“The two basic topics which fascinate me are “What is reality?” and “What constitutes the authentic human being?” – Philip K. Dick, from a speech he gave in 1978
Counter-Clock World is the twelfth PKD novel I’ve read this year, accompanied by a monthly quota of 75 pages of The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. Out of the twelve books I’ve read, this has become one of my favourites. It is built on a simple concept: what if people’s lives started running backwards? So, instead of being born as a baby from the womb, people are “old-born” from the grave and age in reverse, getting younger year by year. Dick calls this process “the Hobart Phase”.
“Those who were presently being old-born had been the last to die: final mortalities before June 1986. But according to Alex Hobart, the reversal of time would continue to move backwards, continually sweeping out a great span;” (p.14)
The older we get, the more we dream of slowing or halting the aging process. Isn’t this what so many of us desire? But this is a PKD story which means it has his unique take on such a concept. And if we stop and actually think about the ramifications of reverse-aging, we might not see it as being such a great thing after all. For one thing, can you imagine regaining consciousness in a coffin six feet underground? Continue reading
‘And then, as he walked, he noticed that all the cross streets to the left leaned, as if the city was sinking on that side, as if gradually it was keeling over.’ (p.55)
Written at the height of the Cold War, Philip K. Dick’s 1965 novel Dr Bloodmoney imagines what might happen if America experienced a nuclear attack. Dick sets it in a (then) future 1981 in which there is a draft for the Cuban War, Russia’s Lunar Colony has failed, and for the first time, a married couple is about to be sent on a colonization mission to Mars. As people watch the televised launch of the Mars-bound rocket, the TV screens suddenly go blank and the signal is lost…
Dr Bloodmoney is one of the most unusual PKD stories that I have read so far. It starts off ordinarily enough introducing some of the “everyman” characters that usually inhabit Dick’s stories: a TV salesman, a doctor, a company owner, and so on. As they work their respective ways through an ordinary day, Hoppy Harrington enters the narrative. Hoppy is one of the most original and unforgettable characters Dick has created. Continue reading
“On some other world, possibly it is different. Better. There are clear good and evil alternatives. Not these obscure admixtures, these blends, with no proper tool by which to untangle the components.” (p.227)
Folio Society Edition
Often considered to be Dick’s best work, as well as his most mainstream, The Man in the High Castle imagines a future in which Germany, Italy and Japan won the Second World War. America is occupied by both the Germans and the Japanese. The story concentrates on events occurring in California, now part of the ‘Pacific States of America’ controlled by the Japanese. As is common in a lot of Dick’s writing, ordinary people dealing with unusual or extraordinary events are the focal point of TMITHC.
These everyday people make up the main characters of the book. Thus we meet Mr. Tagomi, a Japanese trade official, Bob Childan, an antiques dealer, Frank Frink, a jewelry maker, Frink’s ex-wife Juliana, a judo instructor, and Joe Cinnadella, a truck driver. In the background lurks Hawthorne Abendsen, the author of an alternative history novel popular at the time, despite it being banned by the Nazis. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a book within a book, an alternative history within an alternative history. Dick soon has everyone questioning what is real… Continue reading
“It takes a certain amount of courage, he thought, to face yourself and say with candor, I’m rotten. I’ve done evil and I will again. It was no accident; it emanated from the true, authentic me.” -Philip K. Dick
eldritch adj. – unearthly; weird; strange
Okay, I’m halfway through my Exegesis-plus-12-novels PKD read along, so to celebrate I want to start this review with a bit of research. As any fan will probably tell you, Philip K. Dick wrote a lot. And by “a lot”, I mean 48 novels*, and 121 short stories. That is a staggering output of work for any artist, especially considering Dick died aged only 53. (*Sadly, three of those novels’ manuscripts have been lost.)
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is the thirtieth (30th!) novel Dick wrote, reportedly written between Clans of the Alphane Moon and The Zap Gun. [source] (Publishing dates are different.) It was one of two books by Dick nominated for the 1966 Nebula Award. The other book was Doctor Bloodmoney, but they both lost out to Frank Herbert’s Dune. Continue reading
“We live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups. I ask, in my writing, ‘What is real?’ Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms.” – Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick was almost always questioning “reality” in his works. His stories often have the effect of making the reader question “What is real?” There is a brilliant scene in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? where Dick has his main character grasping at the edges of his own reality as his everyday life seems about to be pulled from under him.
*(spoiler warning)* Imagine if you are taken, suddenly, to a different branch of your workplace. It’s in the same city but you have never heard of it until now. There is no record of you on the company files and no one has ever heard of you there.*(spoiler end)* How would you feel? Perhaps you would feel a bit like Dick himself who began to question whether he was writing his stories or his stories were writing him. “Sometimes it feels like I’m living in a PKD novel.” (Thanks to The Exegesis of PKD and nikki@bookpunks for organising the read-a-long!).
This is not quite a five-star classic but there is something about it that I just love. Continue reading
“Can’t make the frug contest, Helen; stomach’s upset. I’ll fix you PKD! PKD drops you back in the thick of things fast. Taken as directed, PKD speeds relief to head and stomach. Remember: PKD is only seconds away. Avoid prolonged use.”
Japanese cover art
*spoiler warning* this “review?” may affect your grip on reality!
Once upon a time there was Ubik. Ubik wrote a story about a man called PKD. In this story, PKD was a writer. He wrote science fiction tales for a living. He was fairly successful, mostly due to the sheer number of stories he wrote. But a lot of people appeared to enjoy his work so PKD was able to keep on writing. Unfortunately, PKD never seemed to have enough money on him to pay for things like the doors to open or the shower to work, so he spent a lot of time indoors.