My life in outer space

Posts tagged “Dictatorship

Computerworld – AE van Vogt (1983)


‘The computer controlled them all.

Bio-magnetic recognition was infallible, instant. Its eyes were everywhere – in the street, in the home. There was no escape as it scanned, recorded, knew.

An armed Computer Maintenance Corps handled social control. The military-style personnel thought the computer was God.

But the computer stole.

Energy. With every personal scan, every casual recognition check there went a small but significant subject-to-computer mental energy transfer.

Only the Computer Rebel Society saw the threat and had the will to organise against it.

The computer, of course, made them outlaws.’

Blurb from the NEL 1986 paperback edition.

America is being controlled by a computer, which in turn is controlled (loosely speaking) by the US government. The computer has cameras watching most streets and microphones dotted everywhere and can therefore see and hear a great deal of what is going on. Although self-aware, the computer lacks a human perspective.
It’s an odd and occasionally contradictory novel which enters areas that Dick trod and re-trod more successfully years before. The computer can apparently ‘see’ human souls and interprets them (rather unfortunately phrased) as a configuration of golden balls. Each one is unique and therefore the computer can identify individuals on sight.
Opposed to the computer’s dictatorial regime is an organisation of what we would have called ‘hippies’ led by Glay Tate, a Messianic figure, some of whose disciples have learned the art of shape-shifting in that they can copy a selected individual so well that they can access their thoughts and memories.
It has become known to the hippies that that the computer has, with every interaction with a human, been siphoning off a fraction of human energy (a slice of the golden balls) and stockpiling it. Driven to extreme measures to defeat its enemies the machine accesses the life-energy and becomes self-aware, and tries to control the world.
It’s rambling and contradictory in parts, but still has that eerie van Vogt quality of a novel which reaches one on a particular level with a suggestion that there is something wider to understand here, but never quite gets there.


Mister Justice – Doris Piserchia (1973)

Mister Justice

‘Were those strange episodes of retribution the work of a time-travelling man of honor – or a power-mad avenger?

Turner squirmed in his chair. ‘I think we’re assuming a lot. We’re in an uproar because of some photographs. They could be phony.’
‘They aren’t.’
‘So Justice has taken pictures of things that happened three and four decades ago with a camera invented eleven years ago.’
‘He has a time machine?’
Daniel hesitated.
Turner persisted. ‘A big one that produces the power and a little hook-up that he carries around with him to go on his trips?’
Again Daniel didn’t answer.
‘You know how outlandish that sounds?’
Daniel shrugged.
‘Who else do you know who can travel in time?’
‘Who else is near to cracking the barrier?’
‘Nobody,’ said Daniel wearily.
‘Yet you’re confident Mr Justice can do it?’
‘He can be anywhere. Once a moment is past it is completely open to him.’
Resting his chin on his hand, Burgess murmured, ‘A madman with a power like that.’
‘There’s another possibility,’ said Daniel, and they looked at him with angry eyes. ‘There may not be any machine…’

DORIS PISERCHIA has appeared in the pages of many magazines and anthologies, most notably Frederik Pohl’s BEST SCIENCE FICTION FOR 1972. One of the most important new writers of science fiction, she is known for the vivid dreamlike quality of her prose. This is her first full-length novel.

She resides with her husband in New Jersey’

Blurbs from the 1973 Ace Doubles Edition – 53415

This is quite an astounding novel for its time and certainly deserves wider recognition.
A vigilante, who styles himself Mr Justice, has taken it upon himself to punish those who escape Justice either from lack of evidence or because of loopholes in the law. Mr Justice initially began by dumping the bodies of serial killers on the doorstep of the Court House, along with photographic evidence of their crimes.
However, when the PTB look at the evidence more closely, it seems that the photographs were taken with a camera that did not exist at the time.
Three members of a Secret Service Unit are called upon to find someone to apprehend Mr Justice. Their research points to Daniel, a highly intelligent twelve year old whom they enrol in a very special school for gifted people where he begins to piece together information about the mysterious vigilante.
However, Justice’s actions set many things in motion which leads to a breakdown of the Secret Service Team and outright war against a highly organised crime syndicate and its somewhat eccentric workforce.
Rather like TV’s ‘Heroes’ or ‘The X-men’ we are seeing here the emergence (although somewhat understated) of humans with special gifts or powers. In other senses ‘Mister Justice’ (although written years before) has echoes of the graphic novel and movie ‘V for Vendetta’ although there is a defter touch here in depicting who holds the moral high ground, at least initially.
Piserchia paints a strange but oddly compelling future which is refreshingly quite original and superficially uninfluenced by her forebears or contemporaries.
There is a slightly van Vogtian scene (or section) that I liked, where one of the gifted – in that he seemed to have the power to see the strength of others’ gift potential – is given a job caretaking a building full of ‘prediction machines’ which Daniel makes use of in his quest to identify Mr Justice.
Then we have the sociopathic crime lord, Arthur Bing; on the surface an amiable altruistic businessman, but behind the scenes a man who runs an army of criminals. He dispatches those with whom he is displeased via the tempting arms of a seductress assassin.
The one person he feels affection for is his daughter but it is a twisted overprotective affection which sees him killing the young man with whom she was conducting a romance.
Bing’s failure to track down Mr Justice leads him into a spiral of megalomania which sees his Empire slowly crumble from within.
It is striking that Piserchia has constructed, if not believable human characters, complex and original personalities, sometimes drawn with large strokes as in the Secret Service Agents. Their only success was to discover the boy whose researches drew them closer to catching Mr Justice.
Daniel, on the other hand, is a real breathing character who is left to decide for himself what is right or wrong. All the characters, in fact, are set upon personal journeys which begin with Mr Justice’s first actions and curve and twist around the central anonymous figure like ribbons around a maypole.
An unjustly neglected and under-rated piece of work. Very impressive.

Our Friends from Frolix 8 – Philip K Dick (1970)

Our Friends From Frolix 8

Nick Appleton lives in a world governed by two new types of human, the New Men and The Unusuals. Children, like Nick’s son Bobby, are given a test when they are eleven, to determine if they are fit to work in government. Nick is convinced that the tests are not rigged but his son knows otherwise.
The tests are rigged, and we are privy to a discussion in the testing centre before Nick and his son even arrive, deciding whether the boy should pass or not. Bobby is quite cynically convinced he will not pass.
In this society, alcohol is illegal but drugs are freely available at drugbars. Alcohol can be obtained on the black market as well as the illegal literature of the Undermen, the writings of a political prisoner called Cordon who beams his writing out via a transmitter implant, after which it is edited and sold in pamphlets illegally,
Nick works in a garage for a man called Zeta, where he regrooves bald tyres to make them look new, while making them more dangerous.
Cordon is a disciple of Thors Provoni, a man who set off on a ship decades before looking for help from advanced aliens.
The narrative follows Appleton, a law abiding citizen ostensibly committed to following the rules of society. A man called Darby Shire (an ex-colleague of Appleton’s) arrives at the house in fact, attempting to entrap Appleton into illegal activities. Then his boss, Zeta, takes him to a Cordonite apartment where he meets Denny Strong, an alcohol addict, and his girlfriend, Charley. Denny flies into an alcoholic rage when he finds Cordonite literature that Charkey has hidden and attacks her. Charley escapes with Nick, who realises that he has already crossed the line of law-breaking and become an Underman.
The New Men and Unusuals believe that the announcement of Cordon’s impending execution has turned many standard citizens into Undermen. They have of course, been monitoring everything and know where Appleton has been.
The kingpin of the government is Chairman Willis Gram, a corpulent old telepath. he has begun to ignore the advice of his aides and orders Cordon’s immediate execution.
Then comes the news that Provoni is returning with friends. Friends from Frolix 8.
This is one of Dick’s more frenetic and disjointed novels. It can be read as a warped mirror of Orwell’s ‘1984’ in terms of this world of relentless surveillance and control, where the ‘evolved’ humans, the New Men and the Unusuals, control who can and can not enter government service.
There are odd religious themes and concepts creeping in. At some point earlier, a ship had discovered a large frozen corpse in deep space which most humans believe to be God.
Cordon in a sense is an apostle, a John the Baptist figure who distributes his gospel directly through a transmitter implanted in his body.
Thors Provoni is returning – symbolically – from the dead with hope for all mankind. Dick being Dick, however, the nature of the help that the Frolixians is offering is ambiguous.
As is common to many Dick novels, the female characters are more fascinating than the males, and here we have a contrast between Appleton’s wife, a nervous paranoid woman, and Charley, the girl he leaves her for, a complex psychotic woman whose motives and actions are ambiguous and unpredictable.

Daylight on Iron Mountain (Chung Kuo #02) – David Wingrove (2011)

Daylight on Iron Mountain (Chung Kuo Recast, #2)

The second volume of Wingrove’s rebooted epic of Chinese world domination sees the completion of T’sao Chun’s plan. The Middle East is nuked, leaving only America to be conquered. T’sao Chun sends General Lei. the warrior-poet, along with Amos Shepherd, his strategic genius, to deal with the US as well as a vast army.
However. T’sao Chun is no longer the rational strategist he once was. Corrupted by power, he has become paranoid and vindictive, abusing and insulting the Seven Tangs who rules the world as his subordinates.
After the rather bland scene-setting of the first book, it is good to see Wingrove back on form and relishing the intrigue, the politics and the battles as the Chung Kuo knew from the original books slowly emerges.
Jake Reed, mired in a complex compensation case against a powerful Han family finds unexpected allies and friends in Amos Shepherd and Gensyn.
His son, now fully acclimatised to the Han world, finds himself working for Gensyn and the Eberts.
The Seven, finally pushed to the limit by by T’sao Chun’s madness, begin to plot to have him brought down…

Vulcan’s Hammer – Philip K Dick (1960)

Vulcan's Hammer

‘Vulcan 3 – the supreme computer. It was autonomous, self-servicing – and sentient. A machine whose cold, dispassionate logic had freed the world from war and poverty.

When Vulcan ignores all questions concerning the Healers – a fanatical group dedicated to Vulcan’s destruction – Director Barris becomes suspicious. The world government has been infiltrated – but by whom?

Barris investigates, but Vulcan has already devised a solution of its own – and the winged terror of Vulcan’s Hammer is unleashed on the world.’

Blurb from the 1981 Arrow paperback edition

Written in 1953, but not published until seven years later, Vulcan’s hammer tells the tale of Vulcan 3, the ultimate computer, set up to make all policy decisions for the entire world. It is maintained by the Unity organisation headed by Jason Dill, and his subordinate directors, responsible for the continental regions.
The world is at peace, but a rebel group, The Healers, led by Father Fields, is unhappy with Vulcan 3’s dictatorial status and vows to destroy the machine. The novel begins with the murder of a Unity agent, Arthur Pitt, in his car; a murder at which Father Fields is apparently present.
The novel is rife with paranoia and suspicion and shows the beginnings of what Dick was to become.
William Barris becomes suspicious that Vulcan 3 has made no mention of, nor dictated any policy regarding the Healers who have become a serious terrorist threat to the status quo and who have vowed to destroy Vulcan 3.
Having visited Pitt’s widow, Rachel, Barris is accused – via an anonymous letter – of being linked to The Healers.
Barris has also been manipulated by Rachel into a meeting with Father Fields; a meeting which is interrupted by a mobile surveillance device.
Meanwhile Jason Dill has had Father Fields’ daughter Marion removed from school and sequestered. Marion is a mature and perceptive child but it is unclear whether she is voicing her own views or has been indoctrinated by the dogmatic teachings of her father. The question is ironic, since the schools Unity are running, under the direction of Vulcan 3. do not encourage dissent or thinking which is contrary to government policy.
One can argue that Dick is using Vulcan 3 as a metaphor for the government machine, a dispassionate entity which is controlling the population, rather than the other way around.
This idea is taken to surreal lengths in ‘The Simulacra’ in which Der Alte, the leader of the Western World is, in fact, a simulacrum, a machine to provide the face of government which others are manipulating behind the scenes.
One also has to ask why the rebels are called ‘The Healers’ and whether there is significance in their being a religious movement.
Dick’s dark haired manipulative woman appears here in the form of Rachel Pitt, who turns out to be Father Fields’ other daughter.
The story is laced with paranoia and Barris has to use his own instincts in determining whom to trust, since everyone appears to have secrets of some kind.