BOOK REVIEW: Lost in Transit: The Strange Story of the Philip K Dick Android (David F Dufty, Victory)

Imagine talking to a life-size robot version of your favourite dead author. Crafted by a skilled sculptor and controlled by artificial intelligence, the android could—in the author’s voice and with human gestures and facial movements—answer questions about his life, his books and any topic you asked him. Now imagine the author was Philip K Dick, the paranoid sci-fi visionary whose most famous work, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, featured conscious androids almost indistinguishable from their human makers. The stranger-than-fiction Philip K Dick android was built by a team of young scientists at Memphis University’s Institute of Intelligent Systems, led by roboticist David Hanson and programmer Andrew Olney. In 2005 it briefly captured the world’s attention, appearing at technology conventions around the US, before going missing on a flight between Dallas and Las Vegas, never to be seen again. Dufty’s insider’s account blends the android’s story with that of artificial intelligence, robotics and Dick himself in a combination that will be fascinating to sci-fi buffs, popular science readers and nerds of all stripes (like me). It’s the best kind of popular science—a book that doesn’t require any previous knowledge, but leaves you hungry to know more, and wondering at the possibilities that may lie ahead.

Lachlan Jobbins is an editor, reviewer and ex-bookseller. This review first appeared in the June issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Bookseller+Publisher magazine June issue: top picks

The June issue has landed! This time around several titles impressed our reviewers. Here are just a few:

Berlin Syndrome (Melanie Joosten, Scribe, July)

Reviewer Eloise Keating describes Melanie Joosten’s Berlin Syndrome as a ‘courageous and exciting debut’ from ‘an extremely talented new writer’. She recommends the Melbourne writer’s novel to readers of literary fiction, who will appreciate the story of the ‘complex and dangerous relationship’ between a backpacking Australian photographer Clare and Berlin school teacher Andi. ‘Joosten is masterful in her descriptions of the loneliness that can be found both in a foreign city full of strangers and in an apartment shared by two people,’ she writes.

There Should Be More Dancing (Rosalie Ham, Vintage, July)

Fans of Rosalie Ham’s The Dressmaker ‘won’t be disappointed’ by her new novel, says reviewer Heather Dyer.  The story unfolds at Margery’s 80th birthday party, where she is ‘planning to fling herself from a balcony’. However, ‘there are a lot of people in the atrium below and she doesn’t want to spoil their day’ so she bides her time in her hotel room and ‘looks back on her life, convinced of conspiracies that have kept her in the dark for years, and full of grievances’. ‘A cast of memorable characters and Ham’s sly humour make this an entertaining read,’ says Dyer.

Lost in Transit: The Strange Story of the Philip K Dick Android (David F Duffy, MUP, July)

In Lost in Transit, author David F Duffy blends the story of a ‘stranger-than-fiction Philip K Dick android’ that was ‘built by a team of young scientists at Memphis University’s Institute of Intelligent Systems’ with a discussion of ‘artificial intelligence, robotics and Dick himself’, writes reviewer Lachlan Jobbins. The android, based on the famous sci-fi author, ‘briefly captured the world’s attention … before going missing on a flight between Dallas and Las Vegas, never to be seen again.’ Jobbins concludes: ‘It’s the best kind of popular science—a book that doesn’t require any previous knowledge, but leaves you hungry to know more, and wondering at the possibilities that may lie ahead.’

Infernal Triangle (Paul McGeough, A&U, July)

Foreign correspondent Paul McGeough’s Infernal Triangle is ‘essential reading’ according to reviewer Paula Grunseit. ‘It covers his observations of significant events in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Levant over a decade’, she writes, and despite his ‘access to numerous key figures, from political leaders to dissidents and Islamic Jihad fighters … the “ordinary” person is not forgotten either’. McGeough’s collection of reports ‘should be of interest to anyone who follows international news and current affairs’, says Grunseit.

Sign up for the free fortnightly Bookseller+Publisher Newsletter here for more advance book news.

BOOK REVIEW: The Finger (Angus Trumble, MUP)

In the words of author Angus Trumble, The Finger ‘contains a lot of information that may be useful for future inquirers about fingers and finger lore,’ as well as being interesting for the rest of us too. And, hey, I may just be a future-finger-lore-enquirer, because I found this book truly fascinating. Trumble fuses the worlds of medicine and history, sociology and economics, and throws in a bit of sport and combat for good measure. But the focus here is mainly on art and art history. Trumble, from the Yale Center for British Art and former Curator of European Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia, is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about art, and he speaks with reverence of sculptures and paintings both ancient and modern. Yet his wisdom knows no bounds, and he asks and answers many questions that I, for one, would never have thought about—yet am suddenly fascinated by. Why do we point? Why is the middle finger rude? Why do we wear gloves? What’s the deal with nail polish? How do fingers work? You could say we know our fingers pretty much like the backs of our hands … but how well do we really know them?

Hannah Cartmel is a bookseller and former publishing assistant. This review first appeared in the May/June issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

From the archive: INTERVIEW: Anne Summers on ‘The Lost Mother’ (MUP)

Oure reviewer Sue Bond spoke to Anne Summers about her memoir The Lost Mother: A Story of Art and Love (MUP) back in the July 2009 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. The book has now been released in paperback.

The title of your book refers in part to a lost painting of your mother by Australian artist Constance Stokes (née Parkin). Does the title also refer to your relationship with your mother, which you describe as having been difficult at times?

To my great surprise, I learned a lot about my mother in the course of writing this book. I read the diaries that I did not know she had kept and they were quite revealing, especially in the opinions she expressed about family members, but I also found myself starting to see certain things from her point of view, and this was something I was never able to do when I was younger.

I’m intrigued by what you write about Constance Stokes as an artist, wife and mother. You note that she complained about her lack of freedom to paint since becoming a mother, and yet the period when she had three small children was her most productive. What do you think made it so creative?

This is one of the central paradoxes of Constance Stokes’s career and it is one I have puzzled over. I have been able to unearth the basic facts of her life, to document the main trajectory of her extraordinary career, and to have some insights into how she was thinking through having access to her journals. But many questions remain. I think that maybe a full scale psychological biography is needed to explore how it was that the very thing she felt held her back in fact unleashed her greatest period of creative genius. It was while her children were young that she produced most of her masterpieces, was admired by critics and other artists alike and was bought by all the serious Melbourne collectors, public and private. It was when her children got older that she seemed to flag. Even so, she continued to paint—and to draw—until her death, and the quality of her later work was still remarkable. She fully deserves further exploration. Continue reading

Forthcoming titles: Our reviewers’ top picks

Among our reviewers’ top picks of forthcoming Australian books in the upcoming combined May/June issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine are The Book of Human Skin (Michelle Lovic, Bloomsbury, May); Breaking News: The Golden Age of Graham Perkin (Ben Hills, Scribe, May); The Finger: A Handbook (Angus Trumble, MUP, May); When Hungry, Eat (Joanne Fedler, Allen & Unwin) and With Stendhal (Simon Leys—AKA Pierre Ryckmans, Black Inc., June).

We’ve also heard advance reading copies of Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor (Scribe, June) are going down well with the staff of a certain Melbourne-based independent bookselling chain, drawing comparisons to Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. It’s reviewed in the May/June issue too: ‘McGregor presents a refreshing view of life in Australia—specifically Sydney—that celebrates the doubts, challenges and ordinary activities and emotions of everyday life … you don’t want to put the book down,’ writes our reviewer, bookseller Carly Been.

There are more than 70 reviews of forthcoming Australian and New Zealand books in the May/June issue of the mag. Here’s how you get your hands on a copy.