Theme: Simulated Reality

Time Out of Joint published 1959

Time Out of Joint, which Dick wrote while he still had aspirations of being a literary novelist, is my favorite of his minor works. It has similarities with his mainstream books (all of which were still unpublished in the late 50s), but it introduces a page-turning story alongside the suburban malaise.

Time Out of Joint
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In the 1990s a civil war has broken out between colonists on the moon and Earth. Time magazine’s 1996 Man of the Year Ragle Gumm is the only one who can predict where the missiles fired from the moon will land, and he’s able to keep Earth safe, that is until he has a change of heart and begins to side with the lunatics, as those on the moon are called.

A psychotic break follows and he regresses in his mind to the 1950s America of his childhood. The military then carefully constructs a fake 1950s small town filled with a few handlers along with a majority who are brainwashed into also thinking it’s real. Ragle still makes his predictions, although now it’s under the guise of a newspaper contest where he earns a 1950s wage figuring out Where Will the Little Green Man Be Next?

It would be easy to pick apart the book’s logic (how exactly does Ragle’s gift of prediction work and what do the strips of paper that Ragle finds when he begins to see through the simulated reality really mean?) but I love how Dick anticipated a baby boomer nostalgia for the 50s as he watched the Eisenhower years come to an end.

Cast of characters

  • Ragle Gumm – all-time winner in the newspaper’s Where Will the Little Green Man Be Next? contest. Lives with his sister’s family
  • Margo Nielson – Ragle’s sister
  • Vic Nielson – Ragle’s brother-in-law
  • Sammy Nielson – Vic and Margo’s young son
  • Bill and Junie Black – Vic and Margo’s neighbors
  • Stuart LoweryGazette representative
  • Kay Keitelbein – neighborhood volunteer for Civil Defense
  • Walter Keitelbein – Kay’s son
  • The Kesselmans – Ragle encounters them in their house on the outskirts of town when he first tries to escape

A Maze of Death published 1970

A Maze of Death
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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
  • Form Destroyer – the yin to the deity’s yang

Rating:

Related:

The Divine Invasion published 1981

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.

The Divine Invasion
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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
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