In A Maze of Death a group of strangers all receive job transfers to a remote planet and await instructions as to the purpose of their colony. We have a mystery on our hands when those instructions don’t arrive, and the members of the group are murdered one by one.
The LSD-inspired plot that follows has a great ending when we find out the colonists have been in a simulated reality all along. They are actually crew members of a ship stranded with no hope of rescue, and so they enter these computer-created artificial worlds again and again, with an amnesia of their actual plight, in order to pass the time before their inevitable death in space.
The religion they all follow in their invented world was generated by the ship’s computer. It resembles Christianity, although with a logic based on the existence of a physical God.
Cast of characters
Ben Tallchief – Delmak-O’s naturalist
Seth Morley – Delmak-O’s marine biologist
Mary Morley – Seth’s wife
Betty Jo Berm – Delmak-O’s linguist
Bert Kosler – Delmak-O’s custodian
Maggie Walsh – Delmak-O’s theologian
Ignatz Thugg – Delmak-O’s thermoplastics expert
Milton Babble – Delmak-O’s doctor
Tony Dunkelwelt – Delmak-O’s photographer and soil-sample expert
Glen Belsnor – Delmak-O’s electronics specialist and the group’s leader
Roberta Rockingham – Delmak-O’s sociologist
Susie Smart – Delmak-O’s clerk
Wade Frazer – Delmak-O’s psychologist
Ned Russell – Delmak-O’s economist
Other things to know
How I Rose From the Dead in My Spare Time and So Can You – their religion’s holy book written by Communist theologian A. J. Specktowsky
The Intercessor – a Christ-like manifestation of the deity
The Mentufacturer – the God-like manifestation of the deity
Walker-on-Earth – the ‘Holy ghost’ manifestation that completes the deity’s trinity
The Divine Invasion has a funny set up. We find out Herb Asher was killed in an accident but is in cryonic suspension awaiting an organ transplant that will revive him. The Cry-Labs warehouse is close to an FM radio tower, and so as Asher dreams and relives the events leading up to the accident he also hears a faint muzak version of Fiddler on the Roof that no one else can hear. This gag comes up again late in the book during a farcical encounter with a cop when Asher isn’t sure what reality he is in.
Other than these brief moments The Divine Invasion is a mostly humorless story about a woman on a faraway colony planet who is impregnated by Yahweh who was driven there from Earth in 73 A.D. She travels back to Earth along with the Joseph stand-in Herb Asher and a reincarnated Elijah so that her soon-to-be-born son Emmanuel can overthrow Earth’s ruling powers and save mankind… or something along those lines.
It gets better in the second half when Zina transports them all to an alternate reality and there is some mystery about who/what Zina really is (Wisdom? A fairy queen? VALIS? Satan? Christ himself… which would make Emmanuel what?), but it still remains my least favorite book of the VALIS Trilogy.
Cast of characters
Emmanuel – the reborn savior
Elias Tate – Elijah reincarnated. Emmanuel’s guardian after Herb and Rybys die
Herb Asher – Emmanuel’s ‘father’
Rybys Rommey – Emmanuel’s mother
Zina – the young girl who is Emmanuel’s friend
Cardinal Fulton Statler Harms – Chief Prelate of the Christian-Islamic Church. Trying to use Big Noodle to verify St. Anselm’s Ontological Proof for the existence of God
Nicholas Bulkowsky – Procurator Maximus of the Scientific Legate
Linda Fox – intergalactic pop superstar, at least in the book’s beginning reality
Other things to know
Christian-Islamic Church – formerly the Catholic Church
Scientific Legate – formerly the Communist Party. One of the two ruling parties of Earth along with the C.I.C.
Big Noodle – Earth’s great Artificial Intelligence
One of Dick’s funniest premises. Former patients of a mental hospital abandoned by Earth on an Alphane moon have established a somewhat stable class system organized by mental disorder. The clans include the Pares (paranoids), Manses (manics), Deps (depressives), Polys (polymorphic schizophrenics), Skitzes, (schizophrenics), Ob-Coms (obsessive compulsives) and the Heebs (hebephrenics).
On Earth Chuck Rittersdorf is drawn into a plot involving the Alphanes and their quest to regain control of the moon. Mary Rittersdorf, a psychologist and Chuck’s estranged wife, travels to the moon to evaluate the inhabitants. Meanwhile Chuck gets involved with Bunny Hentman, a former criminal with ties to the Alphane government, who is currently working on Earth as a TV comic. He hires Chuck as a writer (apparently the scripts Chuck writes for CIA simulacra are gut-bustingly funny), but in reality Bunny is only using Chuck because of the connection to his wife.
Chuck eventually ends up on the Alphane moon, and the story wraps up with Chuck helping to convince the clans to accept Alphane rule as long as they aren’t put back into a mental hospital. Mary and Chuck tentatively resume their relationship (I forgot to mention Chuck was trying to kill Mary all this time with the use of a CIA simulacrum) and they both have mental evaluations. Turns out Mary is a Dep, but Chuck, who has a clean bill of mental health, decides to start a new clan on the moon called the Norms.
Clans of the Alphane Moon is filled with some of Dick’s most unique characters like the Heeb mystics and the telepathic Ganymedean slime Lord Running Clam, so it’s too bad we spend most of the book with Chuck, a typically bland PKD protagonist dealing with suicidal impulses and marital problems.
Cast of characters
Gabriel Baines – the Pare delegate
Howard Straw – the Mans delegate
Jacob Simion – the Heeb delegate
Annette Golding – the Poly delegate
Ingrid Hibbler – the Ob Com delegate
Omar Diamond – the Skitz delegate
Dino Waters – the Dep delegate
Chuck Rittersdorf – our protagonist. Programs simulacra for the CIA
Mary Rittersdorf – Chuck’s estranged wife. A psychologist
Bunny Hentman – a TV comedian
Jerry Feld – producer of Bunny’s show
Joan Triste – a psi capable of rewinding time
Lord Running Clam – Chuck’s Ganymedean neighbor
Jack Elwood – Chuck’s CIA boss
Roger London – Jack Elwood’s boss
Pete Petri – Chuck’s scriptwriting coworker at the CIA
Daniel Mageboom – the simulacrum sent to the Alphane moon with Mary
Ignatz Ledebur – a Heeb mystic
Sarah Apostoles – another Heeb mystic
Calv Dark and Thursday Jones – Bunny’s writers
RBX 303 – an Alphane connected to the Alphane government