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castle

It’s 1962 and America has lost WWII. The east is the Greater Nazi Reich and the west is the Japanese Pacific States.

In The Man in the High Castle, a novel by Philip K. Dick,  this is the alternate history of the world. The United States and the Allied forces lost the war. This was the novel that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction.

He was better known before that novel became a TV series for his fiction that was adapted for films, such as the two film Blade Runner films that are based on his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  That novel, set in 2021, portrays a world where another World War has killed millions and moved much of mankind off-planet. Because so many species became extinct on Earth, people cherish living creatures,  but the less expensive alternatives are very realistic “simulacra” of  horses, birds, cats – and also humans. On Mars, these androids are common and so well made to be indistinguishable from true humans.

On Earth, there is fear about what these artificial humans might do and the government has banned them. Many of them go into hiding, some live among human beings, undetected. The novels’s protagonist, Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford in the film adaptation), is one of the officially sanctioned bounty hunters who find rogue androids and “retire” them.

Dick’s fiction approached and crossed the lines of popular science fiction, the serious novel of ideas, and the reality of his time and now our present and future.

The Man in the High Castle won the Hugo Award in 1963 and is one of my favorites of his novels, but Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) published 36 science fiction novels and 121 short stories, so there is plenty of his work to read – and to still be adapted.

Castle has a “novel within the novel” structure and so there is an alternate history within this alternate history. That internal novel is titled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, written by the character Hawthorne Abendsen. (Minor Spoiler: Hawthorne is the man in the high castle) In this version the Allies defeat the Axis but not in the same ways or with the same results as the actual historical outcome. The Bible verse “The grasshopper shall be a burden” (Ecclesiastes 12:5) is supposed to be the title’s inspiration.

In season two of the Amazon TV series version, they play off the novel and the films that the “Man in the High Castle” has released that show the alternative history where the United States defeated the Nazis and Japan.  Of course, the Germans have tried to destroy all the copies of the film. In Dick’s novel plotline, the Grasshopper book is banned in the occupied U.S., but widely read in the Pacific, and its publication is legal in the neutral countries.

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy tells of  President Roosevelt surviving an assassination attempt but not trying for a third term. The next President, Rexford Tugwell, pulls the Pacific fleet out of Pearl Harbor, saving it from Japanese attack. When the U.S. enters WWII, it is a well-equipped naval power. In this version, Italy reneges on its membership in the Axis Powers and betrays them.  At the end of the war, the Nazi leaders—including Adolf Hitler—are tried for their war crimes.

Philip K. Dick (PKD) said the main inspiration for writing The Man in the High Castle was the novel Bring the Jubilee, a 1953 novel by Ward Moore of an alternate nineteenth-century U.S. wherein the Confederate States of America won the American Civil War.

The Man in the High Castle became a television series in 2015 produced by Amazon Studios that is somewhat loosely based on the 1962 novel. There have been two seasons with a third forthcoming. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can watch the series free. If not, some video from the series is available on YouTube that gives you a sense of how the series has progressed.

I know that the idea and images of the series turn off some people. My wife gave up on watching it with me. (She was creeped out right away by the version of “Edelweiss” used as the theme song.) In a 1976 interview with Philip Dick , he said he had planned to write a sequel to The Man in the High Castle, but couldn’t make any real progress because he was too disturbed by his research for the two boks and he could not mentally bear “to go back and read about Nazis again.”

He regarded the published novel as intentionally having an open ending that could segue into a sequel . He even suggested that perhaps the sequel might be a collaboration with another author:. Perhaps, the Amazon series would be to his liking.

The other books that he acknowledged inspired and disturbed him when writing the novel include The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962), The Goebbels Diaries (1948), and Foxes of the Desert (1960). He also acknowledged the influence of the 1950 translation of the ancient classic I Ching by Richard Wilhelm. That text is not only read and used by characters in his novel, but was used in its divination way by Dick himself to make decisions about the plot of The Man in the High Castle.

Two chapters of the sequel were published in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick. They touch on the Nazis using time-travel visits to a parallel world in which they lost the war, but stealing nuclear weapons from that world to bring back to their reality.

Dick said that his 1967 The Ganymede Takeover began as a sequel to The Man in the High Castle, but evolved into a new unrelated story. Some portions were used in VALIS, published in 1985, three years after Dick’s death.

Philip K. Dick’s later work turned toward deeply personal, metaphysical questions concerning the nature of God.

Eleven of his novels and short stories have been adapted to film, most notably Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly.

He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2005. His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

I believe PKD would have at least been amused by this android version of him.

I was quite charmed last year when I made my first visit to Prague in the Czech Republic. I had in my mind a Romanticized version of the city and its famed café culture. In my imagination, it was people sipping coffee on sidewalk table and talking about art and literature. When my wife and I went for coffee and dessert at the Café Imperial, it was certainly much grander than anything I had imagined.

We did find those little cafés too, so I was able to embrace my Romantic version of the city. There is also the well-documented role of  the coffeehouse in the Age of Enlightenment. These informal gatherings of people played an important role in innovation in politics, science, literature and religion.

Next year, I hope to visit the Café de Flore which is one of the oldest coffeehouses in Paris. Located at the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue Saint-Benoît, it is known for its history of serving intellectual clientele. At one time, those tables overheard conversations from existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre,  writer Albert Camus and artist Pablo Picasso.

In science, breakthroughs seem to rarely come from just one person working alone. Innovation and collaboration usually sit at the table together. We are currently in a time when, at least in American politics, collaboration seems nonexistent.

This notion is what caught my attention in an interview I heard with Steven Johnson who wrote Where Good Ideas Come From.

He writes about how “stacked platforms” of ideas that allow other people to build on them.  This way of ideas coming together from pieces borrowed from another field or another person and remixing feels very much like what has arisen in our digital age.

One example he gives is the 1981 record My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne. It is an innovative album for that time in its use of samples well before the practice became mainstream. Eno was inspired by the varied voices and music and advertising on New York AM radio which was so different from the straightforward BBC radio he grew up with in England. He thought about repurposing all that talk into music.

We call that “decontextualizing” now – in this case a sound or words taken out of context and put in a new place. But this borrowing and remixing also occurs with ideas in culture, science and technology.

Unfortunately, ideas are not always free to connect with each other. Things like copyright and intellectual property law get in the way. We often silo innovators in proprietary labs or departments and discourage the exchange of ideas.

I didn’t know that Ben Franklin had a Club of Honest Whigs that would meet at the London Coffeehouse, when he was in England and they would hang out and exchange ideas.

Johnson describes these as “liquid networks” – not so much for the coffee, but for the fluidity in the conversation. These informal networks work because they are made up of different kinds of people from different backgrounds and experiences. Diversity is not just necessary as a biological concept but as an intellectual one.

The Internet was built on ideas stacked on top of ideas. A whole lot of code and ideas are underneath this post. At its best, when I write online I am connecting, if only virtually, with other writers, artists and thinkers, and connecting literally through hyperlinks to those ideas.

I know there are “Internet cafés,” but what about Internet as a café?

 

issa

Yesterday was the birthday of Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa. He was  born in Kashiwabara, Japan in 1763. He is one of the masters of haiku.

Haiku packs so much into 17 Japanese characters in three distinct units.

Here is one by Issa that seems appropriate for Father’s Day this weekend.

if my father were here –
dawn colors
over green fields

What do the green fields of dawn have to do with is father? How would you fill in that unfinished thought “if my father were here” for your own life? The empty spaces in haiku often hold the meaning.

Issa spent most of his adult life traveling around Japan, writing haiku, keeping a travel diary, and visiting shrines and temples across the country. He was a lay Buddhist priest of the Jōdo Shinshū sect. He is known as simply Issa which was his pen name meaning Cup-of-tea.

Where there are humans
you will find flies
and Buddhas

Along with Bashō, Buson and Shiki, his poetry helped popularize the haiku form in Japan and later to the world.

O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!

He was no slacker. By the end of his life, he had written more than 20,000 haiku.

In this world we walk
on the roof of hell
gazing at flowers

Issa liked writing about the commonplace. He wrote 54 haiku on the snail, 15 on the toad, nearly 200 on frogs and about 230 on the firefly.

Everything I touch
with tenderness, alas,
pricks like a bramble.

I like Bashō’s haiku too, but he only wrote about 2000 in all

Kobayashi Issa died on January 5, 1828, in his native village.

This dewdrop world –
is a dewdrop world,
and yet, and yet…

MORE

The Kobayashi Issa Museum:Issakan in Nagano, Japan

Issa’s Haiku

books

I only discovered in the past year a little genre of books that seem to be called bibliomemoirs. These are memoirs based on books read in a lifetime. They generally will talk about how a book was read at various points in time and how the reading reflects on the person at that time and shaped their life or character.

Some titles that were mentioned online include The Unexpected Professor by John Carey, How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis, My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead, Books for Living by Will Schwalbe and Maureen Corrigan’s in Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading. The better ones, for me, are not so much book lists but true memoirs where books offer a structure to the life stories.  That kind of book follows the often given advice to writers to find the universal in the particular.

I just picked up a copy of a new one in the genre, My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. The author, Pamela Paul, looks like a college student but she is the editor of the New York Times Book Review and has four other books to her name already. Like myself 25 years earlier, she started recording what she was reading while in high school. She started with a basic Excel spreadsheet but lost it at some point and switched to a paper “Book of Books” (the Bob of her title). This new book doesn’t cover all the books she has read (thank goodness) but selects ones as chapter titles for parts of her life.

Bibliophiles will identify with this even if they don’t record all their reading or reflect in writing on them. These days I tend to just list titles in a journal and write about selected ones online (as I’m doing here). I wish I had kept a memoir of books in a kind of journal along the way, but I’m not sure that my reading has always mirrored or reflected on my life at the time.

For Pamela Paul, Swimming to Cambodia is the book that heads the section about her living and traveling in Asia for two years after college. She uses The Wisdom of the Body for the chapter about an assignment to work on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.  It’s a bit of a cheat on the idea that your life and reading run parallel. For example, she returns to the book A Wrinkle in Time as a chapter title in writing about reading with her three children and editing reviews of children’s books.

She gives all of us some credit for being writers, even if we don’t publish or publish in the traditional sense.

“Aren’t we all writers these days? We live through text. With our status updates and our e-mails, many of us spend our days writing down more words than we speak aloud. Anyone can write a book or post a story and find readers. Even those whose book reviews live exclusively on Amazon or Goodreads or in diaries or in the text of e-mails are still active creators of the written word.”

I enjoy looking back at my lists, but without commentary, the titles don’t mean as much. Looking at the posts I have written here about books, I have a much better sense of how the book fit into my life at the time. Some of those posts have some of “me” (as in memoir) in them, but some do not.

I’ve written a number of times about Moby Dick, a book I return to pretty regularly, but I don’t think I have really examined why I was reading or rereading the book at certain times in my life. That might an interesting experiment or post. Just this past week, I dipped into it again and the line that jumped out at me as relevant to this Trumpian time was “But shall this crazed old man be tamely suffered to drag a whole ship’s company down to doom with him?” 

Another book I return to is Walden. When I say “return” I don’t always mean “reread.” I sometimes only reread sections, and with a good number of books I love, like Walden, Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, A Confederacy of Dunces and others, I listen to them as audiobooks which is a very different experience (and one I now prefer). I first read Walden in high school and though it may have been for school work, I know it was at a time in my life when both the environment and the idea of getting away and writing were very much a part of my thinking.

I went through a Ray Bradbury period when I was in my early teens. I’ve written here about his Dandelion Wine as a book that certainly reminded me of earlier and more innocent summers. His novel Something Wicked This Way Comes is a novel about losing your youth and trying to hold onto it. It is a scary book I returned to when I shared it with my sons when they came to that point in their lives.

More recently, I came to the books by Marie Kondo on organizing and giving or throwing away the unneeded things in your life. Her books are mostly about real things, but her “Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is something that appealed to me literally and figuratively. They appeared when I needed to clean out junk in the cellar and garage, get rid of stuff from previous jobs and also get rid of a lot of the mental junk I have been hoarding for years.

My “book of books” would contain, like Pamela Paul’s Bob, lots of titles that really don’t connect to my life at the time when I read them. I can’t see any connection to my life at the time recently when I read The Goldfinch.  I just read George Saunders’ highly praised novel Lincoln in the Bardo and I can’t draw any parallels to my life – and I’m glad about that.

I just finished the novel 4 3 2 1 and that very long story has many connections to my life – not my current life though, but my past.  I am still sorting this one out and will write about it here some day.

Of course, like many bloggers, I have imagined that it would be great to take all my blogging and turn it into a book, but unlike Ms. Paul, I haven’t gotten to that stage yet.

The nature of Americans sounds like a title that might these days refer to how we are changing as a people. But in this case, it is more literal – about our relationship with the outdoors.

Studies have shown that although the majority of Americans say that nature is one of their most enjoyable interests, they don’t spend much time outdoors. Why is there this gap?

A new study, “The Nature of Americans,” surveyed nearly 12,000 adults and children to try to determine why there is that gap. Are there barriers that keep people from going outside?

We know that even certain smells and sounds of nature can trigger happy memories. Being in nature brings people a sense of peace. This is true for children and adults.

Youngsters in the age 8-12 range said contact with nature “made them happier and healthier.” Their parents and researchers agree. Exposure to nature promoted their physical, psychological, and social well-being.

So then why do the majority of adults spend only five or less hours a week outside? Kids ages 8-12 are only a bit better averaging 6.5 hours a week outdoors. Add to that other studies that show those kids spend more than double that amount of time indoors on computers, televisions and electronic devices.

I feel like this has been “news” for about 50 years. We know it’s good for us but we don’t act upon that knowledge.

The study found a number of barriers. Some of this is pretty obvious. Where we live, work, and go to school can make it difficult for many people to have contact with the natural world. Not many Americans depend on the natural world for their livelihoods these day either. We don’t farm or work outside. We work in buildings.

In prioritizing our lives, nature has fallen down the list. Technologies and electronic media have moved up and they keep us indoors.

People who grow up without much contact with nature tend to be adults who are uncomfortable being outdoors alone. They probably don’t have many friends who want to accompany or encourage excursions into the natural world.

Children are kept indoors by a lack of available adult supervision. KIds, including my own, are rarely allowed to wander alone outdoors in a park or woods or even in their own neighborhood.

One thing the study found is that we need to change perceptions about nature. Too many adults perceive nature as something remote and inaccessible. Getting “out into nature” means a national park or wilderness – places that are often far from home. But neighborhood parks and small wooded areas and trails are also important. And making nature experiences social by doing things like group hikes connects us to nature and people.

Some of this nature wisdom is also a natural knowledge. The study shows that children perceive nearly every outdoor place as being part of nature, but that concept fades as they grow up. Watching ants climb over the ground, fishing at a park pond, climbing a jungle gym or a tree, watching chipmunks run in and out of their stone wall home or wading in a creek and rearranging the flow by moving rocks and making boats from leaves and sticks are all great ways of being in nature.

In the book Blue Mind, the author considers in a very long subtitle “The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.” Most of us are drawn to water. Even when it’s not summer, I feel the pull of the ocean. This connection to water is also in our nature.

I read Last Child in the Woods  years ago when my sons were children and I wanted to make nature part of their childhood. Along with other books by Richard Louv, such as Vitamin N and The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age, they can introduce you to the New Nature Movement that looks to the restorative powers of the natural world. It promises much: boosting mental acuity and creativity, health and wellness and even smarter and more sustainable businesses. It is an optimistic vision in an increasingly pessimistic world.

 

                   

This earlier post is now updated to reflect the recent release of a film, The Lost City of Z, based on Grann’s book of the same name. Both tell the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett who went into the Amazon in 1925 with his son looking for an ancient lost city. They both disappeared. For decades, explorers and scientists have tried to find evidence of his party and the Lost City of Z. Since then, perhaps another hundred people have died or disappeared searching for Fawcett.

I read David Grann’s The Lost City of Z in 2010 and halfway through it I realized what attracted me to it. It takes me back to a book of my youth – The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – which was a novel I loved as a kid.  I probably read the Classics Illustrated Comic version before I actually read the book, as that was the case with many books from Treasure Island to Hamlet.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is much better known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Even if you have never read any of his fiction, you probably know a few of his stories and characters because, according to the Internet Movie Database (love that site) there are at least 215 films based on his writing.

I took out my old comic book version and also my paperback of the novel and rediscovered Doyle’s little introductory verse:

I have wrought my simple plan
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man,
Or the man who’s half a boy.

There was another book titled The Lost World which was Michael Crichton’s sequel to Jurassic Park, but I have nothing to say about that book. To me, The Lost World is the one published in 1912 and it is the fictional story of an expedition to a place in the Amazon where prehistoric animals still survive. (Hmmm, did Mr. Crichton get inspiration for Jurassic Park from it?)  The book introduced the character Professor Challenger who appears in other books by Doyle.

Exploration and lost worlds captured the fancy of the public and authors in the early part of the 20th century. In 1916, Edgar Rice Burroughs (who is better known for his Tarzan and science-fiction stories) published The Land that Time Forgot, which was his version of a lost world story. In that  rather ridiculous tale, sailors  from a German U-Boat discover a world of dinosaurs and ape-men in Antarctica.

I read all of them. I didn’t really pay attention back then to the chronology of publication. If I had noted dates, I would have realized that another one of my childhood author heroes, Jules Verne, had introduced the whole prehistoric-animals-in-the-present-day adventure story with his novel Journey to the Center of the Earth which was published back in 1864. Those explorers find a prehistoric world of people and dinosaurs inside the Earth.

By the way, you can read The Lost World as an “e-book” free online at Project Gutenberg – if you can handle reading on a screen. I can’t.

cover

Now, to get back to where this post started, the setting for The Lost World is was probably inspired by reports about British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett’s expedition to Venezuela and Brazil, in a mountain region called Mount Roraima.

The modern-day non-fiction book, The Lost City of Z , tells the tale of Fawcett who launched his final expedition in 1925 into the Amazon.

His goal was to find the fabled lost city of El Dorado, the “City of Gold.” El Dorado has captured the imaginations of kids, armchair explorers and real anthropologists, adventurers, and scientists for about 400 years – even though there really has never been evidence that it ever existed. That hasn’t stopped hundreds of expeditions from going out looking for it.

Fawcett was financed by the Royal Geographical Society in London.  It humbles me to think that at age 57 he headed out again because he really believed in El Dorado, which he called the City of Z .

He set out with only his 21-year-old son Jack and one of Jack’s friends. He wanted to travel light and fast, eat off the land, and not harass the natives. They vanished in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil.  Subsequent attempts to find Fawcett and the city have failed.

What happened to Fawcett? David Grann thinks he knows. The author is not an adventurer, but he ended up in the jungles of the Amazon to try to find an answer.

Fawcett’s expeditions inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel of a lost world. Grann wrote an earlier book, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession.

I’m not ready for any Amazon adventures, so I’m happy to follow Grann’s digging through Fawcett’s old diaries and logs for clues and doing my own armchair adventuring.

I liked that the book also deals with how in the past 40 years in Brazil alone, the Amazon has lost some two hundred and seventy thousand square miles of its original forest cover. That’s an area bigger than France. Tribes are being threatened with extinction. Many animals and plants, some we never even knew existed, are also vanishing.

Much has been lost in those jungles.

More Reading
Vanished!: Explorers Forever Lost     

The Lost City

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