Novels

The Crack in Space

The Crack in Space
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I like The Crack in Space even though it’s obviously not one of Philip K. Dick’s greatest works.

A man repairing a Jiffi-scuttler finds a small tear that leads to a parallel Earth. This comes at a time of severe overpopulation and unemployment where the U.S. has warehoused over seventy million people in suspended animation to be thawed out once the labor market improves.

Jim Briskin, a candidate hoping to be the first black elected president, sees an opportunity to send the bibs (as they are called) through this ‘crack in space’ to colonize the parallel Earth. That plan falls apart when they discover this other planet is inhabited by some far distant ancestor on the evolutionary tree.

Here are some things I love about this book:

  • The introduction to Jim Briskin. “…he still wore a formal dark suit even in hot weather. That, and a flaming red wig, had been his trademark back in the days when he had telecast as a TV newsclown.”
  • The poorly-defined Jiffi-scuttler. It’s at the center of the story and I have no idea about its intended use. It’s only described as some kind of limited time travel device.
  • George Walt, the conjoined twins who share a single head. It’s so weird that I can’t even picture how a creature like that would move around, and maybe PKD couldn’t picture it either. “It’s a wonder George Walt can perambulate,’ Jim said. ‘Joined at the base of the skull, the way they are. Must be damned awkward.” Also, they own a satellite brothel in orbit.

If this book feels like too many different stories in one that’s because Dick evidently borrowed from several of his short stories when putting this together.

Cast of characters

  • Darius Pethel – owner of Pethel Jiffi-scuttler Sales & Service
  • Lurton Sands – org-trans surgeon involved in a divorce
  • Myra Sands – Dr. Sand’s wife. An abort consultant
  • James Briskin – black candidate for president on the Republican Liberal ticket
  • Thisbe Olt – operator of the Golden Door satellite. Thisbe Holt is the girl in the bubble in The Broken Bubble
  • Stu Hadley – salesman at Pethel Jiffi-scuttler Sales & Service. Stu Hadley is also the name of the main character in Voices from the Street.
  • Sal Heim – Briskin’s campaign manager
  • Patricia – Sal’s wife
  • Phil Danville – speechwriter for Briskin
  • William Schwarz – the incumbent president and Briskin’s opponent. A State’s Rights Conservative Democrat
  • Bruno Mini – advocate of a ‘planet wetting’ technique of terraforming
  • Frank Woodbine – a space explorer
  • Rick Erickson – repairman for Pethel Jiffi-scuttler Sales & Service
  • George Walt – the two-bodied, one-headed mutant owner of the Golden Door Moments of Bliss satellite brothel
  • Tito Cravelli – Myra Sand’s private investigator
  • Cally Vale – Dr. Sand’s mistress
  • Leon Turpin – chairman on the board at Terran Development, manufacturers of the Jiffi-scuttler
  • Don Stanley – Turpin’s administrative assistant
  • Bascolm Howard – TD’s com-sys engineer
  • Herb Lackmore – a welfare worker
  • Earl Bohegian – Cravelli’s inside man at TD

VALIS

Valis
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Whether or not you like VALIS depends on how much you can tolerate Dick’s ramblings about the events of February/March 1974. See R. Crumb’s take on what supposedly happened to him if you aren’t familiar. Others might find it endlessly fascinating, but it’s never done much for me.

VALIS is narrated by Philip K. Dick himself as he tells the story of the apparent descent into madness of Horselover Fat. Since it’s given away early on, it’s not a spoiler to say Fat and Dick have a Tyler Durden thing going on. ‘Philip’ means ‘Horselover’ in Greek and ‘Fat’ is the German translation of ‘Dick.’

I like the style of his later books, but outside of a few amusing scenes (particularly when Fat tries to avoid talking about religion with his therapist so that he doesn’t get sent back to the psych ward but ends up ranting about the deranged god Yaldaboath when the therapist asks him if he believes in God) this book would make a fine cure for insomnia.

In short: Horselover Fat starts to lose his mind after the suicide of a friend, believes he is being contacted by some kind of alien satellite and eventually goes on a quest to find the reborn savior. The story in the VALIS film that Fat and his friends go see is repurposed from Radio Free Albemuth which was unpublished when Dick wrote this book.

Cast of characters

  • Horselover Fat – our protagonist
  • Philip K. Dick – as himself
  • Gloria – commits suicide at the beginning of the book
  • Stephanie – young dope dealer who gives Horselover Fat a clay pot
  • Kevin and David – Horselover Fat’s friends
  • Sherri – Horselover Fat’s friend who dies of cancer
  • Beth – Horselover Fat’s wife
  • Christopher – Horselover Fat’s son
  • Dr. Stone – in charge of the North Ward mental hospital
  • Maurice – Horselover Fat’s therapist
  • Eric Lampton aka Goose – writer/director of the VALIS film
  • Brent Mini – created the music for the VALIS film
  • Sophia – Eric and Linda Lampton’s daughter. The reborn savior??

Ubik

Ubik
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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.

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.  Also the owner of Beloved Brethren Mortuary in “What the Dead Men Say”
  • 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 Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle
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The Man in the High Castle is a book I admire more than enjoy reading. I reread it thinking I missed something when I read it years ago, but I felt almost the same about it the second time through.

The premise, where Dick imagines a world where the Axis powers won World War II, is certainly interesting. And the novel within the novel, where an author (the titular man in the high castle) has written a book about the Allies winning the war, is a great reversal of this idea. The characters though didn’t click with me, and the conflicts between the quarreling factions of the Reich felt more studious than exciting. I’m in the minority here. Most consider The Man in the High Castle to be one of Dick’s masterworks.

We find out at the end that the author Abendsen plotted the entirety of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy by consulting the I Ching. Evidently, Dick made heavy use of the I Ching while writing The Man in the High Castle, although not to the extent of his stand-in. Dick won the Hugo Award for this in 1963 after which he finally gave up on his mainstream aspirations and threw himself headfirst into his sci-fi career.

Cast of characters

  • Robert Childan – owner of American Artistic Handcrafts
  • Mr. Tagomi – a Japanese trade official in San Francisco
  • Frank Frink – Jewish metalworker who loses his job at W-M Corporation and starts a jewelry business
  • Wyndam-Matson – owns a metalworking factory
  • Juliana Frink – Frank’s ex-wife. Lives in Colorado
  • Joe Cinnedella– a Nazi out to assassinate Abendsen. Undercover as an Italian truck driver
  • Mr. Baynes – the alias of Rudolph Wegener, a member of the Abwehr, posing as a Swede who works for the Reich in plastics.
  • Ed McCarthy – Frink’s jewelry business partner
  • Hawthorne Abendsen – author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy
  • Shinjiro Yatabe – the alias of the Japanese General Tedeki
  • Hugo Reiss – the Reichs Consul in San Francisco
  • Kreuz vom Meere – chief of the SD in the PSA
  • Martin Bormann – in TMITHC he becomes the Reich Chancellor until his death. The following are jockeying to take his place:
    • Goring – founded the Gestapo and built up the Luftwaffe. He also shows up in the time travel plot of The Simulacra
    • Goebbels – Nazi Minister of Propaganda
    • Heydrich – career man with the SS. Deputy to Himmler. Drafted the “Final Solution”
    • Baldur von Schirach – former head of Hitler Youth
    • Dr. Seyss-Inquart – former Austrian Nazi. Possibly the most hated man in Reich territory

Other things to know

  • Sicherheitsdienst – SD. The intelligence agency of the SS
  • Abwehr – German military intelligence organization

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was the first Philip K. Dick book I read and a great introduction to his work. If you’ve seen Blade Runner then you are familiar with the plot: the bounty hunter Rick Deckard must retire the Nexus-6 androids (the most advanced models yet!) who have escaped from Mars and returned to Earth.

The most notable missing storyline in the movie adaptation has to do with the animals. Due to nuclear fallout after a world war living animals are incredibly rare. They are seen as status symbols and their cost is recorded in a constantly-referenced catalog called Sydney’s Animal & Fowl. This aspect of the book isn’t even really a subplot but more like the main plot line, since Deckard is hunting the androids for the bounty so he can buy a living animal to replace the electric sheep he has at the beginning of the story.

Otherwise Blade Runner is more or less faithful to the novel with some things necessarily streamlined. The terms “blade runner” and “replicant” are unique to the movie, and the ambiguity at the end about whether Deckard is human or not was invented by Ridley Scott and the screenwriters.

Dick declined to write a novelization of Blade Runner which would have netted him something like $400,000. Instead he got $12,500 for rereleasing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? under the Blade Runner name and artwork while he completed The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. I imagine anyone expecting the grittiness of the movie probably didn’t know what to make of the Penfield Mood Organ in the first chapter, one of the funniest parts of the book.

Cast of characters

  • Rick Deckard – our protagonist
  • Iran Deckard – Rick’s wife
  • John Isidore – a “special” damaged by the nuclear fallout. Jack Isidore is the name of the protagonist in Confessions of a Crap Artist
  • Wilbur Mercer – figurehead of the Mercerism religion that preaches empathy
  • Buster Friendly – host of a tv and radio show called ‘Buster Friendly and His Friendly Friends’
  • Harry Bryant – SF police inspector
  • Eldon Rosen – head of the Rosen Association which manufactures the Nexus-6
  • Rachel Rosen – a Nexus-6 android
  • Max Polokov – a Nexus-6 posing as a Soviet cop
  • Pris Stratton – a Nexus-6 who is the same model as Rachel Rosen
  • Hannibal Sloat – Isidore’s employer at the ‘Van Ness Pet Hospital’ which actually repairs mechanical animals
  • Luba Luft – a Nexus-6 posing as an opera singer
  • Garland – a Nexus-6 posing as a police inspector
  • Phil Resch – a SF bounty hunter
  • Ray and Irmgard Baty – the last two Nexus-6 androids

Other things to know

  • Voigt-Kampff Scale – the empathy test designed to expose the androids

Confessions of a Crap Artist

Confessions of a Crap Artist
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“I am made out of water. You wouldn’t know it, because I have it bound in. My friends are made out of water, too. All of them. The problem for us is that not only do we have to walk around without being absorbed by the ground but we also have to earn our livings.”

Confessions of a Crap Artist is the best of PKD’s mainstream novels and the only one to make it to market while he was still alive. He wrote it in late 1959, but it wasn’t finally published until 1975.

Jack Isidore moves to Marin County, California to live with his sister Fay. He gets involved with a local UFO group that believes the world will soon end while Fay cheats on her husband Charley with Nat Anteil who recently arrived in town.

The book deals with the same familiar themes as Dick’s other mainstream works (unhappy marriages and infidelity in Northern California) but manages to rise above the glumness of those other novels by weaving together Jack’s first-person point of view with Fay’s first-person POV and a third-person narrative dealing with Charley and Nat.

Cast of characters

  • Jack Isidore – the titular crap artist
  • Fay – Jack’s sister
  • Charley Hume – Fay’s husband
  • Nat and Gwen Anteil – a newlywed couple who recently moved to Point Reyes
  • Claudia Hambro – head of the Drake’s Landing UFO group