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Psychedelic SF

There's a book recommendation thread over in the Psychedelic Salon Forum at the GrowReport.com.  Here's something I posted there.  I  did not include links to the C-Realm Amazon store in that entry because I thought that might be looked upon as bad form, given that it was in a forum devoted to somebody else's show, but since I took the time to craft the post, I might as well add the recommended items to the C-Realm Store and re-post the whole thing here.

Originally Posted by Entheogenic Scientist:
In Cosmic Trigger Robert Anton Wilson recommends a book called The Sirian Experiments by Doris Lessing. When someone like Robert Anton Wilson recommends that I read something I take notice.


Now both these books are what would be called science fiction books and I’m not a huge reader of science fiction but they absolutely blew me away.
I'm a huge fan of science fiction, though I read very little of it these days. After reading Entheogenic Scientist's entry about Doris Lessing, I went and read her Wikipedia entry which contains the following:

Lessing's switch to science fiction was not popular with many critics. For example, in the New York Times in 1982 John Leonard wrote in reference to The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 that "One of the many sins for which the 20th century will be held accountable is that it has discouraged Mrs. Lessing.... She now propagandizes on behalf of our insignificance in the cosmic razzmatazz." To which Lessing replied: "What they didn't realize was that in science fiction is some of the best social fiction of our time. I also admire the classic sort of science fiction, like Blood Music, by Greg Bear. He's a great writer."

I agree with Lessing's point about SF in general and Blood Music in particular. Blood Music describes the advent of a biotech singularity, and Greg Bear wrote that book (expanded from a short story which I happened to read in a pulp SF magazine when I was a freshman in high school) a solid decade before the term entered popular discourse. The word "singularity" does not occur in either the short story or the novel.

The singularity event that Greg Bear describes springs not from mankind's unlocking and mastering of the secrets of the universe nor from the development of artificial intelligence. It results from the short-sighted tinkering with the awesomely complex, powerful, and already existing nanotechnological machinery within every cell of the human body. It depicts the singularity not as a triumph of the rational mind but as an event that lays bare the arrogance and tunnel vision of that mindset.

Given its age, one might think that the novel would be so dated that its only appeal would be a sort of quaintness or a nostalgia for yesterday's tomorrows. The short story was published in 1983 and the novel in 1985, but aside from the fact that computers and cell phones have funny names in the story, it's easy to forget that this is a story that pre-dates the world wide web. It is a fantastic book and one I can't recommend highly enough.

Other mind-blowing and definitely psychedelic SF works I recommend:

Dawn by Octavia E. Butler (This is the first novel in Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy which is now available in one volume called Lilith's Brood.) This is the story of human/alien symbiosis which brings humans back from the brink, kicking and screaming, in the aftermath of a nuclear war. The aliens in this work are truly alien, and also benevolent and loving, but they are so unlike us that humans are at first universally viscerally repulsed by them but soon become physically dependent on regular physical contact with them.

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolf (This is a series of four books that is published in two volumes, the first of which is called Shadow & Claw.) Gene Wolf has been called America's Borges. Not having actually read any Borges myself I can't say if that holds up, but here's a taste of what this marvelous book holds in store for you:

"No intellect is needed to see those figures who wait beyond the void of death - every child is aware of them, blazing with glories dark or bright, wrapped in authority older than the universe. They are the stuff of our earliest dreams, as of our dying visions. Rightly we feel our lives guided by them, and rightly too we feel how little we matter to them, the builders of the unimaginable, the fighters of wars beyond the totality of existence.

The difficulty lies in learning that we ourselves encompass forces equally great. We say "I will" and "I will not," and imagine oursleves (though we obey the orders of some prosaic person every day) our own masters, when the truth is that our masters are sleeping. One wakes within us and we are ridden like beasts, though the rider is but some hitherto unguessed part of ourselves."

While it's not obvious without a very careful reading, the world depicted in the Book of the New Sun is Earth (Urth) of the far future in the aftermath of a technological singularity in which god-like AIs built an incredibly complex technological society and then left the scene. Humans had become so dependent on the machines that basically everyone had their own private language, and their AI caretakers mediated all of their interactions with the society, and when the AI caretakers took their leave of Urth it was like the fall of the tower of Babel; a society in chaos because people can no longer coordinate their actions. At the time the story takes place, people speak a common language, but they live a pre-industrial lifestyle amid the long-silent architecture of a hyper-advanced civilization with all manner of bio-engineered and alien plants and animals. It's written in a fairly dense style, but those who read enough to catch its grove will have their minds blown.

Finally, I would direct your attention to 334: A Novel by Thomas M. Disch. This is a novel about what life is like in an over-populated society in the near future in which a kinder and gentler Kafkaesque bureaucracy does its sphexish and ham-fisted best to keep people fed, housed, and happy. There is a huge divide between people who are educated and have careers and the vast majority who live on the dole and lead shallow lives devoid of ambition or self-improvement. Most of the lower-class characters in the novel live in a public housing project at 334 East 11th Street, in Manhattan.

In one chapter of the book, a woman leads a double life. There is a popular drug that runs throughout the book that is most often mixed with coffee or mixed with a combustible leaf (I honestly don't remember if it was pot or tobacco - it's been many years since I read it), but some people take it straight. When you take the drug by itself you enter into an alternate reality. People who take it without any preparation enter a fantasy world that is a pastiche of things seen on TV, but many people who decide to start taking the drug first immerse themselves in the study of a specific historical period. Then when they take the drug, they enter a world informed by their study. The character in the book who takes the drug enters the world of the Roman empire in the year 334. I have only read the book once, and that was in the late 80's (it was written in 1972), but it's the kind of book that stands out in my mind after nearly two decades as one of the more memorable novels I've ever read.

That's the end of my post at the Grow Report, but I'd like to throw in one more: Freeware by Rudy Rucker.  Here's the review of the book that I posted to Amazon.com on 8 December, 1999:

I loved this book. It's light in style and narrative structure, and Rucker doesn't take himself at all seriously. Rudy Rucker is a brilliant mathematician and science fiction writer, and his protagonist, Randy Karl Tucker, is an uneducated redneck, whose primary passion is for sex with artificial life forms that smell of cheese. Other characters include a down-to-earth California surfer girl who, along with her stoner mathematician husband, runs a fleabag sea-side resort in the autonomous nation of California, the head of a corporate empire who made his fortune selling burgers made from the cloned flesh of his half-human wife, and a delightful host of "moldies," artificial life forms with the power of gods, short lifespans, and generally no other ambition than to buy enough of the expensive high-tech goo of which they're made to form a child to perpetuate their own software.

This book is an absolute gem.

By the way, if you don't already know what KMO stands for and you don't want to know, don't click on the Freeware link.



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2008 04:49 am (UTC)
The Sirian Experiments is a really important series. It is a tragedy that anyone ever thought any less of her for her writing in this genre. They are still very timely novels.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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