1/23/13

The Ganymede Takeover by Philip K Dick (1967)

The Ganymedeans have three steps when they come to a new world: “First conquer, then occupy, then absorb.” In Philip Dick and Ray Nelson’s novel “The Ganymede Takeover” the aliens have already accomplished the first two phases on Earth, and are attempting the final step. Except some pockets of resistance remain, such as Percy X and his followers, a group of freed slaves who form a religious movement called the Neeg-parts. It falls upon a Gany administrator called Mekkis to take care of the Neeg-part problem in the bale of Tennessee.

Meanwhile, Paul Rivers and Ed Newkom, secret agents of the World Psychiatric Association attempt to heal humanity’s poor self-esteem problem by creating a hero of Percy X... a dead hero, but a hero nonetheless. At the same time, television personality Joan Hirashi, who attended college with Percy X, travels to Tennessee ostensibly to record the Neeg-parts music, but she’s actually working for the Ganys to kill Percy X and deliver his body to Mekkis for an artistic skinned wall hanging. A fourth player, Gus Swenesgard, put in place as the puppet ruler of Tennessee by the Ganys, is making a bid for true power by playing a balancing game providing some information to the Ganys in return for advanced weapons and a promotion.

Percy X convinces Hirashi to stop colluding with the Ganys, but in the end they are both captured and sent to the psychiatric institute of Dr. Balkani in Oslo, Norway. While there, Balkani subjects Hirashi to Oblivion Therapy, and she emerges at peace with the world, more buddha than Buddha. Through some advanced technology from before the war, Paul Rivers frees Hirashi and Percy X, leaving robotic duplicates in the institute in their stead, but Hirashi is still in her zen state.

Earlier Swenesgard was digging for some pre-war weapons, which we learn were developed by Dr. Balkani. These weapons have fallen into the hands of the Neeg-parts. Swenesgard and the Ganys go all out to attack the followers of Percy X, not suspecting that their leader has returned. The Neeg-parts respond with the psychic weapons, creating illusions that affect reality in unsettling ways.

Considering all the trouble the humans have given them, the Ganys decide to sterilize the Earth, and they all leave except for Mekkis, who has become obsessed with the writings of Dr. Balkani. Meanwhile, Percy X and Paul Rivers argue whether or not to turn on Balkani’s ultimate weapon, one that is so insidious it affects reality, warping aggressor and defender alike. Percy X enables the weapon at the same time that Mekkis telepathically links with the Ganymedean unified mind, so both races are enveloped in the results of the ultimate weapon, leaving only Joan Hirashi, in her zen state untouched. Rivers uses telepathy to reach out to her and instruct her to turn off the machine. It’s only after the machine, which apparently isolates each person from reality, is turned of that we learn that the isolation had a deadly effect on the Ganys, killing the entire race.

This is one of the two novels that Dick produced with a collaborator. The other, “Deus Irae,” was written in a ping-pong fashion with Roger Zelazny, each author adding to the notes and the story, then passing it back to the other. According to this site, the collaboration with Ray Nelson was similar, with the two of them writing the outline together and then taking turns writing.
(Ray Nelson wrote) When we met --first at his place in East Oakland and later at his other place in Marin County near the water, we often spent more time smoking grass, dropping acid and flirting with each others' wives than working. Not for nothing is TAKEOVER dedicated to both Kirsten and Nancy. Joan Hiashi is a composite in many ways of these two remarkable women, and many of the concepts and plot twists were contributed by them in the nonstop brainstorming that always formed a part of our relationship.
In one way, the book benefits from the collaboration. The plot is more focused than many of the novels Dick was producing at the time, and the first couple of chapters snap with action and dialog. Unfortunately, Nelson also dilutes some of the craziness that we come to expect from PKD, the end result is that the ultimate psychic weapon at the end doesn’t even begin to approach the reality slips we’ve seen other works such as “Three Stigmata” and “Time Out of Joint.

Who is Ray Nelson? He’s a sci-fi writer who was friends with Dick in California. He claims to have created the propeller beany and he also wrote the short story “8 O’clock in the Morning” which is the basis for John Carpenter’s classic 80’s paranoia film “They Live.”

I first read this book shortly before the release of Ken Russell’s Altered States, both of which portray sensory withdrawal tanks as doorways to mystical powers. After having spent considerable time lying in a warm bathtub with the lights off, I consider this to be false advertising. But even now I like the effort Dick and Nelson have put into imagining the psychotherapeutic miracles of Dr. Balkani, the psychiatrist of the future.
Balkani simply looked within his own unique mind and described what he saw, brushing aside whole schools of psychiatry with a single snide remark, making not even a feeble attempt at politeness, let alone scientific fairness. Yet his theories produced results. Balkani, the master, lurched drunkenly into the unknown, carelessly tossing off dogmatic statements as if they were proven facts simply because they seemed to him, intuitively, to be true. Then others could follow behind him, picking up his ideas and testing them scientifically, and produce miracles.
A method of training latent telepathic ability that really worked.
A type of psychotherapy that seemed to be a brutal, all-out attack on the patient's ego, yet which cured in weeks supposedly impossible-to-cure mental illnesses such as drug addiction and far-advanced schizophrenia.
An electromagnetic theory of mind function that opened the way for partial or complete control of the mind by electromagnetic fields.
A way of measuring the presence of Synchronicity generated by schizophrenics an acausal force which, by altering consistently the patterns of probability, made the objective world appear to collaborate with the psychotic in the creation of the half-real world in which his worst fears would, against impossible odds, come true.
I particularly love that last idea: weird coincidences surrounding schizophrenic people aren’t actually coincidences -- they are created by the person’s own mental illness.

And perhaps the best thing about “The Ganymede Takeover” is the description of the Ganys themselves. They are obviously not human, and make a habit of collecting the pelts of the races they subjugate, but they also have traits that any other person would have. Both Mekkis and Marshal Koli, the outgoing military administrator, have infatuations with collecting odd bits of human civilization. For Koli the goal is to collect a complete set of plastic airplane models from WWI, while Mekkis is completely immersed in the writings of Dr. Balkani. Making the invaders “human,” yet fearsome improves the conflict, raising it higher than just humans vs monsters. There’s one passage where you wonder whether the authors are rooting for the humans or the Ganys:
Koli had saved one item from Earth, a perfect souvenir of the human race that would now, with the extinction of that race, become very soon a rarity of incredible value. A complete collection of the early short comedies of the original Three Stooges, pre-World War Three. He licked his chops in anticipation of the envy on his friends' faces when he projected these films, over and over again, in his private villa back home. What do I care, he thought smugly, if they become a little bored? I'll say to them, "This is what mankind was like," and I'll have them; yes, I'll have them. They won't be able to argue with the authentic films which the Terrans themselves made. And they'll be forced to say, whether they like it or not, "Koli, when you exterminated the Earth creatures, you did the right thing."
Bottom line, “The Ganymede Takeover” holds together as a fun, linear and complex story. It doesn’t go to the edge as far as some Philip Dick novels, but as it promises on the back cover it truly does have a new idea on every page.

Back of “The Ganymede Takeover”
The worm-kings of Ganymede had not suspected there was other intelligent life in the solar system until a space probe bounced down on their surface. But that was enough to whet those super-beings’ appetites for conquest.
After their takeover of the Earth, however, it turned out that these unruly Earth people presented a number of unpredictable problems. And they soon learned that their primary troubles were coming from such a mixed bag as Percy Y (sic), a fanatic guerrilla leader, Dr.Balkani, an anti-social scientist, Joan Hiashi, a psychedelic folk singer, and a mysterious television personality nobody could get their hands on at all.
The Ganymede Takeover is an idea-a-page action novel up to the best standards of Philip K. Dick.
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