Theme: Simulated Reality

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

Ubik published 1969

In Ubik Dick took one of his own tropes, a group of people trapped unknowingly in a simulated or false reality (used previously in Eye in the Sky and later in A Maze of Death) and created one of his most entertaining novels.

Ubik
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In 1992 Glen Runciter’s anti-psionic prudence organization duels with Raymond Hollis’s group of telepaths and precogs. Runciter’s employees end up stuck in the simulated reality of half-life storage after Hollis lures them to the moon and attempts to kill them. The group is tormented by a powerful fifteen-year-old half-lifer, and Runciter, still alive on the outside, tries to help them as time inside half-life regresses into the past (similar to the drug-induced time travel in Now Wait for Last Year).

It sounds absurd in summary, but the book is stuffed with some of Dick’s funniest and best ideas while dealing with his prevalent theme of the nature of reality.

Cast of characters

  • Glen Runciter – owner of Runciter Associates, an anti-psi prudence organization
  • Ella Runciter – Glen’s twenty-year-old dead wife in half-life
  • Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsang – owner of Beloved Brethren Moratorium
  • Jory Miller – a dead fifteen-year-old boy in half-life cold-pac storage
  • Raymond Hollis – employs telepaths. Runciter’s opposition
  • G. G. Ashwood – one of Runciter’s telepaths
  • Joe Chip – Runciter’s electrical tester
  • Pat Conley– an anti-precog
  • Stanton Mick – reclusive speculator and financier
  • Zoe Wirt – Stanton Mick’s assistant
  • Tippy Jackson, Edie Dorn, Al Hammond, John Ild, Francesca Spanish, Tito Apostos, Don Denny, Sammy Mundo, Wendy Wright, Fred Zafsky – Runciter’s inertials who travel to Luna

The Cosmic Puppets published 1957

The Cosmic Puppets
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The setup of The Cosmic Puppets wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of The Twilight Zone. It’s set in 1953. Ted Barton returns to the small Virginia town where he grew up and finds that everything—the buildings, people and even his own past—has changed.

This one is short, coming in at under 150 pages. It has a great hook, although Dick never really explains what the showdown between the two cosmic entities of good and evil ultimately has to do with the sleepy town of Millgate.

Cast of characters

  • Ted Barton – our protagonist
  • Peggy Barton – Ted’s wife
  • Peter Trilling – the antagonist. A young boy from Millgate
  • Mary Meade – a young girl from Millgate
  • Mabel Trilling – Peter’s mother and owner of a Millgate boarding house
  • Dr. Ernest Meade – Mary’s father. Operates a private hospital in Millgate called Shady House
  • William Christopher – a town drunk and the first person Ted comes across who is aware of the change to Millgate

Other things to know

  • Ahriman – the destroyer
  • Ormazd – the builder. Better known in Zoroastrianism as Ahura Mazda

Rating:

2 of 3123