A Maze of Death by Philip K Dick (1970)

"A Maze of Death" is the Philip K Dick equivalent of a slasher movie. He puts a bunch of people into a remote setting, throws in some oddball religion, kills them off one by one, then reveals a surprise twist ending. In the story fourteen people travel by one-way rockets called nosers to the planet Delmak-O, ostensibly to colonize it, but as soon as they're assembled they start to die in unnatural ways. At first the characters suspect they are being attacked by something native to the planet, and they even find a miniature building that shoots at them with a laser cannon. But when they find one of their own killed with a rock, they begin to suspect that the killer is one of the colonists, and paranoia runs high. Before long half the colonists are dead and one of them, Seth Morley, has a potentially fatal wound. A mysterious rocket arrives and two interns fly him across the planet to a hospital, where he learns they have been on Earth the whole time, only something is still not right. The story ends with several reality-twists that are too good to reveal here.

Written just as "Ubik" was being published, this novel has a lot of the same themes and tropes, but the plot is less complex. Instead, Dick spends time painting the details of the world, adding a universal theology, providing a future history for Earth and the development of space exploration, and focusing on creating characters with more background than he normally provides in his works.

According to a note from the author in the beginning of the book, “the theology in this novel is not an analog of any known religion. It stems from an attempt made by William Sarill and myself to develop an abstract logical system of religious though, based on the arbitrary postulate that God exists.” The assumption is that God exists, in many forms, and responds to personal prayer if it’s transmitted to the correct satellite. Everyone has a copy of the modern bible, A.J. Specktowsky’s book “How I Rose From the Dead in My Spare Time and So Can You.” At one point Dick describes a character using the book:

Opening at random (a highly approved method) he read over a few familiar paragraphs of the great twenty-first century Communist theologian’s apologia pro vita sua.
“God is not supernatural. His existence was the first and most natural mode of being to form itself.”

The random aspect brings to mind the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes. Not coincidentally, Dick also refers to the I Ching through a character called a Tench, an oracular alien that provides fortune-cookie messages to the colonists: “There are secret forces at work, leading together those who belong together. We must yield to this attraction, then we make no mistakes.” According to the author’s notes, the answers from the tench “were derived from the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes.”

In his theology Dick spells out the four forms of God. The Mentufacturer is responsible for bringing the universe into being and starting time in motion. Address a prayer to him if you want to roll back time and take a different path. Several of the characters interact with the Walker-on-Earth, the physical manifestation that travels the universe helping people, while they all ultimately encounter the Form Destroyer in the shape of death. His entropy is an opposing force to the Mentufacturer. And finally there’s the Intercessor, a Manifestation of the Deity that can stand in for us collectively, similar to Jesus Christ. In other novels Dick has discussed each of these themes, but this is the first time in his work that he attempts to bring them together in what he calls a logical system.

Have I mentioned that one common PKD theme is that reality is lying to you?

“A Maze of Death” has multiple levels of deception, but the one I like best is the self-deception as the characters try to read the words on a mysterious Building that stalks the colonists. They first encounter the building as a tiny model, but then it appears to them in the jungle of the planet.

“I can hear it,” Seth Morley said, and felt fear. Enormous, instinctive fear.
A hundred yards away a gray wall rose up into the smoky haze of the midday sky. Pounding, vibrating, the wall creaked as if alive...while, above it, spires squirted wastes in the form of dark clouds. FUrther wastes, from enormous pipes, gurgled into the river. Gurgled and gurgled and never ceased.
They had found the Building.

Some words are written over the doors to the building, and since this is PKD I imagine the words are similar to the “Arbeit macht frei” written over the entrances to the Nazi concentration in World War II. The problem for the colonists is that each perceives the words to mean what they most hope or fear. Simple Seth Morley reads the word as WINERY” hoping to buy a couple of bottles and to sample some cheese, while the fanatically religious Maggie Walsh sees WITTERY, but wit doesn’t mean humor...”If I go in there, she thought, I will learn all that man can know in this interstice of dimensions. I must go in.” The others see other words: the psychiatrist Wade Frazer reads it as STOPPERY, a Celtic word for a sanitarium, Mary Morely sees WITCHERY, and the brutish Ignatz Thugg interprets the word as HIPPERY HOPPERY, a place where they have people hop onto animals for “youknowhwat.”

This word as a thing to be perceived, or misperceived, recurs throughout Dick’s books. In “The Zap Gun,” after one of his trances Mr. Lars expects to bring back a weapon design to fend off the invaders. Instead he sees only this sentence:
"The (unreadable, a short word) in the maze."
The word consisted of three letters, the second of which -- he was positive, now, as he scrutinized it -- was a
He decides that the word is Rat. Or, is it Man? Does it really matter to the story?

In “The Game Players of Titan” while Pete Garden is under the influence of drugs and alcohol he discovers an important truth, which he writes on a matchbook. The next day he reads “WE ARE ENTIRELY SURROUNDED BY BUGS RUGS VUGS.”

The fading words are a metaphor both in the stories, and for PKD himself. Does the word change because the world changes? Or, by changing the words, does he alter the world? So many of his stories feel as if he’s making it up as he goes along, but he also seems to be referring to the magical notion that knowing the word will make it real. (Is there a Greek word for this?) According to Wikipedia, “In semiotics, a sign is something that can be interpreted as having a meaning, which is something other than itself, and which is therefore able to communicate information to the one interpreting or decoding the sign.” Is this Dick’s way of trying to find the signs that will help him decode reality? Because, as I mentioned, reality is lying to you.

This is exactly what happens in “Time Out of Joint.” Ragle Gumm discovers a piece of paper with the words “SOFT DRINK STAND” and this discovery unlocks his madness, turning him sane. Whether through experience or age, it seems like Dick has given up on this optimism in “A Maze of Death.” His characters are in the course of submitting to their fate. “Nobody sees reality as it actually is,” Frazer said. “As Kant proved. Space an time are modes of perception, for example.” Another character mentions that Specktowsky speaks about people as “prisoners of our own preconceptions and expectations...without ever seeing reality as it actually is.”

Despite the fatalism in this book, it’s not a downer. PKD includes many of his own views on death and life. The note from the author mentions “In the novel, Maggie Walsh’s experiences after death are based on an LSD experience of my own. In exact detail. The approach in this novel is highly subjective: by that I mean that at any given time, reality is seen -- not directly -- but indirectly, i.e., through the mind of one of the characters.” He also has references to other works that were perhaps influences of his. Near the beginning one of the characters is watching a movie of “Lord of the Rings” and later another character mentions John Dos Passos’ “USA” trilogy.

And, this is a stretch, but the titles of the chapters remind me of one of Thornton Burgess’ “Mother West Wind” books.

For example, here are two chapter titles from “The Adventures of Unc' Billy Possum":
    And these from "Maze of Death"

    Perhaps this is Dick’s way of saying, yes, we are all in a maze of death, but it doesn’t have to be all serious, let’s have some whimsical fun along the way.

    From the 1983 DAW printing:
    Fourteen people came to Delmak-O in separate one-way space carriers. Their hope -- to make new beginnings away from the world where God had made Himself manifest.
    Their communication satellite suddenly destroyed, they found themselves each alone on an alien and hostile planet.
    Death and mystery and terror became their lot -- until they learned the true meaning of the Walker-on-Earth, the Form Destroyer, and the Intercessor...

    Counter-Clock World by Philip K Dick (1967)

    Philip K. Dick has a problem with time. Sometimes time is out of joint, sometimes it slips or you have to wait for last year, and sometimes it runs backward. In his novel “Counter-Clock World” Earth enters the Hobart Phase, where time’s arrow reverses. Men wake up shaven and pat on whiskers each morning. It’s shameful when people see you eat, but OK to publicly “imbibe” sogum in cafes. As people dwindle to children they climb back into the womb, and the dead wake up buried six feet under.

    Sebastian Hermes, a deader -- someone who has lived, died, and returned to life -- now runs a vitarium where they make a business of digging up the new deaders and selling them to relatives or the highest bidder. It’s Sebastian’s luck or misfortune that he can sniff out people who are soon to resurrect, and during a routine cemetery call he stumbles across the grave of Edward Peak, a beatnik, jazz messiah and religious founder known as The Anarch Peak, and he gets the feeling that the man is about to return. He realizes the wealth he’s found in this information, and guards the secret, sending his wife Lotta to the Library to research more about Peak.

    In the course of the novel other factions become aware of Peak’s imminent revivification and compete for control of him. One faction is the Catholic church Rome, but an equally powerful group is led by the Very Honorable Ray Roberts, head of the Uditi church which was inspired by Peak. The story is set In the WUS (Western United States), where California is predominantly white, while the eastern "Free Negro Municipality" (FNM) is inhabited by African Americans. The Uditi church is reminiscent of Rastafarianism mixed with an undercurrent of Nation of Islam. Roberts plans to make a visit to the WUS to hold a public event revival meeting where the followers take drugs and participate in a shared experience -- a group mind.

    Of all the enemies, however, the most interesting is The People’s Topical Library. The Library is an oppressive institution dedicated to eradicating the works of man, in accordance with the Hobart phase.
    The head librarian, Mavis McGuire, commands a shadowy of Erads, whose mission it is to eradicate the books and knowledge, forcing the creators to undo their own works. McGuire directs her secret agent Ann Fisher to seduce Sebastian Hermes in an attempt to discover Peak’s grave. The very building of The Library itself is menacing, described as a monolithic structure with labyrinthine corridors. At the beginning of the book we learn that Lotta Hermes has a fear of the place, and it seems unfounded, but by the end I equated The Library with George Orwell’s Ministries of Oceania, places where people were sequestered, interrogated, perhaps never to be seen again.

    I remember when I first read “Counter-clock World” as a teenager that I found it forced and not nearly as imaginative as Dick’s other books. My opinion on rereading it hasn’t changed much. There are a couple interesting smaller ideas, such as Carl Junior, the robot representative of Carl Gantrix. But in general the reverse-time theme doesn’t work very well. For example, for some reason the Hobart Phase is limited, as it doesn’t affect Mars, or other colonies. The actual mechanics of reversed time are sparse and sort of clumsy. People say “goodbye” instead of “hello,” cigarettes grow longer, and clothes get cleaner while you wear them, but systems are still moving toward greater entropy, and new events still occur. Part of PKD’s personal theology is that we are living in the past, the Roman era around the birth of Jesus, so this reversal of linear time provides opportunities to discuss some of his ideas of Christianity and religion, but on the whole it falls flat.

    From the back cover of the first edition:
    The dead grow young.
    Now that the Hobart Phase was in effect, Officer Joseph Tinbane wasn’t surprised when he would hear a voice speaking to him from beneath the ground.
    It wasn’t that he was going out of his mind. Not at all. It was just one of the “old-born,” giving notification that it was ready to be dug up.
    You see, the year is 1998 and things have changed quite a bit. Time has reversed its flow: the dead come back to life, and people grow younger instead of older.
    It sounds a little strange -- and is! -- that’s why it’s called the Counter-Clock World...
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    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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    "The Zap Gun" by Philip K Dick (1967)

    Imagine a future, from the point of view of the Cold War, where the West-bloc and East-bloc countries have come to a d├ętente by creating ever more insidious weapons. These weapons, however, have economic benefits for daily life across the globe as they are plowshared into useful household items. This is the premise of “The Zap Gun.” Dick’s imagined society has two classes: the pursaps, who read about these weapons and learn about the war between the two powers, and the cogs, or cognoscenti, who understand that this war of escalation is a sham. One of the top cogs is Lars Powderdry, a weapons medium who goes into trances and brings designs for new weapons back from the ether. After that an elaborate process occurs where the technicians create the weapon, publish the real or fictional results (does it matter?) and then submit portions of the weapon technology to a board of concomodies for development into useful items. Leaders on both the Wes-bloc and Peep-east governments understand that this cycle has brought world-wide peace, despite the secrets and absurd facades.

    The system works until a sinister satellite appears in the sky over the Earth. Both Wes-bloc and Peep-east officials deny responsibility for the menacing object. When two more satellites appear the leaders become more agitated, even going to such lengths as sharing top-secret intel, although they still fail to work together.

    Motivated by fear, a lack of confidence in his skills, and also by curiosity for his Peep-east counterpart Lilo Topcheva, Lars Powerdry, aka Mr. Lars, agrees to meet and work with her to find a weapon together. In Fairfax, Iceland, at a neutral area controlled by the Eastern block, they meet. In an odd scene, the two weapon mediums take drugs to enhance their trances, but fail to deliver a solution to the menacing satellites. It is revealed that the satellites have begun to put power curtains over the cities, removing the people. The invaders are discovered to be chitinous alien slavers from Sirius.

    The story begins to get even more erratic after this: Mr. Lars takes drugs, comes up with various proposals or possibilities for solutions. There’s an erratic tangent plotline about about time travel where a false future veteran appears, bringing the solution to fending off the invaders.

    From the beginning there’s also a subplot concerning a pursap called Surely Febbs who is drafted to become a concomody. He feels it is his patriotic duty to make the weapon development process even better, to finally beat the Peep-east powers by producing a truly terrifying, useful weapon. This plotline resolves itself near the end of a book, perhaps as a resonating theme, giving Mr. Lars a chance to be both useful, and peaceful at the same time.

    “The Zap Gun” was written in 1964, the same year he wrote “Clans of the Alphane Moon,” “The Penultimate Truth,”, “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,” and “The Unteleported Man,” and started “Deus Irae,” but it wasn’t published until 1967. Considering the sheer number of pages he must have been writing, it’s not surprising that the plot of “Zap Gun” is a bit jumbled and circular. According to this site, the editor from Pyramid Books was trying to get more space opera-type books, so they proposed some titles to authors, hoping to get a “Buck Rogers” type story. Dick turned in the manuscript for “The Zap Gun” the day after he turned in “Now Wait for Last Year.” It’s barely recognizable as a space opera, although there are plenty of weapons described throughout the book.

    Let’s take a moment to consider Dick’s drug usage. At one point Mr. Lars warns his Soviet handlers that he will need a doctor to help him with his regime. "I'm on drugs... I take them hourly,” he says, and then describes a toxic cocktail of medicines.
    "But, sir, you'd die! From motor-vascular convulsions. Within half an hour." The four Soviet policemen looked appalled.
    "All I ever got as a side-effect," Lars said, "was post-nasal drip."
    Drugs are an inescapable recurring theme in Dick’s body of work, and he admitted that he was on drugs while writing many of his books. According to a 1975 interview in Rolling Stone, all of Dick’s books published before 1970 were written while on amphetamines. Why did PKD take drugs? Perhaps it was an attempt to remove the filters from reality. Mr. Lars precedes Carlos Castenada’s “The Teachings of Don Juan” (published in 1968), but that’s exactly what he’s doing: using mind-expanding drugs to create connections where none previously existed, falling into a trance and returning with visions that drive the economy of “The Zap Gun.” And that equates with Dick’s own situation, where he plucks visions of weapons, places and beings from the ether and writes them down. In a way, Mr. Lars’ lack of confidence in his abilities and performance is Dick externalizing his own misgivings. Unfortunately, Dick’s novels from the mid to late 60’s seem to support this idea. After “Dr. Bloodmoney” he hits a dry spell, putting out some lukewarm books until he starts to return with “Do Androids Dream...?” and “UBIK” in 1969.  Also, unlike Mr. Lars, Dick suffered from his drug use, both personally, and through friends who died or were permanently disabled due to drugs, as he mentions in "A Scanner Darkly."

    A final interesting bit in “The Zap Gun” is the revelation that somehow the weapon designers are mining their visions from a crazy comic book artist who writes "The Blue Cephalopod Man from Titan." In the story it is Dick’s idea that all the characters from “Blue Cephalopod” are black, and that the comic is set in a metropolis in Ghana for Afro-asian audiences. The comic plays a small but critical role in the plot, and I’m surprised that some struggling comics artist hasn’t tried to produce an issue of “Blue Cephalopod Man” to get some notoriety.

    Back cover of “The Zap Gun”:
    The Ultimate Weapon.
    The terrifying arms race roared on -- daily, East and West produced more and dreadful weapons.
    And, daily, yesterday’s weapons were turned into egg-beaters, toys, souvenirs, furniture, bridge lamps, power tools... and never, never used as weapons. Which was just as well, since they wouldn’t have worked.
    It may have looked nutty, but it kept the 21st-century world prosperous and peaceful.
    But then alien spaceships circled the earth, cities began to disappear, and the world found itself defenseless. And the frantic scramble for an Ultimate Weapon for survival rested with two weapons “fashions designers,” a demented comic book artist, and an improbable toymaker from the wrong side of time.


    The Crack in Space by Philip K Dick (1966)

    “The Crack in Space” is set in the year 2080, where Jim Briskin is campaigning to become the nation's first black president. Overpopulation is so bad that many elect to become bibs, people who are put into suspended animation and stored in government warehouses because they have no future in the current economic and political climate. For the most part these people are Cols: the poor Mexicans, Negroes and Puerto Ricans of the US.

    In other news, Dr. Lurton Sands, a famous organ transplant surgeon, is involved in a sensational divorce suit with his equally famous wife Myra, an abortion consultant. As part of the scandal it is discovered that Dr. Sands has a mistress and he has hidden her somewhere that no one can discover. The bigger mystery is why did he hide her?

    Coincidentally, the Pethel Jifi-scuttler Repair Company has been tasked with repairing Dr. Sands’ Jifi-scuttler, but the repairman discovers a flaw in it that leads, not to somewhere else on the Earth, but through a crack in space to an undiscovered planet, a veritable Eden.

    This novel is a combination detective story, political thriller, and straight science fiction, overlaid on a framework of social commentary and humor. The story poses questions of civil rights, moral legislation, and even challenges Manifest Destiny. But perhaps the most interesting thing about this book is contrasting Dick’s vision of the future with what has actually transpired.

    For example, the references to abortions as legal birth control are speculation for Dick, but less than ten years later Roe v Wade (1973) protected the rights of women to abortions. Also, in 1960 the world population was approximately 3 billion people. We are over twice that number now at 7 billion, and the estimate for 2080 is 14 billion. The novel says that there are 70 million "bibs" in hibernation, but that would only work out to a half a percent of the total world’s population, not nearly enough to cause an economic collapse. And in terms of the first black president of the US? Well, today Barack Obama took the presidential oath for his second term, using the same Lincoln Bible as in 2009 when he made history as the first African-American president.

    We have to recognize, however, that when Dick wrote “The Crack in Space,” the civil rights movement of the 60’s had gathered steam, but had not yet come to its peak. So, it’s admirable to see in many of Dick’s works his attempts to raise awareness of civil rights. For example, in Dr. Bloodmoney, Dick made one of the main characters, Stuart McConchie, a black man.
    “In 1964, when I wrote Dr. Bloodmoney, it was daring to have a major character be a black man. My God, how much change has taken place in these recent years! But what an excellent change, one we can be proud of. In my first novel, Solar Lottery, I had a black man as captain of a spaceship -- daring indeed for a novel published in 1955. Stuart is in my opinion the focus of the novel, and he appears first...I am, so to speak, Stuart McConchie, and at one time I was a TV salesman at a store on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley.”

    Yet, for all his awareness, Dick’s efforts at portraying black characters in his novels were often clumsy and even embarrassing. For example, consider the character of Bill Laws in “Eye in the Sky.” He’s described as a Negro tour guide with a Physics PhD, but it’s explained that he can’t get a good job, ostensibly because he’s black. Then, as they fall into the solipsistic world of Arthur Silvester, Laws is forced to shuffle and say things like “sho’ ‘nuff!” Later, in Edith Pritchett’s world he is placed in charge of a perfumed soap company which he defends, but doesn’t seem believe in. Although these odd changes are due to the worlds they inhabit, Bill Laws’ character seems more affected by this immersion than does his counterpart Jack Hamilton, the white hero.

    Other works by Dick also deal unevenly with race. In “The Penultimate Truth,” David Lantano is first portrayed as burned black by radiation, then as an actual black man, until he’s finally revealed to be a native Cherokee who has survived since the pre-Columbian past. His native tribes in “Dr. Futurity” are superficial, providing a rough backdrop for the story. Less clumsy is his handling of civil rights in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” where androids are the blacks of the future.

    Making Jim Briskin black in “The Crack in Space” is an interesting way for Dick to contrast two themes in the story. The first is a way to discuss the underclass, the poor minorities who literally have no future, suspended in government warehouses until the world changes without them. Then, when the portal is found to the other planet and when it’s found to be populated with Neanderthals, this is a chance for us to recognize that race is not so much an issue when compared with another species.

    Reading the book, I can see that race relations have moved forward a lot since the ‘60s. Early in the novel a character scans the ‘paper and sees a major headline on the front page: “Effects on the Nation’s Business Community of a Negro President.” Just the use of the word “Negro” seems old-fashioned. But in some ways this was the covert message against Obama in 2008, that a black man would be bad for business.  Despite these veiled threats, it's evident that the country was ready to accept a black president.

    This is also something that Dick considers, that the population growth of minorities is enough to sway the voting populace so that a black man can campaign to be president. A character considers the headline and thinks “it was inevitable. Sooner or later, there would be a Negro president; after all, since the Event of 1993 there had been more Cols than Caucs.” This was meant to shock us, but as the elections of 2008 and 2012 have shown, minority voters were important to Obama’s win.

    Unfortunately, race relations aren’t a solid line that can be moved forward or backward. This weekend is also Martin Luther King, Jr. day. In 1968, two years after “Crack in Space” was published, Dr. King was assassinated by James Earl Ray. This event galvanized the US, and caused Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which prevents discrimination when selling or renting a house. Parts of the line had been moved forward, but at a great loss.

    Bottom line, “The Crack in Space” is a jumbled mass of ideas, assembled from several short stories and novellas, creating an interesting novel that doesn’t always hold together, but Dick’s style and themes propel the story forward enough to keep it interesting.

    From the blurb on back of the 2008 First Vintage Books edition:
    In “The Crack in Space,” a repairman discovers that a hole in a faulty Jifi-scuttler leads to a parallel world. Jim Briskin, campaigning to be the first black president of the United States, thinks alter-Earth is the solution to the chronic overpopulation that has seventy million people cryogenically frozen; Tito Cravelli, a shadowy private detective, wants to know why Dr. Lurton Sands is hiding his mistress there; billionaire mutant George Walt wants to make the empty world all his own. But when the other earth turns out to be inhabited, everything changes.
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    Now Wait for Last Year by Philip K Dick (1966)

    The backstory to “Now Wait for Last Year” is that Earth has encountered two races of extraterrestrial life: the ‘Starmen, long lost relatives from the planet Lilistar, and the reegs - four-armed chitinous aliens. The two are in the midst of an extended interstellar war, and Earth initially chooses to side with the ‘Starmen, but having discovered how vicious and violent the ‘Starmen are, are trying to find a way to defect to the reeg side without becoming itself.

    Eric Sweetscent is the head surgeon to Virgil Ackerman, CEO of a military supplier called TF&D (Tijuana Fur & Dye). Sweetscent is drawn into the war effort when Ackerman asks him to meet with General Gino Molinari, aka The Mole, the UN leader that is single-handedly masterminding the defense that prevents the ‘Starmen from subjugating Earth for the war effort. Yet, the Mole is fragile, he may have already died several times from cancer, let alone assassinations and heart attacks.

    Meanwhile, Eric’s wife Kathy Sweetscent is lead antiquer for Ackerman, who has a hobby of building full-size replicas of his past hometowns. He’s currently working on the 1935 version of Washington DC. Kathy is unhappy with Eric, whom she sees as unambitious, and is thinking of leaving him. In the meantime, she gets her kicks by taking the latest drugs, such as JJ-180, an illegal drug which may have alien origin. She discovers that JJ-180 takes her back in time, and also that it is immediately addictive and eventually fatal. To trick her husband into helping her, she slips Eric some JJ-180 in his coffee. He discovers the drug has the opposite effect on him, pushing him into the future, where he attempts to find the antidote. Eventually he discovers a secret about the Mole - the effect of JJ-180 on him pushes him sideways. Eric uses his knowledge of the future to set up peace talks between the Mole and a leader of the reegs.

    This book reminds me of “Clans of the Alphane Moon.” In both stories the husband and wife are separated, and the interplanetary conflict serves as a backdrop to their breakup and reunion. In both stories the wife pushes the husband to become more ambitious, which forms the basis for the breakup, and I have to wonder if this is how Dick sees himself in his wife’s eyes. In real life he had already been divorced twice and was going through another divorce at the time “Now Wait” was written. Despite the eventual resolution, Kathy Sweetscent is a twisted, manipulative individual who deliberately tricks her husband into becoming addicted to a life-threatening drug, but I hope this doesn’t reflect PKD’s personal relationships.

    Much like “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,” this novel circles around the effects of a mysterious drug. Many of the reviews of “Three Stigmata” say that it’s based on LSD, and this could be the same for “Now Wait,” except for the timeline is wrong. PKD apparently took LSD for the first time in 1964, while “Now Wait” was written in 1963. It’s more likely that he had heard about LSD, and was considering trying it while writing this book. “Three Stigmata” was written and published in 1964, while “Now Wait” was written in 1963 but wasn’t published until 1966. Regardless, the scene where Kathy takes JJ-180 for the first time is described very casually, as if Dick was familiar with the process of taking illegal drugs.

    Five drug seekers who know of each other, but don’t necessarily trust the group, gather in a dealer’s apartment in Tijuana and he enters the room, still wearing his bathrobe. He describes the source of the drug, and the challenge: “the five of us. An adventure into the unexplored by means of a new substance which has just arrived from Tampico aboard a banana boat...” Each of the participants takes one of the pills, while he quotes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” : “Bottom,thou art translated.” While waiting for the drug to take effect they wonder whether the results are different when taken with or without water, where the drug really came from, and how much trouble they would be in if the police discovered them. Then the JJ-180 kicks in.

    “As a matter of fact,” Chris Plout said in a strained voice, “I feel something, Hastings.” He licked his lips, trying to wet them. “Excuse me. I--to be frank, I’m here alone. None of you are with me.”
    Marm Hastings studied him.
    "Yes," Chris went on. "I’m all alone in my conapt. None of you even exist. But the books and chairs, everything else exists. Then who’m I talking to? Have you answered?" He peered about, and it was obvious that he could not see any of them; his gaze passed by them all.
    "My nipples are not watching you or anybody else," Kathy Sweetscent said to Hastings.
    "I can’t hear you," Chris said in panic. "Answer!"
    "We’re here," Simon Ild said, and sniggered.
    "Please," Chris said, and now his voice was pleading. "Say something: it’s just shadows. It’s – lifeless. Nothing but dead things. And it’s only starting – I’m scared of how it’s going on; it’s still happening."
    Marm Hastings laid his hand on Chris Plout’s shoulder.
    The hand passed through Plout.
    "Well, we’ve gotten our fifty dollars’ worth," Kathy Sweetscent said in a low voice, void of amusement. She walked toward Chris, closer and closer.
    "Don’t try it," Hastings said to her in a gentle tone.
    "I will," she said. And walked through Chris Plout. But she did not reappear on the other side. She had vanished; only Plout remained, still bleating for someone to answer him, still flailing the air in search of companions he could no longer perceive.
    Isolation, Bruce Himmel thought to himself. Each of us cut off from all the others. Dreadful. But – it’ll wear off. Won"t it?
    As yet he did not know. And for him it had not even started.

    This passage encapsulates many of Dick’s stories. At first, the individual doubts his own reality. Then others are drawn into the delusion, trying to assist or trying to gain from the lapse. Just as you think it’s OK, reality pulls the rug out from under you, taking the doubts to a new level. In essence, this is Dick saying “reality is lying to you.”

    Despite being talky, there’s a lot of action in this book. There’s a particularly cinematic passage toward the end where Eric is in the future, trying to escape from the ‘Starmen MPs. This passage gives Dick a chance to show off his chops for sci-fi action with a fight aboard a rocket ship, a shootout, Eric Sweetscent wrestling over an open airlock and being dropped onto another passing patrol ship, and eventually being rescued by his own future self.

    For the most part “Now Wait for Last Year” is an echo of “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,” but it has enough action, interesting plot twists, and weird drug effects to interest anyone who has read other Philip K. Dick books.

    From the back of “Now Wait for Last Year”
    He had mastered the secret of borrowing life from the future.
    Once he had been assassinated by a political rival. The second time he had a heart attack while negotiating a surrender to the enemy.
    Now he was back, younger and more vigorous than before, giving new hope to the Terrans in their battle for survival. Had he really died once -- or more than once -- leaving a robant in his place? Or had he learned to manipulate time so he could use all of his several possible futures?
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    Dr. Bloodmoney by Philip K Dick (1965)

    "Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb" is a crazy post-apocalyptic ride mostly set in San Francisco, Berkely, and Marin County. Starting before the collapse of society, we meet most of the key figures in the story as they begin their days: selling TVs, getting a new job, visiting the psychiatrist. Dr. Bluthgeld, whose name literally translates from German as "Bloodmoney," is slowly going insane due to a miscalculation he made several years later which caused a minor nuclear disaster. Hoppy Harrington, who has no arms or legs due to birth defects from this disaster, rides a government-provided prosthetic cart and has learned he has psychokinetic powers which allow him to fix electronics. Then, some unknown reason, the global network of nuclear weapons is triggered, and the world suffers massive destruction. Dick picks up the story ten years later, as the citizens of West Marin county rebuild society, living in a cross between a pioneer town and a settlement out of Mad Max. Further weird characters are introduced: a girl who lives with her self-contained psychic twin, a DJ'ing astronaut who was trapped in orbit on the day of the disaster, and a cybernetically-enhanced mutant talking German Shepherd. Toss in some adultery, capitalism, and attempts at world-domination, and you have "Dr. Bloodmoney."

    In this novel Dick seems to be exploring the conditions of birth versus environment. Although he has played with characters born differently in other books, such as in “The World Jones Made,” “The Simulacra” and “Martian Time-Slip,” in this work two of those characters are pitted against each other.

    The character of Hoppy, born with phocomelia, was probably directly influenced by the Thalidomide birth-defect tragedy of the late 50’s and early 60’s. Thalidomide was developed and sold as an over-the-counter muscle relaxer, mostly in Europe, and ended up causing between 10,000 and 20,000 children to be born with deformities. Dick took this event to the next level, looking at how the government might become responsible for these children, but also how they might have been affected in other ways. Of course, in PKD’s universe this often means psionic abilities, and so Hoppy has telekinetic powers. He uses these powers to achieve honor in the post-apocalyptic society of West Marin, but Hoppy has ambitions that take him further -- he wants to force the entire world to recognize and love him -- which is ultimately his downfall. Out of the all the characters in Dick’s works, Hoppy is fairly unique. The closest character might be George Walt in “The Crack in Space,” who although we see him as a mutant turns out to be a merger of man and machine.

    Contrast Hoppy with Edie and her parasitic twin Bill. Edie Keller was conceived on the day of the nuclear disaster, so she’s ten years old during most of the events of the novel. Bill is her twin brother, who lives insider her, but can cast his consciousness into other nearby living beings, usually a worm or a dog, or other lower-level intelligences. Bill communes with the world through Edie, but he also has contact with the dead, and the near-future, becoming an oracle to the girl. The characters of Bill and Edie are probably inspired by Dick’s own birth -- his twin sister Jane Charlotte Dick died when she was six weeks old.

    Throughout Dick’s books he often stages bizarre events in recognizable, comfortable settings, for example in “The Cosmic Puppets” where a battle between beings we would call gods is played out in a Mayberry-like town. “Bloodmoney” is one of his best examples of this. It starts on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, with Stuart McConchie pushing a broom in front of the TV repair shop and watching girls walk down the street, just as PKD says he used to. From there we have scenes of the destruction of San Francisco, struggles for life in the streets of the Oakland area, and finally the rebirth of civilization in West Marin. The locale plays a major part in “Bloodmoney,” trying to bring home to the reader the possibility of nuclear destruction and its aftermath.

    Dick discusses his work in the afterword of the 1980 edition:
    “In my opinion this is an extremely hopeful novel...People are still around and they are still coping. Those who survive, anyhow, are fairly lucky in their new lives. What is interesting is the subtle change in the relative power status of the survivors. Take Hoppy Harrington, who has no arms or legs. Before the bomb hits, Hoppy is marginal...But in the postwar world this is not the case. Hoppy is elevated by stealthy increments until, at last, he is a menace to a man not even on the planet’s surface; Hoppy has become a demigod, and a complex one at that. He is not really evil, in the usual sense...It is not so much that Hoppy is evil but that his power is evil.”

    Finally, I have to mention Walt Dangerfield, the astronaut destined to travel to another star but condemned instead to orbit the Earth until his dying day. Dangerfield’s only redemption is a collection of old records and his chance to share them with the survivors. If you read through Dick’s novels, you will find that he has an obsession with satellites, mentioning them in one form or another in nearly half of his books. In 1974 he had what he describes as a religious experience -- apparently receiving enlightenment from a satellite -- and he spent most of his last four novels parsing this experience. In “Bloodmoney” it seems like Dangerfield becomes closer to god, yet remaining distant. He can share music and information with the rest of the world, coming through as a disembodied voice on their radios, yet he can never return to Earth or participate in the human experience. Dick’s experience in 1974 may have been an early stroke, but it eerily echoes the themes he was dealing with in his stories.

    This review doesn’t do the book justice. “Dr. Bloodmoney” is one of my favorite Philip K Dick books, and needs to be read to be understood. Like “Martian Time-Slip” it’s an example of Dick pulling out all the stops and letting his imagination fly across the world.

    Blurb from “Dr. Bloodmoney”
    Below him the world was in darkness, its night side turned his way; yet already he could see the rim of day appearing on the edge, and soon he would be passing into that once more. Lights here and there glowed like holes poked in the surface of the planet which he had left seven years ago -- left for another purpose, another goal entirely. A much more noble one.
    His was not the sole satellite still circling Earth, but it was the sole one with life aboard. Everyone else had since perished... He was lucky: besides food and water and air he had a million miles of video and audio tape to keep him amused. And now, with it, he kep them amused.
    Dangerfield’s satellite provided the last link binding humanity together. It was seven years after the day of disaster, the day one world died and another world began... Dr. Bloodmoney’s day.


    The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K Dick (1965)

    In “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,” Earth is suffering from global warming so much that it's dangerous to pause too long while walking from the air-conditioned building to the thermally insulated car.

    To reduce overpopulation, the United Nations has instituted a draft to send colonists to live in permanent settlements on Mars, Venus and other planetoids. Life as a colonist on Mars is dismal, the only respite is to take the drug Can-D and participate in shared hallucinations where you can project yourself into a simulation of Earth. The simulations are based on a Barbie-like doll called Perky Pat, and an Earth-based economy has grown from selling the colonists both the Can-D drug as well as the accoutrements for the Perky Pat dollhouse that are needed for a realistic experience.

    Meanwhile the famous entrepreneur Palmer Eldritch returns from his ten year trip to the Proxima system bringing with him a new drug called Chew-Z. Quite a bit of the book is spent exploring the possible effects of Can-D and Chew-Z, and the religious implications. Dick compares them to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Leo Bulero, CEO of Perky Pat Layouts, and his Pre-fash buyer Barney Mayerson attempt to stop Eldritch, working on various plans to kill him, or prevent the distribution of Chew-Z, but they fail. It turns out that Chew-Z may alter reality, as well as casting the user into hallucinatory states that are so realistic as to be indistinguishable from reality.

    As Wikipedia mentions "The novel has an ambiguous ending." “Stigmata” is one of Dick’s most fascinating, frustrating, mind-bending novels. After years of approaching ideas in piecemeal, he’s decided to hit the reader with everything and the kitchen sink. If one were to map out common themes of PKD books, "Stigmata" would contain many of the most prominent: games, UN Rule, shared hallucinations, pre-cogs, satellites, drugs, time travel, religious experiences, Deus Ex Machina, Mars colonies, and even ceramics.

    Surprisingly, ceramics and pottery show up as a theme in at least four of Dick's novels. In "The Cosmic Puppets" the children create animated miniature Golems from clay, releasing them into the world as spies or diminutive minions. And, there is of course "The Galactic Pot-Healer." In "Stigmata" Barney Mayerson's ex-wife Emily creates pots, and she and her new husband Richard hope to sell her designs to Perky Pat Layouts for miniaturization. If PP Layouts bought her pots, it would mean an instant channel for distribution and attention. If you include the jugs from the jug bands in The Simulacra, you can see that Dick has pots on his mind.

    I think he uses clay or ashes as allusion to creation and destruction. The epigram to "Stigmata" takes the form of an inter-office memo at PP Layouts:
    "I mean, after all; you have to consider we're only made out of dust. That's admittedly not much to go on and we shouldn't forget that. But even considering, I means it's a sort of bad beginning, we're not doing to bad. So I personally have faith that even in this lousy istuation we're faced with we can make it. you get me?"
    "--from an interoffice audio-memo circulated to Pre-Fash level consultants at Perky Pat Layouts, Inc. dictated by leo Bulero immediately on his return from Mars."

    The Perky Pat Layouts itself is an interesting concept. Here's Dick, in the early 60's, coming up with the idea for virtual worlds. I mean, Second Life and other virtual worlds are just a mapping of the Perky Pat Layouts onto cyberspace. Today Facebook acts like the PP Layouts, taking people's minds off toil and work and letting them engage others in a shared virtual hallucination --you're not actually physically with your friends, and they might not even be your friends.

    Dick’s description of the Can-D experience is essentially a description of virtual sex:
    “Her husband -- or his wife or both of them or everyone in the entire hovel -- could show up while he and Fran were in the state of translation. And their two bodies would be seated at proper distance one from the other; no wrong-doing could be observed, however prurient the observers were. Legally this had been ruled on: no co-habitation could be proved, and legal experts among the ruling UN authorities on Mars and the other colonies had tried -- and failed. While translated one could commit incest, murder, anything, and it remained from a juridicial standpoint a mere fantasy, an impotent wish only.”
    Another character says “when we chew Can-D and leave our bodies we die. And by dying we lose the weight of --... Sin.”

    Reading this, I wonder what Dick would make of the Internet? Would he see it as just so much gubble-gubble, or would it be a way to lose ourselves and meld with others?

    Here’s from the inside flap of the first hardcover edition:
    When Palmer Eldritch returned from a distant galaxy, he claimed he had brought a gift for mankind. It was a drug that would transport one into an illusory world. One could spend years in this other dimension and never lose a second of Earth time. Eldritch offered immortality, wish fulfillment...the powers over time and space. But he exacted a terrible price: he, Palmer Eldritch, would enter, control and be a god in everyone’s private universe - universe from which there was no escape, not even death.”

    And from the back of the 1977 Manor Books paperback:
    It was always Saturday.
    You woke each morning with the comfortable feeling that you didn’t have to go to your job. Instead, you could climb into your brand-new Jaguar, pick up your girl and go to the beach.
    Except that when you looked into your shaving mirror you saw a note tacked up, written in your own hand: “This is an illusion. Make good use of your time, buddy boy.”
    Because the illusion wouldn’t last. And soon you would be back as an unwilling colonist on the dreary planet Mars.


    Martian Time-Slip by Philip K Dick (1964)

    In “Martian Time-Slip” the year is 1994, and humans have been colonizing Mars since the late 1970's. The UN will pay for emigration to Mars, but returning to Earth is a much more difficult proposal, so once they arrive most colonists are stuck on Mars.

    Joe Bohlen lives with his wife Silvia and son David near the George Washington canal system, across the way from Norbert and Erna Steiner, their three daughters and their severely autistic son Manfred. Bohlen works as a repairman for the Yee Company, which is a pretty useful job on Mars where new goods from Earth are hard to acquire. Norbert Steiner, on the other hand, smuggles luxury items from Earth and sells them on the black market. Steiner suffering from depression, commits suicide, setting off a chain of events.

    During an emergency call to help some indigenous Martians, called Bleekman, in the desert, Bohlen meets Arnie Kott, president of the plumbing union which controls much of the water on Mars. Arnie has heard rumors of the UN developments, and wanting to protect his mineral rights he wants to find out the specific location before the Earth investors arrive. He's also worried about his standing on Mars. If bigger fish arrive from Earth he might get lost in the shuffle of power.

    Kott accidentally encounters Manfred, and recognizes that the boy may be some sort of temporal anomaly. At one point Arnie asks “could the schizophrenic be running so fast, compared to us, in time, that he’s actually in what to us is the future? Would that account for his precognition?” So he hires Bohlen to build a machine that would let them communicate with Manfred in real time, the goal being to foresee which parcels of land to buy before the UN and Earth investors arrive.

    But, something goes wrong, and the story comes unstuck in time, returning to an event at Arnie Kott’s apartment with Bohlen, Kott’s girlfriend Doreen Anderton, Manfred, and Kott’s Bleekman servant Heliogabalus. In the story it’s not clear, but we are either seeing this event as it replays in Manfred’s mind in far future, or Manfred is actually altering time itself to replay the event. During one instance of this scene Manfred communicates with the Bleekman in a normalized time-space, which perhaps is the reason that Manfred is anchored to this time.

    Eventually Kott learns that Bohlen’s own father, who has just arrived on Mars, is one of the Earth investors, and this spurs him to give up building the machine and take another course of action. Helio tells them that the Bleekmen's sacred rock, "Dirty Knobby", can be used to manipulate time, and Kott takes Bohlen and Manfred in a ‘copter out to the rock give it a try. Unfortunately, Kott ends up looped back to the beginning of the novel, when he first meets Bohlen, and ends up getting shot with a poisoned arrow, ending the trance and returning him to his current time. After that it’s all downhill for Arnie.

    Similar to the “Clans of the Alphane Moon,” Dick’s psychology was interesting to me when I was in high school, but large parts of it seem clumsy, and almost offensive now. Psychiatrists had only begun to study autism in the 40’s, two decades before “Martian Time-Slip” was written, and autism and schizophrenia had been linked in many researchers’ minds until the 1960s, when psychiatrists began to have a separate understanding of autism in children. In the novel Dick often links the two together, even linking schizophrenic Joe Bohlen with autistic Manfred Steiner in the events of the book. At one point Jack muses that autism is just a childhood version of schizophrenia.

    In a way, though, this book seems to be Dick’s therapy for his own schizophrenia, trying to understand what causes it. Bohlen suffers a psychotic break at his son’s school when he’s called to repair the Kindly Dad android teacher. Fixing the tapes in the teacher reminds him of earlier episodes on Earth where he imagined everyone else to be robots, and that was one of his reasons for moving to Mars. Reading through Dick’s books, I wonder if the author isn’t describing his own thoughts at some point in time.

    Dick also has a recurring theme in his novels of the oppressive building. In “Ubik”, for example, one of the characters has to continually pay the building for any convenience found in his apartment -- a couple bucks for filters and coffee beans to make coffee, or even fifty cents to open the door. In “The Man Who Japed” the oppression takes shape in the form of Mrs. Birmingham and the building committee passing judgement on anyone in the building who has any moral lapses. The building in “A Maze of Death” is an eerie hulk that literally stalks the characters through an alien jungle, menacing and full of dread. In “Martian Time-Slip” the AM-WEB building, which is the name of the proposed UN developments, lurks in Manfred’s future self as a tomb, a repository for the aged and decrepit colonists left on Mars as it slowly decays.

    In many of Dick’s books the characters experience shared hallucinations, but most of the time these are spurred by drugs. In “Time-slip” the hallucination seems to be emanating from Manfred. The way the hallucinations are written, they are usually out of phase with time, so it could be that Manfred is manipulating time, or it could be that seeing the story from point of view of the far-future Manfred. In both cases, this would also help to explain Manfred’s precognition, although it wouldn’t account for the static points in time coming from the Bleekman.

    This novel is Dick’s attempt to meld science fiction with more literary themes and characters, and to use innovative ways to tell the story. He’s quoted as saying
    "With HIGH CASTLE and MARTIAN TIME SLIP, I thought I had bridged the gap between the experimental mainstream novel and science fiction. Suddenly I'd found a way to do everything I wanted to do as a writer. I had in mind a whole series of books, a vision of a new kind of science fiction progressing from those two novels. Then TIME SLIP was rejected by Putnam, and every other hardcover publisher we sent it to."

    "My vision collapsed. I was crushed. I had made a mis-calculation somewhere, and I didn't know where. The evaluation I had made of myself, of the marketplace, went poof! I reverted to a more primitive concept of my writing. The books that might have followed TIME SLIP were gone."

    Despite the uplifting ending, most of this book is tinged with despair, and that could reflect Dick’s self-analysis. From time to time we see the world from Manfred’s point of view, and it’s filled with gubble-gubble - the world of entropy and decay. Dick has a similar term for this in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”, and that’s kipple, the garbage that fills in the empty spaces in our lives. You can tell from interviews that Dick was often too hard on himself. The mental problems which he suffered from may be this gubble-gubble, gnawing at the edges of his life, but in “Martian Time-Slip” he came very close to creating the novel he was was searching for.

    From the back flap:
    Meet Goodmember Arnie Kott (member in good standing, that is) of the powerful plumbing union -- which has a stranglehold on Mars.
    Or Joe Bohlen, a slightly schizoid technician whose time sense has a way of slipping around on him.
    And the boy Manfred, who almost never gets to live in the present -- except when he is with the odd native Bleekmen of Mars.
    From these, and many others, Philip Dick weaves a tapestry shot throught with color, excitement, conflict and humor -- at once realistic, strange and totally convincing.
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    "The Penultimate Truth" by Philip K Dick (1964)

    "The Penultimate Truth" is set in a post-apocalyptic North America where a few elite politicians and "Yance-men" (think "Spinmeisters") live on large estates while the bulk of human civilization is confined to toiling in underground bunkers working to support a fictional World War III. Dick weaves together two plot lines. The first is the journey of Nicholas St. James, who is president of the underground tank called Tom Mix. He is forced to tunnel to the surface in search of an artificial pancreas for his lead mechanic because if the mechanic dies they’re sure to miss their production goal, bringing shame to the community. The other story concerns a power struggle between the Yance-men and a free agent called Louis Runcible who builds apartment buildings for the occasional citizens that manage to escape to the surface. Runcible is about to start building on some property in Utah where the radiation levels are almost bearable, but for some reason Stanton Brose, the mastermind behind the Yance-men, wants to seize the developer’s land.

    The story of St. James is interesting, but mostly linear. Citizens live in underground areas like Tom Mix Tank, trying to make quota building "leadies", robots that are ostensibly for fighting the war, but are actually used by the Yance-men as servants. On a daily basis the tank citizens see the news reports of cities attacked, destroyed, not knowing that the scenarios are entirely manufactured. Most of the progress in the war is broadcast to them by Tabot Yancy, the president of the Wes-Dem government, who is in reality a simulacrum programmed by the Yance-men. In the minds of the citizens, they undergo their hardships for the war effort. It’s because of this that the tank is short on artiforgs -- artificial organs -- and St. James has to dig to the surface for an artificial pancreas for the mechanic. He reaches the surface in the demesne of Yance-man David Lantano situated in Wyoming. Lantano is a recent recruit to the Yance-men class, and is sympathetic to St. James’ mission, offering to help find an artiforg.

    Meanwhile, Joseph Adams, another Yance-man, is having an existential and career crisis when he is assigned a special mission by Brose. He’s told to plant evidence of alien artifacts on Runcible’s housing development, clearing the way for the government to seize the property as an archaeological site. But, one by one, the people working on this project are killed, and Adams reaches out for help from Lantano and from Webster Foote, the owner and operator of a private detective corporation. Adams has strong evidence that a real Yancy exists, and is perhaps behind the killings.

    Quite a few of Dick’s common themes are here: just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. Also, time travel, manufactured world leaders, and of course false realities, although this time there's an agreed upon true reality. The ending of "Penultimate" feels anti-climatic, and the plot, relying on time travel, is really convoluted, but it's a fun read.

    Because this is a story about lying, Dick seems to be compelled to examine historical incidents of conspiracy to manufacture evidence about a situation. But, rather than include an actual historical event, he has created one based on World War II. The characters spend a considerable time spent discussing a fictional documentary called "The Winning in the West" by Gottleib Fischer (or Gottlieb Fisher), a 25 part documentary series about World War II produced in 1982. According to the story, two versions of the series were produced, one for the Western Democracies and one for the Pac-Peop in the East. The Wes-Dem version contained an blatant lie that FDR meets with Stalin and agrees to hold back the Allied forces so that the Soviets can move into Germany. The flaw is that Stalin is speaking English, although he didn't know English. Meanwhile, the Eastern version shows “Roosevelt assuring Hitler that he had nothing to worry about; the Allied bombing will be done at night so as to miss their targets, all information from Russia as to their military plans, troop dispositions and so forth will be available to Berlin within twenty-four hours of their entering UK and US hands.” This version is shown to be false because Hitler arrives in Washington DC in a jet plane, where jets didn’t exist until after the war.  As one character notes:

    The crucial scene, just now shown, revealed itself for what it was - and by doing so, revealed the entire "documentary" for what it was. A deliberate, carefully manufactured fraud, constructed for the purpose of getting Germany off the hook in regard to the deeds done, the decision taking, in World War Two. Because in 1982, Germany was once again a world power, and most important, a major shareholder in the community of nations titling itself "The Western Democracies."

    It can be clearly seen from Dick’s stories of the 60’s that he thinks Germany got off too easily from recrimination after the war, and he’s appalled that the country is doing so well for itself. “The Penultimate Truth” could be seen to be examining Hitler’s “big lie” and refuting that. According to Wikipedia, Hitler addresses the big lie in his book “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle):
    ...in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.
    I used to get "The Penultimate Truth" and "Time Out of Joint" confused, possibly because their themes are almost mirror-images. While “Time Out of Joint” tells the story of a conspiracy where most of the world is at war, and they are trying to hide this information from a few people, in “The Pentultimate Truth” the war has ended, but it’s convenient to the few in power to keep the public ignorant. The title raises several questions. Penultimate means "next to final". What is the penultimate truth? That the war is over? Or that those in charge have been lying to the populace? From the last couple of lines it sounds like the ultimate truth is that the people will prevail, that they will see through the big lie.
    "I know," Adams said quitely, "that we can come up with something."
    Nicholas said, "I know you can, too." Except for that one thing, he said to himself, and put his arm around his wife to draw her closer.
    You're not going to.
    Because we will not allow you.
    Back cover of Leisure edition from 1975:
    The Master Race.
    Almost all mankind lives underground now, in the anti-septic tanks constructed during World War III. They do not know that the war ended ten years ago.
    Special interests want this situation to persist. They are the Yance-men, the elite of humanity who govern through the President, Talbot Yancy, a product of their fertile imaginations.
    Joseph Adams is a Yance-man, living on the surface of the earth, dispensing his lies to men and robots, until the day his best friend is mysteriously murdered in the most bizarre manner possible.
    He wonders if it is too late for him to act now. The machines think so -- and what else matters?
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