READS OF THE YEAR 2014: Michael O’Brien

Philip José Farmer, The Unreasoning Mask (1983)

farmerThis brilliant science-fiction narrative is centred on the quest of Ramstan, who has stolen an immensely powerful, sentient technological device, named the glyfa, from the planet Tenolt where it was worshipped as a god. Influenced by texts such as Moby Dick and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Farmer sends Ramstan on a journey reminiscent of the romantic tradition, which sees him attempt to bring reason to a chaotic universe. As a tribute to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Farmer has Ramstan defeat a chaos monster, the bolg, to reconcile the seemingly irrational nature of an apparently godless universe within the Jungian unity of his unconscious. For me, this is the most sophisticated text of one of the most conceptually progressive novelists of the twentieth century.

William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

Much of William Gibson’s oeuvre explores virtual reality and the possibility for finding transcendence within cyberspace. Neuromancer, the first in the Sprawl Trilogy, is famous as the archetypal cyberpunk text. In a near future where massively powerful mega-corporations dominate, everything is done in the name of ‘biz.’ Characters are encouraged by an individualist ideology to compete in hi-tech bodily augmentation to achieve higher status and power. If Neuromancer creates an aesthetic of speed and hyper-real imagery, on a deeper level it uses cyberspace to exposdicke the limits and possibilities of near-future dystopia. Neuromancer creates a myth of spiritual potentiality over and above the dominative modes of production. 

Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

In his lifetime Philip K. Dick published forty-four novels and nearly all explored the structure of human reality. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel about a dystopian social system marked by the hegemonic domination of inhumane mega-corporations. In this world there is a profound lack of authentic human relationships; everyone goes about in search of personal advancement instead. Artificial animals and humans are substitutes for authenticity, and support the modes of production. However, the protagonist Rick Deckard’s search for an authentic relationship with a real animal leads him to make discoveries about the spiritual nature of human existence, allowing him to transcend the limitations of functioning as a consumer in the 21st century.


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