Theme: Evolution

The Infinites published 1953

While exploring an asteroid with an Earth-like atmosphere (but strangely no sign of life) the three-person crew of a prospecting ship is hit by a blast of radiation from the asteroid’s core. Once back in space the crew members exhibit mutations that appear to be radiation sickness before they realize the radiation is actually causing their senses to evolve.

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories
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With his expanding intellect, Harrison Blake wants to return to Earth and dominate mankind. It seems he will get his way until the other two are rescued by beings of pure energy, which turn out to be the ship’s hamsters in this increasingly preposterous story. The crew kept hamsters on board to test unfamiliar planetary environments, and these hamsters were hit by the radiation before everyone else which somehow caused them to evolve more than the humans.

The energy beings kill Blake, restore Eller and Simmons to their pre-mutated form and head out into space leaving Eller and Simmons to return to Earth.

Cast of characters

  • Major Crispin Eller – captain of the X-43y cruiser
  • Harrison Blake – second in command
  • Silvia Simmons – the ship’s hamster wrangler

Our Friends from Frolix 8 published 1970

In the far-off future mankind has evolved. The New Men are those with bigger brains and a greater intellect, while the Unusuals are mutants with psionic abilities. These two groups form a loosely-aligned ruling class who oppress the unevolved Old Men just struggling to get by. But don’t forget about the Under Men! They follow the writings of Eric Cordon and rebel against the whole class imbalance while waiting for Thors Provoni to return from outer space with some kind of help to free them from the tyrannical rule.

Our Friends from Frolix 8
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Our Friends from Frolix 8 is about as middle of the road as you can get with Dick’s minor works. I remembered almost nothing about it before I reread it. It’s redeemed by the oddball telepath and supreme leader of Earth Willis Gram, but only somewhat, and if you replaced sad-sack Nick Appleton with the protagonist from a dozen of Dick’s other stories you probably wouldn’t notice a difference.

Cast of characters

  • Nick Appleton – our protag. He’s employed as a tire regroover, an odd profession since the squibs in the book are flying vehicles
  • Bobby Appleton – Nick’s son
  • Kleo Appleton – Nick’s wife
  • Thors Provoni – left Earth to look for help in the far reaches of outer space
  • Willis Gram – Council Chairman of the Extraordinary Committee for Public Safety (Unusual)
  • Lloyd Barnes – the police director (New Man)
  • Eric Cordon – Under Man organizer and propaganda writer
  • Earl Zeta – Nick’s boss (Under Man)
  • Charlotte Boyer – a sixteen-year-old Under Man girl who gets involved with Nick
  • Denny – Charlotte’s boyfriend (Under Man)
  • Morgo Rahn Wilc – the Frolixan friend who accompanies Thors Provoni back to Earth
  • Amos Ild – one of the world’s smartest New Men

Rating:

Related:

The Crack in Space published 1966

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

The Crack in Space
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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

Rating:

Related:

The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike published 1984

I’m going out on a limb to say Dick has a bitter and cynical view of marriage and relationships. In The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, Leo Runcible bickers with his alcoholic wife Janet, and Walter Dombrosio fights viciously with his wife Sherry.

Runcible and Dombrosio, neighbors in the small California town of Carquinez, don’t like each other. When Dombrosio invites his black mechanic over for dinner, it costs Runcible, the local realtor, a sale. Runcible retaliates by calling the police on Dombrosio when he sees him driving drunk, and Dombrosio loses his license. Dombrosio then plants a fake fossil of a Neanderthal skull on Runcible’s land which Runcible tries to exploit for the publicity until he realizes he’s been had. It turns out Dombrosio dug up the malformed skull from the unmarked grave of someone who lived in old Carquinez several generations ago. These chupper-jawed people resembled Neanderthals because of a deformity caused by poisoned water in the area. At the end of the story, Runcible invests everything he has in order to fix the tainted Carquinez water supply.

Dick filled this novel with thoroughly unlikable people. Dombrosio rapes his wife in order to get her pregnant so she can no longer work, because it insults his manhood or something to have her support him after he quits his job. He also throws a chair at her, but they stay together. The 1950s were messed up.

Dick wrote this one in 1960, and it was the first of his unpublished mainstream novels to be published after he died. He would reuse the idea of the Neanderthal chuppers in one of the many subplots of The Simulacra.

Cast of characters

  • Leo Runcible – realtor in Carquinez
  • Janet Runcible – Leo’s wife
  • Walter Dombrosio – package designer at the Lausch Company
  • Sherry Dombrosio – Walt’s wife
  • Norm Lausch – owner of the Lausch Company
  • Chuck Halpin – Walt’s black mechanic
  • Michael Wharton – a fourth grade teacher and fossil enthusiast
  • Seth Faulk – reporter for the Carquinez newspaper
  • Tom Heyes – Carquinez veternarian
  • Dr. Freitas, Jack Bowman & Dudley Sharp – University of California anthropologists investigating Runcible’s skull

The Simulacra published 1964

Set in 2041. I never realized, before I started reading a lot of PKD books back to back to back, how fascinated he is with Nazis and World War II Germany. Three of the last five books I read (this one, The Penultimate Truth and Lies, Inc) dealt with Nazi Germany in some way.

The Simulacra
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Dick threw nearly everything he could think of into this one. The main storyline has an concept similar to The Penultimate Truth involving a simulacrum of the President, although the rest is stuffed with multiple subplots that include psionics, Neanderthals and an attempt to cure Hitler by sending a psychoanalyst back in time.

This novel has a million characters to keep track of, but the anxiety-causing commercials that buzz around like flies, used-car salesman who sell jalopies that travel to Mars and primitive alien life forms used on Earth as components in recording devices are all great.

The conclusion focuses on the least interesting subplot as a group of Neanderthals called chuppers from some different branch of the evolutionary tree gather around a television and watch as Homo sapiens destroy themselves in a war. The few Homo sapiens in the room with them have the grim realization this is the moment the chuppers have been waiting for. Just short of a classic as it doesn’t all come together in the end.

Cast of characters

  • Richard Kongrosian – a Soviet pianist who plays Brahms and Schumann with his mind
  • Dr. Egon Superb – a psychoanalyst
  • Bertold Goltz – head of the Neo-nazi group Sons of Job
  • Wilder Pembroke – commissioner of the National Police
  • Rudolf Kalbfleisch – the current der Alte. A simulacrum
  • Nicole Thibodeaux– the First Lady. Has a stature greater than the president in their matriarchal society
  • Emil Stark – Prime Minister of Israel
  • Janet Raimer – Chief White House talent scout
  • Garth McRae – Assistant State Secretary
  • Harold Slezak – White House A & R secretary
  • Hermann Göring – founder of the Gestapo, commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s successor in World War II
  • Vince Strikerock – works for Karp u. Sohnen
  • Chic Strikerock – brother of Vince. Works for Frauenzimmer Associates.
  • Julia Applequist– ex-wife of Vince Strikerock
  • Maury Frauenzimmer – Chic’s boss. Owner of Frauenzimmer Associates
  • Felix and Anton Karp – father and son owners of Karp u. Sohnen
  • Ian Duncan – aimless member of the Abraham Lincoln apartment building
  • Al Miller – Ian Duncan’s former friend and jug band partner. Works for Loony Luke’s jalopy business
  • Patrick Doyle – skypilot for the Abraham Lincoln apartments
  • Edgar Stone – scheming member of the Abraham Lincoln apartment building
  • Nat Flieger – works at Electronic Musical Enterprise
  • Jim Planck – employee of EME
  • Leo Dondoldo – owner of EME
  • Molly Dondoldo – Leo’s daughter

Other things to know

  • USEA – United States of Europe and America
  • McPhearson Act – outlaws the practice of psychoanalysis in favor of drug therapy
  • der Alte – German for “the old man.” The president. Has been a simulacrum for the last fifty years
  • Karp und Sohnen Werke – German for Karp and Sons. Built the Kalbfleisch simulacrum
  • the Ges – Geheimnisträger. The upper social class. Possessors of the secret that der Alte is a simulacrum
  • the Bes – Befehlträger. The lower social class
  • Frauenzimmer Associates – simulacra construction company
  • von Lessinger equipment – used for time travel