open
Upgrade to a better browser, please.

Worlds Without End Blog

Philip K. Dickathon: Counter-Clock World Posted at 12:31 PM by Charles Dee Mitchell

charlesdee

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 keep posting them until he runs out of reviews or gets tired of Philip K. Dick books.


Conter-Clock WorldThis is the first Philip K. Dick novel I have read in seven months, and I have to say — it felt like coming home.

The Dickian weirdness begins on page one. A policeman patrolling a rundown cemetery hears a familiar sound. A recently revived corpse calls out from her grave, “My name is Mrs. Tilly M. Benton, and I want to get out. Can anyone hear me?”

Dick published Counter-Clock World in 1967 and set it in the near future of 1998. But in this world, the Hobart Phase has been operating since 1986. Time is going in reverse. The dead are returning to life, and the lucky ones are rescued in time by vitarium operators, those who dig up the “old born,” get them healthy, and then sell them off to the highest bidder. This is usually a family member willing to care for an aged relative who will now, like everyone else on earth, start the process of becoming younger. (Unclaimed old borns become wards of the state.)

Right. The Hobart Phase. That thing where time starts running in reverse. Dick, as is usually the case, cannot be bothered by all the details of such a preposterous notion, at least not to the extent that it might slow down the story. He gives us the bits he finds funniest, most notably the fact that eating has become disgorging, an act done in private. Meanwhile everyone expects at least a daily dose of sogum. They look forward to it like it was cocktail hour and sometimes make a date to meet at sogum palaces. “Sogum,” although it sounds like a combination energy drink and drug, is clearly something to do with excrement, and for once we can be glad Dick spares us the details.

But all the implications of a world truly running in reverse are not Dick’s concern, and don’t let it be yours either or you will never make it through the novel. His plot surrounds the resurrection of a religious leader who the novel’s main character, Sebastian Hermes, proprietor of Cup of Hermes Vitarium, realizes will be a hot property on the resale market. What he doesn’t expect is the world of dangerous intrigues having the Anarch Peak on hand will expose him to. Rome wants him; the current leader of the Udites, Peak’s religion, wants him; and, the librarians and erads, whose job is to keep eliminating knowledge and art that could not yet have existed, they want him bad. They suspect, with good reason as it turns out, that Peak will have insights to the afterlife that other of the old born have not been able to articulate.

Dick puts his rather flat characters through a plot that spans only a couple of days but is filled with lies, bomb threats, assaults, a little adultery, and some soul searching. This is Dick’s most overtly religious novel, although it is hard to know exactly what he is thinking about when it comes to the religious implications of the plot. But he shares that sense of muddle-headedness with his lead character.

Religion, Sebastian thought wearily. More ins and outs, more angles, than ordinary commerce. The casuistry had already gone beyond him. He gave up.

Philip K. Dickathon: The Zap Gun Posted at 7:06 AM by Charles Dee Mitchell

charlesdee

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 keep posting them until he runs out of reviews or gets tired of Philip K. Dick books.


The Zap GunI was about fifty pages into The Zap Gun when it hit me. This PKD novel is a sustained satire on a focused topic. Each chapter did not introduce new characters with no discernible link to those I had already met. The plot had not yet splintered into blind alleys and drug-induced hallucinations. And PKD’s writing seemed relaxed. It lacked the driven quality that can inform both his best and worst books. He was having fun with this one.

The object of his satire is the cold war arms race. The novel, written in 1965, is set in 2004. Lars Powderdry, known as Mr. Lars to his adoring fans, is a fashion weapons designer, the best in West-bloc. (West-bloc is us, the good guys. The enemy is a Soviet controlled Peep-east.) Lars designs while in a drug-induced trance. His sketches are whisked off to labs for fabrication and testing. His Peep-east counterpart is a young woman named Lily Topchev.

There is a dirty secret behind all this high tech militarism. None of the weapons work, nor are they needed. Agreements between West-bloc and Peep-east have made such weaponry obsolete. Films of the weapons in use are simulations using robots and special effects. The sketches are "plowshared." They become the basis for household gadgets and toys. The masquerade is necessary to keep the masses, the "pursaps," happy. They want both the threat of annihilation and the comfort afforded by weapons to avoid it. But then alien satellites appear in Earth’s skies and begin abducting entire cities to serve as slave labor in the Sirius galaxy. Lars and Lily need to make a real weapon but fast.

PKD outdoes himself with neologisms and acronyms in The Zap Gun. The concept of plow sharing has real poetry to it. The society is divided between an elite group of "cogs" and a mass of "pursaps." Lars is a cog, and he hopes the term derives from cognoscenti. I thought he was worried it might imply he was merely a cog in a wheel, but he goes back to an early English usage where "to cog" was to cheat at dice. I was pronouncing "pursaps" in a way that suggested "poor saps," but Dick makes it clear he means "pure saps." Surly G. Febbs embodies Dick’s jaundiced view of the masses. He is a self-important, deluded pursap angered because an alien invasion is delaying his appointment to what he imagines is an important government post. Febbs is a master of neologisms, hyphenated nouns, and acronyms, and he looks with disdain on those pursaps who cannot stay abreast of the lingo. That will likely include the reader, who might have trouble remembering what MACH stands for or just what a concomody does. Acronym fever reaches new heights with the creation of the BOCFDUTCRBASEBFIN. Who knows what it stands for? Just say it with confidence.

How earth repels the invaders is handled cleverly and dispatched with quickly. There is always the sense that PKD might not care much about his own plots. Of the PKD novels I have known almost nothing of before opening to page one, The Zap Gun is among the most enjoyable. I read that PKD wrote it because a publisher requested a story with Zap Gun as the title. That could be true. He once expanded a novella into a novel because the publisher had cover art he really liked. But PKD does well by his arbitrary title. In one scene the weapons designers are discussing their basic uselessness, and Lars says of the pursaps, "All they really want is a Zap Gun." That throwaway line sums up the satire and the underlying anger in the book.

Philip K. Dickathon: Now Wait for Last Year Posted at 10:56 PM by Charles Dee Mitchell

charlesdee

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 keep posting them until he runs out of reviews or gets tired of Philip K. Dick books.


Now Wait for Last YearI hate it when this happens. I try out a brand new hallucinogenic drug only to find out that it is addictive after a single use. Then, while suffering withdrawals, I’m offered help only if I agree to spy on my estranged husband who is now special physician to the ailing Sec. Gen of the United Nations Gino Molinari. I take more of the drug to get me through the trip to the White House in Cheyenne, Wyoming, only to find that the drug messes not only with my sense of time but with time itself. I find myself stuck in a cow pasture in an auto-cab in the year 1935. The cab cannot make it to Cheyenne without refueling, and so we have to wait for the effects of the drug to wear off so we will be returned to the mid 21st century where the super-refined protonex that fuels the cab will once again be available.

Actually that has never happened to me. But it happens to Kathy Sweetscent in Now Wait for Last Year, and true to the spirit of PKD‘s novels this wild scene is barely a sidebar to what — or whatever — the book is about. Kathy will make it to Cheyenne, where the time-traveling aspects of the drug JJ-180 will mess with her life and that of her long-suffering, at least in his own mind, husband, Dr. Eric Sweetscent. He has an obese, hypochondriac despot to keep alive while earth is embroiled in a losing war between ‘Starmen and reegs. Earth has teamed with the ‘Starmen because they are humanoid. The reegs are six-foot tall bugs who must communicate through boxes that resemble training potties. But they are also winning the war. And ‘Starmen are infiltrating earth, and Molinari, known affectionately as The Mole, may actually be at death’s doorstep, or he might be yet another of the simulacra he has had made of himself, one of which is his young, vibrant leader self while another is a bullet-riddled corpse lying in a glass coffin.

Molinari is both a buffoon and shrewd politico. His constantly failing body may only be a ruse to get out of awkward meetings with the overbearing Frenesky, leader of the ‘Starmen. I pictured him as a character actor whose name I cannot remember, but PKD himself thought of him as a combination of Christ, Abraham Lincoln, and Mussolini. (That was a personality triad PKD attributed to several of his favorite characters.)

The plot starts running out of steam towards the end, but there are classic PKD moments of paranoia, intrigue, and absurdity. Now Wait for Last Year has made it into the three volume set of PKD novels distributed by the Library of America, so its reputation must be pretty good.

Philip K. Dickathon: The Crack in Space Posted at 9:03 PM by Charles Dee Mitchell

charlesdee

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 keep posting them until he runs out of reviews or gets tired of Philip K. Dick books.


The Crack in SpaceRegular readers of Philip K Dick would not expect him to write a novel exploring social issues, but in this case that is what he seems to think he is doing. The result is a muddle of ideas that try to stay topical while medium level PKD weirdness circles around them.

The setting for The Crack in Space is the late 21st century, and overpopulation, combined with a shortage of jobs, has become the major problem facing the human race. The solution has been to warehouse those who request it in suspended animation with the promise of awakening them when social conditions change. This is also a racial issue. "Cols" are now the majority population, and also the least employable. "Caucs" maintain the systems of government while millions of Cols become "bibs," — the name given to those warehoused sleepers. (I never quite figured out the "bib" allusion. Also in the book are "Jerries," the older generation that can still remember the way things used to be.)

It is a presidential election year, and the Republican Liberal Party candidate for the first time is a Col. Jim Briskin wants to be president and in his brilliant speeches is willing to say what he thinks the people, and the Col majority, want to here. He promises to close the warehouses and find a way to resolve the bib situation. He proposes pursuing some outdated technology called planet wetting to create habitable colonies. He will also close down Thisbe Olt’s pleasure satellite The Golden Door, an orbiting brothel with thousands of working women and an enormous clientele. Thisbe’s operation has been legalized as a means of keeping the population down. (Question mark. Exclamation point. WTF) None of Briskin’s ideas are really feasible.

Then there are the Jerry Scuttlers, devices that are intended to transport their owners anywhere they want to go. Unfortunately they have design flaws. One owner complains that his always delivers him to Portland, Oregon. A repairman, however, discovers that the machine has a rent in its fabric that delivers one to a verdant, apparently virgin land that could solve the immigration problem.

So PKD has his usual half dozen plots in play, but much centers on that flawed Jerry Scuttler and the fact that Briskin may be able to come through with his promise of closing the bib warehouses, But when the new land is discovered to be a version on Terra itself that has followed a different evolutionary path than our own planet, new racial problems arise with how to treat the inhabitants there. They are not homo sapiens but intellectually capable offspring of hominid strains removed from our history.

The Crack in Space has subplots that go nowhere and either resolve themselves almost as soon as they are introduced or need quick sentence summaries toward the end of the novel. Nothing about it addresses in any coherent way the social issues it raises. It is at its best when played as farce, with characters traveling the planet in their Jet Hoppers and scrambling to put together a winning presidential campaign, But it remains a muddle and, unusual for a PKD novel, manages to become somewhat dull. This despite that fact that one character is the unicephalic twin George Walt — one head, two bodies, two personalities. He is the proprietor of the Golden Door and is briefly worshipped as a god by the inhabitants of the parallel universe opened by the defected Jerry Scuttler.

Philip K. Dickathon: The Penutimate Truth Posted at 3:33 AM by Charles Dee Mitchell

charlesdee

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.


The Penultimate TruthI never care for books that claim to be as pertinent today as the day they were written or to contain a story that could be ripped from today’s headlines. Copies of The Penultimate Truth (1964) do not make those claims, but as we watch the various "Occupy" movements take place, I couldn’t help but think that Philip K. Dick‘s novel described a society badly in need of an Occupy Earth movement.

As is so often the case with PKD novels, there has been an atomic war. I think he places this one in the 1980′s, and he still imagines such a conflict would involve Western democracies and Soviet controlled countries. As bombs drop, much of the fighting is carried on by "leadies," robots manufactured to be soldiers. With spreading radiation, millions of earthlings are moved underground into what are unflatteringly known as Ant Tanks. Now safe from the radiation and destruction, the tankers’ sole function is to manufacture an unending supply of leadies for the war effort.

Several decades pass, the war goes on, and tankers receive nightly news reports of just how bad the situation continues to be. There is just one catch. A treaty ended the war years ago. As radiation hot zones continue to decrease, the ruling elite that has remained topside has decided that life without hundreds of millions of the common sort is not so bad. Let them stay in their ant tanks, producing leadies that go not into the war effort but become the worker bees for that 1% that now live in lavish mansions on thousand acre demesnes. The only real work done by humans is the effort to maintain the illusion that life topside is hell and that the tankers are best off where they are.

But the strains are beginning to show. Radiation has sterilized most of the human race, and the advertising men, government officials, and police agencies that rule the globe are paranoid, bored, and slipping into senility. Down below, tankers realize that certain things just don’t add up. When the chief engineer of the Tom Mix Tank dies of pancreatic cancer, his tank colony is terrified that they will not be able to meet their leadie production quotas. The engineer is flash frozen and the president of the group is sent tunneling to the surface, despite all the dangers, in search of an artiforg pancreas that will save the day.

The Penultimate Truth is one of PKD’s more tightly constructed and coherent narratives. There are plots and counterplots and mysteries; and the characters have coherent motivations. Perhaps readers will miss the wild ride of something like The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch but coming after the grab bag of The Simulacra and the perverse incoherence of Lie’s, Inc. I found it a satisfying read. There is a lot of talk as characters explain the situation to one another, and tortuous internal monologues are not uncommon. But this keeps the novel to the 200 page sweet spot and what action set pieces take place are well told. An assassination scene is one of PKD’s most creepily effective episodes. You may want to toss any old portable TV sets you still have lying around after you read it.

One highlight of twisted thinking among the elite topsiders is that if the hoi polloi come streaming back to the surface, another war will be inevitable. Since when did commoners start wars? I think they are mistaking war for some serious ass kicking. If I remember my history correctly, wars are started by those very people who are running PKD’s future earth like a well-oiled but fatally flawed machine.

Philip K. Dickathon: Lies, Inc. Posted at 1:03 AM by Charles Dee Mitchell

charlesdee

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.


Lies, Inc.Over the past year I have read I think 15 Philip K. Dick novels in more or less chronological order. I have read some good ones, some bad ones, some sloppy ones, and a couple of brilliant ones. Lies, Inc., is the first I have read the pissed me off. A certain level of incoherency comes with the PKD territory, and keeping up with what he is thinking and typing furiously onto the page is part of the fun. But this time out, he creates an irritating mess.

This novel had a chaotic publication history, and it’s problems stem from editors’ determination, early on with Dick’s approval, to make it into a book. In 1963 or 1964, PKD wrote, along with about a dozen other novels, The Unteleported Man, intended for Fantastic Stories or some other Ace Books outlet. (All this information comes from the afterward to the current edition of Lies, Inc., published by Vintage.) With the short novel already in hand, Donald Wolheim, publisher of Ace Books, received what he thought was a really cool cover painting and asked PKD to expand his novelette into book form so the cover might be used. PKD doubled the length of the novelette, but Wolheim, reportedly, was not pleased with Part Two. (If his reaction was indeed that mild, publishing, in the 1960′s, remained a “gentleman’s profession.”) Part One appeared in 1966 as part of an Ace Double. In 1979, now working with Berkeley Publishing, PKD had the idea of issuing the complete novel, although what he found of Part Two was missing around a dozen pages of text. PKD wrote a new opening, filled in most but not all of the gaps, and decided that Part Two, rather than succeeding Part One, should appear about halfway into Chapter 8 and end somewhere in Chapter 15. The book, retitled Lies, Inc., winds up in another 25 pages. It was not published until 1983, sixteen months of PKD’s death and melodramatically labeled “uncensored.”

All of the above is more interesting than anything else about the book. I will not pretend to summarize the plot, but Part Two has the main character appearing on another planet under the false identity that had been assigned to a different character. He is immediately injected with LSD, and PKD wallows in a hyperbolic description of the LSD experience for almost fifty pages. Somebody, more dedicated than myself, might dig up a copy of the short Unteleported Man and see if it makes sense. But Lies, Inc., spins so seriously out of control that I cannot even recommend it for PKD Completists. It is only for PKD Masochists.

Philip K. Dickathon: The Simulacra Posted at 12:32 AM by Charles Dee Mitchell

charlesdee

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.


The SimulacraThe Simulacra is Philip K. Dick‘s grand, panoramic novel. He sweeps the reader from the highest corridors of power in Washington, D.C., to the lush rain forests of the Pacific North West and the colony of mutants who inhabit them. We meet Nicole Thibodeaux, the First Lady of the United States and the most powerful woman in the world; Richard Kongrosian, a psycho-kinetic musician who performs without touching the keyboard; and Looney Luke, semi-legal dealer in jalopies, outdated spacecraft good enough for a one-way trip to Mars. There is intrigue, betrayal, deception, and the threat of war.

Wait a minute. PKD didn’t write grand, panoramic novels. Not that all the above isn’t true. In fact it suggests no more than a fraction of the goings-on in The Simulacra. But it all goes on in the usual two hundred or so pages common to PKD’s novels. This is his most chaotic book. Every chapter for the first third of the novel introduces two or more new characters. What connections there will ever be among them is difficult to imagine. But much of what happens focuses on pleasing Nicole, who spends much of her time auditioning new acts to perform at her functions, or planning yet another televised tour of the White House. (Only readers of a certain age will get this joke.)

PKD tossed a lot of stray ideas into this one. Most of the ideas are good, the situations very funny, but he does not manage to do much more than let them fizzle out towards the end. Readers may be either irritated or exhausted, but the wiser choice is to just go along for the ride.

As in most of the novels from this period, there is moment when a female character lets loose with either a kind of praise or criticism that PKD must have wished for or dreaded hearing from whoever was his wife at the time. Here is Nicole talking about Richard Kongrosian.

"Oh the hell with it," Nicole said. "I’m tired of his ailments. I’m tired of having him pamper himself with his hypochondriacal obsessions. I’m going to toss the entire power and majesty and authority of the state at him, tell him point blank that he has got to give up his imaginary diseases."

Ouch. But even though Kongrosian is a hypochondriac he still has the power to psycho-kinetically transport one of Nicole’s gun-wielding agents to the White House laundry room when necessary. The author remains in control.

Philip K. Dickathon: Clans of the Alphane Moon Posted at 9:18 AM by Charles Dee Mitchell

charlesdee

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.


Clans of the Alphane MoonPhilip K Dick spent a great deal of time in and out of psychiatrists’ offices. He had bouts of agoraphobia from the time he was a teenager and went through several spells of clinical depression. He knew the psychiatric lingo and at times used it as rigorously in his personal relationships as he did in his books.

Alpha III M2, the setting for Clans of the Alphane Moon, is one of the purest creations of his experiences with mental health professionals. Alpha III M2 is a small moon in the Alpha Centauri system used by Earth as a global mental facility. The moon was one giant hospital treating all known forms of mental derangement. The fact that these break down to only a half dozen or so reflects the mid-sixties when the novel was written. The DSM had not yet expanded to include everything from psychosis to social anxiety disorder (shyness.) A minor war with the Alphanes has left Alpha III M2 to its on devices for over twenty years. Earth is finally sending ships to check up on how things are going.

Meanwhile back on earth, Chuck Rittersdorf has been tossed out by his wife, a successful marriage counselor, and now lives in a rundown conapt that sounds a little bit like the first apartment I had in college. He survives on the small salary he makes programming simulacra for CIA propaganda missions. His best new friend is a Ganymedean slime mold named Lord Running Clam.

One reason I enjoy writing about PKD is that I can write Paragraph One (above), follow it by Paragraph Two (above), and still be writing about the same novel. PKD said later in his career that he realized his writing technique involved starting multiple plots and then seeing how he could bring them together. I think this is usually referred to as "making it up as you go along." Chuck contemplates murdering his wife. Bunny Hentzman, one of PKD’s frequent world-renowned entertainers that exercise a bizarre control over Earth’s culture, hires Chuck at a terrific salary, but counter-intelligence operations within the CIA and the Hentzman organization make Chuck a hunted man. As in a French farce of a Preston Sturges comedy, everyone ends in the same place, Alpha III M2, either shooting it out with laser pistols or making desperate diplomatic moves to keep Earth and Alpha out of a war and the main characters out of prison.

A strangely touching and revealing moment comes when Chuck, having agreed to another battery of psychological testing, has these thoughts which sound straight from the heart of PKD:

"Suppose the tests show no drift, no neurosis, no latent psychosis, no character deformation, no psychopathic tendencies, in other words, nothing. What do I do then?" … he had an inkling that that was exactly what the tests would show. He did not belong in any of the settlements here on Alpha III M2; here he was a loner, an outcast, accompanied by no one even remotely resembling him.

Maybe not exactly a cri de coeur, but it seems one of the most personal statements PKD has made in his work to this time.

But then again, his is also improving his knack for toss away nuttiness. Here’s the opening to Chapter 8:

When, late that night, Chuck Rittersdorf wearily returned to his rundown conapt in Marin County, California, he was stopped in the hall by the yellow Ganymedean slime mold. This, at three a.m. It was too much.

Philip K. Dickathon: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch Posted at 12:23 AM by Charles Dee Mitchell

charlesdee

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.


The Three Stigmata of Palmer EldritchThis is how bad things have gotten. Earth is over-heated and over-crowded. If you go outside during the day you must wear a portable cooling pack and stay under anti-thermal protective shades until you can grab a passing jet taxi or "thermosealed, interbuilding commute car." The U.N. has a forced emigration policy designed to provide colonists to Mars and a few other locations. But everyone knows that life off Earth will be even more miserable than what they face here. The colonists serve no real purpose since agriculture is difficult with frozen methane storms and pesky alien creatures that may eat either your struggling crops or yourself. When draft notices arrive, anyone who can afford one hires a psychiatrist in a box. Its purpose is to keep your mind so addled you will never pass the psych examination when the U.N. tries to ship you off to the boonies.

Barney Mayerson’s shrink is Dr. Smile, and he is supposed to be one of the best. But Barney should be able to beat his draft notice in any case. He is the New York Pre-Fash consultant for Perky Pat Enterprises. This means he uses his precognitive abilities to judge whether products presented as possible new additions to Perky Pat’s layout will be a success. PP is a doll with a dreamy life and dreamy boyfriend –let’s face it, they’re Barbie and Ken. Colonists in their Martian hovels spend hours playing with Perky Pat, aided by the illegal drug, Can-D. (The drug is manufactured on Venus by Perky Pat Enterprises.) A chaw of Can-D gives participants up to an hour or so of complete identification with PP and her world.

Life for Barney, his new girlfriend/assistant Betty, and their boss Leo Bolero is good until word comes that renegade industrialist Palmer Eldritch has crash landed on Pluto after a decade spent outside the solar system. Rumor has it that that he has brought back with him a new drug, Chew-Z. (PKD was never one to shy away from puns.) Chew-Z is better than Can-D. It requires no layouts but instead puts the user into a completely realized fantasy world. And Eldritch has won U.N approval, so it is legal. Perky Pat Enterprises will be destroyed.

This might be a good time to mention that The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is PKD‘s first overtly religious novel. It is one of seven novels written during the amphetamine-fueled years of 1963/64. There is some question as to when PKD first took LSD, but it is difficult not to imagine Can-D and Chew-Z as versions of marijuana and acid. Can-D is a party drug. Chew-Z promises to reveal new levels of reality. It is part of a spiritual quest, but it could also be a trap. There comes a Voltairian moment when Barney decides to chuck everything and just tend his own scraggly Martian garden. That doesn’t last for long. Barney’s quest will bring him into contact with the world of Chew-Z, Palmer Eldritch himself, and whatever exists beyond Palmer Eldritch.

This is the book that 30 years ago sold me on Philip K. Dick. I had seen Blade Runner and read, since it was supposed to be PKD’s best novel, The Man in the High Castle. I liked it OK, but then I happened to pick up Palmer Eldritch. The screwball pacing, deadpan humor, and imaginative monsters were the perfect cover for the serious thought that lurked in the background. Even though I was hooked — an appropriate term when discussing PKD — I read him only sporadically until this past year. Now reading all his SF in more or less chronological order is at times a pleasure, a chore, and even saddening. It’s my own Chew-Z trip. And I am just now getting to the good stuff.

Philip K. Dickathon: The Game-Players of Titan Posted at 7:28 AM by Charles Dee Mitchell

charlesdee

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.


"Anyhow, Pete Garden, you were psychotic and drunk and on amphetamines and hallucinating, but basically you perceived the reality that confronts us…"

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.