book recommendations: Sudden Mischief, Dark Rivers of the Heart, and The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick

Released in 1998, Sudden Mischief is among the easy readable and equally easily forgettable dozens of Robert B. Parker's Spencer detective series. I read Parker—almost solely—to learn how to utilize dialogue in my own writing more cleanly and effectively. As a master dialogian (dialogist?), Parker is capable of quickly moving his plot utilizing hundreds of pages of succinct dialogue, as if he were writing a screenplay. This chapter in the lives of Spencer, Susan, and Hawk differs slightly in that Parker attempts to utilize more description and Spencer doesn't kill anyone.
This paperback, available at used bookstores the world over for less than a cup of American Starbucks coffee, will keep you awake for about the same amount of time and—tomorrow—will be as memorable.

Dark Rivers of the Heart, published in 2000, is an abnormally unusual Dean Koontz novel because it contains nothing abnormal or unusual: no genetic mutations, no aliens, no other-worldly monsters, no alternate dimensions and no psych-powers. I read Koontz to watch and learn from his ability to smoothly switch character viewpoint as well as tense (whether returning from a flashback or from a story-line running parallel: never a hitch, always an invisible seam), to revel in his milieu descriptions, and to understand his use of suspense-heightening tone.
This 'evil-government' story: tech-spy thriller meets routine serial-killer, is more grounded in reality than what one expects from the twisted imagination of Koontz. It is available to borrow from your public library.

I've always adored Philip K. Dick's short stories more than his novels (which were never long). Although his voice is dark, pessimistic, and—at times—overly heavy, he has a keenly inquisitive eye on the questions: what is reality and what is life. His ability to imagine what-if and extrapolate a believable answer worked into an environment tickling with details, has always made me envious. This collection of his essays, speeches, and brief excerpts from his mammoth-8,000 page philosophical journal Exegesis (together with a helpful introduction by Lawrence Sutin) provides a perspective on Dick's sometimes whacky, sometimes ordinary, sometimes addled thoughts. (As if one were able to read his blog!) For speculative fiction fans, this book is worth the price of a new CD. Own it today. When in need of a reality check: read PKD.

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