Lawrence Sutin follows up his excellent biography of Philip K. Dick, 1989’s “Divine Invasions,” with a peek at his research materials as he curates “The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings” (1995). This collection of Dick’s essays, speeches, journaling and other odds and ends is tantalizing for burgeoning PKD addicts and also a good one-stop shop for those who want a basic grounding in the author’s ideas and life outlook.
I’ve probably seen the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” more than any other movie (granted, most of those viewings were from 1990-92). That film is a perfect blend of respect for the source material with mass appeal, and the three sequels – although they have their moments — don’t match its quality or heart. In a perfect world, Nickelodeon’s return to the saga – 2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (referred to here as “TMNT ’14”) – would tap into what worked in 1990, while adding untapped villains in cinematic debuts.
It’s tempting to think of the last four books Philip K. Dick book wrote – all after his 1974 beam-of-pink-light experience – as his crazy religious books, but that’s not entirely accurate. “VALIS” is a little out there, sure, with both Phil and Horselover Fat participating in diner chats even though they are the same person. But “The Divine Invasion” is a creative reworking of the Bible myth, and “Radio Free Albemuth” is a low-key good-versus-evil battle where Dick returns to the blue-collar West Coast workplaces of his 1950s realist novels.
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child write what they know, which is no doubt why “Crooked River” (February, hardcover) is their second-straight book set in Florida, where Child now resides. However, Florida – or New York, or New Mexico, or Massachusetts, or Maine – probably wouldn’t hire the authors in public relations. “Crooked River” starts with the mystery of more than 100 severed feet washed ashore on the otherwise beautiful shell-laden beaches of Sanibel Island, off the coast of Fort Myers. It’s such an off-the-wall happening that it remains compelling for hundreds of pages even as answers are slow to come.
Sometimes comic-book yarns are just comic-book yarns, and can’t be molded into something bigger and better through technical mastery. We know this because of director Ang Lee’s “Hulk” (2003). Never before or since has such a basic, wide-audience screenplay been treated with such languid care in the performances, the special effects and the editing. Lee’s craftsmanship would’ve worked wonderfully on a thematically rich, complex narrative like, say, “Watchmen,” but when applied to the origin story of Bruce Banner/Hulk (Eric Bana), the result is slow and boring.
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child hit a turning point with their third Pendergast novel, “The Cabinet of Curiosities” (2002), their only book other than “Relic” to crack NPR’s list of the 100 best thrillers. This is where they embrace the FBI special agent – and other characters for that matter – as a character, not merely an entertaining personality who can make items appear from his coat like magic. They also effectively push the science fiction another notch, giving us a lot of scientific details but never losing sight of the incredibleness of a formula to extend the human lifespan.
It’s hard to believe now, but in 1990, director Sam Raimi (the “Evil Dead” trilogy) couldn’t get any superhero property to let him make it into a movie, so he did something that’s largely foreign by today’s standards: He invented his own character. The titular hero of “Darkman” (1990) is inspired by the Invisible Man in look and attitude, but there’s a lot of originality and a do-it-yourself attitude to admire about this entry from the superhero genre’s pre-boom era.
When I saw “V for Vendetta” in theaters in 2006, having gone in mostly cold, it washed over me like a new, surprising experience. Although I’d always been suspicious of authority, this movie – which often makes top 10 lists of most libertarian films – clinched it for me. Oddly, I don’t think it’s entirely because of the messages. “V for Vendetta” is certainly a message movie about the value of freedom and the untrustworthiness of governments, but more than that, it’s such a beautifully engrossing work of art.
The Crack in Space” (written in 1963, published in 1966) is an unusually earnest novel from Philip K. Dick, who tackles American race relations through one direct thread and one metaphorical thread, and who even includes an epilogue outlining his points. It’s both dated and timely, stuck in both the 1960s and in a pulpy SF journey that takes us from the dawn of man to 2080.
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child take their first excursion beyond the USA, and it’s a memorable one, in “The Ice Limit” (2000). When I think of frigid climates, I think of the Northern Hemisphere – unless it’s Antarctica itself – but the authors remind us that the southern tip of South America is not a pleasant place, especially in the July winter. It’s cold, windy, mountainous and uninhabited – yet patrolled by quasi-legal operators of the Chilean government.