Friday, June 24, 2022

Book Review: Horror Library, Volume 7 by Eric J. Guignard


Horror Library, Volume 7 by Eric J. Guignard

Paperback, 342 pages
Published March 1st 2022 by Dark Moon Books

As a reviewer, I get offers for books from time to time. I first started taking book reviews seriously around 2008 and one of the first books I had offered to me was an early volume of the Horror library. This series started by RJ Cavender at Chopping block press is a series I have always been fond of. As the series went on it passed through a few different hands one editor retired and another passed away. Sorry to hear about the loss of Patrick Beltran, but the Horror Library is now in some of the most capable hands in the indie horror publishing world.

Eric J. Guignard is one of the best eyes for short horror fiction outside of maybe Ellen Datlow, one of the things that makes him so good goes beyond taste. I  mean he has good taste and knows the Genre but through Dark Moon books he has worked hard to build a respectable database of writers to work with that are diverse in culture, race, gender, and perspective. The international voices Eric brings to his anthologies are one of his amazing strengths.

If this book can be summed up, it would be this way. A blend of established names, but lots of new voices. The stories all have a classic feel, most are short, and there are almost 30 of them. The subjects and styles are diverse as the locations that the authors hail from. All the stories were well written there were known that I hated.  But of course, I have favorites.

There are some big names, and familiar voices, among the best of those stories including the infamous Luddite Bentley Little, who often gets overlooked because he has zero internet presence. His story is one of my first favorites. ‘In the Valley’ was a fun story written in country dialect. It is a weird and interesting story, it will quickly remind you to have many established works this writer has. There is an undeniable skill. Some of the other established writers who wrote stand-out stories included a boxing tale by Gene O’Neil and a stand-out prison tale called Hand of Glory by Cody Goodfellow.

Of the authors that were new to me some of my favorites included ‘Just Keep Walking’ by Texas writer David Afshrirad. This zombie tale is written in an experimental style. It made me slow down to consider each sentence. Probably my absolute favorite was a creepy surreal stunner by Greek writer Natalia Theodoridou called ‘The Mouth.’ Samuel has a mouth to feed. Just a mouth. Better if you find out on your own but I loved this bizarro tale. Last I really enjoyed a weird one called 'The Test' by Zoe Kaplan.

Also really cool the book ends with a neat multi page artist galley the work of Allen Koszowski. All cool stuff. This is a fun book. Most importantly the Horror library tradition continues. Guignard is the right person for the job, and I expect to see many more editions.

Book Review: Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road by Kyle Buchanan


Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road  by Kyle Buchanan

Hardcover, 384 pages
Published February 22nd 2022 by William Morrow & Company


As a huge fan of the Mad Max movies, I followed every step of the 15 years of development of this movie hoping it would happen. I admit there were times I never thought we would see it as I am sure most of the people making it felt the same. As someone who reads making of books listens to commentary tracks and understands what goes into making movies I understood how crazy Fury Road is. As a movie, it is an insane updating of Road Warrior. A movie without a script, written in storyboards, and almost all action is not what you think of when you think of a feminist masterpiece but that is part of the magic of Fury Road.

Told through quotes Kyle Buchanan didn’t have to do a ton of writing but did a wonderful job of piecing together TONS of interviews with nearly everyone involved with the movie, critics, other directors, and more. That was the hard work. Plus organizing the statements and putting them together.  It is an amazing book don’t get me wrong. This is a really impressive book.

Fury Road is a movie I already loved deeply, but this makes clear the insane amount of work that went into it, and how unlikely it was. In each stage, development, filming, post-production to the surprise award season. I know this is a short review but non-fiction is not my bread and butter.
Blood, Sweat, and Chrome is a must-read for film nerds, those interested in the history of film, the filmmaking process, or just fans of the movie.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Book Review: The Last Storm by Tim Lebbon


The Last Storm by Tim Lebbon

Paperback, 368 pages
Expected publication: July 5th 2022 by Titan Books

Tim Lebbon is one of those writers for me that I trust.  The dude knows what the hell he is doing telling a story, building worlds and characters. The novel that won me over was The Silence that in 2015 was my favorite read of that year. While I was disappointed by A Quiet Place (when I saw the trailer I thought when did The Silence cast Emily Blunt?), the movie The Silence was a valiant attempt but for this fan of the novel, I just couldn’t go there. For real seven years after reading The Silence there are scenes that still haunt me. What did I say at the time…

“This novel is in the tradition of British dystopias ranging from Day of the Triffids to 28 Days Later. The Silence is a high-concept monster novel that creates terror in the reader by milking every drop of the idea. There is a moment 2/3 of the way through the narrative that was the most brutal scene I have experienced since the ending of the Mist. I knew this scene was coming, it was obvious and Lebbon gave the reader plenty of warnings. Despite all the warnings reading it still hit me like a gut punch.”

We are not here to talk about The Silence, as Tim Lebbon has a new novel called The Last Storm, but I wanted to highlight the moment I fell into the hands of this storyteller. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy as Tim is coming on the podcast, but my interest is high as a huge fan of Cli-fi, climate, and environmental horror. I mean I was nominated for the Splatterpunk award for best novel for my entry into the sub-genre with Ring of Fire. I am passionate about this sub-genre.

The sustainability of earth is my most gnawing personal fear, many of my favorite most disturbing reads include The 60s Ballard novels eco-horror novels, The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner, or The Bridge by Skipp and Spector. Stuff like that. I had to read this one. Somehow his novel Eden escaped me, I will fix that. Thank you to Tim for sending me this one and coming on the pod. (Recording soon)

The Last Storm takes the climate horror in an exciting new direction. It seems like it could possibly be in the same universe as Eden but I am not sure about that. Lebbon has always been a writer who was good at using the family dynamic to build and maintain suspense. I get the feeling that environmental fears are becoming a theme for this horror writer and of course, I think it is natural.
One of my favorite reads last year was John Shirley’s underrated Cli-fi novel Stormland. It took very modern climate fears – unending hurricane seasons and combined what he does best by adding Cyberpunk elements. It is a great novel. Lebbon does a similar trick here, by writing about a brutal climate future and giving it a personal spin. The family dynamic and some cosmic horror beasties. This was a bit shocking for me as I went in only knowing “Climate horror- Tim Leboon” (I was sold right there)

I admit for some reason I was expecting a cold realistic post-apocalypse drama like The Road. My fault. Regardless this novel is a supernatural horror novel set against an American dust bowl that is our future if we don’t start making changes. The narrative follows multiple points of view, and the rhythm of how we go from character to character is perfect. My only real nitpick is using first person in multiple points of view book sometimes takes me out of a story reading me I am reading a book. For the most part, the story and writing are strong enough that I was lost in the story, but I don’t think this will affect most readers.

Jesse is the character I would consider our main point of view. As the story really starts with him. He is living alone in the desert. He inherited an ability that makes him a folk hero in this future. He has the power to make rain appear, and this power had me thinking we were getting something like the John Farris novel The Fury or King’s Firestarter meets McCarthy’s The Road, and I wasn’t that far off.  

In this world the rainmakers have become almost mythical, reports on the internet and TV have made these people mythical. Jesse and his (ex)wife Karina scattered after one of the storms Jesse made caused destruction that included their lost daughter Ash who they believed dead. We also meet Jimi who is a soaker, who collects and sells water. He hates Jesse whose storm really messed with him. He has been seeking him for revenge. This all comes to head when Karina thinks she has seen Ash on a video and their daughter is alive and starting to make rain, this means as she grows stronger, she will eventually bring the monsters. The race is on to find Ash.

The dynamic that being a rainmaker sets up in this world is fascinating, because why wouldn’t they just bring the earth back? The problem is this magic is supernatural, the price is high. It is painful and dangerous, and in the end, it actually opens holes to other worlds filled with monsters.  That is where the cosmic horror comes in. I love the idea of the slow dusty painful climate death that creeps by inches across a dying landscape versus the wet madness of the storm hiding a dread from another reality.

Lebbon has a reputation for writing horror, but he has written lots of science fiction, even if much of that is for media tie-in franchises. He does a wonderful job with the world-building. One thing I really liked is this rare case of a post-apocalypse, that still has parks, phones, TV, cars, and the internet.

“The park itself is marked by drought. Grass is dead. A large pond contains a mere puddle of muddy water, and a few scruffy ducks pad across its oily surface. Hardy trees persist here and there, but planting beds are home to cacti and a few swathes of invasive devil grass. Even in the city people are fighting against the painful truth of change. They don’t call it the climate crisis anymore, or global warming, or any other name that might have once have been used to urge positive action. Now, this was the norm.”  
When I read a book, I dog-ear pages I want to talk about in my reviews, and in this case, most of the things I took note of were world-building, but so much of the horror of this world is the novel and a glimpse into our future. Lebbon gives us a supernatural thriller but the bones are built on the speculative horror of this future.

“The fire raged across the desert after starting in scrubland.  There are a thousand ways for such a blaze to begin: sun shining through on to a scatter of dried plants; sparks from a passing vehicle; Sometimes it’s intentional. On a landscape fried dry by terrible drought and baked day after day by a merciless sun. Fire was a demon that stalked from place to place, searching for where to settle its blazing roots.”

I want to also point out that the prose is some of Lebbon’s best. Not flowery at all but perfectly calibrated for the story giving moments of dark beauty. Several chapters end with powerful moments that hit hard. “Eight in the morning, clear sky, already ninety degrees in the shade, the world was nothing like it had been yesterday.”

That weather report is an important detail. These powerful chapter-ending shots are throughout the novel. Perfectly timed cliffhangers and gut punches at the end of chapters keep you reading.
Before I write about spoilers let me just say that I loved this novel, and had fun reading it. Like many novels the more I thought about it. I enjoyed elements I missed in my first reading. So I recommend this book for fans of SF climate horror hybrids. Tim Lebbon fans will be there. I still think the silence is a better novel to start one, but both are great.

OK spoilers…

The Last Storm is a CLI-FI novel, it has effective world-building, but it also has rich characters, and as Lebbon does so well there is a strong family dynamic. Jessie and Ash are tragic figures who have such important talents but it ends up being a curse.  This is a powerful story on many levels as a piece of science fiction it would be easy to focus on the dynamic of the rainmakers and the allegory they represent in the drought-stricken future. That is the heart of the story part of the story.

“The rain felt good,” Cee says. “Like…no rain I’ve ever felt before.”
“Fresh,” I say. “Pure.”
“Right, until it started raining blood.”

Besides being a fun Slayer reference, this is the price that rainmakers makers pay. It is the fear Ash’s family lives with. What do the creatures falling in the raining blood represent? “The fires are closing, a glimpse of hell in the rear-view mirror. The wipers smeared blood, and for the first time he wondered where it all came from, and the pain that must be suffered there to make so much.”

They represent but the ghosts of the world we have killed off. The price of returning the water to our world is the ghosts of the world humanity has killed off. The best kind of science fiction uses the future to reflect on how we live our lives today. The sad reality is it is harder and harder to write a novel about the future without grim, dark horror. This novel is a cross-genre classic. Science Fiction horror at its finest.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Book Review: Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough


Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough

Hardcover, 322 pages
Published April 2022 by William Morrow & Company

I am going to try not to repeat myself too much from my last review of her work, but I know I have many more readers now. When last I reviewed a work of awesomeness from Britain's queen of feminist thriller Sarah Pinborough it was her last book Dead to Her. Honestly, I would read a furniture catalog if it had her name on it. For those of you who do not know or have been living under a rock, SP is a bestselling author most famous for the novel Behind Her Eyes which became a Netflix series and was one of the most talked-about shows in the platform’s history.

No small feat Behind Her Eyes is miracle in many ways. It was marketed as having the most insane ending in both novel and TV streaming form and pulled off the much-debated ending. I remember when the book was released Sarah signed it at our local bookstore Mysterious Galaxy. At the time during the Q and A, I admitted as a fan of her work I was worried that the marketing was setting an impossibly high bar. Then I read the book. Like many others in the last few pages, my jaw dropped.

The other magic trick BHE pulled was completely rebooting the publishing career of Sarah Pinborough who was known for her excellent horror novels that had modest sales. Forget the sales for a minute The Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy (Forgotten Gods in the states) is a dystopian horror masterpiece that has some of the creepiest serial killings I have read almost ever. The speculative elements written Pre-Brexit are underrated, and perhaps it is time I revisit. While those three books are personal favorites probably the best novel in the Pinborough canon might be her pandemic novel The Death House released five years before the real thing.

Behind her Eyes started a new era for Pinborough who has found a sweet spot in the growing genre of thrillers for women about women. This area was made famous by Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train but Pinborough is becoming the master. She wrote a YA thriller 13 minutes that in many ways was the bridge between eyes but it was BHE that marked the new direction. As I said in the review of Dead to Her, the last book SP has created a series of subtle feminist thrillers. What do I mean by subtle, They are feminist not in a raised fist militant way fighting against the system. Sure novels like the Handmaid’s Tale for example are obvious statements against systematic patriarchy.

The last couple Pinborough novels are about the day to day death of a thousand cuts, and daily patriarchy in every way that Margaret Atwood deals with the system. Dead to Her is a book that appears to be a book about the “other younger woman” but that is misdirection and ends up sparking a very different conversation. I am sure in the wake of Gone Girl there are thousands of women trying to write the novel to inherit the tone. What made Sarah Pinborugh different is she had a long career beforehand. She had written trilogies, Fairy tale adaptations, and media-tie-in novels, and let's face it she knows what the hell she was doing. She was an English teacher, and born storyteller.

Her grasp of structure, narrative drive, plotting and subtle character moments is all top-notch. Much of the publishing industry has treated this phase like she is a new author on the scene, but you don’t write novels like Insomnia if you are a newbie.

Oh yeah, I reviewing Insomnia. I  am going to talk about this novel, but again I went in cold and suggest this reading experience. More than any of the other feminist thrillers this one leans on horror, and Sarah’s horror skills more than ever. I am not sure it is for everyone but the target audience will gobble this up for good reason.  I am not the target audience, I likely would not read this novel if I wasn’t a fan of the author. There are authors I will anything they write, and she is one of them.

Insomnia is the story of Emma, the mother of two, and it was interesting coming off Sundial by Catriona Ward because some of the dynamics of motherhood were strangely similar. Both have novels with mothers who have strained relationships, with their daughters. It was interesting back to back for me. Emma is a professional mother, a divorce lawyer with two kids, and a stay-at-home husband.  Everything seems grand until her 40th birthday approaches.

You see Emma has kept a secret all these years from her family. Her mother is not dead, but alive and in mental hospital where she has been since she went crazy and tried to kill Emma’s older sister Phoebe. This happened on their mother’s 40th birthday. Emma has dreaded her 40th birthday fearing her mind will slip too.

Suddenly 40 doesn’t seem that old to me but one of the subtle feminist themes SP is working with here is the fear of aging that many women live with. As a man I feel a little out of place talking about this, but it is the theme of the novel. 40 is one of those ages when people stop talking about their ages and don’t forget we as men are advised never to ask a woman her age.  This novel will be marketed as a thriller as they attract a larger audience but let us face the truth. Insomnia is a horror novel whose monster is a woman’s 40th birthday. Sound interesting. It is and you should read it. Considering the space the industry wants Pinborough stories to live in, it is a genius turn.

OK, last warning before I get into details…

That sense Insomnia is a paranoid feminist horror masterpiece. As the date approaches day by day, Emma loses everything through a series of plot twists. If there is a challenge to the book some of these twists are complicated, but no problem for SP. As Emma starts to lose sleep the events quickly spiral into paranoia and the reader will question her sanity just as Emma does herself. The 40th birthday becomes a monster lurking in the shadows, excellently off screen like the shark in Jaws. It is coming, stepping closer, day by day, hour by hour. Emma loses her mother, husband, her sister, and kids one at a time. The pain of betrayal building to the worst moment when she loses her job.
Lets talk about Emma’s job for a moment. There is a scene when Emma is on the phone with a man who she represented in a divorce who flirts with her. She is nice to him, even goes to dinner with him because of her job, but as wires start to fray she gets mad at him. “Why did you take the children from Miranda if you never have them?” She goes on to say “Because it smacks of sexism and the worst of the 1970s behavior.”

Emma as a character benefitted from sexism, she hurt other women in the process, but as all the walls start coming down she sees the strings of Patriarchy start to tug at her. I don’t know if SP plots these novels to craft this message or just the nature of Patriarchy worms his ugly head in. This scene is important to make a statement one of the worst things of sexism is how women end up doing it to each other. There are moments in the novel where Emma gets herself into further trouble by trusting the woman she thinks she can relate too. So that moment when Emma comforts the sexist man flirting with her is the turning point for her to solve the mystery.

One of the best moments of the book comes when Emma goes to speak to that man's wife Miranda.  Miranda talks about the fights “I expected him to behave like an adult” she’s saying “Instead I let him wind me up like some toy and play games with me that made everyone think I was crazy.” The fears of aging is not just a monster these characters fear, but the paranoia is used against them.

This makes Insomnia an immersive paranoid thriller that is deeply relatable to women that are Sarah Pinborough’s target audience. A genius work of feminist horror that will probably be overlooked for that aspect. Like Dead to Her, it provides some uncomfortable moments for us male readers, but you know what? It ain’t about us.  

Monday, June 6, 2022

Essay: Moon is more Philip K. Dick than Blade Runner by David Agranoff



Moon is a better Philip K. Dick movie than Blade Runner by David Agranoff

 Today Philip K. Dick is considered one of the most important voices of 20th century Science Fiction. That is a position Phil himself would not have believed possible in his life. In 1966, when Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was published, he was a struggling pulp writer on his fourth marriage trying to manage a $350 dollar a day amphetamine addiction. Dick was already a Hugo Award-winning author for his classic novel The Man in the High Castle, but the Doubleday hardcover of Androids didn’t seem likely to redefine the genre.

The greatest impact of the novel came with the 1982 adaptation directed by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner. Fittingly DADES was the first of Dick’s novels to get serious consideration for film. Still, the process took a decade and went through various hands before getting made. Over the years Philip K. Dick became one of the most adapted speculative authors of the 20th century with more than a dozen films loosely based on his work.

Dick worried about this in his lifetime as studios and filmmakers circled his novels and stories. “As a writer, though, I’d sort of like to see some of my ideas, not just special effects of my ideas, used.”[i]

 Dick’s ideas were used, however, beyond A Scanner Darkly, the major Hollywood productions mostly eject much of Dick’s signature styles, themes, and underlying messages. At the same time, his work has influenced the entire genre and film in general. It is clear there is a second and third-generation influence in now-classic films ranging from Dark City, The Truman Show, and of course The Matrix.   Two films just released in 2020 feel like PKD concepts. Oxygen from French director Alexander Aje was directly inspired by Philip K. Dick (the novel UBIK) and the director often said as much in multiple interviews.[ii] The film Synchronic by Benson and Moorhead had time travel drugs and a “what is reality?” narrative despite the duo not directly citing PKD as an influence.

It can be second- or third-hand influence but Dick’s impact on the genre can sometimes end up in movies that feel more Dickian than some of the movies based on his work. One of the best examples of this is 2009 British independent film Moon directed by Duncan Jones. Before we get into that we have to first talk about why Blade Runner is not the best example of Philip K. Dick’s themes on film.


The Novel Ridley Scott Found Difficult

The first time Philip K. Dick read a screenplay based on his novel DADES he threatened to beat-up the screenwriter. It was a start to a combative relationship that the author had with the various writers, producers, and directors of the film that ended up being released shortly after his death in 1982. His opinions of his own novels tended to change as often as his marriages. So who could guess what Dick’s final opinion on Blade Runner would have been?

 That first screenwriter was Robert Jaffe, who is most famous for producing Motel Hell and Fright Night. Dick was prone to exaggeration for sure, but he told the story of threatening him more than once, and that Jaffe had given him a script that was a screwball comedy.  Dick said in an interview "I said that I'd honestly prefer to buy back the property than let them make a film based on that screenplay and he was real nice about it. I gave him suggestions and he took notes and then I noticed that he wasn't actually writing, but rather he was just moving the pen about a quarter of an inch from a piece of paper that already had printing on it so that he was only pretending to take notes.” [iii]

Dick claimed that Martin Scorsese and Jay Cocks were both interested in the book, but they didn't option it. Shortly after he sold a few other options in 1975, Hampton Fancher got the option from one of the producers of The Deer Hunter. It wasn’t until 1980 when Fancher produced a serious script that it started making the rounds with a serious interest in Hollywood.

The script was good enough to get the attention of Ridley Scott who was hot off the success of Alien and looking to do a follow-up Science Fiction film that made use of his talent for visuals and design. The Fancher script added the Noir elements including the detective-style voice-over narration. The weirdest elements of DADES such as the mood organ machines that people use to implant emotions, The Mercerism religion based on empathy, and the artificial animals were gone. What elements of the novel remain in the movie are taken word for word from this first Fancher draft. [iv]

We know that is true because in the fall of 1980 Ridley Scott failed to read Dick’s novel as he famously told Omni magazine before the release of the film. [v] He went on to explain that he found the novel difficult to read to a thousand other interviewers. More importantly, he told Screenwriter David Peoples, whose unproduced (at the time) script for The Unforgiven was hot around town, not to read it. In fact, actor after actor in the cast has referred to the novel over the years as something they didn’t bother with except star Harrison Ford, who didn’t find it helpful when the movie seemed to stray so far from the source. David Peoples managed to leave huge chunks of the Fancher draft untouched but crafted it into the script for Blade Runner you would recognize around Feb. 1981.

Along the way, Dick managed to read the various drafts of the script and a had a productive yet frustrating meeting with the director. Eventually, he and Scott had it out about how differently they saw the story. For one thing, Scott always viewed Deckard as a replicant. That is in part why we ended up with the huge gulf between the themes and messages of the book and the film. Perhaps if Scott had read the novel he might have felt differently. (i)


 How Philip K. Dick was Blade Runner?

It is too simplistic to say Blade Runner has nothing to do with the novel it is based on. If you read it you will recognize characters, events, and the skeleton of a world. That is why it is a common opinion with most science fiction movie fans that the simplified cyberpunk dystopian noir of Blade Runner is often considered a rare example of the film improving on the novel. DADES is so different it is almost hard to compare. The movie has been imitated over and over in the years after but the novel is such a strange singular work that there really is nothing like it.

As a novel, DADES is a warning about our future becoming post-human altogether. In his paper The Post Human Vision of Philip K. Dick, Gilbert McGinnis argues that Dick “attempted to warn society against becoming posthuman. He wrote about the notion of the schizoid and android as prototypes for the posthuman long before anyone else. He created androids to represent people "physiologically" while "psychologically" behaving in a non-human way, which is the same as a human without empathy - the schizoid. Androids become metaphors for schizoid humans, or posthumans.”  [vi]

Consider, for a moment, the many ways the elements not included in the film explore the theme of post-humanity. In the novel, the earth has become barely livable after the events of World War Terminus. While civilization moves off earth, the desire to bring back animals from extinction drives social behavior. The ability to take care of animals and keep them alive has become a symbol of status to the point that many collect electric animals in an attempt to appear to keep up with the Joneses. A key moment in the film takes from this. When Deckard has a hard time believing that Rachel’s pet owl is real. This highlights a difference in the novel that Deckard suspects she isn’t human just because she refers to the bird as it.

While bounty hunters in the story test androids for their humanity, people control their feeling and emotions through a device called a Mood Organ. Depression and feelings of hopelessness are scheduled and dialed into the machine. Couples preset their devices to match each other before arguments. Dick appears to be commenting on his own drug use as well as on how people interact with mass media. The power of Television is expressed in the popularity of Buster Friendly whose mindless programming is meant to inspire conformity. A new popular religion uses a technology called an Empathy Box which shows them a vision of Wilber Mercer, a man who consistently falls, and his struggle is supposed to help teach the user empathy.

Professor of Philosophy Michael E. Zimmerman wrote about this in his article Authenticity, Duty, and Empathy in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? “People depend on three technical devices: the Penfield mood organ, the empathy box, and television. (Were Dick writing today, surely he would include the smartphone and social media.) The mood organ alters one‘s brain-mind so as to generate a wide variety of moods, thus offering a superior alternative to drugs. The second device is television, where, on one of the few remaining channels, talk show host Buster Friendly regales viewers with mindless banter for 23 hours a day. The third device is the empathy box, which lets users ―fuse empathically with the strange religious figure Wilbur Mercer and with everyone else simultaneously using the empathy box. Empathically fusing with Mercer reassures people that they are still human." [vii] Through the novel’s most sympathetic character J.R. Isodore, the message is clear: “I think Buster Friendly and Mercerism are fighting for control of our Psychic souls.” [viii]

While some of these moments in the novel provide for surreal humor and tongue-in-cheek satire, one should not mistake the novel as any less dark and gritty as the almost humorless film based on it. Philip K. Dick had very real fears of a post-human world. Noted science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson wrote about this in his Ph.D. dissertation on Philip K. Dick.  “Definitions of humanity become more and more difficult, until in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? it takes a complex psychological test to determine who is human and who is a machine. The interpenetration of artificial and natural is complete. Cars and doors and stoves argue with or advise their owners, while artificial humans can love, and fight for their survival. The humans in these landscapes lose contact with reality in any number of ways, withdrawing into one-dimensional, mechanical relations to the world, or using machines to help them fight such reification. The larger role Dick assigns to artificial humans in the second half of the 1960s is, once again, the result of factors both artistic and social. The complications of this natural/artificial interpenetration give opportunities for a whole range of thought experiments exploring and displaying the motif. At the same time, every one of them is a dark image or representation of what Dick felt were dark times.” [ix]

Dick himself worried about the loss of these themes in the lead-up to the film. In an interview with James Van Hise for the February 1982 issue of Starlog magazine, he made this clear. "So, you have Deckard becoming more and more dehumanized, and the replicants become more and more human and at the end they meet and the distinction is gone. but the fusion of Deckard and the Replicants is a tragedy. This is not a victory where the replicants become humanized and there is some victory by humanity over inhumanity. This is horrifying because he is now as they are... The value of it shows that any one of us could be dehumanized." [x]

Ridley Scott and David Peoples having not read the novel were so detached from the source material that Deckard in their final analysis was a replicant. In fact this became crucial for the storyline of the sequel. While there are moments in the novel where Deckard questions himself, he is very much human.

Noted Philip K. Dick biographer Gregg Rickman points out in his book Philip K. Dick on Film the major differences “Dick always insisted, in his novels as well as his essays, that the original sin of the android is to pretend they are something it isn’t. Scott’s attitude is what’s in the film – “they’re more Human than Human.” (i)

There are contradictions in the novel. Kim Stanley Robinson pointed this out. The cruel humans in the narrative do not deserve the label any more than the androids, we come to feel. There are four classes of beings in the text: Humane Humans (Isidore, and as the novel progresses, Rick Deckard); Cruel Humans (Phil Resch, Isidore's boss); Humane Androids (Luba Luft the singer); and Cruel Androids (the androids who torment Isidore).” (X)

 Scott’s film comes to a wildly different conclusion no matter which cut you see. Deckard the gun toting noir hero that, according to the direction of the sequel, is a replicant who is fine killing the other androids. This is close enough that Dick would have been happy with the movie but it is interesting to see films not based on his work get closer to the themes in his work than those adapted from his work. One of the best examples is Duncan Jones's 2009 debut film, Moon.


The Philip K. Dick elements in Moon

After watching Moon, it is no surprise to learn that director Duncan Jones was on track to get a Ph D in philosophy when the bug to make films struck him. His father was an actor, and he spent time on sets and developed the desire to make a film. His first attempt at a script would eventually become the underrated 2018 Netflix film Mute, which he cited as an homage to Blade Runner as early as 2011.  In the process of developing that movie, he developed a relationship with actor Sam Rockwell who turned down one of the roles. The duo wanted to work together and Jones created Moon as a small indie for him to play the lead role.

While many of the reviews of the film point to the theme being Philip K. Dick influenced I have yet to find an interview where Jones or the screenwriter Nathan Parker highlights the author as an influence. It wasn’t until he was doing press for Mute that Duncan Jones mentioned the author in an interview with Slashfilm. “…there was something that Phillip K. Dick said about Ridley Scott's Blade Runner when he first saw it: it wasn't a science fiction film that they had made, it was a futurist film, and that he loved that. What I took that to mean was they had made a noir thriller which, although science fiction was an element of it, it wasn't really about the science fiction. It was about the people, and it just happened to take place in a future environment.” [xi]

 Mute is a different article (one day) but both films take the Philip K. Dick approach to telling human-based stories in fantastic settings more seriously than even Blade Runner. In many ways, this is more interesting because of the influence Dick has had on the genre as a whole. This influence can be detected in storytellers with no direct experience with Dick’s prose or just the films based off of his work.

From the very beginning, Jones said in an interview with DP/30 the Hollywood oral history that they were inspired by working-class Sci-fi films like Silent Running, Outland, and Alien. [xii] Nothing is more Dickian than working-class heroes, his point of view characters are never starship captains or muscle men. Much like the moon miner Sam Bell in the film, the Dick characters have jobs like tire regroover (Our Friends From Frolix 8), Electric organ sales (We Can Build You) even ceramic pot repair, (Galactic Pot Healer)  Even Arnie Knott’s role in the Martian colony of Martian Time-Slip is as a Plumber. It is not to say that he doesn’t have spies or cops in his stories but the cops in Minority Report and DADES are described more like Emmitt Walsh than Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford.

Both Silent Running and Alien have Philip K. Dick connections as Silent Running’s director worked on the visual effects of Blade Runner and screenwriter Michel Camino’s producer on Deer Hunter owned the rights to DADES briefly in the 70s. Dan O’Bannon, co-screenwriter of Alien, was already developing two Philip K. Dick projects. The pulps of the 30s and 40s were all Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordan types, and PKD was at the forefront of putting working-class characters in Science Fiction.

Let’s look at some of the details and story elements and how they play into common Philip K Dick themes and elements. The film opens with a happy corporate-speak commercial that lays out the importance of the work that Sam does for harvesting Helium 3. This takes advantage of Director Duncan Jones's history of making commercials but also recalls the tongue-in-cheek commercials for UBIK throughout the novel of the same name. When we first meet Sam Bell he is wearing a shirt that reads “Wake me when it is quitting time.” Of course, the truth is quitting time means death for Sam in reality.

In this opening scene, Sam has a PKD-style beard and is looking rough, being at the end of his three-year contract. He is tired, lonely, and frustrated. His only partner is Gerty, the robot who runs the station. Gerty as voiced by pre-canceled Kevin Spacey communicates in a neutral voice but has a display with emoji icons. I think Dick would have liked this aspect as Gerty has no emotions and has to choose icons to display based on what his programming expects Sam to feel. Gerty eventually goes against protocol to help Sam, although it could be argued that to Gerty helping Sam is in his programming.  It was an important distinction that Gerty was very machine-like and even its emotional reactions are clearly artificial. At no point could Gerty be mistaken for a living being. Even when Sam-1 asks Gerty if he is a clone, the robot responds by asking if Sam is hungry. While this could be mistaken for concern, the robot is programmed to help the Sam clones.

Gerty is also a source for a few of the many moments of dry and dark humor. The novels and stories of Philip K. Dick are underrated for their many laugh-out-loud satirical moments. Novels like The Man Who Japed and UBIK are more obvious in their use of satire. Blade Runner is a morose movie, but Moon shares the sometimes bleak, sometimes ridiculous moments of dark humor. Duncan Jones credited this to Sam Rockwell during a Screen rant interview: “Sam Rockwell told me something on Moon when we first did it, because it was much more smooth, was much more serious, the humor in Moon was brought about really because Sam kept on telling me in order for them, in order for the serious stuff to pay off you need the humor as well.”

The horror at the heart of Sam’s story is rooted in concepts that PKD began exploring often as far back as 1953 in the form of implanted memories. The implanted memories and the short lifespans of the clones/androids in both DADES and Moon are similar. It is important to remember that the Andys (Replicants in the film) are constructed biological beings like Sam, although he is a carbon copy of the original still living Sam bell. The implanted memories are key to the functioning of the clones. They are working towards the end of the contract believing that they will be going home to a wife and daughter he has never seen.

 The concept of fake or manipulated memories were all over Philip K. Dick’s short stories of 1953 including stories like Imposter, Paycheck, The Commuter, and of course We Can Remember it for You Wholesale the story that became Total Recall. [xiii] The latter of those stories the false memories are being sold to customers as superior and better than vague missing, or inaccurate natural memories. In Moon, once the two Sam Bells are together we get a view of this when the two Sam’s recall vividly and tell each other the pieces of the story of the first time they met their wife Tess. One of the ways this false narrative is constructed is each clone is woken up and being told there has been an accident. The false memories are not just of earth and growing up but the early days on the mission.

The hobby of building the wooden village is there to distract Sam, but also to sharpen the fake memories of home. The two Sams have different relationships to the memories. Sam-1 admits to not remembering making all of it, one of the first cracks in his memory. Also, it establishes that they are different beings, even though they share memories, they are different now.  Sam-2 responds saying “That is Fairfield, the town hall.” Showing that they have the same memories for the first time. These subtle tells are also very Phil Dickian, as he liked to make reveals in very tiny details. In DADES it is the android’s casual destruction of a spider by pulling its legs, not mass murder that reveals the artificial humans lack of empathy, in Man in the High Castle[xiv] Mister Tagomi goes to an alternate reality and does nothing but scrutinize a piece of modern abstract handmade jewelry, In Flow my Tears the Policeman Said[xv], Jason Tavener knows he has been removed from reality by objects like blank record albums he performed on.

Sam-1 is in the third year of his mission, he is tired, lonely and his body is breaking down. Sam-2 is quiet and more skeptical of the situation.  In DADES, Rachel is the only Android who doesn’t know what she is because of the implanted memories. Deckard doesn’t question himself until an Android asks him if he has been tested. He says he has, but she reminds him that could be false. Rachel Rosen learns she is an android only after Deckard gives her a second test. Eldon Rosen makes a point to tell her not to be afraid of Deckard because she is their property and therefore not illegal. Andys in the novel are products as expressed by Garland when an Andy who made it to earth and posed as a police officer: “Breaking free and coming here to earth, where we’re not even considered animals. Where every worm and woodlouse is considered more desirable than all of us put together.” (viii)

Throughout Moon, Sam Bell comes to learn he is a tool of the mining operation just like any of the machines.  “It’s a company, right? They have investors and shareholders shit like that. What’s cheaper spending time and money training new personnel or having a couple of spares here to do the job. It’s the far side of the moon the cheap fucks haven’t fixed the communication satellite yet…You think they give a shit about us they are laughing all the way to the bank.”

Both Sams search for answers. Gerty allows Sam-1 to see the footage of the previous Sams getting into the sleep tubes and being recycled. In a very Dickian moment of black humor, a corporate spokesperson gives the dying Sams a final pep talk about how important their jobs are. The real evidence that the Sam clones are products like the Andys in the Dick novel comes when Sam-2 finds the room with dozens of still unborn fully grown Sams complete with their own plastic-wrapped ‘Wake me when it is quitting time” shirts.

This leads to Sam-1 driving out far enough to get a signal. There, he finally tries to call home. His grown daughter answers and gives us the final clue to know that at least 15 years and four generations of Sam Bell clones have been on the moon working. Sam-1 doesn’t give away his identity until his daughter tells him of his wife’s death. This heartbreaking moment Sam-1 asks “How did Mommy die?” leads to the real Sam Bell in the background on earth to ask “Who is this?” Sam-1 hangs up and the voice is the only real Sam Bell is seen or heard in the film.

Much is made of the film playing with what is real, but Moon is not a mystery. Anyone paying attention to details will find all the answers there. The Dickian mystery of what is real is not for the viewers of Moon but for the Sam Bell clones who refuse to accept their situation. They desperately desire to go home, but they learn that they were never real. It was implanted memories. Imagine the internal crisis of that realization. When Sam-2 comes up with a plan for escape, Sam-1 has accepted dying and wants him to be free.  Committing what Philip K. Dick considered the greatest sin of the android, wanting to be real.

In the most pivotal scene of the film, Sam-2 talks with Gerty, and they both realize for him to escape Gerty will have to erase its memories and reboot.  He asks Gerty if he will be OK? Gerty responds “Of course, the new Sam and I will return to our programming as soon as I finish rebooting.”  Sam is disturbed, walks back closer to Gerty, and tells it. “Gerty, we’re not programmed, we’re people. Understand?” Gerty says nothing just turns around so Sam can finish the job of rebooting him.

Sam-2’s escape to earth is only hinted in voice-over but in many ways, it could suggest a wider world and struggle. We know that Mute takes place in the same universe but we have no idea what legal rights these artificial humans have in this universe. Even if it is in the final moments, it is yet another theme it shares with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Moon is a haunting work of character-driven science fiction that does rely on spectacle. The strength of the film comes from the performances, the haunting score, and very Dickian themes throughout. Philip K. Dick would have likely been a fan of this film. Blade Runner is a great classic Science Fiction film, but as an adaptation of this novel, it is not as successful. In many ways, Moon represents the kind of Science Fiction Philip K. Dick wrote and feels more like one of his works than even Blade Runner.


David Agranoff is the award-nominated author of eight books and co-host of the popular Philip K. Dick-themed podcast Dickheads. His novels include the science fiction novel Goddamn Killing Machines (Clash Books) and the Splatterpunk award nominated CLI-FI horror novel Ring of Fire (Deadite Press). His non-fiction articles have appeared on, Cemetery Dance and NeoText websites. His next novel Nightmare City (co-written with Anthony Trevino) is due out in October from Grand Mal press, and his next solo novel will be published by Clash books in May 2023.



[i] Philip K. Dick on Film by Gregg Rickman, 2018 Arrow Books

[ii] Rotten Tomatoes Interview Alexander Aja

[iii] Mainstream that through the ghetto flows The Missouri Review University of Missouri Volume 7, Number 2, 1984

[iv] Blade Runner script by Hampton Fancher July 1980 draft

[v] Omni Magazine October 1980

[vi] The Post Human Vision of Philip K. Dick Gilbert McGinnis P.109 Hungarian Journal of English and American studies Spring 2018

[vii] Authenticity, Duty, and Empathy in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Michael E. Zimmerman  University of Colorado at Boulder

[viii] Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick Published 2008 by Ballantine Books (first published 1968)

[ix] The Novels of Philip K. Dick by Kim Stanley Robinson Published 1984 by UMI Research Press

[x] Starlog Magazine issue #55

[xi] 'Mute' Director Duncan Jones on His Strange And Deranged Sci-Fi Passion Project By Jack Giroux/Feb. 23, 2018


[xii]  DP/30: The Oral History Of Hollywood Interview with Duncan Jones 2009

[xiii]  The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick 2: We Can Remember it for You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick 2002 by Citadel (first published 1987)

[xiv] The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick Published 2012 by Mariner Books (first published October 1962)

[xv] Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K Dick Published 2012 by Mariner Books (first published February 1974)