The devils of Paris would not shut up. They declaimed as they came, in a hundred languages, they hissed and howled descriptions of their hadal cities, and beat their claws on the sigils they wore, of the houses of the pit, and they shouted rather too often to those they hunted and killed that it was from Hell that they came, and so that everyone should be terrified.
Ubik is easily one of my favorite PKD novels: less lauded but more tightly composed than VALIS, it too makes pervasive but subtle use of Gnostic themes throughout. In his self-exegetical notes, Dick paired Ubik with The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch as stories grounded in the mechanism of the Eucharist. (In Three Stigmata the Eucharist is averse or malign–a sort of interplanetary Black Mass.) The initial science-fictional concept in Ubik is that of the “moratorium,” a medico-funerary facility that arrests brain deterioration in fresh corpses, so that the “dead” can be milked for small amounts of further interaction with their survivors; all of which opens up the question of the subjective experience of such “death,” not to mention all death, and perhaps life as well.
The characters are unusually clear, lacking the amorphousness that Dick’s psychological approach often inflicts on his protagonists, and this feature may well have been a function of his onetime development of this story as a prospective film treatment. In my dream universe, David Cronenberg has already directed a production of Ubik!
This third collection of Bone comics is the first that I have read in its original black-and-white format. I read the two previous volumes in the colorized editions from the Scholastic GRAFIX imprint. While I respect author/artist Smith for realizing his vision in the independent black-and-white comics market, and at the hazard of offending purist afficianados, I have to say that the comic is more attractive, readable, and compelling with the high-quality colors of the later reprints.
As far as the story goes, it takes a major turn in this segment: the “serious” fantasy plot about the political history of the valley, and the roles of Rose and Thorn in that history are revealed, along with more detail about their foes. None of these revelations should come as any great surprise to the attentive reader, though, and none of them are in any way contrary to fantasy conventions. All of this plot explication comes at a price, which is that of considerably less comedy. There is still a humorous parallel narrative about the Bone brothers’ return to the Barrel-Haven tavern, and the development of Fone Bone’s poetic talents continues amusingly on page 120. But on the whole, there is more action and intrigue, and less of the wry humor that was so characteristic of the earlier books.
The “Moby Bone” dream episode is supposed to be a highlight of this volume, and it certainly did its job well enough. But I thought it paled next to the more elaborate and involved dream sequences in Sim’s Cerebus.
The final page advises readers that we have reached the “End of Part One.” Even though the plot proper seems still to be barely getting off the ground, this does seem like a reasonable point to pause.
Far and away the most printed and read of John Buchan’s novels, The Thirty-Nine Steps was also made into three different films and a feature-length television adaptation, along with adaptations into other media. First published in 1915 while Buchan was working for the British War Propaganda Bureau, it is set in England and Scotland on the eve of World War I. The protagonist Richard Hannay is informed of an alleged international conspiracy, and then must flee both the conspirators and the police, since he has been framed in the murder of his informant.
Buchan classed the story as a “shocker” and it pioneered the use of tropes that have become staples of the “thriller” and “suspense” categories in entertainment, principally that of the fugitive hero. The telling is very fast-paced, over ten chapters that I think I read in a total of four or five sittings. It keeps its narrative tension right up to the final page, with a mere three sentences of denouement.
The book has hardly any women characters with proper names and none with repeat appearances. Hannay says, “A man of my sort, who has travelled about the world in rough places, gets on perfectly well with two classes, what you may call the upper and the lower. … But what fellows like me don’t understand is the great comfortable, satisfied middle-class world, the folks that live in villas and suburbs” (97). His capacities are tied into this sort of alternating social adaptability and dysphoria. I don’t doubt that many “comfortable, satisfied middle-class” readers have derived excitement over the last century from reading of Hannay’s mingling with both the elite and the impoverished in this story, and that those readers have largely been men.