“The Literature of the Absurd” is a mirrored image on outstanding authors within the Absurdist custom—Beckett, Camus and past—and the methods through which their writings can intertwine with life in typically shocking methods.
Spence Olham stands on the fringe of a crater within the woods, surrounded by males with weapons who inform him he’s already lifeless. This isn’t a determine of speech—he’s actually lifeless, having been killed and changed by an extraterrestrial android with pretend recollections and a planet-destroying bomb inside its chest. Earth’s safety forces give Olham one probability to show that he’s harmless. As quickly as he realizes he’s not, the planet blows up.
“Impostor” is quintessential Philip Okay. Dick. The brief story is characterised by his typical sparse prose and whirlwind pacing, with the story reaching its climax and ending earlier than readers have even had a second to orient themselves to no matter extremely imaginative world Dick has instantly dropped them into. It’s not one among Dick’s most well-known tales (though it did get a disappointing movie adaptation within the early 2000s), nor one among his most extremely acclaimed. However it stays one among my favorites for simply how unexpectedly absurd the twist ending is, after we’ve spent all the story inside Olham’s head as he runs round attempting to persuade everybody (even his spouse) of the apparent undeniable fact that he isn’t a planet-destroying robotic.
I learn plenty of fantasy and science fiction. I’ve at all times been fascinated by the methods through which one of the best writers meticulously construct their worlds, intricately tying collectively numerous actual or imagined settings and time intervals to arrange pressing, tense issues that may then be solved in methods completely in keeping with the made-up guidelines of those made-up worlds. It’s onerous for me to think about the extent of care and a spotlight that should go into making a world as expansive and wealthy as Tolkien’s Center-Earth or Herbert’s “Dune” universe.
Dick’s work is nothing like this. He wastes no time on flowery descriptions or elaborate scene-setting. Most of his tales kick off with a barrage of concepts, with minimal packaging. Precognition, androids, synthetic recollections and feelings, time and area journey, and postmortem “half-life” extension are all frequent themes in his novels and brief tales. He introduces all of those concepts within the first few pages, assumes that the reader will take all of it in stride, and will get on with the story. When expansive worldbuilders like Tolkien or Herbert do that, you understand it’s as a result of they’ve a crystal-clear imaginative and prescient for his or her world’s deep-set mysteries and wonders. When Dick does it, it’s typically unclear whether or not he has any plan in any respect.
So what makes Dick’s writing particular? Many would argue that it’s not simply his grand concepts: it’s these concepts mixed with a wonderfully grounded setting: a consequence not of these grand concepts however of the inescapable mundanity of day by day life that Dick is aware of should exist in even essentially the most imaginative of tales. The protagonist of “Ubik,” Joe Chip, works at Runciter Associates, a rich company that employs mutant anti-telepaths throughout the photo voltaic system to maintain in test the big inhabitants of telepathic “pre-cogs” and mind-readers, who would spoil society for regular folks in any other case. On this high-tech universe, all the pieces is automated—from doorways to lights to fridges—and all the pieces additionally prices 1 / 4 to open or shut. This can be a delicate inconvenience to most—Dick excels in creating worlds of delicate inconveniences—however Chip is inexplicably too broke to open his personal door more often than not. Whereas caught in his house, Chip likes to take a seat at his kitchen desk and have his “’pape machine,” which can provide him any sort of information he needs, feed him solely gossip.
“Do Androids Dream of Electrical Sheep” takes place in a world dominated by a sinister megacorporation, the Rosen Affiliation. The protagonist, Rick Deckard, comes out of retirement to tackle the harmful job of eliminating escaped Nexus-6 androids, primarily to have the ability to afford a dwell sheep for his depressed spouse after a world nuclear battle has made most animals extinct. In the meantime, J.R. Isidore, intellectually disabled because of the identical nuclear battle, spends most of his time clearing away “kipple,” the gathering of spam and different muddle that appears to develop exponentially each time he’s away.
Dick has loads of different concepts too, starting from unusual to downright terrifying. In “Circulate My Tears, the Policeman Mentioned,” parasitic sponges are used as deadly weapons, and sure medication could cause unmet folks to be transported to alternate realities. Moreover, US democracy has collapsed and been changed by a police dictatorship. Underground resistance exists solely beneath former college campuses, the black inhabitants is sort of extinct, and the age of consent is 12. Dick likes for his tales to happen in some miserable setting that comes on account of current-day issues taken to the acute—nationalism, consumerism, drug use. In “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,” international warming has progressed to the purpose that New York is at all times 180 levels and Antarctica is one of the best trip vacation spot.
All of this sounds very absurd certainly. It’s no surprise Harlan Ellison, one other sci-fi nice, known as Dick “its Pirandello, its Beckett, and its Pinter.” In “Androids” there’s even a faith (probably the one faith) centered round one man who endlessly climbs a hill whereas having stones thrown at him. His hundreds of thousands of followers use “empathy packing containers” to concurrently have this identical expertise. Sound acquainted?
However to what extent can Dick’s writings be thought of absurd? Do they fall within the custom of Beckett, Pinter, and people different playwrights whom Martin Esslin noticed as persevering with the absurd custom in literature? Would Camus take into account Dick part of his educational lineage?
In “The Fable of Sisyphus,” Camus articulates one of many key ideas for dwelling the sort of absurd way of life that he advocates for: to him, the “absurd man” should see clearly the boundaries of his personal existence, and never hope to exceed them. However he should additionally concurrently see the methods through which he can subvert these boundaries, by experiencing as a lot as one can in a single lifetime: by taking up the position of an actor who lives out a number of realities in a single life, by dwelling because the Don Juan who experiences many lives by way of his relationships, or by changing into the author, who creates many lives in his tales.
Dick not solely offers life to his characters—he goes above and past, typically creating two, or three, or 4 lives for his characters, and weaving all of them collectively into an advanced braid that pulls every character right into a twisted maze of confusion. Id is a central theme of his work—it’s apparent in “Impostor.” In “Androids,” Deckard hunts down androids who’re indistinguishable from people, however he spends all the novel questioning whether or not he’s himself human. Bob Arctor, the protagonist of “A Scanner Darkly,” lives in a family of junkies infiltrated by a narcotics agent codenamed “Fred.” Fred is getting near placing Arctor behind bars, and Arctor suspects a mole, however each Fred and Arctor are unaware that they’re one and the identical particular person: a results of the mind-altering results of the drug they take. In “Circulate My Tears,” a well-known pop star wakes up after a hospital go to to search out that no person is aware of who he’s; in reality he appears by no means to have even existed in any respect. Dick is the absurd author taken to the acute.
Although “Impostor” wasn’t the primary Dick story I learn, nor do I take into account it one among his greatest, it’s at all times been essentially the most memorable to me. When you consider it, should you have been killed by an alien and changed with an android with all of your recollections, how would you ever be capable of inform earlier than police kidnap you exterior your door? It’s clearly implausible and never price worrying over, however that’s why Dick has had the thought: so that you don’t need to. Science fiction tales are sometimes constructed on what-ifs, and Philip Okay. Dick is the king of what-if. As he plots out the lives of his characters in his grim, comically mundane doomsday settings, then overlays an increasing number of lives onto those self same characters, Dick covers each risk, unexpectedly. Even should you’re not a author, and even should you’re not a fan of extra “basic” authors like Camus, you may get pleasure from a tantalizing style of the absurd by way of the brief, whirlwind tales and novels of sci-fi’s Beckett.