a rookie spy who has been dropped into a compromising situation with recording devices embedded in her body, but no idea what's going on. Egan published her story 140 characters at a time through The New Yorker’s Twitter feed in May, 2015.

Egan feels like she can relate to the double life of a spy; she’s a writer. “I’m living a fairly conventional life in my real life, but I feel like I have this alternate world that I’m visiting all the time,” she tells Kurt Andersen of Studio 360. “It’s the feeling of being lifted out of my life into another world that is the thrill of writing fiction.” Still available through The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/06/04/black-box-2

 

Our favorite under-appreciated Egan book:

Emerald City - short story collection includes the San Francisco based: "Sisters of the Moon" about teens, drugs and street folk around Union Square.

"The theme of longing in all its forms-for change, for redemption, for travel outside the bounds of daily life to realms where anything seems possible--unites this master story collection. In the extraordinary "Why China?" a man drags his family to the Xi'an province in a desperate attempt to reclaim his lost integrity, only to find himself more remote and mysterious than the place where his journey led. In settings as exotic as Kenya and Bora Bora, as glamorous as downtown Manhattan, or as familiar as suburban Illinois, Egan's characters--models, housewives, schoolgirls--seek transformation of the body and spirit, and transcendence of the borders of desire."(Publisher's info) Hardcover, 178 pages Published January 1st 1996 by Doubleday

 

Book Reviews

Philip K. Dick: 3 reviews by James Beach

The Shifting Realities of Phiip K. Dick - Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings”

Edited by Lawrence Sutin

 

 

"Philip K. Dick is 'our own homegrown Borges'." ~ Ursula K. Le Guin (Ed. note: see Anne R. Dick interview in Salon re this.)

Philip K. Dick, or as he is more conveniently known, PKD, was a fascinating and many-layered writer. Other artists might challenge your personal viewpoints of what is real, and whether or not you’re right. PKD would challenge your view of reality itself.

 

He made this work by not being just a dry conceptual thinker. His conceptual brilliance was married with a deep desire to understand what this all could mean for humanity - a humanity that he deeply loved, warts and all.

 

PKD is currently most well known for movies made from his writings - the most famous ones are “Total Recall” and “Blade Runner” (as his novel this had the surreal title “Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep”). There was also Richard Linklater’s amazing and underrated “A Scanner Darkly,” which somehow escaped much notice despite having a cast of Keanu Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder and Robert Downey Jr. Most recently there is a TV series based on one of his novels - Amazon Prime’s “The Man in the High Castle.” The most acclaimed show they’ve had to date, it is unusually true to his vision - a brilliant imagining of a 1960s America if the Axis powers had won. In the story, the characters struggling with their everyday concerns find out about our universe where the Axis powers lost - which changes their understanding of not just their world but their lives.

 

That’s the kind of twists that PKD excelled at - twists that mattered, because they come from a real imagining of human characters just like us. People with messy lives who find themselves in deep strangeness that they can and must figure out, just like we do.

 

PKD also had a rather large body of work. At one point in his life he wrote 20 novels in 2 years - and sold every single one. For those who aren’t already a fan, *and* for those who want to dive deeper, I highly recommend this collection. It offers a both impressive and accessible overview of the wide range of worlds through which PKD wielded his art. This includes 3 chapters of a sequel to the aforementioned “Man in the High Castle”, a mind-blowing spec outline for a possible “Mission: Impossible” script that was never sold, and a brilliant outline for a new light-hearted caper series involving heaven and earth which is simply too challenging for television to this day.

 

But perhaps the piece of this collection which best represents both the pessimism, the optimism and the deep-hearted insight that PKD brought to bear is the transcript of a lecture he gave back in 1972 - “The Android and the Human” (pp. 193-194).

 

...The absolutely horrible technological society -- that was our dream, our vision of the future. We could foresee nothing equipped with enough power, guile, or whatever, to impede the coming of that dreadful, nightmare society. It never occurred to us that the delinquent kids might abort it out of the sheer perverse malice of their little individual souls, God bless them. Here, as a case in point, are two excerpts from the media; the first, quoted in that epitome of the nauseating, Time, is -- so help me -- what Time calls "the ultimate dream in telephone service" as described by Harold S. Osborne, former chief engineer of AT&T:

"Whenever a baby is born anywhere in the world, he is given at birth a telephone number for life. As soon as he can talk, he is given a watch-like device with ten little buttons on one side and a screen on the other. When he wishes to talk with anyone in the world, he will pull out the device and punch on the keys the number. Then, turning the device over, he will hear the voice of his friend and see his face on the screen, in color and in three dimensions. If he does not see him and hear him, he will know that his friend is dead."

I don't know; I really don't find this funny. It is really sad. It is heartbreaking. Anyhow; it is not going to happen. The kids have already seen to that. "Phone freaks," they are called, these particular kids. This is what the L.A. Times says, in an article dated earlier this year:

"They (the phone freaks) all arrived carrying customized MF'ers -- multi-frequency tone signals -- the phone freak term for a blue box. The homemade MF'ers varied in size and design. One was a sophisticated pocket transistor built by a PhD in engineering, another the size of a cigar box with an actual coupler attaching to the phone receiver. So far, these phone freaks had devised 22 ways to make a free call without using credit cards. In case of a slipup, the phone freaks also know how to detect 'supervision,' phone company jargon for a nearly inaudible tone which comes on the line before anyone answers to register calling charges. As soon as phone freaks detect the dreaded 'supervision,' they hang up fast.

"Captain Crunch was still in the phone booth pulling the red switches on his fancy computerized box. He got his name from the whistle found in the Cap'n Crunch breakfast cereal box. Crunch discovered that the whistle has a frequency of 2600 cycles per second, the exact frequency the telephone company uses to indicate that a line is idle, and of course, the first frequency phone freaks learn how to whistle to get 'disconnect,' which allows them to pass from one circuit to another. Crunch, intent, hunched over his box to read a list of country code numbers. He impersonated to the overseas operator, and called Italy. In less than a minute he reached a professor of classical Greek writings at the University of Florence."

This is how the future has actually come out. None of us science fiction writers foresaw phone freaks. Fortunately, neither did the phone company, which otherwise would have taken over by now. But this is the difference between dire myth and warm, merry reality. And it is the kids, unique, wonderful, unhampered by scruples in any traditional sense, that have made the difference.

 

As PKD foresaw, these phone phreakers were early versions of what became hacker culture. They figured out the codes for public and private telephones and would use them to call each other and in other ways infiltrate institutional technology and play with it for their advantage and just for fun. And everything that has followed has played out as PKD suspected. These kids have not only grown on to become engineers and CEOs. Hackers have also stolen passwords, cracked digital rights management and security, sometimes stealing credit cards and worse out of immaturity and simple spite. And also, justifying PKD’s wise faith and love for the perversity of humanity in all it’s messy beauty, consistently undermining and even rendering irrelevant the power of the governmental and corporate security estates at every turn. (Ed. note - Must see TV “Mr. Robot” - Dickian cyber-thriller returns for 2nd season on USA network)

 

He goes on to say:

 

Speaking in science fiction terms, I now foresee an anarchistic totalitarian state ahead. Ten years from now a TV street reporter will ask some kid who is president of the United States, and the kid will admit that he doesn't know. "But the President can have you executed," the reporter will protest. "Or beaten or thrown into prison or all your rights taken away, all your property -- everything." And the boy will reply, "Yeah, so could my father up to last month when he had his fatal coronary. He used to say the same thing." End of interview. And when the reporter goes to gather up his equipment he will find that one his color 3-D stereo microphone-vidlens systems is missing; the kid has swiped it from him while the reporter was blabbing on.

 

This was all in an aside from a larger discussion on the nature and purpose of consciousness itself - an aside that both fit in seamlessly, and is well worth exploring in it’s own right. This is the nature of riches available to those who delve into Philip K. Dick. I think this particular volume is a great exploration point. But whether you start with this one or a myriad of his other works, he is well worth getting into.

Available through:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0679747877/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0679747877&linkCode=as2&tag=jimbeachnet-20&linkId=4NGOJZI73IJZA4WV

 

What If Our World Is Their Heaven?

This is a set of transcribed recordings made a few months before his death. In one of them, Philip K. Dick discusses an idea for a new science fiction story. As he talks he becomes more and more enamored with it. The setup and tale he sketches in a free-flowing conversation is brilliant and mind-blowing, surreal and at the same grounded in tragicomic every details - like so much of his other work. The story also raised the hairs on the back of my neck, because in some ways it bears an eerie similarity to his own death.

But it could be just coincidence. Just as with his fiction, where reality also can be a rather uncertain idea. Strange things happened to his characters and also to him - but whether in his fiction or in his own life he would bravely, brilliantly and tirelessly explore all the possibilities he could see, and would then create some more.

As a deep fan of Philip K. Dick, I recommend this book highly. Perhaps that will be your reality too.

 

Exegesis

This is a book for deep fans of Philip K. Dick. It consists of excerpts from the massive amount of writings he made in the last 8 years of his life, in an effort to understand an event that occurred to him on a single day. Some of the work here went into his "VALIS" trilogy. Most of this book has not previously made the light of day.

This is not nearly as accessible as "What if Our World is Their Heaven?", which I would recommend before this for PKD fans who aren't yet sure how deep they want to go. That is a fine, breezy introduction to the mind and views of a great author and what seems to have been a great human being. "Exegesis" is a 97-course meal on the possible malleability and permeability of reality, information, and the human spirit.

But if you're all the way in as I am, you will find it utterly worthwhile to get this close to his mind and see him in struggle and at play.

by James Beach

see James' short sci-fi piece in Review

 

Ear Openers - Audiobook Review

 

Somewhere between the sci-fi of Philip K. Dick and the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez dwells the literature of the grotesque, the absurd, the horrific and the plain unbelievable. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to two audiobooks recently that fall squarely into this category: Wise Blood, by Flannery O’ Connor and narrated by Bronson Pinchot, and Suttree, by Cormac McCarthy, narrated by Richard Poe.

Richard Poe might be best known for his portrayal of the nasty Cardassian Gul Evek on Star Trek, but don’t hold that against him. His narration of McCarthy’s often dense, heavy and inscrutable prose is actually easier to digest than trying to navigate the unpunctuated mass of vocabulary challenges on the page, or at least that’s been my experience. And Poe’s character voices evoke McCarthy’s rogue’s gallery - the drunks, losers, cripples and “midnight melon mounters” of Knoxville, TN in the early fifties in such stark relief that you’ll find yourself thankful to have never met any of them in person. But be warned: Suttree is by far McCarthy’s longest novel – 20 hours of listening, one hour for every year it took to write. That’s a lot of McCarthy’s twisted “humor,” (it is actually termed a “comic” novel) but well worth it.

Wise Blood, according to the author’s preface to the second edition, is also supposed to be a comic novel. Perhaps that’s why the audiobook producer hired Bronson Pinchot, who played Balki in the sitcom Perfect Strangers, to narrate O’Connor’s demented and horrific tale. But when Pinchot channels Hazel Motes, it is anything but funny. There may be some humor in his nasally portrayal of Motes’s unwanted sidekick Enoch Emery, a character so hopelessly pathetic it seems almost cruel to laugh at him. In the end, Pinchot’s performance is every bit as chilling and angry as Motes himself. When he wails “I ain’t clean!” it makes your hair stand up on end.

Together, Suttree and Wise Blood, both set in Tennessee in the early fifties, are grim views into the bleak world of the dispossessed. Not exactly uplifting, but, as dark humor goes, expertly performed and entertaining nonetheless.

 

reviewed by Jeb Harrison

(Editor's note: Wise Blood was made into a 1979 film by " cinema's Earnest Hemingway" John Houston, with Harry Dean Stanton.)

 

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HOME | THE LITERARY LATTÉ - Stories & Poems | ON MY NIGHTSTAND - Books reviewed | REVIEW - Writing and more| THE SCENE - News, Events, Resources | SALON - Interviews, Submission, Contacts|The STACKS - Back Issues

 

On My Nightstand © by J. Macon King

© MillValleyLit and King Marketing Group. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any material without permission is strictly prohibited.

Jennifer Egan photos from web promotional sources.

Uncredited non-ad photos by J. Macon King.

All writing, submissions, and comments are the views of the respective authors and interviewees do not necessarily reflect the views of MillValleyLit or Editorial staff.