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 In that one he repurposes the names Pris and Rosen which he often did when one of his books went unpublished.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