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
Set in 2041. I never realized, before I started reading a lot of PKD books back to back to back, how fascinated he is with Nazis and World War II Germany. Three of the last five books I read (this one, The Penultimate Truth and Lies, Inc) dealt with Nazi Germany in some way.
Dick threw nearly everything he could think of into this one. The main storyline has an concept similar to The Penultimate Truth involving a simulacrum of the President, although the rest is stuffed with multiple subplots that include psionics, Neanderthals and an attempt to cure Hitler by sending a psychoanalyst back in time.
This novel has a million characters to keep track of, but the anxiety-causing commercials that buzz around like flies, used-car salesman who sell jalopies that travel to Mars and primitive alien life forms used on Earth as components in recording devices are all great.
The conclusion focuses on the least interesting subplot as a group of Neanderthals called chuppers from some different branch of the evolutionary tree gather around a television and watch as Homo sapiens destroy themselves in a war. The few Homo sapiens in the room with them have the grim realization this is the moment the chuppers have been waiting for. Just short of a classic as it doesn’t all come together in the end.
Cast of characters
Richard Kongrosian – a Soviet pianist who plays Brahms and Schumann with his mind
Dr. Egon Superb – a psychoanalyst
Bertold Goltz – head of the Neo-nazi group Sons of Job
Wilder Pembroke – commissioner of the National Police
Rudolf Kalbfleisch – the current der Alte. A simulacrum
Nicole Thibodeaux– the First Lady. Has a stature greater than the president in their matriarchal society
Emil Stark – Prime Minister of Israel
Janet Raimer – Chief White House talent scout
Garth McRae – Assistant State Secretary
Harold Slezak – White House A & R secretary
Hermann Göring – founder of the Gestapo, commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s successor in World War II
Vince Strikerock – works for Karp u. Sohnen
Chic Strikerock – brother of Vince. Works for Frauenzimmer Associates.
Julia Applequist– ex-wife of Vince Strikerock
Maury Frauenzimmer – Chic’s boss. Owner of Frauenzimmer Associates
Felix and Anton Karp – father and son owners of Karp u. Sohnen
Ian Duncan – aimless member of the Abraham Lincoln apartment building
Al Miller – Ian Duncan’s former friend and jug band partner. Works for Loony Luke’s jalopy business
Patrick Doyle – skypilot for the Abraham Lincoln apartments
Edgar Stone – scheming member of the Abraham Lincoln apartment building
Nat Flieger – works at Electronic Musical Enterprise
Jim Planck – employee of EME
Leo Dondoldo – owner of EME
Molly Dondoldo – Leo’s daughter
Other things to know
USEA – United States of Europe and America
McPhearson Act – outlaws the practice of psychoanalysis in favor of drug therapy
der Alte – German for “the old man.” The president. Has been a simulacrum for the last fifty years
Karp und Sohnen Werke – German for Karp and Sons. Built the Kalbfleisch simulacrum
the Ges – Geheimnisträger. The upper social class. Possessors of the secret that der Alte is a simulacrum
the Bes – Befehlträger. The lower social class
Frauenzimmer Associates – simulacra construction company