Agent Rob wasn’t the only thing to make a triumphant return to Ice Station Zebra yesterday, as at last ‘The Archives Of Doom’ (rekkids, books, papers, comics, tbps. etc) have been reinstated! Well, assuming reinstated means hastily dumping a shitload of heavy boxes haphazardly in and aboot the hall and not even bothering yir bahookie to help Wir Man In Pester Wails put his stuff back in the order of chaos. Thankfully Agent Rob (AKA ‘Mr Puniverse’) put his back in (and perhaps out) to it and heaved the mighty boxes around sufficiently enough to restore slow shipping lanes fer to satisfactorily accommodate Agent Johnny‘s increasingly wide berth….
During all this ‘back in action traction’ our Agent wiz sat contentedly ‘wrapping up’ a(nother) Fireball XL5 short story, so the swilling took something of a back seat until such a time as that task wiz concluded (taking longer than expected as wir Agent was continually gigglin’ to himself). This bizarre 6-pager, titled ‘The Last Colonizers’ wiz soon joined by a 2-pager (produced from ‘The Drawers Of Doom’) known as ‘A Welter Of Gore’. It’s unsure as to whether Agent Johnny expects Agent Rob to jam these into the ‘long-time-printed-yet-not-yet-released’ Unearthly Science Fiction anthology – perhaps this signals the beginning of Issue #2…?
Long time readers of this blog will know what happened next, the ‘music box’ – updated ter add something of a new soundtrack ter the proceedings – wiz mugdocked and the swill was cranked duly open! As well as Agent Johnny brandishing his 2 completed stories Agent Rob wiz also treated to a rough fer old Lanark pal Ron Harris ‘fer to draw’, a ‘leery space comic’ to do with the planet ‘Polaris’. Glasgog’s Calderpark Zoowiz the source of much contented chuntering, with Philip K. Dick and Robert Silverberg muscling in on proceedings too (where wiz their combined might when ‘hing’s needed shifting?)….
No doubt that great excitement wiz generated by the news that from Monday the 13th March the True Entertainment Channel will be repeating the seldom-seen-super-cult-favourite The Prisoner, something that has even jolted Agent Rob out of his increasingly jaded and apathetic reverie. Of course, the 9-11 ‘pee-emm’ timeslot time means Agent Johnny will have to rapidly reset his counter-clock world – if just fer the 2 weeks it’ll take ‘fer to show’ all 17 episodes – ter be able to catch this. Here’s to raising a glass to daytime repeats thereafter. Unfortunately Our Agents tuned in to Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers on ‘Fillum Four’ too late – another abject failure of timekeeping – and Agent Rob had to slip oot ‘fer to catch’ the bus into town during the adverts. Following a quick Rumble pick up at Deadhead ComicsRob then concluded his awayday by meeting New British ComicsKarol Wisniewski (‘veesh-nyev-ski’, pronunciation fans) for a final swill before being crated and shipped back to Glasgog….
Sounds: Live 1966, “The Royal Albert Hall Concert” by Bob Dylan: Time Of Ye Life/Born For Nothing/Paranoid Arm Of Narcoleptic Empire by Crippled Black Phoenix (a Hope Street Studios ‘Day In The Attic’ classic): Flood Bank by The Lines and Obscured By Clouds by Pink Floyd (and about an hour’s worth of Tartan Techno at full blast from the defk*nt through the wall)….
A Happy New Year visit to Ice Station Zebra on ‘Woden’sday’ of last week to find Agent Johnny still basking in the warm glow of his jolly good, R for “Roger” mental state. It was braw business as usual, Our Man In Pester Wails ambling around the flat somewhat bemused until Agent Rob – seemingly free of the melancholy streak that has permeated his most recent activity/posts – wrapped his various ‘chores’, unwrapped wir man’s new DAB Digital Radio and duly settled himself into the blue chair. With nothing worth watching on the ‘one-eyed-god’ (for once!) our Agents simply ‘docked’ the ‘music box’ in its amplifying mug and tucked into the considerable surplus of swill, their destination of worship (as ever) The Shrine Auditorium of August 1968….
Again, much contented chuntering ensued, Agent Rob going on at some length (in an attempt) to describe the process by which the Two From The Vault CDs had been restored from the original recordings, and Agent Johnny talking of his 3 week stint in the 1980’s as a ‘Disc Jockey’ fer Radio Free Cleghorn and his auld pal (now a big chief reporter at the Lanark Gazette) Ron Harris. James Bond wiz back ‘on topic’ too, both Agents recalling their (separate) visits to the cinema to catch some ‘Double O Action’ on ze big screen. Little was said about ‘The Comic Artist Who Stood Still‘ though, both our Agents knowing down in the depths that loose lips sink comic pages you can’t be bothered drawin’….
As with everything (home) time waits fer no man and, having subjected a slightly stewed Johnny to his first ever (decidedly non-entry-level) experience of The Orb, Agent Rob set aside the incredibly impressive The Deadly Hands Of Kung-Fu Omnibus, resting his weary arms and rousing his weary legs fer the trip into town. Within the hour – well, via a diversion to the rather excellent Transreal Fiction in Candlemaker Row (sob!) – Rob wiz in the capable newly yearly shaken and always nearly shakin’ hands of Agent Austin, the pair of them shutting up shop quick as and retiring to Sandy Bells fer a couple of New Year nips (of Whiskey!)….
Sounds: Two From The Vault by Grateful Dead: Memory Span by The Lines: Towers Of Dub (Ambient Mix) and Blue Room (Ambient At Mark Angelo’s Mix) by The Orb….
The Orb – Blue Room. Oh flip! Who knows whit Agent Johnny Made o’ this…!
Might as well start at the end. Just where is the best place to begin with Philip K. Dick? There’s a huge amount of lists online that will run through a countdown of his best books, some more comprehensive than others, with the general consensus tending towards the (hard to argue with) holy trinity of 1968’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Ubik (1969) and A Scanner Darkly (1977) and his solitary piece of what you could call accepted mainstream ‘classic literature’, the novel The Man In The High Castle (1962)….
Pre-Agent Rob & 2005’s ‘best of PKD’ copied from a newspaper article.
Having read in the region of 15 PKD books – I was fortunate enough that 2 winters ago the Glasgog FOPP stores had a run of laughably affordable SF Masterworks, with far too many PKD titles on the shelves to be ignored a moment longer – I would actually suggest that the curious begin, well, at the very beginning. Like Agent Johnny‘s beloved Pink Floyd – if you exclude the initial LSD spike of the Barrett-induced The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn – there’s a definite sense of the band’s progression from album to album as with PKD’s growth from book to book, similar themes are explored and the weaker discarded (or cleverly reworked) as the ideas coalesce and the creative vision consolidates….
If you opt to read the novels in order – you might prefer to ease yourself in via the short story anthologies, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale being a fairly astonishing collection, far beefier and better than the readily available Minority Report tie-in – then you can see PKD’s core themes evolve, making it far easier to get to grips with the more complex novels. Time Out Of Joint (1959) is considered to be the first book that really gets to grips with the concept of the nature of and our perception of reality and is therefore the ideal place to start. I began with The Penultimate Truth (1964),a more traditional sci-fi storyline of sorts, dealing with the manipulation of people and truth as opposed to the endless complications of shifting and/or overlapping realities and one’s effect thereon….
PKD’s novels are generally populated by ‘everyman’ characters, those John Shmoes and Joe Does; the menial job employee (until he loses it), the put-upon husband (or recently divorced/separated) seemingly trapped in their lot, striving for a meaningful, fulfilling existence, drawn to bad relationships, powerless to affect the overarching circumstances of their collapsing world (which might explain why I enjoy them so much). PKD tends to set up a few story arcs in tandem which he’ll steadily and cunningly weave together over the course of a novel, the bewildered everyman unwittingly drawn into a situation he struggles to grasp, tumbling deeper and deeper into the network of shifting realities and perceived truths over which he has no influence (or does he?). And all the while there’ll be an ‘official’ further up the chain, just as troubled under the skin no matter the bold front, who we assume – as he assumes/assures himself – to be in complete control. Of course, as reality unravels he will more than likely discover his situation is no different, being just another small piece (to be placed if not jammed) in the vast puzzle. Atop this fragile ‘house of cards’ we’re likely to find the ultimate authority figure, the bloated leader, safe but panicked in his self-imposed isolation, surrounded by toadying, plotting bureaucRats. Who is really pulling the puppet’s strings? Is he real, or is he slipping between realities and spinning the plates of fate accordingly…?
Ferris F. Fremont….
It’s interesting to note that PKD does not spend a huge amount of time on explaining the ‘science’ of his fiction, the setting of his novels can be refreshingly pedestrian and familiar (in this respect he brings to my mind J.G. Ballard, a favourite for merging his present self and reality into his wildly imaginative and disturbing fiction) – if cars do indeed fly or planets are colonised then no time is wasted embellishing the simple fact – with the geopolitics far more likely to take priority in order to establish a (winding) narrative path. He seems much more concerned with the human element and its desire to be understood, its desire to be free (as well as the doomed desire to peer behind the facade, however terrifying and destructive that might be – curiosity almost always kills the cat!). It’s no great secret that PKD pushed his personal life as far out as his novels – even a feverish Dicolyte like Agent Johnny cannot claim to suspect himself of burgling his own house whilst under the influence of drugs….
And the Brawcommended titles? Hmm, I’d consider A Scanner Darkly (1977) to be amongst the very best – strange as it sounds part of this is the impression created by the book itself, the text is noticeably denser than other novels, the story seems to have been long laboured over and it feels razor sharp and precise – and it certainly would justify garnering the same ‘classic literature’ tag that has (unfortunately) seen The Man In The High Castle quarantined away from the rest of his tacky oeuvre (or vice versa, depending on your POV). Chronologically if you were to tackle Time Out Of Joint before High Castle following that with Martian Time-Slip (1964), The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch (1965), Now Wait For Last Year (1966), Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep (1968) Ubik (1969) Our Friends From Frolix 8 and A Scanner Darkly then you’d be getting a very decent headbang for your buck. 1981’s oft-mentioned VALIS is not for the faint of heart, the trial run that is Radio Free Albemuth (1976/1985), though slighter, is much more easily digested. From my age-old list – itself a relic salvaged from another alternative existence altogether – Dr. Bloodmoney (1965) Galactic Pot-Healer (1969) The Transmigration Of Timothy Archer (1982) and Confessions Of A Crap Artist (1959/1975) are yet to be explored. If the latter’s about an emaciated, unemployable loser who willingly feeds his precious lifeforce into an ambivalent ‘electronic brain machine’ while meshing with a healthier, saner and more success full other reality then maybe, just maybe, we’re all on to something….
Last visit of the year to Ice Station Zebra (or should that be ‘Nice Station Zebra’, as it was decidedly cosy following on from the spanking new ‘heating wurks’?) to see Agent Johnny before ‘X-Mass’ (for the X-Men). Still no sign of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Archives being returned from deep storage however – presumably they’ve been removed ter a secure Government facility fer further analysis – but that certainly wasn’t causing Our Man In Pester Wails to lose any sleep…. er, judging by his bleary ‘bedhead’ when he (finally) answered the [CENSORED] door. One clipping of his toenails later (some things you just can’t unsee) and the swill wiz good ter go! With the ‘one-eyed-god’ restin’ up – having evidently seen more than enough front line action last week – there wiz nothing for our Agents to do but to krank open the swill and transport themselves back to August 1968 via Two From The Vault. (Truth be told, the Christmas TV schedules have seriously muscled in on Agent Johnny’s daytime fillum action.)….
It was in the middle of this afternoon of contented chuntering – Johnny wiz on especially great form, explaining at one point the beginnings of his Radio Free Cleghorn comic strip – that it suddenly struck Agent Rob how very strange this situation is. He found himself thinking, as Agent Johnny popped to Shunker 5 for the ‘unexpected bonus’ of a ‘Perry White’, how he’s actually sitting in the front room of one of the world’s very last genuine Underground/Outsider comic artists – nothing contrived or artificial here, just a strangely pure trajectory followed unselfconsciously – looking round at all the posters, postcards and flyers pinned to the wall, all the surrounding years of accumulated books, comics, tpbs, magazines and records, this quite fascinating mind that has, over a lifetime, made sense and shaped everything around into an outward extension of itself….
How did that happen, these unlikely paths crossing over 10 years ago? Life. So this is life, all our little lives, our homes, the people and things you can reach out and touch as you pass through. That’s all we are and, unless you become that mad person ranting in the street (Agent Rob, next year), it’s as much as you can realistically expect and affect in this day and age, sending light out into the darkness. So Agent Rob – who quite often seriously pre-dreads these visits, never quite knowing what Agent Johnny he’s going to get and in what exact state – relaxed for once and cherished the moment, knowing it, knowing like all the others, it will soon vanish into the nothing of memory. Keep these things close and remember them fondly when the bombs start to fall. Dark Star crashing….
Or maybe Agent Rob wiz dreaming, both our Agents drifting off to sleep as the daylight dwindled, the room temperature having reached peak ‘auld man dozing’. Rousing himself around 4 o’clock it wiz the final hour fer Rob to take his leave from the front and head into town and pitch up at Deadhead Comics. A few pints later (and at least a half bottle of port earlier to help Agent Austin‘s Christmas spirits) and the time had come to spill out into the darkness and attempt to negotiate the impending holidays confusion at Waverley Railway Station while stewed somewhat silly. I’ll leave you with Deadhead’s Christmas message, “stop sending f*cking video links to my f*cking phone!”….
Sounds: Two From The Vault by Grateful Dead: Memory Span by The Lines: Kuff Dam and Tart Tart by Happy Mondays: Sea Within A Sea by The Horrors and the concluding tracks of Blows Agianst The Empire by Paul Kantner, Grace Slick & Jefferson Starship….
The Lady From Shanghai vs. The (a)Gent From Edinburgh…. ‘Thor’sday’ saw Agent Rob make a (cold) snap-enough decision to visit Agent Johnny only to be surprised by a somewhat sparser than expected Ice Station – about 25% of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Archives have been removed and put into storage to allow essential ‘heating wurks’ to be carried out – and a very chatty John G. (which, considering Agent Rob wiz unable to find More4+1 on Freeview,meant he’d blundered in a good 40 minutes into The Lady From Shanghai). Our Man In Pester Wails was, however, unperturbed by this interruption – seems he’d been too busy readin’ The Shadow and had in fact missed the beginning of the fillium himself – and was quite happy to chunter contentedly over the top of the final hour and twenty minutes….
Naturally the swill was ‘kranked’ open immediately upon arrival and, having watched the concluding ten minutes of Aces High efter wur Lady it wiz decided the ‘one-eyed-god’ be laid to rest fer the duration of the afternoon, calling upon Agent Rob’s ‘music box’ ter soundtrack the ever-dwindling of time…. The unfortunate passing of Robert Vaughn (“oh, f*ck”) – though perhaps this will see a welcome return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to our ‘tell-aye’ screens – the writings of Brian Aldiss and Cordwainer Smith and The Avengers (UK) and their featuring in a vintage T.V. Comic Annual – Our Man had two recently purchased editions – were all topics fer discussion. But these dead couldn’t stay grateful forever, and soon it wiz time fer Agent Rob to gulp down his third pint and depart fer the city to see Agent Austin, where he wiz pretty sure there was a copy of Alec: The Years Have Pants awaitin’ at Deadhead Comics….
Sights: The Lady From Shanghai….
Sounds: Blows Against The Empire by Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and Jefferson Starship: Memory Span by The Lines: Sea Within A Sea by The Horrors and Good Morning Little Schoolgirl and Dark Star (Two from Two From The Vault) by Grateful Dead….
Hail Woden’sday! For it was then that Agent Rob descended on a very tidy Ice Station Zebra, soldiering gamely on thru Agent Johnny‘s somewhat frosty reception, banishing the silent treatment by softening him up with swill…. It was S.H.I.E.L.D business as usual – one repair of the ‘rekkid player’ (it’s now decidedly defunct but coupled with a new-ish amp the tape machine struggles ever on) and several audio tapes (and their accompanying ‘electronic pulses’) later it wiz time to gather round the ‘One-eyed-god’ fer to watch ‘The Invaders’. Quite a corkin’ series 2 episode this, ‘The Life Seekers’….
A large chunk of the conversation was (understandably) given over to the (soon-to-be-announced) ‘Unearthly Science Fiction‘ anthology, the dummy having been submitted to Agent Johnny ‘fer approval’ last ‘Saturnday’. With only a few minor suggestions from Our Man in Pester Wails it wiz then time to hit the road and head fer Deadhead Comics ter grab a quick beer with Agent Austin before the return to Glasgog beckoned….
Sights: The Invaders, ‘The Life Seekers’
Sounds: Some Friendly (109 pt.2, Polar Bear & Believe You Me) by The Charlatans: A Saucerful Of Secrets by Pink Floyd: New World’s Fair by Micheal Moorcock & The Deep Fix: Flying Doesn’t Help by Anthony More….
“Mrs Peel we’re needed….” An interestin’ Sunday service indeed this weekend as Agent Rob wiz summoned by Auntie Beeb to take part in Good Morning Scotland – other comic personalities were (un)available! – and their timely discussion on all things Comic Con shaped, given the MCM Expo had taken over the nearby SECC fer 2 days of costumed japes and cape-like capers. Further up the corking billing was none other than Sylvester McCoy – Rob being careful not to mention that his stint as Doctor Who was last discussed in a positive light in Standard Grade French many moons ago – and none another than Bryan Cooney, the el supremo heid honcho at MCM (which we assume does not stand for Man-Crush Monday?) itself….
Of course, it was all too soon all over quick as a flash – but thankfully the wonders of modern technology mean you can still hear the words of wisdom (as well as Agent Rob make a strong start with his first response only to then repeat it in a far less comprehensible fashion on his second attempt) here. The Comic Con segment begins at 01:32:28. As Iain ‘And Then Emily Was Gone’ Laurie said on Twitter it was ‘unmissable’…. though that was perhaps a typo for ‘unlistenable’? Be quick – this link will self-destruct in 2419200 seconds!
As one’d expect following the programme it was time for a lengthy procession of fan photos and autographs, but Sylvester and Bryan gamely hung aboot until that had concluded fer a quick word with our cartoonist superstar, ho ho ho! Alas, they then had to dash for the bus just as our Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. was whisked away in an awaiting limo, his 15 minutes of fame duly up. Then again, given how nebulous some of the guests appearing at the likes of MCM are, don’t be surprised if Agent Rob appears next year billed as ‘7th Doctor assistant in short radio drama’ (autographs will be available providing you purchase a set of 4 Braw Books coasters, a steal at just £25)….
Agent Johnny in the area! Tokyo Joe in the area! Quite a special ‘Freya’sday’ last week as this Lanark Grammar duo descended on Glasgog to meet up with Agent Rob. The purpose of the visit was strictly pleasure of course! After a leisurely sit down and a cuppa ‘earl-eye’ in the morning at Hope Street Studios it was soon time to pack up our troubles and head along to The Mono Pub (as Our Man in Pester Wails refers to it) fer a ‘view to a swill’. There much contented chuntering, including talk of Japanese hurricanes and radioactivity, ensued….
Sounds: Two From The Vault (Disc 1) by Grateful Dead & Ummagumma (Disc 1) by Pink Floyd….
Just in time to see what the butler saw on Wodin’sday! Yep, Agent Rob pitched up at Ice Station on the dot at ‘high noon’ just as The Avengers was starting on True Entertainment – which maybe explains Agent Johnny’s initial, somewhat disgruntled, ‘wall of silence’ greeting – but quickly settled down in ‘ze smoking room’ to enjoy a steady swill in the presence of its superb sixties silliness. Our Man in Pester Wails did cheer up a bit when presented with his Agent X4 & The Deep Fix manuscript fer checking over….
As soon this was concluded Agent Rob was then tasked with hunting fer a suitable fillum ter, um, fill the afternoon’s viewing. And so it was that Movies4Men were screening the Howard Hawks 1952 Western, The Big Sky (quite the epic adventure up the Missouri River!). Still, it allowed fer ‘the big swill’ to continue with plenty of time fer blethering during the adverts….
‘The big news’ is obviously that the cover fer Unearthly Science Fiction is now finished and safely back in Glasgog to undergo ‘brawduction duties’ fer printing. Still a fair bit to go with this much-mooted anthology, so don’t expect any previews until such a time as it’s definitely heading fer the press. Better still, pencillin’ has begun on the final page of Agent of S.M.E.R.S.H…! This revelation prompted much discussion on the bus into town, destination Deadhead….
A (safe) cracking – if somewhat very last-minute – expedition to Ice Station on Wodin’sday to see Agent Johnny. When Agent Rob pitched up at ‘high noon’ ‘Our Man in Pester Wails’ was already settlin’ doon to the day’s episode of The Avengers (an interestin’ tale, ‘Homicide and Old Lace’, penned by Dr. Who stalwarts Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks and overseen by Terry Nation). The swill was duly ‘cranked’ open and, before things got too ‘bonga bonga’, a new stylus wiz fitted to the (currently defunct) ‘rekkid playa’. Amazing what ye can do with a bit of Blu-Tack when all else fails….
And so it fell to the ‘music box’ to keep things swingin’ as our Agents chuntered contentedly about the recent Glasgow Comic Con as well as the proposed Unearthly Science Fiction and Agent of SMERSH projects (neither of which is any nearer to actual completion – maybe they’ll be ready for next year?). Then, just as the batteries went ‘dud’, it was suddenly time fer Agent Rob to head on into Deadhead Comics to see Agent Austin – admittedly in no’ bad shape for a man who’s evidently been ‘giving his all’ to support Wales in their epic Euro 2016 run. Hard to imagine the state he must have found himself in on Thor’sday morning tho….
Sights: The Avengers, ‘Homicide and Old Lace’
Sounds: Memory Span by The Lines: Two From The Vault by Grateful Dead….