The Unteleported Man – Philip K Dick (1964)
‘Whale’s Mouth was a planetary utopia for forty million Earth colonists – but none ever returned. It took only 15 minutes to get there by instant teleportation, but it was strictly a one way journey. If you wanted to return, it was always possible to go the long way round – 18 years each way by conventional spacecraft. No one relished that, of course. then one man decided to try it, and encountered some very powerful opposition…’
Blurb from the 1970 Methuen paperback edition.
Rachmael ben Applebaum is the hero of this, the original novella which was eventually expanded and re-written as LIES Inc.
Applebaum is the heir to a once successful business which constructed interstellar starships. The company was rendered worthless by the development of Telpor gates by rival company Trials of Hoffman Limited. THL is one of the bright new companies of New Whole Germany and has been shipping colonists to a fertile planet known as Newcolonizedland in the Formalhaut system. The only drawback is that it is a one-way trip. The joyful colonists send back video-messages and the media shows scenes of idyllic pastoral perfection, but not one colonist has returned.
Applebaum determines to use the last of his ships – the rest of them having been claimed by THL as a debt-payment – to travel the eighteen year journey ‘unteleported’ since he seems to be the only person who finds something deeply wrong about the situation, a classically paranoid situation, but one which the reader, unsettlingly, shares.
He finds allies in LIES Inc, the UN backed Listening Instructional Educational Services, who confirm his theory that the broadcasts from Newcolonizedland are faked.
At just over a hundred pages it is a slight piece and one that Dick was not particularly proud of. It was hastily written (but then, with Dick, this was often the case) but nevertheless manages to capture the essence of that annoyance many of us feel at those who take as gospel whatever they see or hear in the media.
Dick’s trademark ‘fakes’ appear as usual on various levels. from the synthetic Theodore Ferry who appears on Applebaum’s ship to the names of organisations. LIES and Trails of Hoffman’ both carry connotations of falsehood.
The obligatory dark-haired woman is, in this case, Miss Freya Holm, agent of LIES and mistress of its Head, Matson Glazer-Holliday.
After Applebaum has set off on his eighteen year journey. LIES decides to invade Newcolonizedland and send back what truth they can about the conditions there.
Matson Glazer-Holliday and Freya travel through the Telpor gates and find themselves in ‘Sparta’, a garrison-state in which THL is building an army to re-invade the Earth which will be ruled from new Whole Germany. Matson is killed but Freya manages to send a coded message back and mobilise the LIES forces.
A mini sub-plot shows the perspective of the ‘ordinary man’, Jack McElhatten, whose job is so menial and repetitive that he is being replaced by a trained pigeon. Despite the misgivings of his wife, Jack is swayed by the omnipresent coverage of scenes from the New World and is determined to emigrate and become a goat-farmer.
Despite a rather lacklustre denouement, this short piece – written only twenty years after the end of WWII – has echoes of the Holocaust and the unwillingness (which still persists today in some parts of the world) of the general public to believe the truth.
This is even more relevant to contemporary society where much that we believe is fed to us through the filter of the media.
Dick understood all too well the gullibility of the public and here is at least the beginnings of a major work, seriously flawed, but sometimes exposing the bones of a profound truth.