A war between Russia and the U.S. left the world’s cities destroyed. The American government fled to a secret base on the moon, while behind on Earth a skeleton crew of soldiers fights what remains of the Soviet Army. The Americans have the vicious robotic claws on their side until the claws learn to evolve. Deep in underground factories the claws begin to build machines, indistinguishable from humans, that kill without loyalty to Russia or the Americans.
While traveling to meet with the Russians, the American Major Hendricks finds this out when he encounters the young child David, the third variety of these robot simulacra. The Russians tell him about the first robot variety, but then the question becomes which one of them is the second variety pretending to be human.
This is Dick starting to get at the question ‘what is human?’ early on in his career.
The 1995 movie Screamers based on “Second Variety” starring Peter “RoboCop” Weller sticks close to the short story and managed to entertain me in spite of some 90s-era special effects.
In Martian Time-Slip, Jack Bohlen, a service repairman on Mars, crosses paths with Arnie Kott, a big man on the planet who is struggling to maintain his standing as the UN pushes for new regulations.
In this phildickian future of 1994 we learn the frightening statistic that one out of six people suffers from some form of schizophrenia. We also learn that someone with autism is trapped in a world they perceive as moving so quickly they can see into the future. Amid rumors of the UN’s interest in some Martian land for new settlements, Kott schemes to use Bohlen (a ‘former’ schizophrenic) and Bohlen’s connection to his young autistic neighbor Manfred to get a jumpstart on the competition and claim the land for himself.
This book is one of my favorites. The description of Jack’s first schizophrenic episode as a young man is terrifying, as is the entropic, “gubble gubble” world of Manfred as it encroaches into the minds of everyone around him.
Along with Dick’s ideas concerning autism, nothing about the planet in Martian Time-Slip suggests an attempt at rigorous science. PKD’s Mars features flowing water (although it’s scarce), breathable air and an indigenous population of natives called Bleekmen who were on the planet when Earth colonists arrived.
In the hard science fiction novel Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson named the 39.5 minutes of non-time between midnight and 12:01 when the clocks are stopped on Mars in order to simulate an even 24-hour day the ‘Martian time-slip’ as an homage to Dick’s book.
Cast of characters
Jack Bohlen – our protagonist. A service repairman on Mars
Silvia Bohlen – Jack’s wife
David Bohlen – Jack’s son
Leo Bohlen – Jack’s father. A land speculator from Earth
Mr. Yee – Jack’s employer
Arnie Kott – president of the Water Workers’ Local
Anne Esterhazy – Arnie’s ex-wife. Circulates a political newsletter for women
Norbert Steiner – Jack’s neighbor and dealer in black-market food
Otto Zitte – a black marketeer
Manfred Steiner – Norbert’s autistic son in Camp B-G for anomalous children
Dr. Glaub – a psychotherapist
Doreen Anderton – Arnie Kott’s mistress and Jack’s lover
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
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