The Broken Bubble

The Broken Bubble
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The Broken Bubble is a mainstream novel Dick wrote in 1956, although it wasn’t published until 1988 after he died.

A San Francisco radio DJ and his ex-wife get involved with a teenaged married couple, and in a subplot, a woman lets herself get kicked around inside a plastic ball for the amusement of some drunk optometrists at a convention party.

It lacks a hook to get excited about, although the relationships felt real. Maybe a touch melodramatic at times but definitely not terrible like I kind of expected.

Cast of characters

  • Jim Briskin – radio DJ for KOIF. Jim Briskin is also the name of the news-clown in The Crack In Space
  • Patricia Gray – Jim’s ex-wife
  • Bob Posin – salesman for KOIF
  • Art Emmanual – eighteen-year-old married kid befriended by Jim
  • Rachel – Art’s wife
  • Ferde Heinke and Joe Mantila – Art’s friends
  • Ludwig Grimmelman – mid-twenties. Head of some kind of revolutionary group that Art and his friends belong to
  • Luke Sharpstein – owns Looney Luke’s Used Car Lot. This character was repurposed for The Simulacra
  • Nat Emmanual – Art’s older brother. Owner of Nat’s Auto sales.
  • Hugh Collins – wealthy San Francisco optometrist
  • Tony Vacuhhi – Bob Posin’s acquaintance
  • Thisbe Holt – the girl in the plastic bubble at Hugh Collin’s party

Deus Irae

Deus Irae
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Dick began Deus Irae in 1964 and collaborated on it with Roger Zelazny on and off for the next twelve years before it finally was published in 1976.

A religion called the Servants of Wrath springs up after a nuclear war wipes out most of the planet’s population. The followers worship the destroyer who has come to Earth in the form of Carl Lufteufel, the man responsible for the bombs.

Tibor McMasters, an armless and legless man very similar to the phocomelus Hoppy Harrington from Dr. Bloodmoney (except that Tibor’s cart is pulled by a cow), is hired to paint a church mural featuring Lufteufel for the Servants of Wrath. He sets off on a pilgrimage, followed by Pete Sands, across the post-apocalyptic wasteland in order to find Lufteufel and take a photo of him to reference for the mural.

Cast of characters

  • Father Handy – father in the Servants of Wrath church
  • Tibor McMasters – limbless artist who paints the SOW church mural
  • Pete Sands – Christian church member
  • Dr. Jim Abernathy – Christian priest in Charlottesville
  • Lurnie Rae – SOWer who decides to join the Christian church
  • Carl Lufteufel – Deus Irae. The God of Wrath. Former Chairman of the Energy Research and Development Administration who was responsible for the nuclear war
  • Jackson and Earl Potter – lizard-like mutants Tibor meets on his journey
  • Jack Schuld – a hunter who says he is tracking Lufteufel but turns out to be Lufteufel himself
  • The Great C – a computer out in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that captures passerby and dissolves them in underground vats of acid

The Zap Gun

The Zap Gun
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The Zap Gun eventually won me over with its loopy charm. In 2004 Wes-bloc and Peep-East are locked in a cold war, but they only pretend to build the weapons that keep the other countries at bay.

Weapons fashion designers on both sides create sketches while in a trance-like state. The public believes these sketches are used to construct lethal weapons, but in reality the designs are just turned into consumer gadgets and toys. When aliens attack, the two sides must join together to find a real weapon that can save Earth.

Dick wrote The Zap Gun while he was also writing The Penultimate Truth. In that one he identified with the Yance-man speechwriter hacks, and in this one he writes about Lars Powderdry who has a deep-seated fear he will enter one of his drug-induced trances, return without anything to show for it and be discovered as a fraud.

A lot of the Vintage paperbacks feature the Village Voice blurb that calls Dick the poor man’s Thomas Pynchon. I’d say this is Dick at his most Pynchony with all the goofy names (Surely G. Febbs, Lars Powderdry, Dr. Todt aka Dr. Dead in German) and a plot with an off-kilter sense of humor that takes a while to sort out.

Cast of characters

  • Lars Powderdry – our protagonist. A weapons fashion designer for Wes-bloc
  • Lilo Topchev – Peep-East’s weapons fashion designer
  • Dr. Todt and Elvira Funt – Lars’s medical team
  • Maren Faine – Lars’s mistress
  • General Nitz – the Commander in Chief on Natsec’s board
  • Marshal Paponovich – Soviet Marshal and head of SeRKeb
  • Don Packard – a KACH-man
  • Surely G. Febbs – the newest concomody on the UN-W Natsec Board
  • Pete Freid – ranking engineer at Lanferman Associates
  • Aksel Kaminsky – a Soviet official
  • Jack Lanferman – owner of Lanferman Associates
  • Vincent Klug – toymaker who tries to convince Lanferman to partner with him on  prototypes
  • Major Geschenko – head of the Soviet KVB surveillance team
  • Ricardo Hastings – a so-called war veteran who traveled back in time from 2068

Other things to know

  • Wes-bloc – the Western nations
  • Peep-East – the Sino-Soviet bloc of countries
  • KACH – a planet-wide private police agency
  • SeRKeb – Peep-East’s governing body
  • UN-W Natsec – the governing board of Wes-bloc
  • Lanferman Associates – the firm that produces prototypes from Lars’s trance sketches
  • pursaps – pure saps or poor saps. The majority of the public
  • cogs – the cognoscenti. The ruling class who know the truth about the “weapons”

Dr. Futurity

Dr. Futurity
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Dr. Futurity (not to be confused with the much better Dr. Bloodmoney) tells the story of Dr. Jim Parsons who is snatched away from 2012 and brought to the year 2405. The world of the future has no need for doctors as they have embraced death and eugenics. Their society is organized into tribes represented by animal totems. These tribes compete in contests to determine future generations as the winning tribes are able to contribute a greater number of zygotes to the Soul Cube. I feel stupid writing this down.

The Wolf Tribe has access to a time travel device, and they need the medical know-how of Parsons to save the life of Corith who was shot by an arrow in 1579 during a botched attempt to travel back in time to kill Sir Francis Drake. His plan was to erase the next 500 years of white supremacy by preventing England from taking North America from the Native Americans. Anyway… at least he wasn’t trying to stop Hitler.

The whole thing is full of plot holes, time travel and otherwise. Dick tries to explain away some of these issues, but the poorly-written story remains muddled and not very interesting.

Cast of characters

  • Dr. Jim Parsons – our protagonist
  • Wade and Icara – members of an illegal political group advocating women’s rights
  • Al Stenog – the Director of the Fountain
  • Loris – Mother superior of the Wolf Tribe
  • Helmar – Loris’s brother
  • Corith – Loris’s father. He travels back to 1579 in an attempt to kill Sir Francis Drake.
  • Jepthe – Loris’s mother
  • Nixina – mother of Jepthe and Corith

Other things to know

  • Shupos – delinquent children who work as government enforcers
  • Soul Cube – contains all the zygotes of the human race
  • The Fountain – government building where the Soul Cube is kept
  • Nova Albion – Northern California landing spot of Sir Francis Drake in 1579

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer
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The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is the last book Dick wrote, published just after he died in 1982. I thought it was terrific, although I’m someone who enjoys the exploration of theology that makes up most of the plot.

Our narrator, a woman named Angel Archer, tells about her father-in-law Bishop Tim Archer who has a crisis of faith after the discovery of an ancient document casts a doubt on Jesus’s divinity. It opens on the day of John Lennon’s murder in 1980, but the majority of the story is flashbacks.

This one is considered one of Dick’s “mainstream” novels, and I wish he had been given a chance to write more books like this. It’s funny and smart and grounded in the real world of Berkeley, California.

Cast of characters

  • Timothy Archer – Episcopalian Bishop of California
  • Jeff Archer – Timothy’s son
  • Angel Archer – our narrator. Jeff’s wife and Timothy’s daughter-in-law
  • Kristen Lundborg – Angel’s best friend and Timothy’s mistress
  • Bill Lundborg – Kristen’s schizophrenic son
  • Edgar Barefoot – hosts a radio show about mysticism on KPFA in Berkeley
  • Fred Hill – owner of the Bad Luck restaurant. Possible KGB agent
  • Dr. Rachel Garret – the elderly medium they use in an attempt to talk to Jeff from beyond the grave

Other things to know

  • The Zadokites – an obscure Jewish sect
  • The Zadokite documents – fictional documents that predate Jesus by 200 years.
    Supposedly they contain “Q” which is the basis for the synoptic gospels in the Bible. The Zadokite fragments, part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, are a real thing, but the rest was invented by Dick

I picked up this copy at the library. The author photo on the back, credited to Nicole Panter, shows Dick wearing a Rozz Tox t-shirt, a reference to Gary Panter’s Rozz Tox Manifesto that argues artists should embrace capitalism. Nicole Panter was the manager for The Germs, and Gary won three Emmys for his set designs for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

Some Rozz Tox quotes:

  • Capitalism for good or ill is the river in which we sink or swim.
  • Waiting for art talent scouts? There are no art talent scouts. Face it, no one will seek you out. No one gives a shit.
  • Law: If you want better media, go make it.

The Cosmic Puppets

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