Literary Archaeology

I am in a funk, trying to drag myself through the motions until I can get home and collapse. That’s really unfair to Nicole, and I’m actively attacking this on several fronts, but…right now I’m trudging through thigh-deep sand. I’ve had neither the time nor the energy to write anything here and that really irritates me. So, while I’m not really “feeling it”, here we go.

I was in Half Price Books a while back and, browsing the sci-fi section, it occurred to me that I had never read any Philip K. Dick. He’s a lot like the band Big Star in my cosmology in that, while I may not be directly familiar with his work, he’s influenced pretty much everything that I’ve liked in the genre. So, I checked online for the best point of entry to PKD’s works, and Barnes & Noble had a list ranked “in order of difficulty.” Glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to start with VALIS.

This is not a review of VALIS. I don’t think I could review it, or summarize the story, without coming across as an absolute loony. I’m pretty sure that this would be considered a feature, as opposed to a bug, by the author. It’s an interesting, challenging, and funny-in-all-the-wrong-ways, which makes it one of the better books I’ve read of late. You get that sort of thing when you have one of the most imaginative minds in science fiction trying to come to grips with what he perceived as a direct encounter with a higher intelligence.

What struck me the most, though, was just how much one of my favorite comics was…let’s be generous and call it “influenced”…by VALIS. Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles is somewhere in my all-time top ten favorite comics, but I had no idea how many of the main concepts were lifted, sometimes almost word-for-word, from Dick’s novel. I won’t list the ideas they have in common because it would spoil the fun for anyone who has read one but not the other, but I will say that Morrison was clearly a huge fan.

I love stuff like this, where you dig into the influences of your favorite art and discover the roots, or at least another bit of a trail leading back to the roots, of whatever it is you love so much. It’s a sort of literary archaeology, like reading late Hammett and early Chandler, when the connections were so obvious you didn’t have to dig very deep to find them.

The book I’m currently reading is How To Set A Fire And Why by Jesse Ball. It’s a terrific read if you’re someone who likes the idea but not the execution of Catcher In The Rye, a comparison which will make sense should you choose to read it. I recommend it. But, what I really wanted to talk about is why I’m reading it.

I was poking around Book People looking for something to read and came across this one. This is probably unwise of me and unwise of me to admit to, but I put some stock in the blurbs on the back of novels. If a book looks interesting and an author I enjoy (or more than one) has contributed a blurb, that’s usually enough to sway me.

In this case, the blurbs were uncanny. A while back, I read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and I thought it was terrific. I got involved in a discussion about it on Chuck Wendig’s site and I was asked if I’d read Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars. I hadn’t, but I was informed that the two books were similar in tone and theme and that, whichever of the two you read first would be the one you preferred. So, I read The Dog Stars and confirmed the consensus regarding which I would enjoy more.

Looking at the back of How To Set A Fire and Why, there were two blurbs: One by St. John Mandel, the other by Heller. That is odd, isn’t it? I thought so. It was enough to get me to buy the book and I’m glad I did. Oh, and the day after I purchased it, I found out that Chuck Wendig would be coming to Book People which isn’t uncanny so much as coincidental, but it’s still curious.

So, the reading thing is up and running again. The writing? Not so much, but it’s about to be. From a musical standpoint, there’s precisely one thing I’m working on, but the damn thing is a hydra and it keeps sprouting new bits, so now it’s either one complicated song or three which are less so, and I’m not sure which. It’s annoying because the whole thing came out of mis-remembered bit from a Chris Isaak song. No, not that one. What I can’t nail down is the rhythm, and instead of doing the disciplined thing and working on a drum track, I’m beating on the piano, trying to force it into shape, without much luck so far.

I guess that’s about it. No vacations for the immediate future. We were told “no vacations” in a meeting and it was a joke only it wasn’t a joke. I suspect you know what I mean. It’s too hot and horrible out to do much vacationing anyway. I kind of just want to curl up and not kill time so much as just ignore it and let it fade away.