Theme: Extraterrestrials

Nick and the Glimmung published 1988

Nick and the Glimmung is Philip K. Dick’s lone children’s book. He wrote it in the late ‘60s, but it wasn’t published until 1988. After reading so many of his dour mainstream novels I forgot how deadpan and funny he can be.

Nick and the GlimmungBecause there isn’t enough food to go around on Earth, it is illegal to own pets after 1992. Young Nick Graham owns a cat named Horace, but after it slips outside and gets exposed, Graham’s family decides to emigrate to Plowman’s Planet with the cat rather than let the cat be taken away.

Once on Plowman’s Planet the Grahams have to deal with the various local creatures who are fighting a war amongst themselves spurred on by the evil Glimmung. Horace gets snatched up several times by werjes and trobes, but in the end, Nick fends off Glimmung and is reunited with his cat.

Plowman’s Planet, with a similar group of alien creatures, is also the setting for Galactic Pot-Healer written shortly after this one.

Cast of characters

  • Nick Graham– our protagonist
  • Peter Graham – Nick’s father
  • Helen Graham – Nick’s mother
  • Horace – Nick’s cat
  • Miss Juth – Nick’s teacher on Earth
  • Mr. Deverest – a newspaper reporter on Earth writing about Nick and Horace
  • Reg Frankis – a human colonist/scavenger on Plowman’s Planet
  • Jack and Doris McKenna – neighbors on Plowman’s Planet

Other things to know

  • One Summer Day –  Glimmung’s book that lists the weaknesses of every creature on Plowman’s Planet and can also predict the future. A similar book shows up in Lies, Inc.
  • The Last and Final War – Glimmung’s book of propaganda
  • wubs – a different sort of creature than the one in Dick’s short story “Beyond Lies the Wub.” This one can’t speak and communicates through the use of pre-printed cards
  • The Grand Four – the printers, nunks, spiddles and humans united in a war against the trobes, father-things and werjes who fight on the side of Glimmung

Rating:

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The Zap Gun published 1967

The Zap Gun eventually won me over with its loopy charm. In 2004 Wes-bloc and Peep-East are locked in a cold war, but they only pretend to build the weapons that keep the other countries at bay.

The Zap Gun
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Weapons fashion designers on both sides create sketches while in a trance-like state. The public believes these sketches are used to construct lethal weapons, but in reality the designs are just turned into consumer gadgets and toys. When aliens attack, the two sides must join together to find a real weapon that can save Earth.

Dick wrote The Zap Gun while he was also writing The Penultimate Truth. In that one he identified with the Yance-man speechwriter hacks, and in this one he writes about Lars Powderdry who has a deep-seated fear he will enter one of his drug-induced trances, return without anything to show for it and be discovered as a fraud.

A lot of the Vintage paperbacks feature the Village Voice blurb that calls Dick the poor man’s Thomas Pynchon. I’d say this is Dick at his most Pynchony with all the goofy names (Surely G. Febbs, Lars Powderdry, Dr. Todt aka Dr. Dead in German) and a plot with an off-kilter sense of humor that takes a while to sort out.

Cast of characters

  • Lars Powderdry – our protagonist. A weapons fashion designer for Wes-bloc
  • Lilo Topchev – Peep-East’s weapons fashion designer
  • Dr. Todt and Elvira Funt – Lars’s medical team
  • Maren Faine – Lars’s mistress
  • General Nitz – the Commander in Chief on Natsec’s board
  • Marshal Paponovich – Soviet Marshal and head of SeRKeb
  • Don Packard – a KACH-man
  • Surely G. Febbs – the newest concomody on the UN-W Natsec Board
  • Pete Freid – ranking engineer at Lanferman Associates
  • Aksel Kaminsky – a Soviet official
  • Jack Lanferman – owner of Lanferman Associates
  • Vincent Klug – toymaker who tries to convince Lanferman to partner with him on  prototypes
  • Major Geschenko – head of the Soviet KVB surveillance team
  • Ricardo Hastings – a so-called war veteran who traveled back in time from 2068

Other things to know

  • Wes-bloc – the Western nations
  • Peep-East – the Sino-Soviet bloc of countries
  • KACH – a planet-wide private police agency
  • SeRKeb – Peep-East’s governing body
  • UN-W Natsec – the governing board of Wes-bloc
  • Lanferman Associates – the firm that produces prototypes from Lars’s trance sketches
  • pursaps – pure saps or poor saps. The majority of the public
  • cogs – the cognoscenti. The ruling class who know the truth about the “weapons”

Rating:

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Now Wait for Last Year published 1966

Set in 2055… at least before the drug-induced time travel kicks in.

Once again we have an old man kept alive by artiforgs, although the description of 130-year-old Virgil Ackerman as a slight, hermaphroditic creature is almost the exact opposite of how Stanton Brose is described in The Penultimate Truth. Rich men like Ackerman build simulated worlds on Mars to recreate their childhoods down to the smallest detail. It doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the story, but it’s still hilarious as Dick calls them regressive babylands.

Now Wait for Last Year
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Dick is airing out some issues with women with this book. His scheming, mentally unbalanced Kathy Sweetscent is one of the most caustic depictions of a wife that I can recall in any of his novels. The whole thing is ultimately about whether our protagonist, the unfortunately named Eric Sweetscent, will stay with his wife or not, even though he knows she is destined for the psychiatric hospital.

At one point it seems we will have yet another simulacrum of an authority figure just like in The Penultimate Truth and The Simulacra, (in this case one of the UN Secretary General), but that turns out not to be the case.

Some unexpected twists and a well-rounded world leader in Gino Molinari make this one worth the read. I thought I had read most of Dick’s good books, but I’m still discovering some gems as I work through the ones I have left.

Cast of characters

  • Virgil Ackerman – founder of Tijuana Fur & Dye Corp
  • Dr. Eric Sweetscent – artiforg surgeon who works for Virgil Ackerman
  • Katherine Sweetscent – Eric’s wife who works for TF&D as an antique collector
  • Bruce Himmel – quality control inspector at TF&D
  • Jonas Ackerman – Virgil’s great-grandnephew
  • Phyllis Ackerman – Virgil’s great-grandniece. On TF&D’s board of directors
  • Gino Molinari – aka “the Mole”. Terra’s supreme elected leader and commander of its armed forces in the war against the reegs
  • Minister Freneksy – Prime Minister of Lilistar
  • Christian Plout – host of the JJ-180 drug party
  • Marm Hastings – a San Francisco Taoist
  • Harry Teagarden – chief of the Mole’s medical staff
  • Mary Reineke – the Mole’s eighteen-year-old mistress
  • Roger Corning – a ‘Starman
  • Don Festenburg – advisor/speechwriter for Molinari
  • Bert Hazeltine – representative of the Hazeltine corporation where JJ-180 is made

Other things to know

  • Lilistar – dominant military power in the galaxy. Terra is their ally in their war against the reegs
  • Reegs – creatures from Proxima at war with the ‘Starmen from Lilistar

Rating:

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