So, this will kick off a new (and hopefully) monthly tradition of rounding up what I’ve been reading for the past month. Let’s get to it.
Sanity, Madness And the Family: Families of Schizophrenics by Aaron Esterson, & R. D. Laing
First up, a book that has been kicking about a family members’ house since I was a child, so it was good to finally start it – although I must admit I havent *quite* finished it yet as I’ve been taking my time. Don’t they say this is one of those books that lay around the houses of those working in mental health, but actually hasn’t been read? I think I would have definitely benefited from reading Laing’s ‘Divided Self’ first, but all in all I really enjoyed this book, and found it an interesting insight that I could draw parallels from to my own personal experiences.
Described as ‘[a] groundbreaking study into the social and in particular familial pre-conditions for schizophrenia.’ and originally published in 1969 it sought to understand the family dynamics and context that lie behind the label of Schizophrenia, from a more social perspective, I thought. The families of the individuals involved are interviewed in a variety of combinations so that the behaviours of the diagnosed family member are placed in a context which is meaningful and relevant to her. Or, in some cases, meaningful to the family members caring for them – which makes it all the more interesting to see what behaviours are attributed to the diagnostic label, and which are not. In the process it is possible to see how the family alliances and defences are built up and protected, sometimes over generations, or brought down again, usually at the expense of the individual carrying the diagnosis, which was particularly hard to read. The case studies examine the discrepancies between verbal statements made by family members and their non verbal communication with each other – which then locked that member into a situation that is hard to break out of. Ultimately, I thought it showed how we as individuals can be unwilling to confront harmful issues.
Ubik by Philip K. Dick
For some amazing sci-fi action (plus a lot of questioning the meaning of your life at 3am), who else can you go to if not Philip K Dick? I’ve been on a bit of a Philip K Dick re-read binge since Christmas, and after the classic that is ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ + watching the original and 2049 films on repeat for about two weeks, I made a start on ‘Ubik’. The book centres on earth in the near future, where telepathic and pre-cognitive abilities have become commonplace, and dangerous to big business. As Dick wonderfully explains, in a form of natural evolutionary balance, an opposing force has developed alongside them, that of the “inertials”: people born with an innate the ability to “block” specific types of psychic ability. When a business magnate hires the Prudence organisation (a company of inertials) to secure his lunar facilities from telepaths, owner Glenn Runciter assembles eleven of his agents for the task, including Joe Chip a debt-ridden technician, and the newly hired Pat, a young woman with the unprecedented parapsychological ability to counter pre-cog ability by undoing past events. But what follows sends the team spiralling into peculiar events where their very existence seems to shift between past, present, and an eerie alternative universe where an ominous presence appears to be bearing an unfathomable influence. As they struggle to understand what’s happening, the lines between reality and unreality begin to blur and the truth perhaps lies only in the strangely scrawled messages and notes that begin to appear in impossibly random locations, and the significance of the mysterious multi-purpose product “UBIK”. But can the team survive long enough to find the answers and save themselves?
It’s amazing to think that this visionary novel, exploring the themes of technology and reality is over 50 years old and it’s clear why it continues to be such a massive influence on the sci-fi and wider community. The book itself is beautifully told. Above all, in spite the wealth of its wonderfully inventive ideas and technological world building, Ubik is much more than a set of brilliant concepts moulded into a story. It’s a darkly comic, intriguing, and thoroughly absorbing narrative that works because of a perfect symbiosis between setting character and story and pushes forward to the next mind bending twist and turn with the masterful ease of an author who understands his reader. It is a solid sci-fi story, but it also has so much more to offer than that; with PKD’s typical themes of humanity and boundaries of reality and in the case of Ubik itself, even the very nature of faith in its human and theological forms. Highly recommended, and a good introduction to PKD’s work (although I always recommend ‘Androids’ first, personally!).
March went by so quickly, and was taken up by two books that make you ask deep questions of yourself, so maybe I could read something lighter for the April roundup. Any recommendations?