The Stranger, Albert Camus, 1942. Spoiler alert! Not that it matters anyway, but don’t read this review if you don’t already know how it all ends. The Stranger is a perfect book, with a flawed philosophy. Camus is a liar. If he really believed in the absurdness of the universe, then why bother to create this book, and the others?
I chose to read this, not because of the philosophy, but to learn a trick or two from a great writer. I write metaphysical science fiction, and one of my favorite authors is Philip K. Dick. I was not disappointed in Camus’ art. The story is balanced upon the violent act of murder, unpremeditated, and absurd. By then, I had lost all sympathy for a very unsympathetic character, and I began to realize the theme that nothing the character did made any difference to him or to the reader. Thou shalt not kill, God commands. Camus uses the breaking of that commandment to attack religious beliefs, although I did not see that until Mersault was throttling the priest in his prison cell. That resolution comes in the last hours of the antihero’s life, in the final pages of the story. Once it is over, you realize how it balances the scene around Mersault’s mother’s coffin in the quiet room at the Home at the start of the book. I am still studying how all the pieces of the plot fit together in such a very complicated pattern for such a simple story.
But it was the poetic and striking descriptions of the reality through which Mersault wanders, that I liked the best. The cat crossing the deserted city street, the struggle between the old man and his dog, the long lines of cypresses beside the road to the graveyard, taking the streetcar to the harbor for a swim, all of these images stay with me. Even though Camus says, “never in my life had I seen anyone so clearly as I saw these people … and yet I couldn’t hear them, and it was hard to believe they really existed”, his sparingly described supporting characters, Marie, Raymond, Salamano, Mother, and the Arabs, are more believable than Mersault himself.
I should read another of Camus’ books, but I am afraid that it could not possibly be as good as this one!
Imagine you are on a farm. You don’t want any of the hippies from the fairground to cross the road and come onto your property. So you get a couple of pieces of wood from the barn, some paint from the shed, and you create a “No Trespassing” sign. Black letters on white background. Or, more abstractly, a red circle with a line through the middle.
You walk on down the dirt road to the gate, and hammer the sign into the dirt by the highway. Several days later, someone hurries across the highway and stops before your sign.
Materialist neuroscientists claim that the flow of chemicals in the brain, combined with the electronic activity of the neurons is what thought is. Nothing else. Purely physical.
So, how does that electro-chemical activity that they can associate with the idea, “No Trespassing”, exist for days as mere paint and wood, and then suddenly become the electro-chemical activity in the receiver’s brain? Where was the idea in the interim?
Take this concept and apply it to modern day physics. Think of the “No Trespassing” sign as a marker on the boundary of the known physical universe that you are not supposed to cross. We call that “c,” the speed of light. Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. “Thou shalt not go supraluminal.”
Science claims, and has experiments to prove, that as a traveler approaches the speed of light his mass increases and time slows down.
So what would happen if you could travel faster than the speed of light? If you dared to trespass. Would time stop entirely? Would it cease to exist? Isn’t that eternity?
What if the place where ideas exist, is the place beyond the speed of light? Then ideas would be eternal. Platonic shadows?
Mankind has been thinking for a very long time. If all those thoughts actually exist forever in some “spiritual universe,” what form do they take? Are all our thoughts collected into a package called the soul? We haven’t really forgotten what we had for dinner last night. The entire experience is out there waiting for us.
But ideas are not always personal, nor unique. Everyone has similar thoughts: love, hate, curiosity, jealousy, pride. Everyone has dreams and nightmares. So maybe the personal thoughts associated with individual souls permeate the “spiritual universe,” combining and disintegrating like weather in some collective unconscious.
What we need is a map of this “spiritual universe.”
When I first started writing my science fiction I reluctantly stopped reading sci-fi. I was concerned about plagiarizing. Of course, I had read so many books in the genre over the years that I already had absorbed thousands of ideas that could not be erased from my mind. My book, The Fifth Prophet, was an inspired idea, and the beginning of a wonderful journey through the land of literature. Subsequent novels were more deliberately constructed. Gradually, I returned to reading sci-fi as I realized similarity of ideas did not mean they were stolen. Of course, I never tried to rewrite Dune with different characters, or change the setting of Middle Earth. My stories are as unique and weird as I am.
Now, I am constantly noticing similarities in the details between what I write and what I read. I just finished Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The review is elsewhere. One of the objects recovered from the Zone is a “spacell”, a mysterious power source that is used like a thumbdrive and powers automobiles when inserted into the dashboard. They have “applied them, discovered conditions when they multiply, can’t create them.” This is also a good description of my “hyperthreads” from The Fifth Prophet, that have fallen to Earth in several places like manna from heaven. The Strugatskys make little use of spacells in their story, whereas hyperthreads are fundamental to the success of my Family of Man.
The similarities and coincidences are not just between my writing and my reading, however. In Perturbations Of The Reality Field I stepped across the line of hard sci-fi, or so I thought. My hero, a young cab driver, and his angelic telepathic border collie, end up fighting to save the Earth’s moon from destruction by the ratpeople. He ‘drives’ his Ford Escape SUV into orbit near the moon, enclosed in a space suit. Trust me, it is embedded into the story in a reasonable fashion. Still, the scene worried me until … a few months after publication I watched Elon Musk’s Tesla and the spaceman!!! Maybe I’m more ‘prophetic’ than I realized?
Most of my previous posts on religion dealt with sci-fi novels that mentioned the topic, had subplots of a spiritual nature, or provided a quote that piqued my interest. One such quote from this book is, “To make creation, God had to remove himself from some part of the universe, so something besides Himself could exist.” That is something relevant to my own series, and I won’t delve into it in a blog post. The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, however, was an exciting discovery for me. It is an exploration of first contact between humans and aliens from a religious point of view. Jesuit explorers travel to a civilization a few light years distant, whose culture has recognizable elements of good and evil. The main character thinks of these aliens as “God’s other children”, at least at first. However, no alien Jesus Christ is mentioned. The aliens seem to be heathens requiring salvation, which may occur in a sequel. But that omission seems to me equivalent to the Church refusing to believe that the earth did not orbit the sun. Despite that omission, the internal religious struggle of the main character is riveting and full of complex concepts. This book is definitely worthy of its inclusion in any list of sci-fi classics.
Ready Player One is a dystopian novel, at least so far, whose hero, Wade, has a rough life. Early on we learn of his disillusionment with the world he has been born into: “That story you heard? About how we were all created by a super-powerful dude named God who lives up in the sky? Total bullshit. … We made it all up. Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.” On the other hand, Wade is a ‘gunter’, an egg hunter in a virtual reality world called OASIS.
Now, I’d like to suggest that there is a logical imbalance in the treatment of reality in this setup. Virtual reality is the presentation of stimulation to the gamer, to his senses, that mimics what he could be experiencing in the ‘real world’. It is based on algorithms, that run on computers, and which are no more than complicated streams of bits, zeroes and ones. These are electric signals racing along circuits and through chips.
But, isn’t that eerily similar to what the believer receives from ‘the other world’, the ‘spiritual universe’? Beliefs, ideas, and thoughts are said, by the materialists, to be no more than electro-chemical impulses racing through the brain, along neural pathways. Scientists claim to be able to see where they are located inside the brain, but as yet, the algorithms they are part of have not been explained.
Why is ‘virtual reality’ given such a glamorous role in these stories, while ‘spiritual reality’ or thought itself, is less highly valued. My series, which begins with Perturbations Of The Reality Field, posits a reality that blends the physical universe and the spiritual universe at the quantum level by intertwining strings. I hope you will take a look at it.
I read Watership Down as a break from heavy philosophical research I’m doing for the next book in my Cluster series. Little did I know that one of the rabbits, Fiver, had a touch of Phillip K. Dick in his blood. In my metaphysics, the quantum strings of the physical universe are looped through similar strings in the spiritual universe. In Perturbations Of The Reality Field my characters use the borderland “between” the two in order to travel faster than the speed of light (FTL). Now I am about to send them deeper into that spiritual universe, a wild place and very unsafe, as Fiver says. Forgive the long quote from Watership Down, by Robert Adams, but it contains several very interesting ideas I intend to explore.
“You’re sure we are here then?” asked Fiver. … “Well, there’s another place – another country, isn’t there? We go there when we sleep; at other times, too; and when we die. El-ahrairah comes and goes between the two as he wants, I suppose, but I could never quite make that out, from the tales. Some rabbits will tell you it’s all easy there, compared with the waking dangers that they understand. But I think that only shows they don’t know much about it. It’s a wild place, and very unsafe. And where are we really – there or here?”
After almost ten years of writing, one book at a time, it became obvious to me that my first five books were actually a series. And they deserved another few rounds of editing and revised covers. That is now completed. BUT, republishing with my original publisher, AuthorHouse, was financially unfeasible. SO, I am reprinting the series by Amazon’s CreateSpace and Kindle. The price of the paperbacks will be significantly reduced, the e-books will remain the $3.99 bargains they have always been.
The change over process may be a little messy, but the new editions will have grey covers with black text, with the original images reduced in size. See the website for the latest images.
As I began to read Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle I was interested in his invented religion, Bokononism. It is a religion founded on lies. Quite in keeping with Vonnegut’s humorous sarcasm. Humanity is organized into teams that do God’s will without ever discovering what they are doing. The orbits of the members of the team about their common “wampeter” are spiritual orbits. This is an interesting variation on what I have written in my latest novel, Perturbations Of The Reality Field. However, my works are much less pessimistic. Vonnegut leads you laughing down the icy road, straight to Hell.
When you die and go to heaven, or the other place, your body is left behind to rot. That frees you up for an eternity of new experiences; unless you believe in reincarnation, once you’re gone you’re gone. In Dick’s The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch, reality as usual, becomes much more complicated. The two competing hallucinatory drugs, Can-D and Chew-Z, both send the user into alternate realities. Use Can-D and you ‘become’ a character back on Earth, whose experiences depend on how much of the associated accessories you have purchased. Your body stays put, and you return to it with the usual drug after effects. Chew-Z is much more like getting lost in a hall of mirrors, sending you into ever deeper layers from which you may or may not return, one level at a time. But that’s the religious issue! If you don’t return, do you exist in Chew-Z land for eternity? As Dick says, “you got what St. Paul promises … you’re no longer clothed in a perishable, fleshly body – you’ve put on an ethereal body in its place.” That is but one of many interesting religious themes in The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch. Read it over and over again, and get lost in its many layers!
Thank you to all those who participated in the giveaway of e-book copies of my metaphysical sci-fi novel, The Fifth Prophet. If you were not one of the winners, please consider reading a copy anyway. If you did win, I would be very happy to hear your comments and thoughts. An honest review would also help a struggling indie author a great deal.
A confession and admission of marketing confusion might amuse you. I first tried the Amazon giveaway and posted a link on my website, thefifthprophet.com. The giveaway was to the first five participants, BUT that meant that Amazon would not publicize it. So … after a year of no takers (obviously nobody was wandering over to my website), and constantly renewing the giveaway I pushed another radio button. This time I chose “random” and for some silly reason chose the odds at 1 out of 200! It actually worked! Except that I was trying to giveaway the books and it timed out after 455 participants and only 2 books given out. So, finally I renewed with odds of 1 in 50 and 3 books zoomed out into the world in two days.
I’ve learned my lessons. The next giveaway, and there will be one, will be more efficient. 🙂 BTW, are any of you “following” me? I’d love to hear from you.