‘The Literature of the Absurd’: Sci-Fi’s Beckett

“The Literature of the Absurd” is a mirrored image on outstanding authors within the Absurdist custom — Beckett, Camus and past — and the methods through which their writings can intertwine with life in generally shocking methods.

Spence Olham stands on the fringe of a crater within the woods, surrounded by males with weapons who inform him he’s already useless. This isn’t a determine of speech — he’s actually useless, having been killed and changed by an extraterrestrial android with faux reminiscences and a planet-destroying bomb inside its chest. Earth’s safety forces give Olham one likelihood to show that he’s harmless. As quickly as he realizes he’s not, the planet blows up.

“Impostor” is quintessential Philip Okay. Dick. The brief story is characterised by his typical sparse prose and whirlwind pacing, with the story reaching its climax and ending earlier than readers have even had a second to orient themselves to no matter extremely imaginative world Dick has all of the sudden dropped them into. It’s not certainly one of Dick’s most well-known tales (though it did get a disappointing movie adaptation within the early 2000s), nor certainly one of his most extremely acclaimed. Nevertheless it stays certainly one of my favorites for simply how unexpectedly absurd the twist ending is, after we’ve spent your entire story inside Olham’s head as he runs round making an attempt to persuade everybody (even his spouse) of the plain indisputable fact that he isn’t a planet-destroying robotic.

I learn loads of fantasy and science fiction. I’ve all the time been fascinated by the methods through which the perfect writers meticulously construct their worlds, intricately tying collectively varied actual or imagined settings and time intervals to arrange pressing, tense issues that may then be solved in methods completely per the made-up guidelines of those made-up worlds. It’s arduous for me to think about the extent of care and a focus that should go into making a world as expansive and wealthy as Tolkien’s Center-Earth or Herbert’s “Dune” universe.

Dick’s work is nothing like this. He wastes no time on flowery descriptions or elaborate scene-setting. Most of his tales kick off with a barrage of concepts, with minimal packaging. Precognition, androids, synthetic reminiscences and feelings, time and house journey, and postmortem “half-life” extension are all widespread themes in his novels and brief tales. He introduces all of those concepts within the first few pages, assumes that the reader will take all of it in stride, and will get on with the story. When expansive worldbuilders like Tolkien or Herbert do that, you realize it’s as a result of they’ve a crystal-clear imaginative and prescient for his or her world’s deep-set mysteries and wonders. When Dick does it, it’s generally unclear whether or not he has any plan in any respect.

So what makes Dick’s writing particular? Many would argue that it’s not simply his grand concepts: it’s these concepts mixed with a wonderfully grounded setting: a consequence not of these grand concepts however of the inescapable mundanity of day by day life that Dick is aware of should exist in even probably the most imaginative of tales. The protagonist of “Ubik,” Joe Chip, works at Runciter Associates, a rich company that employs mutant anti-telepaths throughout the photo voltaic system to maintain in test the massive inhabitants of telepathic “pre-cogs” and mind-readers, who would smash society for regular folks in any other case. On this high-tech universe, every thing is automated—from doorways to lights to fridges—and every thing additionally prices 1 / 4 to open or shut. It is a gentle inconvenience to most—Dick excels in creating worlds of gentle inconveniences—however Chip is inexplicably too broke to open his personal door more often than not. Whereas caught in his residence, Chip likes to sit down at his kitchen desk and have his “’pape machine,” which may give him any type of information he needs, feed him solely gossip. 

“Do Androids Dream of Electrical Sheep” takes place in a world dominated by a sinister megacorporation, the Rosen Affiliation. The protagonist, Rick Deckard, comes out of retirement to tackle the harmful job of eliminating escaped Nexus-6 androids, primarily to have the ability to afford a dwell sheep for his depressed spouse after a world nuclear struggle has made most animals extinct. In the meantime, J.R. Isidore, intellectually disabled because of the identical nuclear struggle, spends most of his time clearing away “kipple,” the gathering of unsolicited mail and different muddle that appears to develop exponentially every time he’s away.

Dick has loads of different concepts too, starting from unusual to downright terrifying. In “Move My Tears, the Policeman Stated,” parasitic sponges are used as deadly weapons, and sure medication may cause unmet folks to be transported to alternate realities. Moreover, U.S. democracy has collapsed and been changed by a police dictatorship. Underground resistance exists solely beneath former college campuses, the black inhabitants is sort of extinct and the age of consent is 12. Dick likes for his tales to happen in some miserable setting that comes on account of current-day issues taken to the intense — nationalism, consumerism, drug use. In “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,” world warming has progressed to the purpose that New York is all the time 180 levels and Antarctica is the perfect trip vacation spot.

All of this sounds very absurd certainly. It’s no surprise Harlan Ellison, one other sci-fi nice, known as Dick “its Pirandello, its Beckett, and its Pinter.” In “Androids” there’s even a faith (probably the one faith) centered round one man who endlessly climbs a hill whereas having stones thrown at him. His thousands and thousands of followers use “empathy bins” to concurrently have this identical expertise. Sound acquainted?

However to what extent can Dick’s writings be thought of absurd? Do they fall within the custom of Beckett, Pinter, and people different playwrights whom Martin Esslin noticed as persevering with the absurd custom in literature? Would Camus take into account Dick part of his educational lineage?

In “The Fantasy of Sisyphus,” Camus articulates one of many key rules for residing the type of absurd life-style that he advocates for: to him, the “absurd man” should see clearly the boundaries of his personal existence and never hope to exceed them. However he should additionally concurrently see the methods through which he can subvert these boundaries, by experiencing as a lot as one can in a single lifetime: by taking up the position of an actor who lives out a number of realities in a single life, by residing because the Don Juan who experiences many lives via his relationships, or by changing into the author, who creates many lives in his tales.

Dick not solely offers life to his characters — he goes above and past, typically creating two, or three, or 4 lives for his characters, and weaving all of them collectively into a sophisticated braid that pulls every character right into a twisted maze of confusion. Id is a central theme of his work — it’s apparent in “Impostor.” In “Androids,” Deckard hunts down androids who’re indistinguishable from people, however he spends your entire novel questioning whether or not he’s himself human. Bob Arctor, the protagonist of “A Scanner Darkly,” lives in a family of junkies infiltrated by a narcotics agent codenamed “Fred.” Fred is getting near placing Arctor behind bars, and Arctor suspects a mole, however each Fred and Arctor are unaware that they’re one and the identical particular person: a results of the mind-altering results of the drug they take. In “Move My Tears,” a well-known pop star wakes up after a hospital go to to seek out that no person is aware of who he’s; the truth is he appears by no means to have even existed in any respect. Dick is the absurd author taken to the intense.

Regardless that “Impostor” wasn’t the primary Dick story I learn, nor do I take into account it certainly one of his greatest, it’s all the time been probably the most memorable to me. When you consider it, in the event you have been killed by an alien and changed with an android with all of your reminiscences, how would you ever be capable of inform earlier than police kidnap you exterior your door? It’s clearly implausible and never value worrying over, however that’s why Dick has had the thought: so that you don’t need to. Science fiction tales are sometimes constructed on what-ifs, and Philip Okay. Dick is the king of what-if. As he plots out the lives of his characters in his grim, comically mundane doomsday settings, then overlays increasingly lives onto those self same characters, Dick covers each risk, . Even in the event you’re not a author, and even in the event you’re not a fan of extra “basic” authors like Camus, you’ll be able to get pleasure from a tantalizing style of the absurd via the brief, whirlwind tales and novels of sci-fi’s Beckett.