The World Jones Made - Philip K Dick (1956)

Philip K Dick's “The World Jones Made” (1956) is an odd book.  Taken simply, it tells the story of a man who is born with the special ability to see exactly one year into the future.  This means that Floyd Jones knew of life before he was born, even before he was conceived.  He also sees his death, and the year of decay that comes after his death.  Normally this would be a sufficient one-trick pony for any sci-fi writer of the 50’s to hammer out a quick book, but Dick seems to want to do more.

In the novel Jones becomes leader of a semi-patriotic group who is literally trying to keep the aliens out of the US.  The aliens, called drifters, aren’t exactly invading, more like dropping in, but the followers of Jones take it upon themselves to form vigilante squads to burn and destroy them.  The story is mostly told from the viewpoint of Doug Cussick, an agent of Fedgov charged with maintaining the principles of relativism, “a moral and ethical philosophy that states everyone is free to believe what they wish, as long as they don't make anyone else try to follow that principle.”  Of course, Jones clashes with Fedgov because he knows the future, and is trying to convince others of his ability.  Jones becomes a Hitler-like figure, leading crowds of gray shirts in riots against Fedgov. The story is also book-ended with scenes of a small group of genetically engineered humans.  These humans think they are mutants, and ostensible Fedgov is protecting them against people like Jones who want to destroy outsiders, but it turns out in the end they have a much stranger destiny.

This is Dick’s second published novel, and like many of the books to follow, taking drugs plays a large part in the book, although I’m not sure it affects the plot much.  Like most of Dick's stories, the characters take away from the technology, but he still manages to fill the edges with lots of understated technology.  In "Jones" the futuristic cars help the characters jump from continent to continent, making the entire world their playground.  In one night Cussick and his wife see an opera in their hometown of Vienna, then fly to San Francisco to watch a hermaphroditic sex show and heroin and other drugs.

I'm not quite sure of Dick's ideology in this story.  He contrasts Jones' certain vision of the future and his fanatic vigilante followers with a government that wants to enforce equality and diversity at all costs, even at the risk of stifling individuality. Maybe he was making a statement about Fascism vs Communism, but then Dick adds the drifters and the manufactured mutants, and the allegory seems to shift and fall apart like so much wet paper mache.

The end result isn’t one of Dick’s best books.  The dialog is more stilted than in “The Solar Lottery”, and apparently Anthony Boucher called it “hasty and disappointing."  The parts that are most vivid are the visions that Jones has, first of the atomic attacks when he’s a boy, then of his death.  Personally, I enjoyed the cover art on the Ace reprint from 1980 -- I’d like to see more work by that artist.

Here's the text from the back cover of that 1980's edition:
"Jones was cursed. He could see one year into the future -- one year exactly -- but he wasn’t able to change or affect the course of events in any way... he could only watched them unfold. Jones would see the arrival of the alien organisms called drifters, and watch the waves of fear that would sweep the Earth. Then he would see himself become the leader of this movement, gathering power until he became the supreme dictator of the planet.
But would he see the true nature of the drifters and the terrible extent of their powers in time? And when he had his final visions, would Jones be able to find any chance, any way to cheat Fate?"

In an excerpt of  a review by Damon Knight in Infinity S-F, he wrote “The World Jones Made is a spectacular, brim-full grab bag of ideas. The central story concerns a new and fascinating style of conquering villain, but Dick has skillfully woven in such diverse and unlikely elements as (1) a race of artificial mutants; (2) the ‘Drifters’ -- mindless blobs of protoplasm that float in from space; (3) world peace enforced by ‘Relativism’... Uniting all this is the central idea, the tyrant who can see the future.
His name is Floyd J. Jones...To Jones, the future, one year ahead, is always more vivid than the present. The real horror of this peculiar kind of limited precognition does not appear till the end of the book...”
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