Happy Birthday to Abe Vigoda

Publicity photo of Abe Vigoda and Florence Sta...
Publicity photo of Abe Vigoda and Florence Stanley as Phil and Bernice Fish from the television program Fish. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Still not yet dead, Abe Vigoda turns 92 today, Sunday, February 24th.

Vigoda's first movie was The Godfather, although before that he played Ezra Braithwaite on the original scary soap opera Dark Shadows.  Of course, he etched himself into popular culture as Detective Phil Fish on "Barney Miller" and subsequently on his eponymous spin-off series, "Fish"

He was, at one time, declared dead:
Abe Vigoda found out he was dead in 1982. He was doing a play in Calgary, Alberta, while a People magazine writer visited the "Barney Miller" wrap party in Los Angeles, California.
"The Godfather" was Abe Vigoda's first film -- and more than 35 years later, he's still around to enjoy it.
"Somehow it mentioned in the article that 'the late Abe Vigoda' was not [there]," Vigoda recalls.
The error was corrected, but the damage had been done. 
"I'm still quite [involved]," he says.

Now, this site, http://www.abevigoda.com/, shows his status in Internet time.
Currently: "Abe Vigoda is alive"

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Spam Injected Philip K Dick

The things that spammers do to try to fool search engines sometimes boggles me.

Here's an example. I was reading Philip K Dick's novel "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said" and there's a section where the titular policeman makes a voice print of Jason Taverner. Here's the passage:
After the recording of the footprint he spoke the sentence, "Down goes the right hut and ate a put object beside his horse." That took care of the voiceprint. After that, again seated, he allowed terminals to be placed here and there on his head; the machine cranked out three feet of scribbled-on paper, and that was that. That was the electrocardiogram. It ended the tests.
I was curious whether PKD based the voice print sentence on anything rooted in reality, or whether he was just imagining words with various tonal characteristics.  So, I searched for the literal sentence in google.

The first couple of links were legit, but the rest had an odd feel, even for Dick.  The subject in the sentence had been replaced with a product.  It's almost as if I'm flashing back to Tom Cruise in "Minority Report" as he walks through the mall where the ads recognize him.

Is this an SEO trick? (Search Engine Optimization) Do readers of Philip K Dick like to buy Coach bags and Ugg shoes? Does it work? I didn't click on the links.


We Can Build You by Philip K Dick (1972)

The plot of “We Can Build You” is like cutting cookies in the snow on the football field at school. You get in the car, rev up the engine, and take off fast, swerving out of control. It’s kind of cool, but also makes you kind of queasy. When you’re done it’s a huge mess.

Dick is on record saying two things about his writing: first, that he wrote most of his novels before 1974 on amphetamines, and second, that he rarely revised. This novel is proof of both. It's written as if in a stream of consciousness, almost automatic writing a la Gertrude Stein.

The bare bones plot is this: a company that makes "mood organs" finds their sales lagging, and at the direction of Pris Frauenzimmer, the owner's daughter, they create a simulacrum of Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. They try sell the US Government on the idea of staging educational Civil War re-enactments using their androids, but it's a no-go. Meanwhile, they create another simulacrum, one of Abraham Lincoln himself.

A sort of Bill Gates character - a millionaire who lives in Seattle named Sam K. Barrows - hears of their idea and wants to use the sims to provide neighbors for the people who buy his real estate on the moon. Meanwhile, the narrator, Louis Rosen falls for his partner’s daughter Pris, who has just been released from the national sanitarium in Kansas (since the McHeston Act passed it has been illegal to have mental problems). Rosen attempts to woo her, but she becomes more Machiavellian, as the simulacra become more human-like. The Stanton simulacrum defects and joins with Sam Barrows, and then Pris sets up a business deal where the two companies will merge, but instead she also defects.

In his burgeoning mental instability, Rosen imagines himself to be a simulacra, and then has an utter and complete breakdown and is committed to the Kasanin clinic in Kansas. During his therapy sessions he slowly regains sanity through induced hallucinations where he spends a happy lifetime with Pris. Just as he’s restored to a stable state, Pris appears in the hospital and he tries to convince her of their happy life together, but she drifts further into the hospital as Rosen is released.

It's almost as if Dick was following whatever idea he had at the time, then moving onto the next idea. People who think they're androids? Check. Androids who think they're people? Check. Simulated neighborhoods on the moon? Check. Drug-induced false realities? Check.

This novel is as schizophrenic as the characters. Dick can’t seem to decide on one name for anything. Pris Frauenzimmer is the daughter and the name of the company is Frauenzimmer Piano Company. Later, though, it cycles through other names: Rock & Rosen Associates, Rosen Electronic Organ Factory, The Rosen Spinet Piano & Electronic Organ Factory, Frauenzimmer Associates, and even MASA Associates.

Of course, Pris Stratton is the android sought by Deckard in "Do androids Dream...?". According to Dekard, Pris looks just like Rachael Rosen, who is ostensibly the niece of Eldon Rosen, the president of the Rosen Association, fabricator of androids. In "Do androids Dream...?" they also have mood organs, although the model owned by Deckard is a Penfield, not Hammerstein.

Although Earth is depopulating in "Do androids Dream...?", another of PKD’s novels, “The Simulacra,” is set fifty years or more later. In that book the company that's hired to build the new "der Alte" is Frauenzimmer Associates, run by Maury Rosen. Is this an alternate world version of Maury Rosen from “We Can Build You”?

I often wondered if Dick had gotten the idea for this book when visiting the animatronic Lincoln at Disneyland under the influence of drugs, but apparently he wrote most of the novel before Disney’s Lincoln. Although it was published in 1972, he initially wrote it in 1962, and it was serialized in “Amazing Stories Magazine” in 1969. As for Disney’s Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln: “The first Audio-Animatronics version of Lincoln debuted in 1964 at the New York World's Fair. The show was so life-like that National Geographic magazine called the figure "alarming" in its realism. The smash hit moved to Disneyland Park in 1965.”

Despite the chaos in this book, there are some interesting parts, worth reading. Theodore Sturgeon said this of the book: “WE CAN BUILD YOU proves for all time that: 1) Philip K. Dick is overwhelmingly competent and capable and might – probably will –produce a major novel and that: 2) this isn’t it.” This is the only first-person narrated novel by PKD. One thing I discovered while googling this book is that the mosaic in the bathroom that Pris is working on in chapter 3 is essentially the same thing that Anne Dick put up in their Point Reyes home, and it’s still there. And I also found more evidence for what I believe are I Ching generated names: the housing project on the moon is called Green Peach Hat, a codeword for Gracious Prospect Heights. Both of these phrases sound a lot like the Pretty Blue Fox and Straw Man Special groups in “The Game Players of Titan.”

Given all this focus on simulacra, I have to mention perhaps the oddest example of life imitating art with regard to Philip Dick. In 2004, Andrew Olney, a programmer, and David Hanson, an independent roboticist, attempted to make an android that would look, talk and respond in the manner of Dick himself. PKD left a lot of written and recorded material, so they had good sources to start with. Or, perhaps, with Dick’s eccentricity, they had a good bad source to start with. According to an article in Wall Street Journal:
“The android was prone to verbal loops, in which it would keep responding to one question long after others had been asked. Anyone, however, who has tried to read Dick's strange, posthumously published testament "Exegesis" (2011), a sampling from his hallucinatory diaries, will know that he was just like the android. The android also responded tangentially, or perhaps cheekily, to questioners like the unfortunate president of the University of Memphis, who had come to see what the geeks were doing. ("Are you a man or a woman?" the android Phil asked. "Do you have any conditions I should know about?") Yes, that's what gurus do as well. Building the artificial PKD seems to have given its creators insights into how biological brains work.”
Unfortunately, Hanson accidentally left Dick’s android head in a plane’s overhead storage compartment, and it has never been seen again.

Bottom line, there’s a good reason it took nearly ten years before this story was published. Dick was probably working out a lot of ideas while writing “We Can Build You,” but luckily he revisited most of them again in more polished works. Despite other reviews that call this a major work, I’m sticking with Sturgeon’s assessment.

From the back of the 2008 HarperVoyager edition:
Maybe going into android production wasn’t the obvious step for a firm devoted to the manufacture of pianos and electric organs, but business was slow. It was a creative leap, and one suggested by Pris Frauenzimmer. Pris had been a schizophrenic -- but that didn’t mean that there was anything particularly wrong with her idea.
It would also mean a new owner: millionaire tycoon Sam K. Barrows, a man with a vision to colonise the Moon and the money to make it happen. Fake people, especially famous fake people, would make the place an attraction, and real estate value was sure to sky-rocket. All they had to do was to stop the androids from losing their minds...
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"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K Dick

I’m assuming that most people who read this will have already seen the movie “Blade Runner”, and so they will know the basic plot of Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Some of the details are glossed over in the movie, but the background is that Earth's ecosystem has collapsed after a militarized dust sweeps over the world, killing most of the animals. Most of the eligible citizens have emigrated to Mars or other planets, leaving behind a sparse population, mostly of marginal people who suffer from brain damage, or other genetic impurities.

Bounty hunter Rick Deckard is tasked with hunting down six Nexus-6 androids who have escaped on Earth. He wants to use the money from the job to replace his artificial sheep with a real animal -- maybe an ostrich or a horse. In this future animals are so scarce that it’s a status symbol to own one, especially a larger animal, and even a small spider is revered. People like Deckard, who have no animal, buy artificial replacements.

“Do Androids Dream...?” can be read on two levels. The story could be about civil rights, with the androids as second class citizens, sent to slave labor in off world colonies, and hunted down and “retired” when they escape. The simulacra are the black slaves of the future.

Alternately, the story is about seeking empathy across all beings. The androids can't express it, while the fading human population grasps for it. Throughout Dick’s work he often used androids as a way of indicating a schizophrenic break from reality. For example, the scene in “Martian Time-slip” where Jack Bolen visits his son’s school and remembers his own psychotic break where he saw everyone as androids. Maybe this was a metaphor that Dick really liked, and so he stuck with it, or perhaps he had experienced something like this in his own mental illness, and drew his writing from personal experience.

Nowhere in the book does the phrase "Blade Runner" occur, but it's worth comparing the book with the movie. There are many things omitted from “Blade Runner” that are central to the novel. For example, the secular religion of Mercerism based on a shared empathy. In Mercerism, people connect using an Empathy Box to become Wilbur Mercer, a Sisyphean soul who is doomed to climb a hill while being pelted with stones. As people use the box to connect with Mercer, and share the torment with everyone else using their Boxes, they are united in purpose, so that the joy or suffering of one contributes to the joy or suffering of all. One character describes Mercerism: “Wilbur Mercer is always renewed. He's eternal. At the top of the hill he's struck down; he sinks into the tomb world but then he rises inevitably. And us with him. So we're eternal, too."

Opposite to Mercerism is The Buster Friendly Show with its 46 hours of entertainment per day. This government-sponsored talk show on TV and radio is an eerie precursor to the cable TV shows we can see today. Buster keeps up a constant dialog with his regular stable of guests, but also subtly undermines Mercerism. One character thinks that Buster Friendly and Mercer are in a competition for the minds -- the psychic selves -- of humanity. This is the balance between following a higher calling, and focusing on the day-to-day aspects of our lives.

Interestingly, "Do Androids Dream...?" intersects with the world of "We Can Build You," occurring years after the founding of the Rosen company. In “We Can Build You” the Rosen company is making musical organs of some kind, but decides to branch out to make simulacra. Now, in “Do Androids Dream...?” the Rosen Association is the leading producer of androids. Evidently the organs have been spun off into a subsidiary enterprise, since Deckard has a Penfield Mood Organ alarm clock -- a machine that helps him into the correct mood for waking, resting, or fighting with his wife.

The movie also dropped Iran, Deckard’s wife, with whom he has a rocky relationship. The friction in their lives isn’t made any better by Deckard’s decision to have an affair with Rachael Rosen, who is more evidently an android in the book. Even more complicated, Rachael is the same model as Pris, one of the androids Deckard needs to retire. In a twisted version of the Kill-Marry-Screw game, another bounty hunter gives his advice to Deckard:
“Don’t kill her...and then feel physically attracted. Do it the other way.”
Rick stared at him. “Go to bed with her first--”
“--and then kill her,” Phil Resch said succinctly. His grainy hardened smile remained.

My favorite part of “Do Androids Dream...?” that’s only hinted at in the movie is the kipple.
"Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday's homeopape. When nobody's around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there's twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.""I see." The girl regarded him uncertainly, not knowing whether to believe him. Not sure if he meant it seriously.
"There's the First Law of Kipple," he said. "'Kipple drives out nonkipple.' Like Gresham's law about bad money. And in these apartments there's been nobody there to fight the kipple."
"So it has taken over completely," the girl finished. She nodded. "Now I understand."
"Your place, here," he said, "this apartment you've picked -- it's too kipple-ized to live in. We can roll the kipple-factor back; we can do like I said, raid the other apts. But --" He broke off.
"But what?"
Isidore said, "We can't win."
"Why not?" The girl stepped into the hall, closing the door behind her; arms folded self-consciously before her small high breasts she faced him, eager to understand. Or so it appeared to him, anyhow. She was at least listening.
"No one can win against kipple," he said, "except temporarily and maybe in one spot, like in my apartment I've sort of created a stasis between the pressure of kipple and nonkipple, for the time being. But eventually I'll die or go away, and then the kipple will again take over. It's a universal principle operating throughout the universe; the entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization." He added. "Except of course for the upward climb of Wilbur Mercer."

For all these things left out of “Blade Runner,” it’s still a great movie, and a great adaptation. Rutger Hauer fits Roy Batty to a T, as does Harrison Ford as Deckard, a lumpy, aging agent who’s pretty good at his job, but not the best. Although many other films have been based on PKD’s stories, “Blade Runner” was the only one filmed when he was still alive, so it’s the only one where we have his own opinion. In an interview in Starlog #55 in February 1982 Dick was enthusiastic of  this reworking of his material.

“I don’t want to say that (David Peoples) took a bad book and made a great screenplay; that’s not true either. They also didn’t take a good book and make a bad screenplay. They took a good book and made a good screenplay, and the two reinforce each other. They don’t fight each other now. The impression I got was that the first thing Peoples did was read the book, and then not only did he have the skill and the talent to bring to bear, but he was also conscious of the book. So now the book and the screenplay form two parts of a single whole. Each reinforces the other. If you start out with the book, the screenplay adds material to that, and if you start out with the screenplay, the book adds material to that, so they’re beautifully symmetric. This is a miracle. A real miracle.”

For those who have come to experience PKD through “Blade Runner,” take some time and read the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” What you will find there isn’t as slick as the movie, and the theme is slightly different, but you will find one of the best examples of Dick’s genius in using science fiction to understand humanity and what it means to be human.

From the 1999 Orion Books edition:
War has left the Earth devastated. Through its ruins, bounty hunter Rick Deckard stalks, in search of the renegade replicants who are his prey. When he isn’t “retiring” them, he dreams of owning the ultimate status symbol -- a live animal. Then Rick gets a big assignment: to kill six Nexus-6 targets, for a huge reward. But things are never that simple, and Rick’s life quickly turns into a nightmare kaleidoscope of subterfuge and deceit.
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Rereading Philip K Dick - A Pause

I wrote twenty reviews of Philip K. Dick books in January.  I still have three more books to review, then I'll take a break for a while. These reviews were based on my impressions while re-reading his books during the past six months (I first read them when I was in high school and college).

I started last July, re-reading them in any order, but after "UBIK" and "A Maze of Death," I realized they should be read in chronological order.  Chronology is a bit difficult with PKD, since he cranked out quite a bit of work in the 50s and 60s, but some of it wasn't published until years later.  So, my revised methodology for reading/reviewing is to try to review and post them in order of publication date, although I might skip over a few until I feel inspired to write a review.  My scope is limited to the science fiction novels published during his lifetime. I realize that omits the mass of work published posthumously and non-sci-fi like "Confessions of a Crap Artist," but it helps keep my task focused and I feel it's more representative of the style he's known for.

Oddly enough, during my break I read two more PKD-related books.  They were "Philip K. Dick's Electric Ant," which is reviewed here, and Jonathan Lethem's book "The Disappointment Artist," which includes an essay titled "You Don't Know Dick."  It's a short essay, eight pages, where he discloses his infatuation with Dick, buying multiple copies of his paperbacks, and eventually making a pilgrimmage to California in 1984 to volunteer for the Philip K. Dick Society. His insights are interesting, balancing between what Dick's work meant, and what Dick's work meant to Lethem. Also, he's honest, coming down hard on some of the books, especially "Vulcan's Hammer."  He writes:
14. Nevertheless, even the very worst of those realist novels would better reward your time than "Vulcan's Hammer." Not to be a bully.
The "Disappointment Artist" also has essays on "Star Wars", John Wayne and "The Searchers," Jack Kirby's return to Marvel Comics in the 70's, and John Cassavetes, among other personal adventures. I enjoyed reading most of it.

Now... back to the remaining twelve PKD novels. One of those is "Vulcan's Hammer."

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