Back when a “Blade Runner” movie sequel seemed unlikely, Bantam (the publisher of “Star Wars” spinoff fiction at the time) and author K.W. Jeter delivered three follow-up novels from 1995-2000. The first, “Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human” (1995), returns us to the world of the film nine months later, and the author paints a picture with words as beautifully as Syd Mead and his team created the movie’s dystopian Los Angeles.
Philip K. Dick’s “Deus Irae” – co-penned with Roger Zelazny (1937-95) — was published in 1976, the decade when he released most of his religious-themed novels. But he started writing it in 1964, making it one of his earliest full-on explorations of the topic. Also in 1964, Dick wrote “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” (published in ’65). Both books feature an evil deity, but whereas the dark god hangs over “Stigmata’s” events like a cloud, it’s the whole point of “Deus Irae.”
After leaning into the Western side of sci-fi/Western in his first two “Firefly” novels, James Lovegrove uses sci-fi to good effect in “The Ghost Machine” (March). His first effort, “Big Damn Hero,” includes cargo that could blow up if handled improperly, but “Ghost Machine” features a more thematically interesting crate: the titular Blue Sun sonic weapon that makes people passive. The way it does so is by sending them into dreamland; first, their dreams are pleasant, but then they turn dark.
Now Wait for Last Year” (written in 1963, published in 1966) is narratively about an intragalactic war between three races and drug-induced time-travel. Yet it’s clear that the issue most on Philip K. Dick’s mind was his relationship with his wife (and perhaps past relationships with past wives and girlfriends).
Ireally liked “A Maze of Death” (written in 1968, published in 1970) on my first read. I enjoyed it when religions were made fun of, so I found it amusing that Philip K. Dick invents a reality wherein prayer is demonstrably real. Prayers give measurable results, and those doing the praying devise distinct strategies of how to pray and which gods to pray to. On this reread, I found that aspect of the novel to be minor. My general impression is that “A Maze of Death” is a shadow of the 1982 group-paranoia movie “The Thing,” albeit with a few neat Dickian ideas on top of that structure.
Galactic Pot-Healer” (written in 1968, published in 1969) could be seen as the start of Philip K. Dick’s heavy interest in God and religion that defined his 1970s work (although it is definitely found in prior works, too). The back half of the book – wherein an alien called Glimmung aims to raise a Cathedral from an ocean on Plowman’s Planet – is almost entirely a religious metaphor. That said, it’s quite readable despite its bizarre turn, as the titular Joe Fernwright holds our attention.
The Simulacra” (written in 1963, published in 1964) is one of Philip K. Dick’s grand absurdities. It’s an expansion of his amusing short story “Novelty Act,” about a pair of jug musicians who dream of performing at the White House for the First Lady – who is actually an actress, and whose husband the president is actually a simulacrum. PKD throws in elements of novels that were unpublished at the time, including “We Can Build You,” “The Broken Bubble,” “The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike” and “Humpty Dumpty in Oakland,” along with new satirical concepts like living advertisements that people swat down like pests.
James Lovegrove’s first “Firefly” novel – 2018’s “Big Damn Hero,” co-plotted with Nancy Holder – spans several genres. But his second is a straight-up Western, all set on one dusty planet. “The Magnificent Nine” (March 2019), as the title suggests, has the same plot as the 1960 Western film classic “The Magnificent Seven.” But we get to see how our big gorramn heroes deal with the situation: The already bedraggled townsfolk of Coogan’s Bluff on Thetis are being harassed by murderous, rapist bandits who aim to control the water supply.
The hydrogen-bomb war (or atomic, or nuclear – pick your poison) was a regular obsession of Philip K. Dick’s. Many of his contemporary-set stories find people worrying about a bomb that could fall at any moment, and many of his future stories are set in a post-bomb world. But “Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb” (written in 1963, published in 1965) is a rare novel where he shows the day of the bombings (Emergency Day, in the future of 1981) – presumably between the USA and the USSR — and the immediate aftermath.
Aline of “Firefly” novels was advertised in the back of the “Serenity” novelization in 2005, but it wasn’t until 13 years later that we saw the first entry in the series. Written by James Lovegrove based on a story idea by “Buffy” tie-in veteran Nancy Holder, “Big Damn Hero” (November 2018) combines a couple of concepts — sometimes effectively, sometimes awkwardly. The Serenity crew (and Mal himself) must figure out who kidnapped Mal and why. Also, violent anti-Browncoat sentiment has sprung up on Persephone.