1/8/13

"Clans of the Alphane Moon" by Philip K Dick (1964)

In “Clans of the Alphane Moon” Philip Dick lets loose his penchant for psychology. A planet, really little more than a moon, was once a sanitarium for mental patients. During the war between the Alphans and Earth this moon was left in a no-man’s land and the patients were abandoned to fend for themselves. Now, thirty years later, the population on the moon has self-selected by mental affliction into seven towns: Adolfville for the Pares (paranoiacs), Ghanditown for the Hebes (hebephrenics), Da Vinci Heights for the Manses (manics), the Skitzes (schizophrenics) live in Joan d’Arc, the Ob-coms (obsessive-compulsives), the Polys in Hamlet Hamlet, and finally the Deps (depression) in Cotton Mather Estates. The moon has a council of seven leaders, one from each community, that meet to direct the government functions as much as possible.

Meanwhile, the humans on Earth are at peace with the bug-like Alphans, but both militaries are interested in reclaiming the Alphan moon. The Counter Intelligence Agency of Earth, in particular, is interested in finding out whether the mental patients have evolved any weapons that could give Earth an advantage in a space war.

“Clans” is Dick’s version of a screwball romantic comedy. The plot centers around the divorce of Mary and Chuck Rittersdorf. Chuck does “programming” for simulacrums. That is, he writes pro-government propaganda scripts for the simulacra, and then the androids are released out into the world to promote the USA and capitalism in an effort to combat the Communists. Mary, who’s a psychiatrist for the government wants Chuck to better himself, maybe writing comedy routines for TV stars. Chuck cites that conflict, among others as the reason for their divorce.

As the story begins, Mary has just taken the job with the government to make initial contact with the patients on the Alphane moon, but first she calls in some favors to get Chuck a job writing for Bunny Hentmann, a sort of Henny Youngman / Milton Berle / Jerry Seinfeld comedian. Reluctantly, he accepts, but he keeps his job with the government because it’s a chance to drive the simulacrum that will accompany Mary to the moon. Chuck plans to use the android remotely murder his wife, making it look like an accident.

Of course, since this is a screwball comedy, things get more complicated. Chuck loses his apartment, moves into a dive where the neighbor Lord Running Clam is a telepathic Ganymedean slime mold and meets a pretty girl who can roll back time by ten minutes. Hentmann puts pressure on Chuck to provide a script, so he comes up with a comedy pilot based on a guy who’s getting divorced and planning to kill his wife using a remote control simulacra that dresses as a female marriage counselor. It also turns out that Hentmann is friends with one of the top Alphan generals from during the war. Meanwhile, Mary has landed on the Alphane moon and meets some of the clinically crazy inhabitants.

When I was a teenager the descriptions of each tribe on the moon seemed eye-opening and accurate. Here was Dick elucidating all the psychiatric disorders known to man. As an adult, and from distance of 50 years, the psychoanalysis is pretty superficial. In fact, even though this is a comedy, some of the descriptions of the patients could be offensive to some.

Dick does a good job in this story of integrating even the minor characters. Lord Running Clam, Bunny Hentmann, the pretty neighbor Joan Trieste, all have distinct personalities, which is better than in some of Dick’s works. In his later novels the characters have a tendency to be chatty, especially about psychiatric disorders. “Clans” balances out this chattiness by adding more characters, which also helps with the screwball nature of the story.

The ending is oddly structured. There’s a night-time shoot out and battle which Dick describes with cinematic aplomb, but then there are some extra bounces as various plot points are resolved, or not. Dick seems to have this problem in various stories: he resolves the plot line, but then feels compelled to continue writing. You can see it in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and also at the end of “We Can Build You.” Luckily, this ending is relatively short, about fifteen pages.

From the back cover of “Clans of the Alphane Moon”:
Holding a precarious liberty as the result of an interstellar stalemate, the human survivors of Alpha Centauri’s hospital moon readied themselves for their war of independence.
Naturally the Pares, always suspicious and cunning, assumed the leadership, leaving it to the Manses to provide the super weapons out of their sheer love of violence. Propaganda and other details would have to be left to the Skitzes, the Heebs, the Polys, and the Ob-Coms.
But when the Earth expedition arrived, everything turned out to be different... because they too were divided among themselves, and some of them weren’t really human at all.
It’s a Philip K. Dick tour-de-force of the far future.
Enhanced by Zemanta