Guest Blogger and WWEnd Member, Charles Dee Mitchell, has contributed a great many book reviews to WWEnd and we’ve invited him to contribute to our blog. This is the latest in Dee’s series of Philip K. Dick reviews that he started on his blog www.potatoweather.blogspot.com. We’ll be posting one every week until he runs out of reviews or gets tired of Philip K. Dick books.
Philip K. Dick must have dreamed that any one of his five wives or several girlfriends would one day sit across the breakfast table and speak those words to him. I don’t know that he was ever psychotic, that term was tossed around differently in the 1960′s than it would be today. But drunk and on amphetamines? Yes. Hallucinating? During the time he was writing this novel PKD walked daily from his home to his "writing shack" about a mile down the road. In the blue, Northern California sky, he saw a gigantic malevolent face. "It was immense, it filled like a quarter of the sky. It had empty slots for eyes — it was metal and cruel and, worst of all, it was God." An Episcopal priest PKD consulted suggested it was a vision of Satan. Whatever the case, it didn’t go away for days. So, I think that is another "yes" for hallucinating.
In The Game-Players of Titan, earth has been dealt a double blow. As per usual with Dick, there has been an atomic war, this one started by the Red Chinese using a new weapon developed in East Germany. (Nice period details, there.) The radiation released by the new weapon sterilizes the populations it is directed against, but wind currents being what they are, the Red Chinese have inadvertently almost completely sterilized the human race. To add insult to injury, beings from Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, have invaded and conquered earth. They are the Vugs, oversized amoebas that sound a bit like Al Capp’s Shmoo. Humans find them irritating and keep Vug sticks on hand for pushing them out of rooms. But the Vugs are, in their way, benevolent landlords. Longevity drugs allow humans to live into their hundreds while never looking much over 30 or 40 years of age. With earth’s population in the low millions, lucky humans are Bindmen, property owners whose properties include towns, cities, and vast swathes of the depopulated planet. If you are a Bindman you must also play the Titans’ game.
The Titans’ game seems like nothing more than a rudimentary board game, a simplified form of Monopoly but with all your landholdings at stake. Peter Garden’s loss of Berkeley in the first chapter of the book sets in motion events that will involve murder, interplanetary travel, telekinesis, ESP, and large quantities of alcohol and amphetamines.
Along with Berkeley, Garden loses his current wife, but acquires a new one that same night. Another purpose of the game is to keep reshuffling human couples in hopes of finding those who can still "get lucky," the current term for becoming pregnant. Garden’s spectacular bender that takes up much of the book occurs when he discovers that with his new wife he has gotten lucky for the first time and on their first night. He ingests every pill in the house and starts hitting the bars. What he discovers are conspiracies within conspiracies, Vug infiltration of his closest friends, and a offer to play the ultimate game to decide the fate of the earth.
The Game-Players of Titan is PKD really hitting his stride. It is a masterpiece of paranoia, where no one can be trusted to be who they claim to be, where rules are made to be broken, and the protagonist must bluff his way through a game that he knows is a deadly sham. And how do you go about bluffing if half the people in the room can read your mind? The fact that PKD works out a method implies that he had spent far too much energy in his personal life dealing with just barely more earthbound versions of these same issues. And remember that every morning, on his walk to his typewriter, he must endure the glaring, empty eyes of a malevolent god.