Book Fight!

Tough love for literature

Episode 160: Winter of Wayback, 1966 (Philip K. Dick)

6 Comments

It’s the first episode of 2017’s Winter of Wayback, perhaps our favorite seasonal feature. This week, listeners, please join us in time-traveling to 1966. The Beatles were bigger than Jesus! The Church of Satan was founded! And Philip K. Dick published the short story that would eventually be adapted into the movie Total Recall. You can read his story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” here.

Here we see the famous sci-fi author predicting both Glamour Shots and Tinder. He really was a soothsayer!

philipkdickreclining

As regular listeners know, Mike doesn’t often like science fiction. This week, he’s perhaps figured out where that mental block comes from. Also, Tom introduces his new seasonal feature, in which he promises to investigate some of history’s greatest (and weirdest) conspiracy theories.

As always, you can stream the show here on our site, by clicking on the player below. Or download the mp3 file, and do with it what you will. You can always find us in the iTunes store, too, or wherever it is you get your podcasts. We’re also happy to hear your feedback. You can leave a comment on the post itself, shoot us an email, or hit us up on either Twitter or Facebook.

Thanks for listening!

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Author: mikeingram25

writer, editor

6 thoughts on “Episode 160: Winter of Wayback, 1966 (Philip K. Dick)

  1. What is the name of the story?

    • Oh wow, I should add that to the post. It’s “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale” and you can find a PDF here:
      chrome-extension://oemmndcbldboiebfnladdacbdfmadadm/http://www.english.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-library/Dick_Wholesale.pdf

  2. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to call BS on Mike saying his beef with science fiction is in its gender politics. If you guys had read Ursula LeGuin or Joanna Russ, it would have been a much different point of view but it would not have been any less of a science fiction story. There are definitely a lot of cliched, square-jawed, ultra-rational, hyper-masculine white guy science fiction heroes, particularly from a certain era, but there is also a lot of science fiction satirizing or critiquing that point of view and that type of character isn’t super common today, at least among stuff that wins awards, which of course has caused a bunch of white dudes who think science fiction should only be that type of character to whine about it.

    Likewise, if you had pulled a random literary fiction short story written by a dude in 1966, it likely would have had much the same point of view. Certainly, there’s no shortage of highly gendered literary fiction: Updike, Roth, Franzen, DFW, Knausgaard. There are also a lot of annoying dudes who will make a big show of reading one of those authors in a public place (I’m thinking particularly of DFW here). You could argue these guys are better sentence-level writers, but that’s an argument that doesn’t really have anything to do with some type of inherent masculine politics of science fiction. And, I know it’s probably not Mike’s intention, but the whole argument about how science fiction rubs him the wrong way because it’s too condescendingly masculine kind of came across a little bit as kind of patting himself on the back, presumably for not being condescendingly masculine, which sorry to say comes across as a little condescending.

    In terms of Dick in particular, I’ve only read one novel of his (Ubik), so am not too familiar with his work as a whole. My memory of Ubik is that the high concept was interesting and some of the writing was clever, but that it got a bit too convoluted and could have been a bit shorter. I think you have to take it for what is, though, particularly with the short stories. Dick might be a literary quasi-celebrity with annoying fanboys and multi-million dollar blockbusters based on his stuff today, but when he wrote this story, he was more or less a nobody working in obscurity and living hand-to-mouth, writing stories for next to nothing. You can’t really put a story like this on the same level as John Updike or someone like that. If you lost your job at Temple and you had to support yourself by writing short stories for genre magazines for $150 a pop to pay the rent, you probably wouldn’t spend a day honing the dialogue in Paragraph 5 of Draft 10 of your latest story or try to write some high-minded, super in-depth psychological character study. You’d just come up with a good idea, a plot twist, and you’d bang it out, not worrying too much about the characters and the dialogue except inasmuch as they get the plot moving or provide you with a backdrop for your idea.

    • Hey Michael,

      Thanks for the note. I may have been wrong–I am wrong about things pretty regularly (and I’ve certainly never claimed to be any kind of expert on sci fi)–but I definitely wasn’t being disingenuous, or trying to score points with anyone. I’m not sure who I’d be scoring points with, or what the points are. Do they have a cash value? Can I exchange them for a stuffed bear or a personalized license plate?

      Seriously, though, I’ve just been trying to figure out, little by little, why most sci fi doesn’t float my boat, and I guess this week’s commentary is just one more potential theory. Though certainly not a definitive one!

      Mike

      • Hiya,

        You’re narrowing it down. You want your science fiction to be speculative, but you don’t like it when the story uses plot and characters as tools in service of “the idea”, nor do you like it when the story stops for explanations. Does that sound about right?

        As a cohost of America’s favourite literary podcast, maybe you should reach out for suggestions. I’m sure someone at a sci-fi publisher (or magazine or podcast) would love to try to find the right book for you.

        Cheers!

      • Hey Mike,

        Thanks for the response. Sorry if I came across as unnecessarily harsh or personal. I actually meant the “I’m calling BS” comment to be jokey, but I can see how it might have come across as snotty as text. (I also have a natural tendency to perhaps write in a way that sounds more polemical than I’d like.) I just want to be clear that I’m a big fan of the show and when I criticize I am trying to be sincere and not just flinging crap at you.

        That being said, I still have some objection to the bit about science fiction and masculinity, so let me try to rephrase in a gentler and hopefully more clear and constructive fashion. I think the reason why perhaps your comments on wanting to like SF more but being roadblocked because it is too masculine – at least as I (possibly wrongly) interpreted them – rang false to me was because you’ve gone on record as enjoying a certain type of old-school masculine literary fiction and you have (at least on me) given the impression that you enjoy that literature because of its particularly masculine qualities. You’ve said on the show multiple times – admittedly these are older episodes, the ones on Updike and Salter, so maybe you have changed your mind on this – that you like the fact that these novels portray a sort of aggressive male sexuality in a way that feels honest even if it is offensive or something you wouldn’t endorse in real life. Which is a fair position – I have a similar position about other works that isn’t specifically about that subject – but it seems in tension with your contention that there is something about the masculinity of SF that turns you away from being able to enjoy it.

        I definitely don’t think you were being disingenuous and, obviously, I wouldn’t expect you and Tom to relisten to all your old episodes to make sure everything you say is perfectly consistent. I think it was a result of speaking off-the-cuff about a style of literature you aren’t a big fan of. If I were hosting a podcast and my theoretical co-host kept assigning popular romance novels for me to read, I could imagine myself blurting out something about how ‘they might be tolerable if it wasn’t for their dumb gender politics’, when if I was thinking about it more closely, I’d realize that I love several novels with way, way worse gender politics than your average romance in spite of those terrible gender politics and that although I dislike the gender politics of romance novels, it ultimately isn’t really at the core of my dislike of it.

        I guess if there’s a takeaway (and a reason for me to comment about it), I guess it would depend on your feelings about science fiction. If I’m right that, deep down, you just aren’t all that interested in what the genre has to offer, which is a perfectly legit position to take, I think there’s really no point in Tom torturing you by making you read any more of it for the show, unless it’s a guest/donor pick, because I feel like you’ve said your piece on it and it kind of feels as though you are kicking the wheels. However, if I’m completely wrong, and you are on-board with the idea of reading more of it for the show and there is something about a future story you read that bugs you or turns you off and that thing feels genuinely masculine, I guess it would be a more interesting discussion if you explored why some things are more masculine in literature push you out and other things that are masculine bring you in as opposed to just saying you dislike it because it is too masculine.

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