My life in outer space

Dick – Philip K

Galactic Pot Healer – Philip K Dick (1969)

Galactic Pot-Healer

Joe Fernwright is a pot healer – as was his his father before him – in a future totalitarian dystopia although his services are somewhat redundant since no one makes or breaks ceramics any more.
One day Joe gets a mysterious message offering him a job on Sirius V. The message turns out to be from an all powerful entity known as the Glimmung who is launching a project to raise a sunken cathedral from the ocean bed.
Being a Dick novel, things are not as straightforward as this synopsis would imply.
Fernwright is one of a large number of humans and alien experts in various fields who have been promised a fortune in payment to undertake work on the project. Many, however, are suspicious of the Glimmung’s ultimate objectives, especially as the experts all appear to have all been implicated in various crimes just prior to departure which they suspect were engineered by this being.
There are various Dick hallmarks here, such as the grasping ex-wife, the concept of Fatalism and a surprisingly overt use of humour where he is normally more subtle and understated. We have the world of the dead and the decaying beneath the ocean where at one point Joe meets his dead self.
There is also a religion which features the concepts of the duality of light and dark, something he had already explored, perhaps to better effect, in ‘The Cosmic Puppets’.
We are also in familiar territory with Dick’s lackadaisical attitude to technology and actual science since there is no attempt to explain how the ships that ferry the team to Sirius V operate or indeed the very idiosyncratic robots with whom they have to deal once they arrive. We have no problem as readers with the fact that Sirius V has Earth standard gravity and atmosphere. It didn’t matter to Dick, and for reasons I can’t fathom, doesn’t matter a jot to me either. He somehow always get away with it.
Much of the novel hinges on truth and trust. It becomes clear that the Glimmung is quite capable of lying, and Joe and his colleagues have to employ a a mixture of logic and intuition to determine the best course of action. Added to this is the book of the Kalends, a kind of prophetic bible which changes daily and seems to prophesy the future of the protagonists with uncanny accuracy (in English and various other languages, both human and alien).
Joe, on his dive into the ocean to see the cathedral – against the Glimmung’s express instructions – discovers an ancient vase half covered in coral but one which carries a personal message for him under the glaze. He notices that some of the coral has been removed, which implies that he was meant to see it, but did the Glimmung forbid Joe to go down to the sunken cathedral simply because he knew that Joe then would?
This is one example of a paranoid undercurrent that runs like a thread throughout this novel showing Joe and his companions forced to question the veracity of what they have been told or read. It’s a fascinating and particularly Dickian concept but like almost every other concept in this book is underdeveloped.
There’s something else very flawed about this novel, most essentially in its internal reality which produces an uneasy mixture of tone. There are the serious scenes, such as Joe being given a message by his dead decaying self, and those in which we have comical robots called Willis and clams that tell jokes. Maybe Dick considered that the contrast would make the serious scenes more powerful but it just doesn’t work. ‘Clans of The Alphane Moon‘ held the balance perfectly and despite its ludicrous premise – that Earth had set up a Mental Health facility on one of the moons of Alpha Centauri which was cut off and left to its own devices during the long years of the Alphane war – is a far more complex, structured and amusing work.
This is not a major Dick novel but it has its moments and needs to be studied by Dick enthusiasts if only to identify the PKD trademarks and how they are related to their use in other novels.

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The Unteleported Man – Philip K Dick (1964)

The Unteleported Man

‘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.


Time Out of Joint – Philip K Dick (1959)

Time Out of Joint

‘Time Out of Joint’ begins by leading the reader into a sense of false security, since we appear to be looking at the lives of characters from a somewhat idyllic US of the Nineteen Fifty Nine. Vic Nielson, for instance, is the manager of a local store and lives with his wife, Margo, her brother Ragle Gumm and their son, Sammy. Their neighbours and friends, Junie and Bill Black, often come round to play cards, more often than Margo is comfortable with.
One begins to suspect that all is not what it seems when it is discovered that there are no radios in this world, not since World War II, and Ragle Gumm makes a living by consistently winning a local newspaper competition ‘Where Will The Little Green Man Be Next’, the result of which he guesses via a complex analysis of past results and arcane measurements.
It is on an evening when Junie and BIll are visiting that Vic Nielson, trying to turn on a light in the bathroom, is hunting for a cord to pull when he realises that the bathroom light is powered by a switch, and always has been.
Later, Ragle, having persuaded Junie Black to go swimming with him (Ragle is attracted to Junie, Bill’s wife) goes to a drinks stand to buy drinks at which the stand disappears, leaving only a printed slip of paper saying ‘SOFT DRINK STAND’. Ragle is shocked, but keeps the slip of paper as this is not the first time this has happened and it turns out he has several of the slips with the names of various objects which he keeps in a tin.
As in most Dick novels, all is not what it seems. Vic’s son Sammy, although having been warned not to play in the ruins at the edge of town, comes back with a telephone directory, several slips of the mysterious typed paper and a magazine featuring an article on a beguilingly beautiful actress named Marilyn Monroe, an actress no one has heard of.
The reader is then made aware that Bill Black and Mr Lowery (an employee of the newspaper which runs Ragle’s competition) are fully aware of the greater reality. The year is in fact 1998, and Earth is at war with Moon Colonists (the lunatics) who have been bombarding Earth with missiles. Ragle, it appears, has an innate facility to predict where the missiles will land, which is what he is actually doing in his complex calculations to determine where the little green man will be next.
The great genius of this novel is that Dick has been careful to blur the edges of where the subjective realities of the Nineteen Fifties residents begin and end. Vic Neilson, Margo, Sammy and Junie have all been living with false memories, since Vic and Margo are not married and Sammy is not their son. This opens a whole other moral and ethical can of worms, since it raises the question of how far a government would go to safeguard a project which is helping to save thousands of people who would otherwise be killed in bomb strikes.
What, in real terms, is the nature of the Soft Drink Stand hallucination and the printed slips of paper? Why ‘Where Will The Little Green Man Be Next?’? It is these odd flourishes, however, that pushes this novel head and shoulders above most other SF novels of the late fifties.


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K Dick (1968)

.Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

‘War had left the Earth devastated. Through its ruins, bounty hunter Rick Deckard stalked, in search of the renegade replicants who were his prey. When he wasn’t ‘retiring’ them, he dreamed of owning the ultimate status symbol – a live animal. Then Rick got his big assignment: to kill six Nexus-6 targets for a huge reward. But things were never that simple, and Rick’s life quickly turned into a nightmare kaleidoscope of subterfuge and deceit.’

Blurb from the 2001 Gollancz SF Masterworks paperback edition

From the first page when Dick introduces us to Rick Deckard and his wife, debating what moods to set for themselves on their Penfield mood organs, we are thrown into a world where what is real and what is fake is clearly a matter of one’s own perception. Perhaps of all Dick’s novels, this is the one where his examination of the concept of ‘the fake’ works on so many levels that the meaning of the phrase itself becomes hazy.
This is a depopulated and poisoned Earth, most of Humanity having emigrated to other planets, leaving a world of empty apartment-blocks and radiation damaged humans. Animals, having suffered the brunt of the radiation which has blighted the ecosphere, are a rarity, which makes a live animal of any sort a highly desired status symbol. Consequently, businesses have sprung up which manufacture life-like electric animals such as Deckard’s sheep, the electric sheep of the title.
Deckard is a bounty hunter, part of a team which hunt down androids, originally created as ‘slaves’ to work on pioneer planets, some of which escape and, for reasons which are not entirely clear, return to Earth to live freely, posing as humans.
The androids are the product of the Rosen association, whose work has developed to such a degree that their latest development, the Nexus-6 model, although synthetic, is virtually indistinguishable from humans, and can only be detected by psychological testing of their empathic reactions.
When Deckard’s boss is injured by one of a group of six Nexus-6 androids who have killed their owners and escaped to Earth, Deckard is giving the job of hunting down and ‘retiring’ them.
This is not a novel, however, which is as simplistic as the synopsis would suggest. Dick is using the medium to explore – as is often the case – the themes and concepts which fascinate him.
Many of the characters, for instance, are concerned with their own states of mind and their place in society. Rick’s wife, one of Dick’s trademark harpies, is seen at the start of the novel setting her Penfield Mood organ, a device which allows one to dial states of mind at will. Although used as a comic device initially, the point being made is a serious one. The Mood Organ is a metaphor for drugs, a device which allows one to experience whatever mood one chooses, and if one doesn’t have the desire to choose a mood, there is an option to dial 3 which produces a compulsive desire to dial a mood at random.
There is also a spooky foreshadowing of consumer gullibility of TV via the Buster Friendly show. Buster Friendly is a TV host who somehow manages to be live on air twenty four hours a day and also simultaneously produce a separate and quite different radio show. Most of the viewing public don’t question this, although it is obvious to the reader that Buster must be an android himself, something that is pointed out to JR Isidore later in the novel. This is something that comes as a shock to JR and – even given his chickenhead status within the novel – has disturbing parallels with contemporary society’s slightly hallowed view of TV celebrities and the media.
In terms of the novel, it is merely another fake which forces the reader – if not the characters involved – to question the reality of the world in which they have become immersed.
The novel has of course been overshadowed by its cinematic adaptation, ‘Bladerunner’. Although an excellent movie in its own right it employs the shell of the ‘DADOES’ narrative, abandoning some of the weirder aspects of the novel in favour of a Gibsonesque cyberpunk superficiality. Its success has to a certain extent served to turn ‘DADOES’ into the book of the film, which it most certainly is not.
Certainly it is in the top ranking of Dick novels, but those who come to it as a new read need to divorce themselves from comparisons with the movie and see Dick’s vision fresh and weird in a world in some way very like ours, but at the same time unsettlingly strange and filled with doubts with regard to various perceptions of reality.
Highly recommended.


Cantata 140 (vt A Crack In Space) – Philip K Dick (1966)

Cantata-140

‘‘My first task will be to find an equitable disposition of the tens of millions of sleeping.’

It was 2080 AD – election year. Jim Briskin, candidate for the Presidency, was attempting to solve the unsolvable. Earth’s overpopulation crisis had driven millions into voluntary deep-freeze, to wait for better times. Now the pressure was on to wake them up – but where could they go? Eventually a solution presented itself from beyond the limits of human credibility.’

Blurb from the 1977 Methuen paperback edition

‘It’s the year 2080, and the Earth’s seemingly insurmountable overpopulation problem has been alleviated temporarily by placing millions of people in voluntary deep freeze. But in election year, the pressure is on to find a solution which will enable them to resume their lives. For Jim Briskin, presidential candidate, it seems an insoluble problem – until a flaw in the new instantaneous travel system opens up the possibility of finding whole new worlds to colonise.’

Blurb from the 2003 Gollancz paperback edition

For the sake of clarity the text of the 2003 Gollancz edition of ‘Cantata’ is identical to my copy of the Methuen 1977 ‘A Crack in Space’ (and presumably to the original 1966 text) although there was an original shorter novella called ‘Cantata 140’ published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in July 1964.
The title is taken from Bach’s ‘Cantata 140’ (‘Sleepers Awake’) and refers to the fact that in 2080 AD, Earth has a serious population problem and millions of people (mostly black) have gone into voluntary deep-freeze to be awoken when the situation has improved.
The cost of maintaining these sleepers however is prohibitive and Black Presidential Candidate Jim Briskin is under pressure to find a solution to the problem.(Jim Briskin, by the way, is also the name of a character in an earlier mainstream Dick novel)
Elsewhere, famous organ-transplant surgeon Dr Lurton Sands is being divorced by his wife Myra, an abort consultant, due to his affair with Cally Vale. Myra has hired Tito Cavelli, a black detective, to investigate her husband’s remarkable facility for finding organs at short notice for his transplants, and to find his mistress, who has disappeared without trace.
Dr Sands has left his Jiffi-Scuttler with Pethel Jiffi-Scuttler Sales & Service for repair, although there appears to be nothing wrong with it. It transpires that this particular Scuttler contains a flaw, a portal to a parallel and seemingly empty Earth where Sands has hidden his mistress.
When the crack is discovered, Birkin announces that the sleepers can be awakened to populate the new Earth, but it is soon discovered that this world is inhabited by Homo Sirianthropus.
The current president, Bill Schwartz, is keen to capitalise on the discovery and – in league with Leon Turpin – Head of Terran Development – initiates the migration despite the presence of the ‘Peking Men’.
Another interesting feature is an off-world brothel, ‘The Golden Door Moments of Bliss Satellite’ run by Thisbe Olt and George Walt. George Walt is a set of Siamese twins who share a common head, one of the bodies being George and the other, Walt. When Briskin threatens to close down the satellite George Walt escapes to the alternate Earth where the natives start to worship him as ‘The Wind God’
It’s one of Dick’s lesser novels and comes over as being not so much hastily written (as a lot of Dick’s good work was indeed hastily written) as not thought through. It suffers for one thing from an abundance of characters, some of whom are underused and seem to have no real business being in the novel, such as Phil Danville (Birkin’s speechwriter) and Don Stanley (Leo Turpin’s second-in-command). One gets the impression that Dick would have liked to have expanded on these characters but ran out of time or space.
The basic message seems to be that if we are faced with sharing the Earth with a different – if related – species, it puts humanity’s petty racist views into perspective.
The trademark Dick devices here are the strange names, the mutant/deformed human, the soulless corporate interest vs the regular Joe’s working in the small business (it is ironic that the gateway to the new world is discovered in the workshop of Pethel Jiffi-Scuttler Sales & Service), the strange device (the Jiffi-Scuttler) and the failed relationships.
Of ‘fakes’ (which manifest in most of Dick’s work) there is only George Walt who –although he may originally have been two people, is now only one, one half of him having died at some point in the past. This half was replaced with an artificial body so that George could maintain the illusion of his twin being still alive.


The Man in The High Castle – Philip K Dick (1962)

The Man in the High Castle

This is possibly the most fascinating and interesting alternate history novel of the Twentieth Century, set as it is in a world where World War II was won by the Nazis and Japan. It works in the main because Dick has avoided the cliche of going into extreme detail about the differences and concentrates on the lives of his creations in this odd alternate USA.
The plot revolves around a handful of loosely connected characters, most of which are not what they seem, but this fits nicely in with Dick’s perennial theme of the fake.
Frank Frink, for instance, at the outset of the novel works in a company where he produces fake antiques for sale due to the lucrative demand from the occupying Japanese for original antique American handicrafts (such as .44 revolvers and Mickey Mouse watches). Added to this, Frink’s name is really Fink, and he has had surgery to hide the fact that he is a Jew.
Having left his employment, Frank sets up a business with his co-worker, Ed McCarthy, making contemporary American Folk Art, based on Ed’s designs. (i.e. ‘real’ artifacts)
Robert Childan is not pretending to be anything he is not, although he runs a business dealing in ‘genuine’ US artifacts, many of them supplied to him by Frink’s employers.
One of Childan’s customers is Mr Tagomi, a Japanese businessman, who is seeking a gift for a new client.
This client is a Mr Baynes, ostensibly a Swedish businessman on a trip to discuss mould-injection processes, although in reality he is a German Counter-Intelligence agent on a mission to warn the Japanese of German plans to bomb their home islands.
Frink’s ex-wife Juliana, is a judo instructor who meets up with an Italian truck driver, Joe, who moves into her apartment and her life and persuades her to take a trip to meet Hawthorne Abendsen, the author of a banned book called ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’.
Both ‘Grasshopper’, which is set in a universe where the Axis powers lost, and the I-Ching run through the MITHC like a thread. It should be noted that ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’ does not depict our reality since one aspect of it talks of Hitler’s trial, something which obviously did not transpire in our timeline.
The Italian, Joe, himself is a fake since in reality he is an agent on a mission to assassinate Hawthorne Abendsen.
At the time of writing, Dick, it appears, was heavily into Oriental philosophy and employed The I-Ching to determine the plot of The Man in the High Castle, and explained
“I started with nothing but the name, Mister Tagomi, written on a scrap of paper, no other notes. I had been reading a lot of Oriental philosophy, reading a lot of Zen Buddhism, reading the I Ching. That was the Marin County zeitgeist, at that point; Zen Buddhism and the I Ching. I just started right out and kept on trucking.” In the event, he blamed the I Ching for plot incidents he disliked: “When it came to close down the novel, the I Ching had no more to say. So, there’s no real ending on it. I like to regard it as an open ending”.

“Hour 25: A Talk With Philip K. Dick”. philipKdick.com. Formerly posted at http://www.philipkdickfans.com/frank/hour25.htm.

There are strange connections between these characters, such as those between Mr Tagomi and Frank Frink, who never meet. Mr Tagomi buys a piece of Frank’s jewellery from Robert Childan (who was initially planning to swindle Frink and McCarthy) who has discovered from a Japanese client that the jewellery contains ‘wu’ or inner truth.
This leads Mr Tagomi, meditating on the jewellery, to shift temporarily to either the ‘grasshopper’ world or our world, a world where the San Franciscans are not deferential to the Japanese.
Later, Frank Frink is arrested when the authorities find out he is a Jew, but he is unexpectedly freed by Mr Tagomi, who orders his release merely to make a point to the local German authorities.

Highly recommended.


Dr. Futurity – Philip K Dick (1960)

Dr. Futurity

A rare and early foray into the subject of Time Travel from Dick, although the timeslip element is used initially merely as a device to move an objective viewpoint to a far future and therefore alien society.
Although one of the novels in which Dick was still finding his literary feet, it shows signs of the depths of his ideas and the themes which would come to dominate his work.
Dr Jim Parsons is snatched from the US of Nineteen Ninety Eight and deposited in the year Two Thousand, Four Hundred and Five. Interestingly, the US that Dick envisaged in his own near future is one in which large corporations have been nationalised and society seems to be run by the professional classes (Doctors, lawyers, etc.). American politics and society is often something at which Dick takes a sideswipe, often as part of the background to the main narrative.
Parsons arrives in a post-nuclear world where the human race has become homogenised and the birth rate is strictly controlled (as is female rights).
Children are produced by a process of controlled natural selection whereby competitive ‘tribes’ engage in various mental and physical challenges; the number of points they win determining who contributes their zygotes to ‘The Soul Cube’, which is essentially a vast bank of reproductive material.
Death is welcomed, as when a tribe member dies, a replacement is automatically fertilised within the cube.
Being a Doctor, and somewhat politically liberal, Parsons is confused and appalled when he is arrested for saving the life of a young woman who subsequently makes a complaint against him for denying her the right to die.
Structurally, the novel follows the mythic structure in that the hero – unwillingly in this case – is taken from his world of familiarity and his happy marriage (unusually for Dick, whose heroes tend to suffer from broken or dysfunctional relationships) to an alien world of seemingly bizarre behaviour and barbaric cultural beliefs.
Dick was once quoted as having been influenced by AE Van Vogt, and if it shows anywhere, it shows in this novel which, if a little less obscure and rambling than some of Van Vogt’s work, displays some of his trademarks such as ‘the dark city of spires’, the super race, the peculiar machines, the convoluted plot and the trip to Mars. These are Van Vogt clichés which can be seen at their best in Slan (1940) and ‘The World of Null-A’ (1948).
It’s obviously hastily written, although the time-travel loops and paradoxes are well-thought out and all the ends neatly tied up, although Dick skimps on some areas where the motives of the characters are confusing. For instance, believing himself to have murdered someone by utilising time-travel equipment Parsons goes out of his way to try and ensure that he has actually done so. At that point, however, he has no motive for carrying out the murder, and has been shown earlier to be – he is a Doctor after all – someone who is dedicated to preserving life.


The Year’s Best Science Fiction 3 – Brian W Aldiss (Ed) Harry Harrison (Ed) (1970)

Best SF 1969

This features the brightest and best work published during 1969 with the usual round-up of the year from Harrison as a prologue, and an afterword from Brian Aldiss. It’s interesting to look at this from a historical perspective. John W Campbell, for instance, was still the editor of Analog at the time and sharing the genre with such revolutionary publications as New Worlds.
In Brian Aldiss’s afterword he gives us his thoughts on SF in general and has a sideswipe at the Tolkien clones of the time before trying to convince us all that SF doesn’t actually exist. If one has a serious interest in the history of SF this series is worth getting just for Harrison’s and Aldiss’s overviews of the contemporary SF world.

The Muse – Anthony Burgess (The Hudson Review, 1968)

A very memorable and somewhat grotesque piece from Burgess in which a researcher travels back in time to find Shakespeare. Burgess writes so well that this piece (which in many other writer’s hands would have been labelled ‘predictable’) becomes original, compelling, fascinating, haunting and in some places darkly amusing.

Working in the Spaceship Yards – Brian W Aldiss (Punch, 1969)

Another stylist, Aldiss provides this intelligent and witty account of a young worker, part of a team that works on the FTL engines for Q-class starships. Despite the narrator’s good humour and obvious intelligence and education, there is a bleakness pervading the environment. The starships are sent out and never heard from again, created by artificial intelligences which give amusing answers to questions due to their rather literal interpretation of the language.
Obsolete androids beg on the street and are beaten up if discovered by their newer-model brethren.
Suicide is rife, and the narrator begins his tale by recounting his pleasure in the well-written nature of some of the suicide notes he’s found lying around the shipyard.
It’s a brilliant piece of work, especially considering that nothing much really happens and yet, cleverly, Aldiss manages to cram more background and depth into these few pages than many others do in entire novels.

The Schematic Man – Frederik Pohl (Playboy 1969)

The idea of recording one’s consciousness is a theme Pohl picked up later in his Heechee novels. A mathematician begins to construct a mathematical model of himself within a computer, and then starts to forget things. Like ‘The Muse’, this is a ‘predictable’ piece which is raised to a far higher level by Pohl’s gift seemingly effortless prose and characterisation.

The Snows Are Melted, The Snows Are Gone – James Tiptree Jr (Venture Science Fiction magazine 1969)

A post-apocalyptic tale, set in a future Ethiopia where technologically advanced humans (but presumably descended from those affected by radiation and deprived of limbs) kidnap healthy humans living a more primitive existence, presumably for breeding purposes or their clean genes. Like many of the stories in this anthology there is a polished poetic edge to the vision.

The Hospital of Transplanted Hearts – DM Thomas (New Worlds 1969)

The poet has constructed a grid in which the heart of a certain category of patient on one axis can be read against the body of another category of person on another axis. Thus, one can look up the heart of a sadist in the body of a whore and find an apt or witty description inserted therein.

Eco-Catastrophe – Dr Paul, Ehrlich (Ramparts 1969)

A chillingly prophetic future history seen from the perspective of 1969 where mass use of pest killers and fertilisers and the pollution pumped out by world industry sees the beginnings of a process which leads to the death of all life in the oceans. It is perhaps the most relevant and important piece in this book and although Dr Ehrlich’s nightmare scenario has not come to fruition as quickly as he imagined or in exactly the same way much of what he envisages is already taking place. This short but effective piece neatly encapsulates the greed of big business and the stupidity and shortsightedness of governments who fail to address issues such as pollution and population control.

The Castle on The Crag – P. g. Wyal (Fantastic, 1969)

An interesting and poetic tale which makes the same point as that of Ozymandias, the forgotten ruler on whose crumbled works we mighty should look and despair, its moral being that everything eventually will be gone and forgotten.

Nine Lives – Ursula K Leguin (Playboy 1969)

The Welsh Pugh and his colleague Martin have been posted alone on the bleak planet Libra to make a geological survey. After they discover a rich vein of uranium, a ten-part clone, John Chow (five male and five female) arrive to set up a process for extracting the uranium. However, an earthquake leaves nine dead and the surviving clone member has to learn (with the help of Pugh) how to live as a single human being.
It’s a story of extraordinary depth and feeling, rich with background detail and characterisation and still reads, as one or two in this collection do not, as fresh and new.

Progression of The Species – Brian W Aldiss (Holding Your Eight Hands 1969)

A poem from the poetry anthology ‘Holding Your Eight Hands’ (Ed. Edward Lucie-Smith) examining gentic engineering and the modification of human DNA.

Report Back – John Cotton (Holding Your Eight Hands 1969)

A poem, again from the poetry anthology ‘Holding Your Eight Hands’. This is a report back from a distant star in the form of a poem with two distinct voices.

The Killing Ground – JG Ballard (New Worlds 1969)

In this Ballard dystopian nightmare, we follow a group of English rebels in a world where the Vietnam War has spread around the globe. The US is battling with guerilla forces everywhere. Like practically all of Ballard’s work there is far more going on than a first reading might indicate.

The Dannold Cheque – Ken W Purdy (Playboy 1969)

A beautifully written, somewhat whimsical piece by the then editor of Playboy. Cleverly structured, it introduces the characters and the setting with a wealth of poetic, almost incidental detail. From there, the story unfolds like origami gift-wrap.
An artist wishes to collaborate with a politician in the latest of a series of collages which each preserve an object, a photograph and a personal piece of text. Mr Dannold, the politician, who is the latest subject, agrees to write a letter (to be part of the collage) detailing the events of the day in the photograph (where he is caught on camera thwarting the assassination of the Prime Minister). The object to be included is a voided cheque for £250,000.
Thus there is a story within the story in which Mr Dannold’s letter explains how the cheque and the photograph are connected.
Is it SF? One could argue otherwise but I for one am happy for such a well-written piece to be included as part of the canon.

Womb to Tomb – Joseph Wesley (Analog 1969)

Harry Harrison’s short blurb makes the point that this story, which harks back to the days of vast fleets of mile-long ‘planet-blaster’ ships, looks at the effects of battle on individual soldiers.
Earth is at war with the Kwartah, a race which has invaded a large number of human worlds.
Admiral Burkens runs a rehabilitation centre for soldiers sent back from the front. Senator Grimes arrives to check up on his son, recently admitted, and learns the awful truth about what price Humanity is paying for victory.
There is an unstated connection here with the Vietnam War, a connection which Ballard broadcasts all too clearly in his story.

Like Father – John Hartridge (New Worlds 1969)

Fingest, a time-traveller, returns to a few million years ago to plant his sperm in the womb of an early hominid, out of a sense of ‘because I can’ it would appear, as much as out of a desire to piss off his scientific colleagues. travelling forward through time he traces the progress of this sadly rather predictable tale.
By 1969 one would have thought the Birth of Man concept had been pretty much mined out. Having said that, Julian May did it far better later – and at great length – in the Pliocene Exiles Saga. It’s the basis for Quatermass and The Pit, at least two Doctor Who stories, ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’ and countless other earlier tales. One is at a loss to see why this rather weak piece was included here, or published in ‘New Worlds’ of all places.

The Electric Ant – Philip K Dick (Fantasy & Science Fiction 1969)

We’re in familiar Dick territory here with a man who discovers he is an ‘electric ant’, i.e. an artificial human with a tape in his chest which is feeding him all his sensory input. When he interferes with the tape he finds his perception of the world changed. What will happen, he wonders, if the tape breaks or runs out. Despite the familiar theme, there is much food for philosophical thought provided by its limited number of pages.

The Man Inside – Bruce McAllister (Galaxy Magazine 1969)

A very short and very clever story which deals with a young child’s viewpoint of his schizophrenic catatonic father.
Dr Plankt has developed a device which may be able to print out his father’s thoughts. Over a mere two and a half pages McAllister produces one of the best short stories I’ve come across with an ending that is tragic, poetic, symbolic and probably quite a number of other –ics that I haven’t thought of yet.

Now Hear The Word of The Lord – Algis Budrys (Galaxy Magazine 1969)

Budrys is one of the serious masters of SF and seldom disappoints. This is a complex tale which begins with a man who types letters all day in a spartan office and then goes back to an even more spartan hotel. When you begin to think you know what’s going on, you find you don’t.


The Simulacra – Philip K Dick (1964)

The Simulacra

‘Earth in the twenty-first century was a shifting, shadowy and dangerous world. Most people were content merely to survive, and to grab what little pleasure they could. But there were others who cunningly played the game of world mastery. Among them were the outstandingly beautiful woman who had ruled the White House for nearly a century, the world’s last practising psychiatrist, a psychokinetic pianist, the time traveller, the ‘chuppers’, and the simulacra…’

Blurb from the 1977 Magnum Paperback edition

In 2041 The United States of Europe and America (USEA) is ruled by der Alte, and his ageless consort and First Lady, Nicole Thibodeaux. Despite her youthful looks, Nicole has been First Lady for about seventy-five years, although her ‘der Alte’s inevitably die and are replaced.
Elsewhere, the inhabitants of the Abraham Lincoln Apartment Building organise residents’ talent shows, competing for the honour of performing before Nicole herself at the White House. A regular performer is Richard Kongrosian, an exceptional pianist who, being a psychokinetic, has the ability to play the piano without using his hands. Nat Flieger, and two companions from the EME recording company, are on their way to see him. Kongrosian however, is psychotic and is beginning to believe that he is turning invisible.
Ian Duncan, of the AL building, decides to team up once more with his old friend Al Miller, and resurrect their musical jug act, in which they play a classical repertoire by blowing into whisky jugs.
By the use of a mechanical telepathic creature, the papoolah, the duo win the AL talent course and are invited to perform before Nicole at the White House.
Elsewhere, Bertold Goltz, leader of the political group, The Sons of Job, is employing Time Travel equipment to infiltrate the White House.
It’s a novel, much like many of other Dick’s novels, which examines large-scale lies and deception. In fact, deception of the public has become institutionalised since the populace is divided into Ge’s (Geheimnistrager – the bearers of the secret) i.e. the esoteric elite and Be’s (Befehaltrager – the carry-outers of orders) i.e the exoteric majority.
Dick’s trademark fakes are in evidence throughout the novel, since Rudi Kalbfleisch, the current der Alte, is in fact a simulacrum, manufactured by the huge corporation Karp und Sohnen Werke. Now the der Alte’s popularity is waning, a new simulacrum is being planned, a replacement der Alte with the name of Dieter Hogben.
The papoolah, once an indigenous Martian creature, is now extinct. Ironically a fully functioning replica (which includes its talent for telepathic persuasion) is employed by Al Miller to help sell interplanetary ‘jalopies’ from Loony Luke’s Jalopy Jungle. The papoolah inserts images of a homely pastoral Mars in the heads of families, encouraging them to buy a jalopy and emigrate.
The novel is not short of Dick’s trademark manipulative women, such as Julie Strikerock who, for reasons not explained, abandons her husband Vince and moves in unannounced with his unsuspecting brother Chic. Nicole herself is a strong, arrogant woman, treating with disdain the public who worship her through the medium of TV.
Nicole herself, is not, as the public assume, an ageless and seemingly immortal First Lady, but a fiction since Nicole has been nothing but a series of actresses – each one replaced when they get too old – advocating the policies of a shadowy committee who run the USEA. The administration is also being controlled to a certain extent by the interests of big business. In this case there are Karp und Sohnen Werke, the simulacra manufacturers, who are threatening to expose the simulacra der Alte to the public now that their contract has been cancelled in favour of small simulacra firm, Frauenzimmer Associates. There is also the huge pharmaceuticals company AG Chemie, who seem to be behind the McPhearson bill which makes it illegal for psychiatrists to operate, forcing people to find remedies in their drugs.
The novel suffers from attempting to fit such a large cast of characters into such a short piece, which, had Dick had the time or inclination to do so, would have worked far better as a longer, more structured work. Dr Egon Superb, for instance, provides a tenuous link between some of the characters. On the orders of Wilder Pembroke, Chief of National Police, he is the only psychiatrist in the USEA allowed to continue practising and is instructed that he must not refuse any patients since he will shortly take on one patient who he will not be able to help. Subsequently he takes on some of the main characters as patients, although this idea is neither fully developed nor utilised.
Bertold Goltz, in an odd VanVogt-ian twist, turns out to be the head of the committee running the USEA through Nicole and the simulacra presidents.
Also, for reasons which are not fully explained, Nicole has Hermann Goering transmitted through time to the present, although this particular thread seems irrelevant to the story as a whole.
Then there are the Chuppers; a community of Neanderthals born to humans as the result of mutation, and awaiting their chance to claim the Earth once Man has destroyed himself.
Thus, the meek will inherit the Earth.
It is not the easiest of Dick’s books and reads very much like a first draft, but is nonetheless interesting because of Dick’s talent for making truly absurd premises (such as Loony Luke’s Jalopy Jungle) oddly credible.


Solar Lottery – Philip K Dick (1955)

Solar Lottery

Dick’s debut novel seems oddly more in tune with his work of the 1960s than the subsequent novels he wrote in the remainder of this decade.
Based on a concept apparently used by the US to confuse the enemy by generating random choices, Solar Lottery postulates a world run along these principles where everyone has a lottery ticket and one’s place in life is determined very much by chance.
Ted Bentley (an 8-8 class scientist indentured to a Hills Organisation, Oiseau-Lyre) is freed from his contract when Oiseau-Lyre is shut down.
He decides that he will apply to make an oath directly to the Quizmaster (Reese Verrick, the man in charge of the entire Lottery system) and sign on to his team. Reese appears and signs on Ted personally since Verrick has other plans for Ted. Very soon afterwards it appears that Verrick has been laid off as quizmaster and replaced by Leon Cartwright, leader of the Prestonites, a quasi-religious group who have dispatched a ship beyond the orbit of Pluto to search for the ‘flame-disc’ that their founder predicted would be there.
Meanwhile, Verrick has raised a legal challenge to Cartwright and can therefore legally despatch assassins to kill him. Keith Pellig, however, is no ordinary assassin. He is a semi-organic android whose mind can be remotely inhabited by any one of a dozen controlling minds, a strategy which can allow the assassin to evade the Corps of ‘teeps’ (telepathic guards) who protect the quizmaster.
It is not so much the plot as the depth of character that Dick gives to the various members of his cast which is interesting. Given the time of writing, it is unsurprising that this reads like a 50s noir novel. Ted Bentley is an angry idealist who believes in rules and order. Reese Verrick is an unscrupulous politician aiming to control the system one way or another. Leon Cartwright, again an idealist, on being elevated to the Quizmaster position, is for a while overawed by the power he wields and then breaks down at the thought of assassination threats.
There is a very interesting scene in the home of Bentley’s new friends, Al Davis and his wife, who are watching Reese Verrick’s challenge of the Quizmastership on TV, and awaiting the announcement of the name of the assassin. Bentley, annoyed by the system and the media hype, turns the TV off, despite the fact that he is merely a guest in the house, Al Davis meekly accepts his actions even though Mrs Davis is desperate to turn the TV on again, and vents her frustration in the kitchen, banging various bits of kitchenware together.
Herb Moore (another 8-8 scientist working for Verrick) becomes Benteley’s enemy and love-rival since Benteley and Moore’s lover, Eleanor Stevens, have become close. Benteley and Moore get into a physical fight quite early on, which Moore loses. In fact, Moore had also locked Benteley’s consciousness into the android assassin while Benteley was asleep.
The idea that the Pellig construct may well have an identity of its own is mooted a couple of times, but subtly; the suggestion that some consciousness, insect or larvae-like, is already living within the body.
There are some other interesting comments made, which relate to themes explored further in Dick’s later work.
In order to escape Pellig, Cartwright is taken to a resort on the Moon. One of the teeps guarding him sees the moon’s surface as a long-dead skull, the brittle bones covered with the dust of the former living flesh. There are occasions in later novels where characters see or visit a parallel world of death, such as the tomb world in ‘Martian Time Slip’ or the subjective world of ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ where the faithful can share the pain of their saint.

The Flame Disc and John Preston

There are also echoes of Dick’s ‘prophets’ in Preston, a man thought dead, but not present in his grave, simply replaced by an elaborately faked corpse. He is thought to be alive on the flame disc since it is Preston’s voice that guides his pilgrims onwards, but this too, is a fake; another staple feature of Dick’s work.
Once again the denouement is redolent of the closing scenes of ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ where Dekard thinks he has found a living toad in the desert which is also a fake.