Novels

Dr. Bloodmoney

Dr. Bloodmoney
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Dr. Bloodmoney is Dick’s most unique collection of memorable characters in one story. I liked it even more reading it a second time.

After a few chapters set in Berkeley, California on the last day of modern civilization in 1981 we jump ahead seven years to a world trying to rebuild itself after a nuclear disaster. The mentally unhinged (and telekinetic somehow) Bluthgeld is the man responsible for raining down the nuclear bombs, and he hides out as Mr. Tree in a West Marin commune where the rest of the story takes place. The armless and legless (and also telekinetic) Hoppy Harrington, who had been held down most of his life, is able to become BMOC of this West Marin community until a showdown with seven-year-old Edie (and Bill) Keller that caught me off guard.*

On top of all this there is a man stuck in orbit, since a rocket to Mars had been launched moments before the disaster. He serves as a DJ to the inhabitants of Earth as he passes over each day. Even Stuart McConchie in this one manages to rise above the standard bland everyman in many PKD books. The whole thing comes together as one of Dick’s most accessible novels, and I would highly recommend it.

*Yes, I read this before, but my memory can charitably be described as not good.

Cast of characters

  • Stuart McConchie – salesman at Modern TV Sales & Service before the disaster
  • Jim Fergesson – owner of Modern TV Sales & Service. Modern TV Sales and Service is also the name of the store owned by Roger Lindahl in Puttering About in a Small Land. Jim Fergesson shares his name with the owner of Modern TV Sales and Service in Voices from the Street and the mechanic in Humpty Dumpty in Oakland.
  • Bruno Bluthgeld aka Jack Tree– the titular Dr. Bloodmoney. Responsible for a nuclear fallout disaster in 1972 and responsible for the nuclear attack in 1981
  • Doctor Stockstill – Bluthgeld’s psychoanalyst before the attack
  • Bonny Keller – member of the West Marin community who had referred Bluthgeld to Stockstill
  • George Keller – Bonny’s husband
  • Edie Keller – the Keller’s young daughter although she was fathered by Andrew Gill
  • Bill Keller – Edie’s unborn twin who lives and communicates inside of her
  • Hoppy Harrington – a phocomelus with telekinetic powers
  • Walt and Lydia Dangerfield – supposed to be the first couple to emigrate to Mars. Instead Walt ends up in orbit around Earth after the nuclear attack
  • Mr. Austurias – member of the West Marin commune who was killed for attempting to track down Bluthgeld
  • June Raub – on the West Marin planning committee
  • Andrew Gill – a cigarette entrepreneur after the attack
  • Eldon Blaine – a glasses salesman from Bolinas
  • Orion Stroud – chairman of the West Marin school board
  • Hal Barnes – a new school teacher in West Marin
  • Dean Hardy – Stuart’s business partner in a homeostatic vermin trap business
  • Paul Dietz – West Marin’s newspaper man

The World Jones Made

The world jones made
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I was surprised I enjoyed rereading The World Jones Made, since I don’t remember thinking too much of it the first time around. Maybe I’ve built up a tolerance for Dick’s writing which has never been particularly great.*

Jones, a precog who can see one year into the future, is an interesting character in a world ruled by relativism where all absolute thought, in an effort to stamp out extremism and war, is forbidden. With his apparent proof of certainty, Jones becomes a demagogue, whipping his followers into a frenzy against the threat of amoeba-like aliens that have started to land on Earth. When it turns out these alien drifters are mostly harmless, something Jones didn’t initially know with his limited view into the future, he martyrs himself so as to blame his death on the relativists before he would have been exposed as a fraud.

The book’s two storylines don’t come together very well. The mutants being engineered to survive on Venus don’t have much to do with what is going on with Jones, but even Dick admitted the book would have been stronger if he had found a way to tie those two threads together.

*for example: moist skin, moist ground, moist legs, moist sack (don’t ask), moist car (how?), moist skin (again), moist breath, moist fog, moist atmosphere, moist hay, moist lips, moist lips (again) and moist air.

Cast of characters

  • Floyd Jones – a precog who can see exactly one year into the future although he lacks the ability to change the future when it happens
  • Louis, Frank, Vivian, Garry, Dieter, Irma, Syd – mutants engineered to survive on Venus who live in a moist refuge in San Francisco
  • Doctor Rafferty – oversees the refuge
  • Doug Cussick – member of the secret service
  • Nina – Cussick’s wife
  • Pearson – security director of the Baltimore secret service
  • Max Kaminski – Cussick’s senior political instructor
  • Hyndshaw – a traveling salesman who picks up Jones when he is hitchhiking
  • Tyler Fleming – a young member of the secret service

Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky
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Eye in the Sky is one of Dick’s first novels (published just after Solar Lottery and The World Jones Made) and the first time he took a handful of acquaintances and strangers, threw them into a world that wasn’t real and let them figure it out. He would reuse this setup later in A Maze of Death and in his classic Ubik… and he would continue the idea of ‘what is reality’ in nearly everything he wrote.

A group of sightseers at a particle accelerator falls through a proton beam when a platform collapses. As they imagine they recover they actually wake into a chain of worlds created in the mind of each individual as they regain consciousness one by one.

In the first half of the book they are trapped in the mind of war veteran Arthur Silvester whose world is ruled by an Old Testament-like god, the titular eye in the sky.* After incapacitating Silvester the group progresses through several more worlds until there is a twist around whether or not Hamilton’s wife is a Communist sympathizer, a question the book begins with when Hamilton is fired from his job at a missile research facility over the Red Scare concerns about his wife’s allegiances.

Overall a funny and thought-provoking early work.

*Originally intended to be the Biblical Judeo-Christian God but rewritten by Dick at the publisher’s request as a Muslim god of an obscure Arabic cult so as not to offend any readers of 1950’s America.

Cast of characters

  • Jack Hamilton – employee at the California Maintenance missile research lab
  • Marsha Hamilton – Hamilton’s wife
  • Colonel Edwards – head of California Maintenance
  • Charley McFeyffe – captain of security at California Maintenance
  • Arthur Silvester – a war veteran. Creator of universe 1 overseen by the eye in the sky
  • Bill Laws – the guide at the Bevatron particle accelerator
  • Edith Pritchet – creator of the sexless and inoffensive universe 2
  • David Pritchet – Edith’s son
  • Joan Reiss – creator of the paranoiac universe 3
  • Guy Tillingford – head of the Electronics Development Agency
  • Horace Clamp – a prophet of the Second Bab
  • Silky – a barfly Hamilton first meets in Silvester’s world

Time Out of Joint

Time out of Joint
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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.

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

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
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Often at the beginning of a Philip K. Dick book I think to myself ‘this has to be one of Dick’s craziest ideas’ before I remember I think that about almost all of his stories. Colonists who have been forced to emigrate to Mars occupy their time by communally taking a drug (Can-D) that lets them inhabit the minds of the Barbie and Ken-like dolls Perky Pat and Walt. While on the drug they are temporarily transported (as Perky Pat and Walt) to an Earth that mimics their carefully constructed Perky Pat layout.

Back on the real Earth the pre-cog employees at P. P. Layouts try to determine which consumer goods will be popular so that they can be minified and sent to Mars for the colonists to use in their Perky Pat environments. This balance is upset when the industrialist Palmer Eldritch returns from the Proxima system with a potent new drug that he plans to market to the colonists as a more effective escape from the drudgery of Mars.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch remains my favorite PKD book even after having read them all. You might assume it was inspired by the use of LSD, but Dick claims to have not yet tried that particular drug at this point in his life. Instead, fueled by large quantities of amphetamines, he wrote this during an incredibly prolific two-year period in 1963-64 when he also wrote some of my other favorites including The Game Players of Titan, Now Wait for Last Year, The Simulacra and Clans of the Alphane Moon.

Is the world of Perky Pat the same world from The Crack in Space? Who knows, but while in the mind of Walt, one of the colonists catches Jim Briskin, everyone’s favorite newsclown (or maybe just mine), on TV.

Cast of characters

  • Barney Mayerson – a pre-cog. Head of pre-fash marketing at  P. P. Layouts
  • Roni Fugate – a pre-cog. Barney’s assistant and mistress
  • Leo Bulero – chairman of the board at P. P. Layouts
  • Emily Hnatt – Barney’s ex-wife
  • Richard Hnatt – Emily’s current husband
  • Palmer Eldritch – the interplan industrialist who returns from Proxima
  • Sam Regan, Mary Regan, Tod Morris, Norman Schein, Helen Morris, Fran Schein – Mars colonists
  • Allen and Charlotte Faine – disc jockeys in a Mars satellite
  • Felix Blau – head of the police agency
  • Dr. Wily Denkmal – runs an E therapy clinic in Germany

A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly
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Dick wrote A Scanner Darkly based on his experiences living in the so-called ‘hermit house’ in Orange County with a rotating cast of drug dealers and users in the early ‘70s after his divorce from his fourth wife Nancy. Although he stayed away from harder drugs of the kind that inspired A Scanner Darkly’s brain-destroying Substance D (amphetamines were Dick’s drug of choice for many years before and during this time), he witnessed how drugs ruined the minds and lives of heavy users coming out of the 1960s.

Dick’s brilliant conceit for an anti-drug novel involves undercover narc Bob Arctor assigned to observe himself through holo-scanners hidden in the house where he and his doper friends live. As ‘Fred’ he watches himself while wearing a scramble suit so that his cover isn’t blown, but he also abuses more and more Substance D until he loses all sense of his identity. In the end he no longer recognizes that he is actually Bob Arctor and is sent to a clinic for barely functioning addicts.

Richard Linklater’s film based on the book is one of the best PKD adaptations. Winona Ryder was recovering from a high-profile issue with drugs at the time as was Robert Downey, Jr. who is particularly great (pre-Iron Man) as Arctor’s weaselly roommate Jim Barris. The movie perfectly captures the paranoia of Dick’s work, and A Scanner Darkly is Dick at his most paranoid. Both are hilarious (the movie is very faithful to the book) but also bleak, since Dick wants to make it clear drugs will unavoidably consume your life until there is nothing left.

Cast of characters

  • Bob Arctor aka Fred aka Bruce – an undercover narcotics agent
  • Jerry Fabin – an addict at the beginning of the book who sees (and feels) aphids everywhere before he gets sent to a Federal Clinic
  • Charles Freck – a doper in Bob’s circle of friends
  • Donna Hawthorne – Bob Arctor’s girl and the small-time dealer he’s working
  • Jim Barris – Bob’s roommate
  • Ernie Luckman – Bob’s roommate
  • Hank – Fred’s superior

Other things to know

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12 (King James Version)

This Bible verse, which has inspired the titles of many works including this one, comes at the end of 1 Corinthians 13 when Paul is discussing the importance of love. ‘Glass’ here is often translated as mirror. Now we see things imperfectly, but at the end of time (or when we meet Jesus or whatever), everything will be made clear.