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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Discussing Published Hooks & Books » Do androids . . .?

Author Topic: Do androids . . .?
Grumpy old guy
Member # 9922

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I am ashamed to admit that I've never read any of Philip K Dick's works. I have seen all of the films based on his stories; and there are a surprising number of them, but I haven't actually read the source material. It is an interesting memory of mine of watching The Twilight Zone and being captivated by one story that I later found out was titled: We can Remember it for you Wholesale; later re-told twice in movie form as Total Recall.

Anyway, I don't want to give you my opinion of this "First 13" right away; I'd like people to crit it first, as if it were a submission from a newbie.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard. Surprised - it always surprised him to find himself awake without prior notice - he rose from the bed, stood up in his multicoloured pajamas, and stretched. Now, in her bed, his wife Iran opened her gray, unmerry eyes, blinked, then groaned and shut her eyes again.

"You set your Penfield too weak," he said to her. "I'll reset it and you'll be awake and - "

"Keep your hand off my settings." Her voice held bitter sharpness. "I don't want to be awake."

He seated himself beside her, bent over her, and explained softly. "If you set the surge up high enough, you'll be glad. . .

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Member # 1818

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Okay, I'm a huge PKD fan, and I really love this book, but I'll try to critique this 1st 13 without bias.

The language is clunky. Could definitely use some cleaning up and smoothing out.

The mood organ is pretty cool. When I first encounter it in sentence one, it's confusing, but I appreciate how he makes it clear what it is without exposition.

The nastiness of his wife spices things up a bit.

Honestly, looking at just this opening, by typical Hatrack standards, I would grade this "wouldn't keep reading."

But that would be a bad decision, because I would miss out on a pretty mindblowing novel by a master.

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Grumpy old guy
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You forgot cliched 'waking up' opening as well, wetwilly.

That's not necessarily what I think, but it's what most Hatrackers would say.


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Robert Nowall
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For many years, it was the only one of his novels I read---but I was way too young to appreciate it. (Why I picked it up at that young an age I can't say---probably the title.)

Not that it ranks among my favorites now, though I have reread it a couple of times...not that I've read that many others...but many of his short stories certainly do.

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Member # 8019

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A mood organ, presumably a synthetic mood altering device, jolts a man, Deckard, awake with a "merry little" electrical stimulation. Deckard wants his wife awake, too, She doesn't want to wake. They clash about her waking.

The title evokes several possible if not all idiomatic connotations of sheep's symbolic representations: sleep foremost -- counting sheep to quell manic bedtime thoughts, Somnus, the Roman god of sheep, and from which the term somnambulism derives; sheep as a wayward-tending flock that needs the supervision of a shepherd's strong guidance; sheep as livestock pastoral wealth -- the pastoralism of simple, noble livelihoods, and the zoophilia connotation.

The dread waking-up opening is somewhat mitigated by connections to the title's sheep and dreams. How androids and dreams of electric sheep connect to waking from sleep implies waking from the dream world of sleep, from a sleepwalking life of ignorant bliss, from a life of a clockwork automaton. An electric sheep implies an unnatural being similar to an android, a machine. An exquisite use overall of implication and a title to fulfill exposition's necessary setting forth of the theme and meaning of a writing.

The title does much to start engagement through mystique and mystery, possible theme and meaning of the whole setup, that then the waking-up scene segment opening implies are connected.

A mood organ, likewise, evokes the solid-state transistor music synthesizers designed in the late '60s, by Robert Moog and manufactured under his surname: Moog synthesizer. The connection, though tenuous, evokes an image of a piano keyboard with case and an onboard "sound font" catalog of mood music in digital memory. Muzak-like, banal elevator mood music meant to soothe waiting times and soon became annoying. Perhaps Dick was influenced by the above. Powerful sensory evocation, to me anyway.

The waking-up segment is banal, too, though entails a clash of moody wills, suggests a pendent routine interruption, and evokes emotional disequilibrium. The segment is an event sequence emphasis, too, distinguishable by the first sentence's location of Deckard's name introduction in sentence object position. Through setting and event details is Deckard's character development artfully begun.

Although, the first sentence is a run-on train wreck.

Next, an artless sentence fragment "Surprised --" Next, an artless repetition of the word "surprised" in an emotionally forced emphatic mood sentence. Surely Deckard isn't always surprised by the merry little wake-up of the mood organ's electric jolt. Maybe at some time he might not be surprised, maybe annoyed, maybe pleased. In any case, "surprised" is a crude understatement, perhaps ironic; a stronger emotionally charged term could clarify and strengthen the intent and meaning and not then repeated blandly and forced. Delighted and always wowed, for example.

The second sentence also contains a sentence expletive pronoun: "it." More missed opportunity for stronger and clearer expression.

The second and third sentence's clauses are too similar of syntax: triplet action event sequences. Each sentence entails similar adverbial first words, parenthetical asides, main clause. Artful echo, though, between the third sentence's "unmerry" and the first sentence's "merry."

The third sentence, though, needlessly opens narrative distance. The first two sentences close into Deckard's vivid and lively sensory perceptions, tactile, and visually evoked setting of the first, thought reaction of the second. The third pulls back to an unevocative summary of a generic individual disturbed from sleep. Though, again, "unmerry" implies an ironic thought reaction of Deckard's. Stronger and clearer emotion signals are warranted to strengthen and clarify the irony, at least, if not show the wife uniquely how Deckard feels about her and what seems to be a faltering relationship.

Next, the dialogue slips into scene mode. A rushed back-and-forth abrupt seamed transitions' sequence between internal viewpoint agonist, narrator, and external perceptions of the viewpoint agonist that shows the writer's hand on the keyboard: unsettled voice, though a slight more artfully managed than average self-publication par.

The dialogue attribution tag: "he said to her." extraneously provides stage direction, again, shows the writer's hand. Of course, if he spoke aloud, he speaks to her. Unnecessary.

"Her voice held bitter sharpness." tells the emotional texture of the wife's speech. The obvious intent is to attribute the speech to the speaker, though through an emotional tell, tells readers what the emotion is instead of shows the emotion. A missed opportunity to use a more artful show method, of, say, the wife's bitter annoyance. An emotionally charged word in the first sentence to modify "hand" would serve, congruent to the theme of moodiness perhaps: an emotionally charged color name maybe, or an epithet, or a temperature -- blue, gorilla, cold. That would then set up for an action event or setting detail attribution between the dialogue sentences that shows a mite of the wife's character and furthers Deckard's character development, plus setting development, like the wife's limbs knot the satinet bedsheets.

"He seated himself beside her, bent over her, and explained softly." Again, a lackluster triplet action event sequence. Plus another unwarranted stage direction: "softly." "Explained" is an overt narrator tell, explains explained. In any case, Deckard cannot observe himself sit, bend, nor explain softly. A narrator tell pop-up mid scene mode that shows the writer's hand.

The several standout evocations might induce me to turn the page. The lazy writing habits, though, signal to me the reading experience will be a bumpy ride on a cobbled road.

Of course, by the way, I've read and studied the novel, viewed and studied the film adaptation, both numerous times, other Dick works, Dick's autobiography and biographies, literary commentary about the novel and Dick's writing overall, and commentary by Dick about his writing. In short, I've studied Dick. But for the intermediate-level writing habits, the explorations and discoveries of the human condition Dick portrays would be cosmically stellar.

[ June 27, 2015, 11:56 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Well, I guess some people may be waiting for my own opinion on this. So, here goes.

I spotted this as I was browsing a bookstore; yep, you know those tired, old things that used to be everywhere. Anyhwho, there I was and there it was, so I decided to take a peek.

As I read the opening lines I really wondered what all the hoorah was all about, I mean the writing was clunky and, well, stodgy. I read to the end of the first page then put it back on the shelf and walked away.

When I got home, about twenty minutes later, I looked for the book on-line and found a pdf copy free to download--so I did. I opened it up and started reading again and was suddenly struck by a revelation: He had an awful lot to say in those first few lines and that first page.

I guess it was this fragment that convinced me to look deeper into what he put on the page:

"Surprised - it always surprised him to find himself awake without prior notice-"

Despite the double use of 'surprise', it does make you wonder how you get prior notice that you're waking up?

But prior to that there's mention of a mood organ; a what? Well, right at the end of the thirteen lines, as if he'd done it a-purpose, we get this:

""If you set the surge up high enough, you'll be glad. . ."

All of the dialogue leading up to this point hints at a milieu where you can adjust your own mood to suit the requirements of the day; sort of like taking speed or downers depending on what you want to do. Further on, this becomes more pronounced; a society where the only things people feel is what they manufacture artificially. God forbid that you should have an honest emotion or feeling.

And, as extrinsic pointed out, the counterpoint of unmerry to merry is artful.

Dick doesn't tell us anything, he shows it to us through the narrative and dialogue. Is it a cliche waking up opening? Definitely not. Yes, he wakes up, in his bed as he usually does, and the day unfolds as it normally would; he hasn't suddenly found himself in a strange place with strange things happening.

In what I have read of this book he quickly develops both character and milieu through argumentative dialogue. And, as always, he speaks directly to aspects of the human condition. I guess that's why so many of his stories were made into films.


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