Ollie Francis is a fiction writer based in Sheffield, UK since the early 2000s, when he moved from Norfolk to Sheffield to study English Literature and Biblical Studies: an experience which left him fascinated by belief structures and human fallibility. He now teaches English Literature at a successful academy in Sheffield. He likes to write about the human tendency towards narcissism and the hidden stories we rarely notice. He also writes down his thoughts on films, music and books.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Philip K Dick
I’ve always loved Bladerunner. Even today, it has to be one of the greatest science fiction films ever made. Yet it has taken me decades to get around to reading the book on which it was based.
I really enjoy reading books that turn out to be nothing like the films they inspired. It feels like a fresh telling of the story and it helps me to appreciate the silver screen version even more as I begin to appreciate how its creators specifically crafted it for its medium. Far from trying to transfer the ideas from one form to another, a version inspired by the ideas of the other and turned into something new and perfectly suited to a different way of story telling. Maybe that is it; or maybe I just really appreciate a good story well told.
Either way, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is most certainly a good story well told. Philip K. Dick’s imagined world is so beautifully expansive and yet personal at the same time. The advanced technology alongside the desperation of humanity for belief and religion. The desperation and unreliable nature of his characters ensure the reader is left with a very human impression of them whether they be biologicals or replicants; you end up both frustrated and in awe of their actions. There are no heroes in this piece - only the ordinary in an extraordinary setting. And that is what clinches it for me - science fiction that delves into the central tenets of what it means to be human.
The Book Thief
There are some books that seem to sweep up a reading generation in their wake. The story of Liesel and her Jewish fist fighter is one of these books. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to see why.
The books greatest merit is its focus on the small story. This is a tale that happens on a small scale. It tells the tales of ordinary people; the sort of stories that you can imagine happening in the lives of many people at that time in history. In this way, it paints a beautiful picture of small lives and small dreams; which, of course, are the best stories to tell.
But all too often, it seems as though it falls into a paint-by-numbers experience. Nothing about it feels fresh. In fact, much of it feels cliche. Death as a narrator, refuge in words, love found too late: even the setting of WWII seems like a rehash of any number of other war novels. Everything has been done before - which is fine, of course. After all, there is nothing new on this Earth that does not owe something to that which has gone before - but The Book Thief recombines these elements in a way that adds little to the finished product. In the end, it feels constructed. It isn’t a natural telling, but one that feels manufactured. It is all too obviously artifice. I don’t mean in the way that our narrator seems to talk directly to the reader nor in the way that they give us images of the future before the narrative itself has reached them: those features work all very nicely and act as commendation to the writing ability of Zusak. Rather, it is artifice in the selection of features chosen for the construction of emotional impact - the strong girl, the ethnic victim, the sacrificial father, the lost lover, the misunderstood matriarch, the tug and pull of broken families. These features all claw at the reader and each is well written and I enjoyed the reading of it as a guilty pleasure; but each piece is also so obviously chosen and slotted into the story that it ends up like a emotional jigsaw. Just pop the piece in the right place and you’ll end up with a pretty picture.
There is beauty in subtleness. And Death, it seems, is not subtle.