When I read a book, peruse art in a gallery, or go in search of new music I’m looking for something I’ve never experienced before. With visual art I’m hoping the artist will show me vistas that I cannot see without the filter of his imagination. The same holds true with writing – perhaps even more so because I will carry the story in my memory long after all of the paintings have faded into squares against a white wall.
For this reason, I seek out stories that are diverse in genre and style – clinging to those that are surreal, haunting and as far afield as the author can take me. One author whose imagination feeds me those dream-time delicacies is Philip K. Dick.
PKD’s books and stories have been around since the sixties, the author himself dying in 1982. Though not as publicly acclaimed as other authors in his genre (in his lifetime), at least eleven of his short stories and novels have been adapted for the screen. Blade Runner for example, a cult classic on screen, was the adaptation of PKD’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. This is one of the more famous conversions, but you might recognize several on the list. Then there are other works that do not give him story credit, but have distinct PKD themes. Just recently, I was reading his story “Second Variety” and realized that the premise had been recycled in the fresh Battlestar Galactica reboot. It deals with robots that build better versions of themselves in order to walk among humans undetected – becoming more efficient soldiers by blending in and appealing to our more compassionate natures.
Among the many complex and imaginative threads that have kept science fiction connoisseurs happy for decades, PKD left behind a legacy of fictional paranoia, governmental conspiracy, over-reaching surveillance, and thuggish police forces. In addition to these prickly topics, there was another theme prevalent in his fiction writing and later in the personal papers and letters that came to be called his Exegesis – what is reality?
Much like time, there are aspects of reality that are more relative than fixed. The most obvious examples can be found with people who suffer mental illness, sustain brain damage, or use drugs. In these instances, reality pivots and flops based on the presence or absence of chemicals in their system. But you don’t need these extremes to experience an altered reality, consider grief and love and how they can act to modify your choices and perception.
PKD believed at one point (for at some point he believed in everything, then nothing) that all living beings were part of reality and all non-living things were malleable parts in the structure around us, but it was not until our perception labeled the thing that it actually took shape. Therefore what appeared as a table to you, could appear as a bench to someone who does not share your perception of the reality around you.
It sounds crazy, but consider how a child can see the potential in sticks as swords, cocked fingers as guns, and cardboard boxes as ships. Or how a writer can overhear a snippet of conversation about mundane life and find in it, paths to danger or new worlds. Think also of how something as simple as darkness can turn a cheerful room into a threatening place of shadows and voids.
For the month of May, let’s explore reality together. Your characters need not be limited to the confines of a science fiction story in order to question the signal and poke around in the noise for answers. Consider reality, how it reveals itself, and how a new perspective might alter it for your protagonist. Surprise us, or help us see the Truth.
Find your own take on –
What is reality?
…then share it with us.
Now for the rules and dates and whatnot –
Your story or collection of poetry should not exceed 5,000 words. I know that’s more than we usually encourage, but this is one theme for the whole month so a larger word count makes sense. The deadline to submit a public link to your story in the form below is Tuesday, May 26th at 04:00 EDT (4 am). The submission form is programmed to not accept entries after that time, so do not count on human sleep patterns to give you an extra couple of hours. Anyway, I’ll start pulling together the submissions around 5 am that day to get the reading list out to you before I go to work. Voting will be open from 5/26 to 5/30. The writing submitted must be yours and should be written for this contest. Please do not submit earlier work simply edited to fit the theme. This rule is for you. Challenge yourself to write something new today. Give yourself time to polish and refine the piece before submitting. With all of the contest reading to do, there will not be time for JFF entries. Each writer only has one writing slot – make it count.
Who can play –
Following are the 12 writers signed up for the May challenge:
Liza Cooke, Kathy/darlinleo, Missflyer,
Shane Bell, Cedarwolfsinger, Alethessa,
FAWatson, RicoChey, Hwango,
And I swear somewhere I saw bardiphouka sign-up, but I can’t find it now. Did I dream it? Maybe it was a sign that he should just write with us anyway.
If I missed your name, please throw something at me so I can fix the list.
Please submit your story info in this format in the survey below –
*Please note author should be the name you want to publicly share your story under, regardless of journal/blog name or familiar user ID.