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Missive #94

A selection of previously unpublished, or obscurely published, autobiographical sketches, SF musings, philosophical essays, speeches, and journal excerpts. Though he was sadly neglected in life, Dick’s (1928-82) reputation has grown significantly since his death. Sutin [Lawrence Sutin (Editor)], author of a Dick biography (Divine Invasions, 1989), breaks this book into six sections, three of which deal directly with Dick’s main preoccupation, science fiction. Particularly noteworthy are Dick’s descriptions of the sense of community among SF writers: The late Robert A. Heinlein, for instance, went out of his way to assist Dick financially (though prolific, Dick was chronically broke), despite the fact that his own political ideology was diametrically opposed to that of his beneficiary.I chose to read this book to get a better idea of what Phillip K Dick’s early sci-fi writing was like. I’ll finish reading the trilogy that I’ve started but was not sure about reading anything else. I suggest that you read this book before trying to read any of his works. He was a ‘sick puppy’ after 2-3-74.
I also suggest that you read Philip K. Dick’s Divine, Amphetamine-Fueled Madness
Also appearing are two chapters of a proposed sequel to Dick’s successful alternate-world novel in which the Axis powers win WW II, The Man in the High Castle (1962); it was abandoned, according to Sutin, because he could no longer bear to involve himself with the repugnant Nazi mentality. The third SF section, on plot proposals (e.g., “Plot Idea for Mission: Impossible”) could have been omitted. The selected essays and speeches offer insight into the two questions that haunted Dick throughout his career: What is reality? What is human? The final section comprises excerpts from the Exegesis, Dick’s journal, in which he struggled to come to terms with, and make sense of, some shattering — mystical? religious? chemical? — experiences that beset him in March and April 1974. These are difficult, often incoherent pieces, and they should have been preserved for a separate volume [I added the bold.]. Best of all is the volume’s opening autobiographical section, which highlights the questing intelligence and generous spirit of this severely troubled, sometimes inspired writer. Dick will be remembered for his flawed, often brilliant novels, but the writings collected here offer a broader picture of the artist. It’s a satisfying picture, but Dick deserves more authoritative, less worshipful editing than he receives from Sutin. — A Kirkus review

I have one quote from the book that did make sense; much of what Dick wrote does not.

What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudorealities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing. It is my job to create universes, as the basis of one novel after another. And I have to build them in such a way that they do not fall apart two days later. Or at least that is what my editors hope. However, I will reveal a secret to you: I like to build universes that do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe—and I am dead serious when I say this—do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish. — How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later

Then there was this throw away line by Sutin; “A friend of mine once published a book called Snakes of Hawaii. A number of libraries wrote him, ordering copies. Well, there are no native snakes in Hawaii. All the pages of his book are blank.” Not sure why he included it but it is funny.

Feedback—The Last 18 Months, or
More Appreciation and Outrage from the Readers
By John Ross

Copyright 2005 by John Ross. Electronic reproduction of this article freely permitted provided it is reproduced in its entirety with attribution given

First of all, the mail is running heavily in support of more women- and marriage-oriented pieces.  I’ll do my best, but I’m afraid I’m going to end up repeating myself.  Secondly, it’s a little unnerving that I’m starting to get emails and calls from men telling me that reading my columns caused them to cancel their upcoming weddings.  Not just decide not to propose, but to call off an existing wedding date after the invitations had gone out.  I take this to mean that there must have been a real “elephant in the living room” that these men were unwilling to acknowledge until my pieces shone a floodlight on it.  At least one woman and her parents are very pissed at me at the moment.

        Especially heartening are the emails I’ve received from overweight people prompted by my column to try a low-carb diet.  One guy told me his goal had been 250 pounds by July 4, but had to revise that goal when he made it five weeks early!  Another confessed to being “within a biscuit” of 400 pounds, and was at 330 after two months of low-carb eating. 

        My gun snobbery got a bunch of agreement.  I’m still getting students bringing junk to the range.

        Several loyal readers pointed out that my cousin Jane Smiley is #89 in Bernard Goldberg’s new book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.  I never did hear from Jane after my column last year, but many of our relatives were startled (and in general, amused) by the vitriolic Slate piece she wrote after the election, which I discussed here.

        The column that garnered the second-most response of any I’ve written was the one about killing my dog, Molly.  Many of you related similar stories of the end of a beloved animal’s life.  One of you pointed out “Isn’t it amazing the love we can feel, and have it returned, by a creature that isn’t even the same species as we are?”  Amen to that.

        The column with the single largest response of all was my take on the prison photo scandal in Iraq.  Many of you thanked me for printing what you had only discussed privately with your wives, who proceeded to think you were crazy.  One reader had this to say:

I am an Intelligence Analyst in the Virginia National Guard and I recently returned from Iraq.  While there I was tasked with writing a daily update (classified) and an  informational paper (unclassified).  I often caught hell from my boss for what I included in these reports, and I have the counseling forms to support this!  When I included some of your comments in my occasional “Cultural Awareness” lessons, he was livid.  He lost all composure and began screaming that I had finally ‘gone too far’ and that he would have my ass for it. Just as he finished screaming (literally, as he finished) one of the senior NCO’s from one of our subordinate commands came in with some light colonel in tow and said that I was the man to talk to. 

Turns out my stuff was being read outside of the unit and my explanation of our cultural bias and the dangers of our misunderstanding the Arab mindset was very popular and widely read.  The Colonel asked if I had a collection of these observations and where did I gain my understandings of these things?  I gave him all I had, and the sources (your site included), and he left a happy man.  The Colonel sent one of his analysts by three or four times after that, and I added him to the distribution lists for my reports.  My boss never said anything else about it but I had already burnt all my bridges with him anyway.

I never understood why people ask questions they don’t want honest answers to…

       So now my stuff is being used by Army Intelligence.  Hmmmm…

        Many of you thanked me for reminding you that there were no “good old days” when everybody had good morals and no one did anything bad.  And even more others thought my AIDS piece was long overdue, given the occasional hysteria over what is, for most people, a non-issue.

        I’ll keep writing if you’ll keep reading.

John Ross 9/13/2005

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