Dick wrote We Can Build You in 1962 just after writing the Hugo Award-winning The Man in the High Castle, although it took ten years before someone agreed to publish this one as a book. He was attempting to blend his mainstream ambitions with elements of broader science fiction, and it’s unfortunate this style of his was rejected by so many publishers, since he wouldn’t attempt another hybrid like this until his last book, the excellent Transmigration of Timothy Archer.
We Can Build You is one of only a handful of books he wrote in first person, this one told from the point of view of Louis Rosen, co-owner of a company called MASA Associates that decides to build functioning simulacra of Civil War participants for a reenactment. They only get as far as creating a simulacrum of Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edward Stanton, and then later Lincoln himself, before they get tangled up with the businessman Sam Burrows.
Burrows has speculated on land on the moon, and he wants to take MASA’s idea and build simulacra for his lunar property, thinking that people would be more willing to immigrate there if they already had neighbors, even if those neighbors weren’t real. In the meantime, Louis becomes fixated on Maury’s mentally ill daughter Pris, and eventually Louis has a mental breakdown himself when Pris leaves to join up with Burrows.
Dick would tackle the idea of human vs simulacra, although in a much different way, in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? written five years later. In that one he repurposes the names Pris and Rosen which he often did when one of his books went unpublished.
Cast of characters
Louis Rosen – our protagonist. Co-owner of MASA
Maury Frauenzimmer – Louis’s business partner in MASA
Bob Bundy – MASA’s electronics genius
Jerome Rosen – Louis’s father
Chester Rosen – Louis’s brother
Edward Stanton – Lincoln’s Secretary of War during the Civil War and MASA’s first simulacrum
In The Game Players of Titan radiation from a nuclear war has wiped out much of Earth’s population. The remaining people, most of whom are unable to reproduce, gather together to play a Monopoly-like game where they win controlling deeds to American cities and pair off with spouses with the hope of finding the ‘luck’ to conceive children.
A race of aliens from the Saturn moon Titan has colonized Earth, but these telepathic vugs have problems of their own as a faction of moderates feuds with extremists with psionic powers who have infiltrated Earth disguised as humans. Pete Garden stumbles upon this secret one night during a drug-fueled bender celebrating the luck he found with his new wife. This leads to a showdown on Titan with the game-players of Earth and the vugs who play their own version of the game.
I have to make a note about the Rushmore Effect, because I love it. It’s a kind of limited A.I. given to all inanimate objects. Tea kettles and ice machines say ‘thank you’ and cars and elevators have polite and objective conversations with people, all except for Joe Schilling’s car which is cantankerous and seems to hate him.
Cast of characters
Pete Garden – our protagonist. Member of Pretty Blue Fox and former Bindman of Berkeley, California
Freya – Pete’s former wife and member of Pretty Blue Fox
Jack Blau, Clem Gaines, Bill Calumine, Silvanus Angst, Stuart Marks– Bindmen who play with Pretty Blue Fox
Jerome Luckman – Bindman of New York who purchases the title to Berkeley
Walt Remington – Pretty Blue Fox member responsible for the Berkeley title ending up with Luckman
Dotty Luckman – Luckman’s wife
Joe Schilling – record store owner and former Bindman of New York. Lost to Luckman. Joseph Schilling is also the name of the record store owner in Mary and the Giant
Dave Mutreaux – Luckman’s precog
Sid Mosk – Luckman’s secretary
Patricia McClain – former B barred from the game because she’s a telepath. Pete’s neighbor in San Rafael
Allan McClain – Pat McClain’s husband
Mary Anne McClain – Patricia’s 18-year-old daughter with powerful psionic powers. Her name was repurposed from Mary and the Giant (unpublished when this book came out) along with Joe Schilling
Nats Katz – popular tv recording artist
U.S. Cummings – the vug District Commissioner
Carol Holt – Pete’s new wife
E.B. Black – the vug police officer investigating Luckman’s death
Wade Hawthorne – the Terran police officer investigating Luckman’s death
I disliked the Galactic Pot-Healer the first time I read it, even going so far as to say it was one of Dick’s worst books, but that was before I read gems like Dr. Futurity and Vulcan’s Hammer. After rereading it I will admit it’s not terrible. I love the absurdist humor, particularly Joe’s robot servant Willis, but I still get what I didn’t like about it the first time. The whole endeavor, where a group of various specialists are summoned to a planet by a powerful alien named Glimmung in order to raise a temple from the planet’s ocean, seemed ultimately pointless. I also never quite understood the Old Testament-like Glimmung.
The story was uneven, like it was a few drafts away from being great, although I’m not sure that’s how Dick worked.