"The Man Who Japed" by Philip K Dick (1956)

"The Man Who Japed" is set in a world similar to "The World Jones Made." Philip K Dick has imagined a world after the apocalypse of the 1970's, where society was rebuilt based on a philosophy of MoRec, which made peace and prosperity compulsory, promoted by an early leader named Major Streiter. MoRec stands for Moral Reclamation, an ultra-conservative and puritanical process of limiting cultural expansion and only providing new ideas through carefully groomed channels. Now, in the early 22nd century, Alan Purcell runs an agency that provides MoRec campaigns to the Telemedia, the government-run television network. Unfortunately, one day Purcell wakes to find that he may have japed the statue honoring Major Streiter by cutting off its head, and repositioning the body so it appears to be playing football with itself.

While authorities search to discover who japed the statue, Purcell is approached to be the new head of Telemedia. Confused by his actions, and by the opportunity, he visits the Resort, a shadowy part of society that provides psychiatric care. When he tries to fire his doctor, they kidnap him and take him to another planet. He escapes, returns to his job, but is ultimately undone by his failure to follow MorRec.

The central question for Allen to grapple with is: Why did he jape the statue of Major Streiter?

“Japed” introduces one of Dick’s favorite secondary themes: that of the oppressive apartment building. In the first chapter we meet the Purcells in their little apartment that reconfigures itself based on the time of day and programming on the tapes. Space is at a premium in greater New York, and their apartment has been handed down from Purcell's father to Allen, so even though it’s small, it’s a treasure.

Unfortunately, the residents also have to deal with the prying eyes of the MoRec busybodies who police behavior in the building. Mrs. Birmingham, is the building warden, and she also employs juveniles - robotic earwig-like sleuths, about a foot and a half long, that slide along floors and walls and record incidents of anti-social behavior. Several times in the book Purcell attends one of the weekly block meetings where Mrs. Birmingham and other officials confront malcontents with their misdeeds and either issue warnings or fines, or evict the tenants from the building. The way Dick develops this threat in this and other books, I don’t have to wonder about his feelings toward landlords.

Since this is science fiction, Dick adds in some flying cars. Like in "The World Jones Made," and many of the PKD novels that follow, transportation technology allows people to travel across the world in an hour or so. Purcell visits his friends in Hokkaido, which is sort of a sleazy area beyond the reach of MoRec due to the residual radiation there. His friends Gates & Sugarmann aren't precisely described, but their lifestyle sounds like it could be either bohemian, or intellectual, or maybe they’re just beatniks from the 50's. Purcell says he finds their ideas stimulating, full of Goethe and jazz and prisms, which provides new themes for Moral Reclamation.

Psychology is another common theme in Dick’s work. In “Japed” it manifests as The Health Resort, a less-than respectable place to get psychoanalysis. Psychiatry of any kind is looked down upon in MoRec, but the government permits some licensed individuals to practice, mostly as a way to weed out the psychotic individuals from MoRec society. Purcell approaches the Resort in an attempt to discover why he japed the statue, and meets Gretchen Malparto and her brother Dr. Malparto. For vague reasons the two Malpartos drug Purcell and ship him off to the Resort planet called Other World.

The interlude on the Resort planet seems a lot more interesting than most of the talky parts. It's during this section that Purcell sees his imagined perfect world disappear, and his house dissolves, foreshadowing a similar scene in “Time Out of Joint.” I have to laugh when I read the section where Dr. Malparto gives Purcell the battery of Psi tests. This is so funny, I can almost picture it as a cartoon. He starts by determining whether Purcell may have precognition, telekinesis, telepathy, or other unnatural abilities. Soon the list is veering toward the absurd: Ability to contact spirits of the dea. Capacity to transmute lead into gold. Ability to create rain of vermin and/or filth.
Gretchen asked: “Can you kindle fire? Can you slay seven with one blow? Can your father lick my father?”

Obviously, this book comes from a younger Philip Dick, having fun while writing. The book is funny, with the title word, "japed" itself being funny. The word “jape” means to jest or to joke.

The ending is interesting, but so very frustrating. Contrast the monolithic events of MorRec vs the million feeds of the Internet. Dick is looking at culture from the point of view of 1955, which had a top-down method of disseminating news and fashions. How could he have imagined that only 50 years later nearly everyone would be able to write articles or create videos that would be accessible anywhere on the planet? The Man Who Japed is set in the year is 2114 AD -- will there ever come a cataclysm to bring back the monolithic cultures?

Here's the description of the book from the inside flap of the 1956 Ace Double edition:
War and famine on earth had been abolished by Moral Reclamation, and now peace and prosperity were compulsory. And the Morec block committees, robots peeping-Toms, and youthful goon squads made sure everybody “enjoyed” it.
It was allen Purcell’s job as the new Director of Entertainment and Propaganda to keep the people in sober thought channels. Only someone was playing pranks -- publicly, secretly. Such humor was dangerous -- and the heretic had to be stopped at all costs! And then Purcell realized that the mad japer was familiar to him - as familiar as his own face in the morning shave-mirror!
As frightening as Orwell’s 1984, “The Man Who Japed” is a social satire on the world of tomorrow that is as timely as today.
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