In the far-off future mankind has evolved. The New Men are those with bigger brains and a greater intellect, while the Unusuals are mutants with psionic abilities. These two groups form a loosely-aligned ruling class who oppress the unevolved Old Men just struggling to get by. But don’t forget about the Under Men! They follow the writings of Eric Cordon and rebel against the whole class imbalance while waiting for Thors Provoni to return from outer space with some kind of help to free them from the tyrannical rule.
Our Friends from Frolix 8 is about as middle of the road as you can get with Dick’s minor works. I remembered almost nothing about it before I reread it. It’s redeemed by the oddball telepath and supreme leader of Earth Willis Gram, but only somewhat, and if you replaced sad-sack Nick Appleton with the protagonist from a dozen of Dick’s other stories you probably wouldn’t notice a difference.
Cast of characters
Nick Appleton – our protag. He’s employed as a tire regroover, an odd profession since the squibs in the book are flying vehicles
Bobby Appleton – Nick’s son
Kleo Appleton – Nick’s wife
Thors Provoni – left Earth to look for help in the far reaches of outer space
Willis Gram – Council Chairman of the Extraordinary Committee for Public Safety (Unusual)
Lloyd Barnes – the police director (New Man)
Eric Cordon – Under Man organizer and propaganda writer
Earl Zeta – Nick’s boss (Under Man)
Charlotte Boyer – a sixteen-year-old Under Man girl who gets involved with Nick
Denny – Charlotte’s boyfriend (Under Man)
Morgo Rahn Wilc – the Frolixan friend who accompanies Thors Provoni back to Earth
I like The Crack in Space even though it’s obviously not one of Philip K. Dick’s greatest works.
A man repairing a Jiffi-scuttler finds a small tear that leads to a parallel Earth. This comes at a time of severe overpopulation and unemployment where the U.S. has warehoused over seventy million people in suspended animation to be thawed out once the labor market improves.
Jim Briskin, a candidate hoping to be the first black elected president, sees an opportunity to send the bibs (as they are called) through this ‘crack in space’ to colonize the parallel Earth. That plan falls apart when they discover this other planet is inhabited by some far distant ancestor on the evolutionary tree.
Here are some things I love about this book:
The introduction to Jim Briskin. “…he still wore a formal dark suit even in hot weather. That, and a flaming red wig, had been his trademark back in the days when he had telecast as a TV newsclown.”
The poorly-defined Jiffi-scuttler. It’s at the center of the story and I have no idea about its intended use. It’s only described as some kind of limited time travel device.
George Walt, the conjoined twins who share a single head. It’s so weird that I can’t even picture how a creature like that would move around, and maybe PKD couldn’t picture it either. “It’s a wonder George Walt can perambulate,’ Jim said. ‘Joined at the base of the skull, the way they are. Must be damned awkward.” Also, they own a satellite brothel in orbit.
If this book feels like too many different stories in one that’s because Dick evidently borrowed from several of his short stories when putting this together.
Cast of characters
Darius Pethel – owner of Pethel Jiffi-scuttler Sales & Service
Lurton Sands – org-trans surgeon involved in a divorce
Myra Sands – Dr. Sand’s wife. An abort consultant
James Briskin – black candidate for president on the Republican Liberal ticket
Thisbe Olt – operator of the Golden Door satellite. Thisbe Holt is the girl in the bubble in The Broken Bubble
Stu Hadley – salesman at Pethel Jiffi-scuttler Sales & Service. Stu Hadley is also the name of the main character in Voices from the Street.
Sal Heim – Briskin’s campaign manager
Patricia – Sal’s wife
Phil Danville – speechwriter for Briskin
William Schwarz – the incumbent president and Briskin’s opponent. A State’s Rights Conservative Democrat
Bruno Mini – advocate of a ‘planet wetting’ technique of terraforming
Frank Woodbine – a space explorer
Rick Erickson – repairman for Pethel Jiffi-scuttler Sales & Service
George Walt – the two-bodied, one-headed mutant owner of the Golden Door Moments of Bliss satellite brothel
Tito Cravelli – Myra Sand’s private investigator
Cally Vale – Dr. Sand’s mistress
Leon Turpin – chairman on the board at Terran Development, manufacturers of the Jiffi-scuttler
I’m going out on a limb to say Dick has a bitter and cynical view of marriage and relationships. In The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, Leo Runcible bickers with his alcoholic wife Janet, and Walter Dombrosio fights viciously with his wife Sherry.
Runcible and Dombrosio, neighbors in the small California town of Carquinez, don’t like each other. When Dombrosio invites his black mechanic over for dinner, it costs Runcible, the local realtor, a sale. Runcible retaliates by calling the police on Dombrosio when he sees him driving drunk, and Dombrosio loses his license. Dombrosio then plants a fake fossil of a Neanderthal skull on Runcible’s land which Runcible tries to exploit for the publicity until he realizes he’s been had. It turns out Dombrosio dug up the malformed skull from the unmarked grave of someone who lived in old Carquinez several generations ago. These chupper-jawed people resembled Neanderthals because of a deformity caused by poisoned water in the area. At the end of the story, Runcible invests everything he has in order to fix the tainted Carquinez water supply.
Dick filled this novel with thoroughly unlikable people. Dombrosio rapes his wife in order to get her pregnant so she can no longer work, because it insults his manhood or something to have her support him after he quits his job. He also throws a chair at her, but they stay together. The 1950s were messed up.
Dick wrote this one in 1960, and it was the first of his unpublished mainstream novels to be published after he died. He would reuse the idea of the Neanderthal chuppers in one of the many subplots of The Simulacra.
Cast of characters
Leo Runcible – realtor in Carquinez
Janet Runcible – Leo’s wife
Walter Dombrosio – package designer at the Lausch Company
Sherry Dombrosio – Walt’s wife
Norm Lausch – owner of the Lausch Company
Chuck Halpin – Walt’s black mechanic
Michael Wharton – a fourth grade teacher and fossil enthusiast
Seth Faulk – reporter for the Carquinez newspaper
Tom Heyes – Carquinez veternarian
Dr. Freitas, Jack Bowman & Dudley Sharp – University of California anthropologists investigating Runcible’s skull