Clans of The Alphane Moon – Philip K Dick (1964)
Probably my favourite of all of Dick’s novels, though not necessarily the best, but arguably the most accessible.
Following a war between Earth and the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri, Chuck Rittersdorf works for the CIA (the Counter Intelligence Authority) where he writes dialogue for government simulacra. These are dropped into Communist countries (such as Red Canada) to spread propaganda among the locals. One has to remember that at the time of writing, America was a paranoid country, heavily involved in Vietnam and terrified by the possible spread of Communism into Malaysia and Thailand. Dick pushes this paranoia to an absurd degree, creating an America which is practically alone in a Communist world.
Chuck’s social-climber wife Mary is a marriage counsellor. In one of many ironies in this darkly comic novel she is divorcing him to travel as an unpaid volunteer to one of the Alphane Moons, there to rehabilitate a colony of mentally-ill patients (the psychiatric hospital on the moon having been abandoned by both sides of the conflict after the Alphane war) who have formed a functioning society in the interim.
Chuck is a man who (like many of Dick’s characters) finds himself as a pawn to forces and organisations whose plans and motives he never completely understands. His wife, through her overwhelming lawyer firepower, has ensured that anything Chuck earns will go straight to her as alimony. He is hired – through an apparent arrangement with his wife – by popular TV comic Bunny Hentman to write scripts for his TV show, but this turns out to be part of a complex plot by the Alphane government to reclaim the moon for themselves by persuading Chuck to murder his own wife.
Even his thoughts are not his own, for his next-door neighbour, Lord Running Clam, a mobile Ganymedean slime-mold, feels it his duty to eavesdrop upon his brain activity and offer sage advice.
In archetypal terms LRC can be seen as Chuck’s Mentor. He is a wise sage who knows Chuck more intimately than Chuck can ever know him. One suspects there is deeper symbolism in the character. Arguably, he represents Chuck’s rational self, the person he could have been in another world. Content, successful and – perhaps tellingly – devoid of sexual need or identity, unencumbered by the complex rules of gender etiquette, and able to produce children without the aid of a mate.
Whether LRC’s death and subsequent ‘resurrection’ represents any religious or psychological symbolism is uncertain, although it’s possible, given that LRC died on Earth and was ‘reborn’ in the rich soil of the Alphane moon. As an aspect of Chuck’s higher self, LRC represents the death of the old Chuck and the birth of the new; the sane Chuck, founder of the new rational community, Thomas Jeffersonburg.
As usual the SF content is employed in Dick’s trademark manner. Dick is unconcerned whether his SF plot devices make scientific sense. It’s not important whether a man who programmes simulacra could navigate a ship from Earth to a moon of Alpha Centauri, or that the moon should be impossibly Earthlike when he gets there (and it is never satisfactorily explained why a psychiatric hospital should have been sited on an Alphane moon in the first place). The power of Dick lies in the characters, their relationship to each other and to the universe around them.
In one sense it can be viewed as a story of a sane man living in a psychotic world, manipulated by the plans of others. Chuck has no choice when he is forced to move into a slum property which – like the rest of his society – has rules and strictures of his own. Throughout the novel, the plans of others, which invariably involve him in some way, are themselves based on ‘irrational’ suppositions with little evidence to support them. Paranoia abounds, and Chuck is forced to a point where he suspects even his friends, Joan Trieste and Lord Running Clam, of being agents of either the government or the Bunny Hentman organisation.
Is it true that every time we hear about someone’s agenda, it is always reported by someone else, ie, it’s a character’s opinion of what another character may, or may not, be up to. Thus, the paranoia is disseminated through the text since we seldom, if ever, hear anyone confess, first-hand, what their agenda is. We learn about characters partly through the testimony of other characters, which gives support to the idea that everyone’s plans are based on false data.
Dick makes many profound points through ironic observation and gross characterisation, not least raising questions -still topical after forty years or so – of how the US views other cultures and societal structures. There’s more than an implication of an America which believes that the American way is the only way. All other cultural models are intrinsically wrong.
In contrast to Earth, the world of the mentally-ill, although not a paradise, is at least a reasonably peaceful society of clans, differentiated by their psychiatric status, and governed by an interclan council, reliant on each other to fill their gaps in their collective dysfunctional psyches. This is underlined when ultimately Chuck, Lord Running Clam and the moon’s residents opt to live under occupation by the alien Alphanes rather than submit to the values and laws of their home world.
The greatest irony of all is that the moon is really of no real importance to either side. Chuck, having earlier ruminated on laws which control the insignificance of one’s job in relation to the effect it has on the world, is forced to see that all he has been through is meaningless in terms of its actual importance to either Earth or Alpha Centauri.
It’s always interesting to examine Dick’s depiction of women. One may be tempted to describe some of them as stereotypes, but one could argue that all Dick’s characters (male/female/alien/replicant) are caricatures. A stereotype is a generic figure, based on archetypal images we all hold in common, which in turn are evolved from assumptions we make about people we categorise in our own way.
Whatever their political merits, Dick’s women are individuals, and in many cases far more alive on the page than some of their male counterparts. Mary Rittersdorf for instance (reputedly based on Dick’s wife, Ann) is a ruthlessly efficient manipulative social-climbing marriage counsellor who presents a cold and seamless professional front until she is drugged by Pare (paranoid) Gabriel Baines and transforms into a sex-crazed sadistic dominatrix.
Gabriel realises – a little too late – that the aphrodisiac didn’t simply induce sexual arousal, it awakened something else which had always been inside her. In other words, Mary is giving in – as all the other Moon’s inhabitants have – to her natural psychiatric status. By this act Mary changes from counsellor to patient. She has joined those whom she wished to rehabilitate.
Bunny Hentman’s mistress is an artificially enhanced actress, hired to feature in one of Chuck’s scripts. In her own way, she is as ruthless and manipulative as Mary, but where Mary’s strength lies in the law and her position in society, her strength is sex. We see the two sides of her character, before and after she discovers that Chuck has lost his job as Bunny’s writer. Her function is little other than to present the façade (the fake face) of the Media industry (which has another façade in that Bunny Hentman’s company is actually being run by the insectoid Alphanes.)