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Terminal Beach

I feel like I enjoy Ballard latelybecause he is not American. He is a masterfulstoryteller with recurring themes that go through a lot of his work -- man returning to his awakened primordial identity, injury and recovery, going to meet your maker due to some sort of uncontrollable impulse. His stories are a delight. His characters, while strange and often a bit daft, are never helpless or hopeless. The ideas can be fantastical, -- as with the shortish story about a giant man who washes up on the beach and is dismembered by the townspeople as his corpse rots --or more plebian. He has a huge vocabulary that does not seem ostentatious and a lot of his stories seem to start with a very simple “what if” as in “what if the earth’s oceans dried up and almost everyone moved to remote planets? what if someone decided to stay behind.” His characters are often solitary but rarely lonely and have very rich internal lives, in any case. I loved this book from beginning to end and am looking forward to finding a copy of his new book of short stories which is 1,00 pageslong. He’s that good.

Signal to Noise

This book has the worst cover ever. I have been down that road, so I know it’s not the author’s fault, but it kept me away from the book all Summer. Finally, its paperback size and fictional nature drew me back, and I was happy I returned. Mostly because I am out of William Gibson books to read and reading Nylund makes me feel sort of like I do when I read Gibson. To be more specific, his plot is good and moves rapidly, there’s a lot of fancy gizmos to look at, the time is not quite the present but not really the future. Unlike Gibson, Nylund kills nearly everyone in the entire world at the culmination of this book [and yet there is a sequel? hard to fathom]

The book takes place at a point in time when VR worlds and scenarios are somewhat real, butinsteadof making his characters all impressed and “oooh trippy!” about it, Nylund makes their integration into everyone’s work and home life no big deal. The super-computing environment that must be accessed nearly constantly to maintain these worlds, means that every time you are truly “outside” [as so few people are] you must wear shielding helmets to protect you from the massive bandwidth coursing through the air. There is definitely a Dic-ian paranoia at work as well. The book works, the main character is believable and mostly likable and as I said before, the story moves, hustles really. There is a bit of clumsy foreshadowing, but it’s not entirely unexpected. This book is a fresh name on the scene of a very small cyber-genre, he’s worth reading.

Storming Heaven

It’s nice to see people write about drugs as if they were any other topic. This is an interesting and well-researched history of LSD and other psychedelics, from their discovery, manufacture and eventual outlawing. This book follows some of the major players of the LSD movement -- Leary, Owsley, Huxley -- through their experimentation and enchantment or disenchantment with the drug. Reading histories of drugs before they became illegal is always particularly interesting since all sorts of people, from Hollywood stars to Ivy League faculty were interested in LSD use as a sort of hip interesting thing to do. For a long time LSD therapy was thought by some to be the most effective form of psychological treatment. Jay Stevens does not seem like an insider to all the goings-on, more like an astute researcher with a willingness to explore the minutiae of a movement and come up with some form of coherent narrative. If you’re looking for a Tom Wolfesque writing style or an in-depth exploration into the CIA’s MK-ULTRA project, you will be out of luck, but if drug culture history fascinates you, this book is filled with enough trivia to keep you going for weeks.