Theme: Mental Illness

We Can Build You published 1972

We Can Build You
Buy it on Amazon

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 In that one he repurposes the names Pris and Rosen which he often did when one of his books went unpublished.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
  • Abraham Lincoln – MASA’s second simulacrum
  • Pris Frauenzimmer – Maury’s eighteen-year-old mentally ill daughter
  • Sam Burrows – multi-millionaire and lunar land speculator
  • Dr. Horstowski – Pris’s and later Louis’s psychiatrist
  • Colleen Nild – Burrows’s secretary
  • Dave Blunk – Burrow’s attorney
  • Silvia Devorac – crusader opposing the slum-like Green Peach Hat housing project owned by Burrows
  • Dr. Nisea – Louis’s psychiatrist at the Federal Bureau of Mental Health
  • Dr. Shedd – Louis’s psychiatrist at the Kasanin Clinic

VALIS published 1981

Whether or not you like VALIS depends on how much you can tolerate Dick’s ramblings about the events of February/March 1974. See R. Crumb’s take on what supposedly happened to him if you aren’t familiar. Others might find it endlessly fascinating, but it’s never done much for me.

VALIS
Buy it on Amazon

VALIS is narrated by Philip K. Dick himself as he tells the story of the apparent descent into madness of Horselover Fat. Since it’s given away early on, it’s not a spoiler to say Fat and Dick have a Tyler Durden thing going on. ‘Philip’ means ‘Horselover’ in Greek and ‘Fat’ is the German translation of ‘Dick.’

I like the style of his later books, but outside of a few amusing scenes (particularly when Fat tries to avoid talking about religion with his therapist so that he doesn’t get sent back to the psych ward but ends up ranting about the deranged god Yaldaboath when the therapist asks him if he believes in God) this book would make a fine cure for insomnia.

In short: Horselover Fat starts to lose his mind after the suicide of a friend, believes he is being contacted by some kind of alien satellite and eventually goes on a quest to find the reborn savior. The story in the VALIS film that Fat and his friends go see is repurposed from Radio Free Albemuth which was unpublished when Dick wrote this book.

Cast of characters

  • Horselover Fat – our protagonist
  • Philip K. Dick – as himself
  • Gloria – commits suicide at the beginning of the book
  • Stephanie – young dope dealer who gives Horselover Fat a clay pot
  • Kevin and David – Horselover Fat’s friends
  • Sherri – Horselover Fat’s friend who dies of cancer
  • Beth – Horselover Fat’s wife
  • Christopher – Horselover Fat’s son
  • Dr. Stone – in charge of the North Ward mental hospital
  • Maurice – Horselover Fat’s therapist
  • Eric Lampton aka Goose – writer/director of the VALIS film
  • Brent Mini – created the music for the VALIS film
  • Sophia – Eric and Linda Lampton’s daughter. The reborn savior??

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer published 1982

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is the last book Dick wrote, published just after he died in 1982. I thought it was terrific, although I’m someone who enjoys the exploration of theology that makes up most of the plot.

 The Transmigration of Timothy Archer
Buy it on Amazon

Our narrator, a woman named Angel Archer, tells about her father-in-law Bishop Tim Archer who has a crisis of faith after the discovery of an ancient document casts a doubt on Jesus’s divinity. It opens on the day of John Lennon’s murder in 1980, but the majority of the story is flashbacks. 

This one is considered one of Dick’s “mainstream” novels, and I wish he had been given a chance to write more books like this. It’s funny and smart and grounded in the real world of Berkeley, California.

Cast of characters

  • Timothy Archer – Episcopalian Bishop of California
  • Jeff Archer – Timothy’s son
  • Angel Archer – our narrator. Jeff’s wife and Timothy’s daughter-in-law
  • Kristen Lundborg – Angel’s best friend and Timothy’s mistress
  • Bill Lundborg – Kristen’s schizophrenic son
  • Edgar Barefoot – hosts a radio show about mysticism on KPFA in Berkeley
  • Fred Hill – owner of the Bad Luck restaurant. Possible KGB agent
  • Dr. Rachel Garret – the elderly medium they use in an attempt to talk to Jeff from beyond the grave

Other things to know

  • The Zadokites – an obscure Jewish sect
  • The Zadokite documents – fictional documents that predate Jesus by 200 years.
    Supposedly they contain “Q” which is the basis for the synoptic gospels in the Bible. The Zadokite fragments, part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, are a real thing, but the rest was invented by Dick

I picked up this copy at the library. The author photo on the back, credited to Nicole Panter, shows Dick wearing a Rozz Tox t-shirt, a reference to Gary Panter’s Rozz Tox Manifesto that argues artists should embrace capitalism. Nicole Panter was the manager for The Germs, and Gary won three Emmys for his set designs for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

Some Rozz Tox quotes:

  • Capitalism for good or ill is the river in which we sink or swim.
  • Waiting for art talent scouts? There are no art talent scouts. Face it, no one will seek you out. No one gives a shit.
  • Law: If you want better media, go make it.
2 of 3123