Possible Futures and Precogs: The Minority Report

3674-11I have been a fan of Philip K. Dick’s work since reading his Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? two years ago. It is one of my favorite books and I have finally gotten around to dipping into Dick’s large ouevre. He published 44 novels and at least 120 short stories. There have been 10 film adaptations of his work with Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner being the most famous (even if it is a loose adaptation of Do Androids Dream). There is also a film adaptation of The Minority Report directed by Steven Spielberg with Tom Cruise taking the lead role. It  is an excellent film and I thoroughly enjoyed it when I watched it a long time ago (I’m not sure but I think Spielberg stays fairly close to Dick’s novella).

What makes The Minority Report so good is that it is not just a taut thriller but it also is a deep meditation on the meaning of free-will. It is set in the near-future where, through a series of innovations and new technologies, Police Commissioner Anderton has been able to effectively end murders. By using mutant humans who show latent psychic abilities and special machinery, the “Pre-Cogs” as they are called, can predict the future. Their prophecies are carefully combed over and the Police then arrest those who are going to commit future crimes, effectively ending violence with the would-be murderers being sent off to a detention camp for a few years. Problems arise when Anderton finds his one name listed as the future murderer of a man he does not know. What follows is a tense journey as Anderton tries to figure out whether he is being framed in some larger plot by the unemployed Army or whether he is actually in danger of killing someone.

Dick does not beat you over the head with his ideas or thoughts. Instead, he very carefully layers them under the narrative so that by the time you finish The Minority Report, you find yourself asking what just happened. And as you begin to unravel the narrative, you head backwards through the narrative, realizing that Dick has been conducting a secondary conversation beneath the surface that you did not pick up on. In a way, this is how a good crime novel should work (but often does not for me). In this novella, Dick is concerned with whether knowledge of our future actions can change the way we act. The fact that Anderton finds out that he will kill someone in the future does change his course of action, but it also forces him to consider whether the system of using prediction to incarcerate future criminals is itself just. This doubt is, of course, left hanging even by the novella’s end. Dick has readers wanting to believe in the efficiency of the system, but we simply cannot help being nagged by the doubts that it has failed (and that Dick may want us to listen to this voice).

Overall, this is a great novella. It is high-quality science fiction that everyone should read.

Dick, Philip K. The Minority Report. 1956. Mexico: Pantheon Books, 2002.Print.

* The edition that I read was printed like a read out that the Pre-Cogs produced. I liked the look of it and the change-up to my usual reading habits as I read it more like reading something on a clipboard.

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Quick and Brutal: The Hunter

hunterWow, that was over fast. This was probably the fastest read book I’ve had so far. I think I may have started this morning. Richard Stark’s The Hunter is noir fiction with Parker the betrayed thief who lays a bloody trail of revenge out over the novel’s 190 pages. L, a colleague who writes on detective fiction, has helped me to make some sense of the various genres of detective/crime fiction and after reading this I can see the importance of these tags. Parker pulls heist or bankroll job once or twice a year to fund his resort hotel lifestyle, but he is betrayed by his wife and a sleazy disgraced gangster, Mal. The plot centres on Parker’s attempt to have his revenge on Mal, but in doing so it also shines a light on New York in what I can only guess is the 1930s. There is an element of stylized description and setting in this book, and I would be amiss not to mention that I have also read Darwyn Cooke’s graphic adaptations of Stark’s series. They are excellent and well-worth a glance if you are interested in graphic novels.

As to The Hunter, I am not sure how I feel about it. Quick and brutal sums up my feelings of the narrative arc of the novel. There is plenty of violence along with the seedier aspects of organized crime. However, I would not say that the novel revels in the violence or the crime. What surprised me was how the novel asks readers to sympathize with the wronged Parker, in part, condoning his quest for a bloody revenge. Parker is a hard man whose ego drives him to “right” the “wrong” done to him. There’s something sexy with Stark’s writing (I should say that Stark is a pseudonym for Donald Westlake). I wanted to root for Parker, but something held me back. Call it a sense that literature should call its readers to higher purposes. This is not to say that all books must be moral, in fact many books shed a light on morals precisely by not being moral, but I found nothing redemptive about this book. I just did not enjoy the misogyny or the casual violence of The Hunter.

This is not to say that Stark’s book is not well-written. It is. It’s just that the subject matter does not interest me in any sustained manner. I never liked The Sopranos, so I am going to go out on a limb and guess that noir fiction is not for me. However, the variety in the selection of detective/noir fiction will hopefully help keep this group from getting stale.

I would not recommend this book to most readers. I suppose if I knew you liked noir fiction, I would recommend it but I don’t really know many who like crime/detective novels to being with.

Stark, Richard. The Hunter. 1962. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008. Print.

PS – The image I found for the cover is from the original run of the book. It looks pretty amazing. I feel like current trends in book covers just do not match the allure of previous generations.