Thursday, April 21, 2011

#131: Now Wait For Last Year, #9: Fahrenheit 451

Now Wait For Last Year:

“Human[ity] has always striven to retain the past, to keep it convincing; there's nothing wicked in that. Without it we have no continuity; we have only the moment. And, deprived of the past, the moment - the present - has little meaning, if any.” 
"Presently Jonas Ackerman shrugged and said, 'Well, that's marriage these days. Legalized hate.' "
"In a town where everything is legal, he thought, and nothing achieves worth, you are wrenched back into childhood. Placed among your blocks and toys, with all your universe within grasp. The price for license is high: it consists of a forfeit of adulthood. And yet he loved it here. The noise and stirrings represented authentic life. Some people found all this evil; he did not. People who thought that were wrong. The restless, roving banks of males who sought God knew what --they themselves didn't know: their striving was the genuine primal under-urge of protoplasmic material itself. This irritable ceaseless motion had once carried life right out of the sea and onto land; creatures of the land now, they still roamed on, up one street and down another. And he went along with them." 
Now Wait For Last Year is one of Philip K. Dick's most underrated novels. PKD is one of my personal favorite authors, so I believe that all of his work is underrated, but Now Wait For Last Year stands out as one that doesn't get the attention it should. Novels like Ubik, VALIS, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Man in the High Castle, and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch often get the most attention, but Now Wait for Last Year is up there with them, better, at least, than Three Stigmata, in my view. It is similar to Ubik in terms of how PKD plays with the reader's mind throughout the novel: time is twisted, warped and changed through the use of a hallucinogenic drug, JJ-180 --and it becomes hard to tell what's reality, what isn't. Another mind-bending question is raised: is a certain character we are being told about a human, a robant, or the exact same human, but from a parallel dimension?
As I said, it's one of the more convoluted Dick novels, and that's really saying something! Now Wait For Last Year tells the tale of an artiforg surgeon named Eric Sweetscent, a morally sound, normal kind of guy. He's a typical Dick protagonist, the everyman who remains calm as the world warps and melts around him like a Salvador Dali painting. As an artiforg surgeon, Sweetscent must constantly replace his boss, Virgil Ackerman's, organs as they fail in the old man's body and must be removed. Other colorful characters from the novel include the ruler of Earth, Gino Molinari a.k.a "The Mole", and Eric's somewhat unfaithful wife, who first tries JJ-180 and begins to experience extreme mental trauma. The near-future Earth (the inevitable time period for most PKD novels) is currently engaged in a war with the strange alien Reegs, with a tentative alliance formed with the mysterious 'Starmen. As Eric eventually takes the drug, and realizes that the 'Starmen are much more sinister and manipulative than they seem, the novel gets crazier and crazier, in part because of the series of time-fracturing hallucinations Sweetscent experiences under the influence of JJ-180.
We learn more about Gino Molinari, his constant deaths, and rebirths; versions of him are repeatedly snatched from parallel universes to replace the Earth leader as he dies over and over again. This is your typical crazy, drug-fueled, PKD novel, with a main, perfectly sane, character experiencing an insane degeneration of his world. This novel shouldn't be missed --it remains one of my favorite PKD works. By the way --for a particularly interesting Science Fiction idea, check out Virgil Ackerman's vacation place on Mars: Wash-35, a meticulously recreated version of Virgil's childhood home in Washington in the year 1935, in which robants masquerading as people stand in for his childhood friends. Virgil has created the ultimate nostalgia trip, and it's an incredibly interesting SF idea that only PKD could dream up!
Don't miss this novel --it's not one you should read if you've never read any PKD (this is in part due to its complexity), but if you have read a few of his novels --and are hungry for more-- make this one a priority. It's a book you won't be able to put down --I couldn't.

Fahrenheit 451:

“The books are to remind us what asses and fool we are. They're Caeser's praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, "Remember, Caeser, thou art mortal." Most of us can't rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven't time, money or that many friends. The things you're looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don't ask for guarantees. And don't look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.” 
“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.” 
“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.” 
“If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, topheavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they fell stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change.” 
Fahrenheit 451 is often regarded as Ray Bradbury's masterpiece, and an incredibly important piece of "genre science fiction", AND a classic of speculative "serious literature". Fahrenheit 451 gives the reader a big dose of that typical, bleak, eerie Bradbury feel --you'll also get it from reading the first few stories of The Martian Chronicles, or any of his horror work.
Fahrenheit 451 is about a dystopian future in which television rules over, controls and pacifies the populace. In this grim future world, entire rooms are made specifically to accommodate wall-to-wall television screens. Sounds kind of familiar to the modern reader, no? In this TV-obsessed future, books are prohibited by law, and the main character, Guy Montag, is a fireman assigned to burn books. Montag begins to change when he meets a young girl named Clarisse, who soon dies, but has an impact of Montag for the rest of the novel.
As the novel progresses, Montag realizes that reading is not the terrible thing that it has been made out to be by his society, and so he begins to read in secret. Eventually, he runs away from his city to join a band of book-memorizers who live on the outskirts of the city, away from civilization. These people keep the books alive for future generations --each person becomes the book they study and memorize, in essence.
The whole idea of book-memorizers is very neat, in my opinion, and very trademark Bradbury. Several particularly interesting parts of this novel include Captain Beatty's explanations of why books must be banned: they have clashing philosophies and ideas and facts that they pass off as true, and one doesn't know what to think, he says, so they must all be eliminated for the sake of one, consistent reality. In addition, the scene in which Montag discovers the book-memorizers, and in which they explain what they do, is one of the most potent, interesting, and memorable scenes in all of science fiction. Although Fahrenheit 451 doesn't have quite the same raw, emotional connection with the reader as a dystopian novel like Nineteen Eighty-Four, it still remains a powerful, disturbingly accurate portrayal of a future in which books have  decreased in significance and popularity, almost frighteningly so.
This is an eerie, though-provoking book whose message grows in strength to this day. And, while this novel is not a light, fun read by any means, any person who has ever wondered about the state of literature in our increasingly attention-deficit, technologically driven, mindless society has got to read this book. Its importance grows and its worst fears are confirmed with each passing day.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

#46: Frankenstein, #14: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?


“Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.” 
“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”  
“Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and every sight afforded by these wonderful regions, seems still to have the power of elevating his soul from earth. Such a man has a double existence: he may suffer misery, and be overwhelmed by disappointments; yet, when he has retired into himself, he will be like a celestial spirit that has a halo around him, within whose circle no grief or folly ventures.” 
“...for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose--a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.”
Frankenstein has the distinction of being what many consider to be the first true science fiction novel; rather than being awoken by magic spells, Frankenstein's monster is brought to life via electric shocks, scientifically, through known technologies of man. Furthermore, Frankenstein is probably one of the most respected, in literary terms, of any novel on this list. It's no secret that sci-fi doesn't get much respect in the "serious" literary community, really the novels on this list that will get attention are: Frankenstein, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, Vonnegut's work, some of H.G. Wells, and maybe Dune, but not much else.
Of course, Frankenstein has been reviewed in much more depth than I will go into, but I'll just cover the obvious stuff. Frankenstein is a gothic novel in every sense of the word. It is dark and dreary throughout its length, and although many movies have been made with violence abundance, it is not action-packed, and the monster isn't some mindless killing machine. He is much more sympathetic, and intelligent in fact, as he is made out in popular culture, films, and the like. He just wants to be treated as a human being! However, he only seems to inspire fear, except for a short period when he comes in contact with blind people.
The entire story is told as a flashback, from an exhausted Victor Frankenstein, to an Arctic explorer, Robert Walton. Victor tells of his life, how he created the monster, and how he shunned the monster afterwards, as it began killing off his loved ones. The monster is somewhat sympathetic, and due to his appearance, he is regarded with terror by human society. When he rescues a young girl from drowning, he is shot at when seen with the girl in his arms. The monster becomes interested in classic literature, especially John Milton's Paradise Lost. As the monster begins to become intelligent, seemingly more so that its creator, it starts to desire a mate. The monster requests a mate from Victor, but Victor will not let another monster loose on the world. Gradually, the monster kills off Victor's friends; including Henry Clerval, and even his wife, Elizabeth, soon after their wedding, when Victor, thinking the monster is after him, patrols the house with a weapon, while the monster sneaks in and kills Elizabeth, hoping to make Victor as miserable as he is. Victor then hopes to pursue the monster until one of them destroys the other.
Frankenstein is a disturbing, dark novel that calls into question what humanity truly is, while also dealing with selfishness, depression, "playing God" and a plethora of other issues. A lot of the novel is Victor feeling sorry for himself, and the novel has very few happy moments. It is masterfully written, however, especially considering Shelley was twenty-one when it was published.
As science fiction, it is dark and literate, I'd recommend it, but not as strongly as some other books on this list. I respect the literary quality of Frankenstein, but it can be very depressing. It certainly raises very serious questions and issues that have been present in science fiction ever since. In fact, many issues in Frankenstein came to define SF, such as, when does man become god or god-like? After creating life? Frankenstein is extremely significant to the genre, and its a good, but heavy read. For fans of SF's origins, this book, as well as the work of Wells, Stapledon, and Verne are the major works to read, bar none.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?:

“My schedule for today lists a six-hour self-accusatory depression.” 
“Do you have information that there's an android in the cast? I'd be glad to help you, and if I were an android would I be glad to help you?"
"An android," he said, "doesn't care what happens to another android. That's one of the indications we look for."
"Then," Miss Luft said, "you must be an android.”

“Too bad. And Mozart, not long after writing The Magic Flute, had died--in his thirties--of kidney disease. And had been buried in an unmarked pauper's grave.
Thinking this, he wondered if Mozart had any intuition that the future did not exist, that he had already used up his little time. Maybe I have too, Rick thought as he watched the rehearsal move along. This rehearsal will end, the performance will end, the singers will die, eventually the last score of the music will be destroyed in one way or another; finally the name "Mozart" will vanish, the dust will have won. If not on this planet then another. We can evade it awhile. As the andys can evade me and exist a finite stretch longer. But I will get them or some other bounty hunter gets them. In a way, he realized, I'm part of the form-destroying process of entropy.” 

“Everything is true,' he said. 'Everything anybody has ever thought.'
'Will you be all right?'
'I'll be all right,' he said, and thought, And I'm going to die. Both those are true, too.” 

“You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe.” 
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is another great Philip K. Dick novel. You might even cajole me into admitting that it is the single greatest thing he ever wrote. It is also the only novel of adult-length that I have ever read cover-to-cover in a single sitting. And it is also, in my unpopular opinion, better than Blade Runner, the movie based on it, which some consider to be the best SF film ever made.
Androids is a typical PKD novel, if anything by PKD can be called "typical" in any way. If you have never read a PKD novel, and you are trying to familiarize yourself with SF, go out there and pick one up immediately: this novel, Ubik, A Martian Time-Slip, and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch are all good starters. The Man in the High Castle is also excellent, but in a mainstream-SF way, with only a hint of Dick's usual madness thrown in there. But if you have read a PKD novel, Androids is typical in the issues it deals with, and of course very different from conventional SF in ways that only PKD could dream up.
The novel deals with a bounty hunter named Rick Deckard, who hunts down androids, and essentially kills them, or "retires" them, in political-correct-speak of the time. The world is post World-War Three, and most animals and other parts of nature have been destroyed and replaced by androids, including some humans. Deckard must track down six of the dangerous Nexus-6 variety of robots, and destroy them, with the help of Rachel Rosen, who is an android herself, and Phil Resch, who might be an android. Of course, PKD makes this novel impossible to put down, with plot twists, and some really mind-bending "what is reality, and what is real?" type questions.
Like most PKD novels, this isn't a happy tale, but its genius is undeniable. The major part of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that the movie left out is the philosophizing, which is on par, in my view, with VALIS, a book essentially filled with PKD's philosophies of life, only this one is lessed drugged-out and insane, but still vintage Philip K. Dick. The book's general atmosphere was hit dead on by the film; dark, polluted, neon-filled, loud, urban, and depressing. The characters are all fascinating and the premise of the novel is one of Dick's strongest, easily. The central message is vintage PKD, and he uses the robots and a false police-department episode that tricks Deckard to pose the question what really is real, and what is reality, if it even exists? Some interesting concepts in this novel include the mood organ, a bedside instrument that can cause people to feel different moods whenever they want to, a concept that enforcing Dick's notion, a true one, in my opinion, that people don't always want to be happy, and sometimes people really just want some stress and aggravation to make themselves feel good. It's like they don't want to have Heaven forced upon them, as some atheists say and to be forced to have a good time.
 Another interesting PKD quote we get from this book involves the futility and meaningless of life, much like Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan, as Rick says, "Everything is true, everything anyone has ever thought." The implication of the novel as a whole seems to add to this statement... But what does it matter? Yeah, depressing stuff, but it certainly makes you think!
Finally, the concept of Mercerism is one I absolutely love, and it involves the one thing that humans have over robots, empathy. Mercerism is somewhat like a religion, and involves people experience an alternate reality in which they possess a man's body, and that man is trudging up a hill, with rocks being thrown at him, and the humans experience his pain and empathize with him. The way it's described is amazing.
This book has so many excellent scenes, I can't begin to describe all of them. I can tell you that this book is underrated to the extreme, and it really shouldn't be in the shadow of Blade Runner any loner. It's just a top-notch PKD mind-bender. (Oh, and the scene with the frog in the wasteland, the scene involving the spider's legs being pulled off, the realization that the happy, 24-hour radio show is just run by robots, and the Voigt-Kampff scene with Rachel are all excellent) You should do yourself a favor and read this book. You won't be able to put it down. Truly as interesting and engaging as the best SF out there.

#8: I, Robot , #37 The Day of the Triffids

I, Robot:

“You can prove anything you want by coldly logical reason---if you pick the proper postulates.” 
“It is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say 'It's as plain as the nose on your face.' But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?” 
“The Three Laws of Robotics:
1: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm;
2: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law;
3: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law;
The Zeroth Law: A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”

“The Master created humans first as the lowest type, most easily formed. Gradually, he replaced them by robots, the next higher step, and finally he created me, to take the place of the last humans.” 
Unlike Jurassic Park, I, Robot is nothing like the movie based on it. Generally considered one of Isaac Asimov's masterpieces, I, Robot is actually a collection of nine interlinked short stories about the rise of robots on planet Earth. The robots must adhere to three basic laws: don't harm humans, obey humans, and preserve themselves, (in order of importance).
 Each short story is like a riddle that the reader must solve, all concerning problems that arise concerning robots and the Three Laws throughout this future history. Humans create robots, at first, to be nursemaids that aren't as intelligent as humans --as documented in Robbie--and by the collection's end, robots control Earth, but not in the usual  "take over and destroy all humans" way. Rather, the robots are running Earth, and only they stand between humanity and destruction, a grim and stagnant future nonetheless. The stories are are "told" by one Susan Calvin, an old robotics scientist who informs the narrator about the evolution of robots. Particularly interesting stories abound in this volume, but I would especially recommend Runaround, the story of a robot that has its second Law weakly enforced, and its Third Law of Robots strongly enforced, thus causing it to malfunction, running around in a circle; not sure whether to protect itself or obey the human commands it has been given.
Also of interest is Reason, a short piece which dismisses the need for religion, while providing us with another interesting, riddle-like plot. In these two stories, as well as several others, two men named Powell and Donovan are prominently featured. These guys aren't the brightest, but they make for reasonably likeable protagonists who are on the front lines (at all times, it seems) when it comes to new developments in the minds of robots. They remind the reader of a vitally important facet of I, Robot: the evolution of the robotic mind gains pace throughout this work, while the human mind stays stagnant. Powell and Donovan, symbols of humanity, remain relatively static characters, changing slightly due to the experiences and challenges they face, but not evolving at the exponential pace the robots do.
Yet another interesting story in this anthology is Liar! the story of a robot that has been programmed to be able to read minds, but does not tell its human masters what it has truly learned in some cases, because such knowledge would hurt the human masters emotionally, and thus constitute a breaking of the First Law. The robot seems to be even more intelligent than humans at this point --it knows what is good for the characters in the story better than the humans do themselves.
Finally, The Evitable Conflict is a grim, Brave New World-esque finish to this collection, in which human society has stagnated, its "flame has gone out" and only robots keep humanity from destruction. All conflicts now are evitable, only the robots from now on, are inevitable, we are told. Robots are at this point, more powerful than humans, but they keep humanity afloat. This future is perhaps more ominous than the commonly imagined one in which the robots rise up, rebel, and kill humans.
 Those stories and the rest make I, Robot a really interesting read. Don't get me wrong, every story is excellent in its own way --but these four constitute the very best of the anthology. Very logical, entertaining, and not too heavy-handed, I, Robot is yet another recommended read for someone starting out reading SF. And if you're an SF fan, and you haven't read it, what are you waiting for?!! Classic Sci-Fi with some very clever twists.

The Day of the Triffids:

“It must be, I thought, one of the race's most persistent and comforting hallucinations to trust that "it can't happen here" -- that one's own time and place is beyond cataclysm.” 
“I don't think it had ever occurred to me that man's supremacy is not primarily due to his brain, as most of the books would have one think. It is due to the brain's capacity to make use of the information conveyed to it by a narrow band of visible light rays. His civilization, all that he had achieved or might achieve, hung upon his ability to perceive that range of vibrations from red to violet. Without that, he was lost.”  
“Until then I had always thought of loneliness as something negative—an absence of company, and, of course, something temporary... That day I had learned that it was much more. It was something which could press and oppress, could distort the ordinary and play tricks with the mind. Something which lurked inimically all around, stretching the nerves and twanging them with alarms, never letting one forget that there was no one to help, no one to care. It showed one as an atom adrift in vastness, and it waited all the time its chance to frighten and frighten horribly—that was what loneliness was really trying to do; and that was what one must never let it do...” 

“It's humiliating to be dependent, anyway, but it's still a poorer pass to have no one to depend on.” 
The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham's masterpiece, is undoubtedly one of the greats of modern SF. "The Greatest SF Masterpiece of our time", though? A bit of a stretch, when you consider, say, Dune, Foundation, Childhood's End, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, and the like, but The Day of the Triffids is certainly up there in the upper tier of SF novels.
The Day of the Triffids is one of the great disaster/post-apocalyptic novels, and it's certainly one of the originals. On Earth, giant, seven-foot tall plants known as Triffids appear, seemingly out of nowhere. These plants can uproot their roots from the ground, and "walk". In addition, the plants also sport a killer, venomous stinger that they can shoot out of their flower "head" at the top of their bodies. The Triffids remain relatively a curiosity, but nothing more, until one night, a monumental meteor shower occurs, and the next morning, everyone wakes up blind...
 ...Except for our protagonist, Bill Masen, who has bandages over his eyes that night, and Josella, a woman he meets later on. With essentially the entire population blind, the Triffids strike. Some people attempt to carve out a living in this new world, while others simply commit suicide. The Triffids are not really actually the main focus of the story, although they do play a pivotal role. They prey on the blind people wandering the city of London, where the novel takes place, and pick off and eat humans. Bill and Josella must learn to survive in this post-apocalyptic world, in which, it becomes dreadfully obvious as the novel progresses, most humans will die off, and adapting to this blindness is almost impossible, when everyone else is blind as well.
The Day of the Triffids is the novel that disaster novels should attempt to emulate, and is in every way an SF masterwork. I won't give much more away, but this is certainly an entertaining read about two people who must learn how to deal with a society that is in shambles. The Triffids themselves are the major creative twist to the plot, and at the time, creatures like the Triffids were original like no other fantastical creature before them.
This novel is a fascinating study of survival in a post-apocalyptic world roamed by carnivorous plants. It's enjoyable, interesting, and certainly influential, spawning many other post-apocalyptic, disaster novels and movies. It's also a smart book, with enough intellectual discourse on the whole matter to make the reader think a little. Would you kill yourself in this situation?, is one of the most simple, yet poignant questions the book asks. I might add that The Day of the Triffids is a great title, as well --even the title of this book has spawned countless imitators and parodies of those imitators. This novel is, plain and short, an SF classic that remains engrossing and thought-provoking. It has action as well, but it focuses on more than just violence and bloodshed like many of its predecessors did. A great read and another justifiably popular, fan-favorite, mainstream, science fiction classic.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

#58: The Sirens of Titan, #34: The Man in the High Castle

The Sirens of Titan:

“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” 
“There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia.”  
“The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart.” 
“His response was to fight it with the only weapons at hand—passive resistance and open displays of contempt.”  
“. . . but the Universe is an awfully big place. There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree.” 
The Sirens of Titan is a perfect example of some good old Vonnegut weirdness. Coincidentally, it is probably the most science- fiction-y of the Vonnegut books I have reviewed as of right now (the other two being Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle).
One criticism I have is that Sirens of Titan is a little slow, and it can be all over the place, but interesting and hilarious parts of the book outshine this initial criticism. Sirens is certainly a novel in which general weirdness permeates throughout. In fact, Douglas Adams cite Sirens as an influence for his excellent Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
The Sirens of Titan is set in 22nd century America, and also Titan, the moon of Saturn. It has several plotlines, including one concerning a Martian invasion, and another concerning Winston Niles Rumfoord, a rich, Newport, R.I man who has figured out how to travel across time and space on strange points in the universe called chrono-synclastic infundibulum, and does so with his dog, Kazak. Rumfoord can thus predict the future, and starts his owns religion, The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, a name I've always found hilarious and one of the many clever small parts of this book.
 Sirens of Titan addresses the meaninglessness of life throughout, and it is helped in this endeavor by the use of a casual tone, that seems very 1950s-ish. The other main character is another rich guy, Malachi Constant, who has a son with Rumfoord's ex-wife, and eventually travels to Titan with a robot from Tralfamadore (the planet where the aliens who imprison Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five and keep him as a zoo animal, are from). He lives on Titan with his son, Chrono, while trying to repair Salo, the robot, who has dismantled himself.
As for the cover image, it's a duplicate of the Taj Mahal has been constructed on Titan... Sound weird enough yet? The Sirens of Titan has a very strange, somewhat disjointed plot, but it does get down to addressing serious philosophical issues, and does so with biting wit and black, sarcastic humor, that is a trademark of Vonnegut. The weirdness of the Sirens of Titan is undeniable, but its status as a novel of SF ideas is also quite legitimate. The parts of the novel near the end that take place on Titan with Salo, Malachi, and Chrono are the best, most thought-provoking parts of this novel, ones centered on the meaninglessness of life as we know it.
The Sirens of Titan is an a darky humorous, philosophical book, that addresses religion and how it works, and how life in general can be for different kinds of people. It's a strange read, in a different way from any other strange SF author, uniquely Vonnegut. As a work of Science Fiction, it is an often thought-provoking, funny classic.

The Man in the High Castle:

“Truth, she thought. As terrible as death. But harder to find.” 
“A weird time in which we are alive. We can travel anywhere we want, even to other planets. And for what? To sit day after day, declining in morale and hope.”  
“They want to be the agents, not the victims, of history. They identify with God's power and believe they are godlike. That is their basic madness. They are overcome by some archtype; their egos have expanded psychotically so that they cannot tell where they begin and the godhead leaves off. It is not hubris, not pride; it is inflation of the ego to its ultimate — confusion between him who worships and that which is worshipped. Man has not eaten God; God has eaten man.” 
“Can anyone alter fate? All of us combined... or one great figure... or someone strategically placed, who happens to be in the right spot. Chance. Accident. And our lives, our world, hanging on it.” 
This is one of the greatest and most famous alternate histories ever written. The Man in the High Castle remains to this day, THE World War Two alternate history, one that spawned legions of imitators. It is on the same level, and perhaps even above, greats of the sub-genre such as Pavane, Bring the Jubilee, and Lest Darkness Fall.
The Man in the High Castle is set in 1962, after the Axis forces have won World War II, and Germany controls the East Coast of the United States, while Japan controls the West Coast, and the Rocky Mountains remain a neutral zone in which rebels, such as Abendsen, the author of an alternate history novel (within this alternate history novel), called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a blasphemous books that hypothesizes what would've happened if the Allies had won World War II. And, mind you, this is one of Dick's less mind-bending works...As with most of PKD's novels, there are a plethora of main characters who go about daily life in this novel, from average Americans working under Japanese and German bosses, to the Japanese and Germans themselves. Characters such as Frank Frink, and his unfaithful wife, Juliana, are excellent examples of interesting, yet seemingly average and normal characters in the novel. They are as normal (but with dark sides) as PKD is "out there" --and this fact is vintage PKD.
Frank tries to sabotage another American, Robert Childan's, antique shop, and things escalate from there. As usual, Dick does not let this be just any normal alternate history novel; he throws in a hell of a lot of typical, mind-bending Dickian twists that make the novel all the more interesting. The plotlines are very engaging, all with a Dickian spin to them. Many characters use the I-Ching, a Japanese form of divination to decide their actions, and apparently PKD used the I-Ching to write the book himself, which is why the ending ends up so open-ended --with the characters' revelation that The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is...true (although it is not exactly like our world, as one critic put it, this novel within the novel is like holding up a mirror to another mirror and having the image within not be identical to the reality. Weird, huh?) . The characters in the scene (Abendsen and Juliana) are left with the realization (the reader must assume), that they are inside an alternate history novel... Yeah it's crazy alright. Just a little more background before you go read this book, which I strongly recommend as an introduction to both PKD and alternate history: The Mediterranean Sea has been drained to make more farmland, and the Axis Powers appear to be more efficient that the Allies in many ways, besides of course humanitarian efforts; they already have rocket ships in 1962 (some accused Dick of being a Nazi sympathizer because of this fact, but I don't think so). All Jews are dead or living under false names, but still, normal life goes on under occupation. Also noteworthy is the fact that Abendsen, the "man in the high castle" who wrote the banned yet popular book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, supposedly lives in an armored, protected fort, or castle. In fact, he simply lives with his family in an average suburban house.
A seminal work of SF, and the cornerstone of the entire alternate history sub-genre. A must-read for SF fans. (I've also included a graphic that shows how the fictional world of The Man in the High Castle works --pretty cool, take a look).

#39: Jurassic Park, #7: Brave New World

Jurassic Park:

“The planet has survived everything, in its time. It will certainly survive us.” 
“In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.”  
“God creates dinosaurs, God kills dinosaurs, God creates man, man kills God, man brings back dinosaurs.” 
“But now science is the belief system that is hundreds of years old. And, like the medieval system before it, science is starting not to fit the world any more. Science has attained so much power that its practical limits begin to be apparent. Largely through science, billions of us live in one small world, densely packed and intercommunicating. But science cannot help us decide what to do with that world, or how to live. Science can make a nuclear reactor, but it cannot tell us not to build it. Science can make pesticide, but cannot tell us not to use it. And our world starts to seem polluted in fundamental ways---air, and water, and land---because of ungovernable science.”  
The first thing a reader has to know about Jurassic Park, the best-selling novel by recently-deceased thrill-master Michael Crichton, is that it is almost exactly like the worldwide hit movie. If you have seen the movie, and you enjoy fast-paced, thrilling easy reads, Jurassic Park is the novel for you. In no way is this novel a chore to read. But, although it certainly can be classified as an enjoyable roller-coaster ride, a page-turner, and an entertaining yarn --it contains a very novel idea that will surprise and interest serious science fiction readers.
The idea of bringing dinosaurs "back to life" is so mainstream by now, that many forget to appreciate its ingenuity. Jurassic Park is the tale of John Hammond, an eccentric billionaire who hopes to create a theme park featuring dinosaurs brought back to life via the miracles of DNA science, all on his own remote private island. Hammond invites two paleontologists, Ellie Satler and Alan Grant, who is the novel's main protagonist, to experience the wonders of Jurassic Park, along with his own two grandchildren.
I won't give too much about the plot away, as it is based so heavily on suspense, but if you have seen the movie or read anything by Crichton, you will know what is coming: things go wrong, and as a consequence there are many harrowing chase scenes involving Tyrannosaurs and Velociraptors.  I might add the dinosaurs are not really the true villains of this piece, those roles are filled by Donald Gennaro, the bumbling lawyer, and mathematician Ian Malcolm, two cartoon-like but enjoyably characterized villains who are out to get Jurassic Park closed. Of course, that is what happens in the end, but the reader is supposed to interpret this as a good thing after so many dinosaur attacks! Still, Gennaro and Malcolm serve as decent, amusing villains. As a well-versed science fiction reader, I think that the ideas of the novel will stick with me much longer than the action-heavy plot.
The main premise of dinosaur resurrection carries with it an underlying message of the futility of tampering with nature, just as the first SF novel, Frankenstein did. This main premise, which is somewhat shunted aside in the movie, is the most seriously engaging and thought-provoking part of the novel, which is, besides that (like the movie), a lot of action and thrills. I
f you want a quick, easy read with a very interesting concept, check it out. I can almost guarantee that if you liked the movie and you enjoy reading, you will like this book. Jurassic Park is far from the most philosophic or deep novel on this list, but here's what it is: a quick, exciting read from the master of sci-fi thrillers.

Brave New World:

“But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” 
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”  
 One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them. Finding bad reasons for what one believes for other bad reasons–that's philosophy. People believe in God because they've been conditioned to.” 
“I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."
"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat, the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind."
There was a long silence.
"I claim them all," said the Savage at last.” 

Brave New World is one of the main classics of speculative fiction, as well as dystopian fiction, AND literary science fiction. It is always up there with 1984, We, and A Clockwork Orange as one of the great novels that bridges the gap between SF and literature via a dystopian plot. In Brave New World, the Henry Ford-obsessed "government", which isn't really a government in the same sense as the ministries Big Brother are, in 1984, controls the masses via happiness, stability, sex, and drugs.  . Whereas Big Brother controls the masses of Airstrip One in 1984 with fear, nationalism, and militarism, the leaders of Brave New World control their people with pleasure masquerading as happiness. In Huxley's Brave New World, the people are happy because they get all the sex they want. Furthermore, they are entertained to their heart's content and they are brain-washed from birth to accept certain principles of the world. And, if all this gets too unbearable they can take a drug, soma, and rest in bliss for a while before returning to their so-called "perfect" world. AND, just in case the people are becoming too stagnant and emotionless, they are injected every month with Violent Passion Surrogate, a cocktail of hormones to fulfill their needs as humans for emotion and passion.
In this society, people worship Henry Ford, and create human embryos on assembly lines, and are carefully sub-divided into different castes: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon, and serve higher up according to their caste. Before birth, caste is decided, and the lower castes are made stupider and smaller to prevent rebellion against the stronger, authoritarian higher castes. What makes all of this incredible world-building even more of a stroke of genius, it that it was only written in the nineteen-thirties!
The plot of this incredibly interesting book concerns John the Savage's introduction into this dystopian society (by a man who is somewhat of an outcast in the society himself, Bernard Marx), a society which, as John points out to World Controller Mustapha Mond in the brilliant chapter seventeen is devoid of the real human emotion and compassion that John has experienced in the reading of Shakespeare. I might add that chapter seventeen deserves to be read several times on its own, simply for its excellent depth. However, Huxley  notes, the irony is that human society has never really been as intelligent, feeling, and "human" as the characters in Shakespeare, something I'm sure Shakespeare-admirers could agree with.
I won't give any more of the novel away, but it really is excellent and thought-provoking. Once again, like most SF, not exactly a happy tale either, but it demands to be read. Chapter seventeen is one of the great scenes in all of SF in my view; the whole philosophy of the characters in this book are contained within it.
 Read this book! It's a dystopian classic that every human should be aware of. If aliens were to come to Earth, I think that this book would be a crucial way that such aliens could come to understand human beings. The fundamental questions being asked are: Is happiness truly what humanity wants and/or needs? Do we truly actually know what happiness is? (A question also posed by Childhood's End, a book that is similar is certain ways to Brave New World) and finally, If reaching happiness means superficiality, and the death of real humanity, is it worth it? An extremely observant discourse of human nature, and completely ahead of its time, and any time for that matter.