Jul ’18 – A Philip K. Dick In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush….

Posted: July 7th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: A Proper Blog | Tags: | No Comments »

Clans of the Alphane Moon

(pub. 1964) – Voyager, 1996

Chuck Rittersdorf, a 21st century CIA robot programmer, decides to kill his wife by remote control. He enlists the aid of a telepathic Ganymedean slime mould called Lord Running Clam, an attrective female police officer and various others, witting or unwitting. But when Chuck finds himself in the midst of an interplanetary spy ring on an Alphane moon inhabited entirely by certified maniacs, his personal revenge plans begin to go awry in this brilliantly inventive tale of interstellar madness, murder and violence.

I doubt there’s a book that is more completely and utterly Philip K. Dick than this one…. Just imagine, a seceded (Terran) moon colony on Alpha III M2 derived from an abandoned hospital area  – over 25 years the clans of the title have separated into groups comprising the several sub-types of mental illness, the ‘Heeb’, ‘Pare’ ‘Mans’, ‘Poly’, ‘Dep’ ‘Skitz’ and ‘Ob-Com’s. (I’ll not delve any deeper into their origins as, as ever, the joy is in PKD‘s gentle drip drip approach to his terminology and world building.) Meanwhile back on Earth the somewhat directionless Chuck Rittersdorf is programming CIA simulacrums and, as his marriage crumbles – PKD again employs a young temptress in part to help usher our hapless, hopeless, clueless “Joe Blow” on his way – he slowly, via the offer of writing for television, stumbles upon conspiracy within conspiracy. Just who is actually working for who, and quite why, to what ends? There’s no pipes connecting the kitchen sink here as for once PKD opts to skip the notion of overlapping or underlying realities, but that doesn’t detract in the slightest from what is a highly accessible, imaginative and rewarding read….

… But his eyes. He had an alert yet warm quality; she rose and stood facing him. Over the TV the strength of his gaze did not register. This was not mere intelligence on Bunny’s part; this was more, a perception of – she did not know what. And – 

          All about Bunny an aura hung, an aura of suffering. His face, his body, seemed sopped with it. Yes, she thought, that’s what shows in his eyes. Memory of pain. Pain that took place long ago, but which he has never forgotten – nor will he. …


… She smiled, and once again he marvelled at her teeth; they transformed her face, made it beautiful; as long as she smiled and she was delightful to behold, and it seemed to Chuck that this told something about her. The quality of beauty arose from within; inside, she was lovely, and he realized that over the years, as she aged, it would gradually work its way outward, influence the surface. By the time she was thirty or thirty-five she would be radiant. …

Dr Bloodmoney

(pub. 1965) – Millenium, 2000

Seven years after the day of the bombs, Point Reyes was luckier than most places. Its people were reasonably normal – except for the girl with her twin brother growing inside her, and talking to her. Their barter economy was working. Their resident genius could fix almost anything that broke down. But they didn’t know they were harbouring the one who almost everyone left alive wanted killed.

An excellent Philip K. Dick novel (which I first encountered in its truncated form as ‘A Terran Odyssey‘ in the ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale‘ short story collection). This time we have everything and the kitchen sink in this tale of a post-apocalyptic California. However, the book has quite a gentle pace and a sunny, pastoral feel, the restructured society, though obviously chaotic, is still mostly beholden to the very same personal troubles that inflict us as individuals (but here it’s mixed with a whole host of the furthest-out PKD characters and scenarios). Some of PKD‘s very best ideas reside here, in what is a hugely satisfying read….

    Stuart said , “Now.” He knew it was now; he knew that the bombs were going off – he felt them. It seemed to occur inside him. Blam, blam, blam, blam, went the bombs, or perhaps it was the things sent up by the army to help, to stop the bombs; perhaps it was defense. Let me down, Stuart thought. Low as I can be. Let me into the ground. He pressed down, rolled his body to make a depression. People lay now on top of him, choking coats and sleeves, and he was glad; he did not mind – he did not want emptiness around him; he wanted solidness on every side. He did not need to breathe. His eyes were shut; they, and the other openings of his body, his mouth and ears and nose, all had shut; he had walled himself in, waiting.
Blam, blam, blam.


         He (Walt Dangerfield) struggled up, disconnected himself from the straps, saw through the port the world below. Clouds, and the ocean, the globe itself. Here and there on it matches were lit; he saw the puffs, the flares. Fright overcame him, as he sailed silently through space, looking down at the pinches of burning scattered about; he knew what they were.

          It’s death, he thought. Death lighting up spots, burning up the world’s life, second by second. 

          He continued to watch.

Mar ’18 – The Man With Two Philip K. Dicks

Posted: March 15th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: A Proper Blog | Tags: | No Comments »

The Game-players Of Titan

 (pub. 1963) – Voyager, 1996

Roaming the pristine landscape of Earth, cared for by machines and aliens, the few remaining humans alive since the war with Titan play Bluff to maximise the remote chance some pairings will produce a child. When Pete Garden, a particularly suicidal member of the Pretty Blue Fox game-playing group, loses his current wife and his deed to Berkeley, he stumbles upon a far bigger, more sinister version of the game. The telepathic Vugs of Titan are the players and the stake is the Earth itself.

The first Philip K. Dick book I have read in some time. Initially I considered, as the story wasn’t really grabbing me, giving up on this novel after about 50 pages. Aside from the blip in the pacing it has all you could want from PKD. There’s the tried and tested structure of chapters jumping back and forth between multiple characters – themselves divided into two distinct social strata – and the complicated machinations of the game (of Bluff) itself to get a handle on.

Of course, as (un)expected the story suddenly takes an quite intriguing, typically Dickian twist, around page 70 and we’re off (and at last I’m well and truly in!). From then on it’s a case of bluff and double-bluff, with a tasty side portion of warring telepathic powers and puzzling shifts between planets and realities …. or is it? It transpires the Titanian Vugs of the title are caught up in their own power struggle and our unfortunate game-players are seemingly caught up within that …. or are they…? Maybe one of the talking cars will lose the attitude long enough to reveal all….

…’Mutreaux,’ she said, ‘can you turn your thoughts to – ‘ It was difficult to know what to call it. She had, in her hundred years of scanning, never run into anything quite like it. Puzzled, she passed over Mutreaux’ surface thoughts and probed into the deeper levels of his psyche, into the involuntary and repressed syndromes which had been excluded as part of his ego-character, of the conscious self-system.
Now she was in a region of ambivalent drives, and of nebulous and stillborn wishes, anxieties, doubts interwoven with regressive beliefs and libido wishes of a fantastic nature. It was not a pleasant region but each person had it; she was accustomed to it, by now. This was what made her existence so rife with difficulty, running into this hostile area of the human mind. Each perception and observation which Dave Mutreaux had rejected in himself existed here, imperishable, living on in a kind of half-life, feeding deeply on his psychic energy.
He could not be held responsible for these, and yet there they were anyhow, semi-autonomous and – feral. Opposed to everything Mutreaux consciously, deliberately believed in. In opposition to all his life aims.
Much could be learned about Mutreaux’ psyche by this examination of what he chose to – or had to – reject from consciousness.

The Simulacra

(pub. 1964) – Magnum Books, 1977

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 centruy, the world’s last practising psychiatrist, a psychokinetic pianist, the time traveller, the ‘chuppers’, and the simulacra…

One of four(!) PKD books published in 1964, together with The Penultimate TruthMartian Time-Slip and Clans of the Alphane Moon (though it seems he wrote six(!) altogether that year!). I’d consider this to be peak period DicKiverse!(?!) and you can’t escape the feeling that he really took a bit more time with this book (if that’s at all within the realms of human possibility!) There’s everything you’d happily expect from Philip K. Dick here only rendered with just a bit more substance.

It’s hard to write a truly constructive review as part of the joy of this book (as it is with most PKD books) is the little flourishes of imagination, the bizarre turns of phrase or those canny and sublime moments, the delightful juxtapositions where countless fantastical ideas rub up against the all-too-familiar trials and tribulations of the everyday grind. It’s this honest skill – something that I think Agent Johnny himself has managed to master – that so appeals to me and, to my mind, it’s this understanding of (dare I say it) ‘humanity’ and what it is to be human (messy and frightening and confusing!) that clearly separates PKD from the usual sci-fi pack. Still, strap yourself in for a bit of time travel, Nazis, insidious advertising, futuristic audio recording techniques, an irresistible infatuation with a political simulacra and so much more….

… he was seeing, he realized, a demonstration by political extremists, the so-called Sons of Job, neo-Nazis who seemed to have sprung up everywhere, of late, even here in this god-for-saken town in California.
And yet wasn’t this actually the most likely place for the Sons of Job to show themselves? This decadent region reeked of defeat; here lived those who had failed, Bes who held no real role in the system. The Sons of Job, like the Nazis of the past, fed on disappointment, on the disinherited. Yet these backwater towns which time had bypassed were the movement’s feeding-ground … it should not have surprised him, then, to see this.

     But these were not Germans; these were Americans.

     It was a sobering thought …

Jan ’17 – Where To Start With Philip K. Dick…?

Posted: January 21st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: A Proper Blog | Tags: | No Comments »

Might as well start at the end. Just where is the best place to begin with Philip K. Dick? There’s a huge amount of lists online that will run through a countdown of his best books, some more comprehensive than others, with the general consensus tending towards the (hard to argue with) holy trinity of 1968’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Ubik (1969) and A Scanner Darkly (1977) and his solitary piece of what you could call accepted mainstream ‘classic literature’, the novel The Man In The High Castle (1962)….

Pre-Agent Rob & 2005’s ‘best of PKD’ copied from a newspaper article.

Having read in the region of 15 PKD books – I was fortunate enough that 2 winters ago the Glasgog FOPP stores had a run of laughably affordable SF Masterworks, with far too many PKD titles on the shelves to be ignored a moment longer – I would actually suggest that the curious begin, well, at the very beginning. Like Agent Johnny‘s beloved Pink Floyd – if you exclude the initial LSD spike of the Barrett-induced The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn – there’s a definite sense of the band’s progression from album to album as with PKD’s growth from book to book, similar themes are explored and the weaker discarded (or cleverly reworked) as the ideas coalesce and the creative vision consolidates….

Ragle Gumm….

If you opt to read the novels in order – you might prefer to ease yourself in via the short story anthologies, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale being a fairly astonishing collection, far beefier and better than the readily available Minority Report tie-in – then you can see PKD’s core themes evolve, making it far easier to get to grips with the more complex novels. Time Out Of Joint (1959) is considered to be the first book that really gets to grips with the concept of the nature of and our perception of reality and is therefore the ideal place to start. I began with The Penultimate Truth (1964), a more traditional sci-fi storyline of sorts, dealing with the manipulation of people and truth as opposed to the endless complications of shifting and/or overlapping realities and one’s effect thereon….

Talbot Yancy….

PKD’s novels are generally populated by ‘everyman’ characters, those John Shmoes and Joe Does; the menial job employee (until he loses it), the put-upon husband (or recently divorced/separated) seemingly trapped in their lot, striving for a meaningful, fulfilling existence, drawn to bad relationships, powerless to affect the overarching circumstances of their collapsing world (which might explain why I enjoy them so much). PKD tends to set up a few story arcs in tandem which he’ll steadily and cunningly weave together over the course of a novel, the bewildered everyman unwittingly drawn into a situation he struggles to grasp, tumbling deeper and deeper into the network of shifting realities and perceived truths over which he has no influence (or does he?). And all the while there’ll be an ‘official’ further up the chain, just as troubled under the skin no matter the bold front, who we assume – as he assumes/assures himself – to be in complete control. Of course, as reality unravels he will more than likely discover his situation is no different, being just another small piece (to be placed if not jammed) in the vast puzzle. Atop this fragile ‘house of cards’ we’re likely to find the ultimate authority figure, the bloated leader, safe but panicked in his self-imposed isolation, surrounded by toadying, plotting bureaucRats. Who is really pulling the puppet’s strings? Is he real, or is he slipping between realities and spinning the plates of fate accordingly…?

Ferris F. Fremont….

It’s interesting to note that PKD does not spend a huge amount of time on explaining the ‘science’ of his fiction, the setting of his novels can be refreshingly pedestrian and familiar (in this respect he brings to my mind J.G. Ballard, a favourite for merging his present self and reality into his wildly imaginative and disturbing fiction) – if cars do indeed fly or planets are colonised then no time is wasted embellishing the simple fact – with the geopolitics far more likely to take priority in order to establish a (winding) narrative path. He seems much more concerned with the human element and its desire to be understood, its desire to be free (as well as the doomed desire to peer behind the facade, however terrifying and destructive that might be – curiosity almost always kills the cat!). It’s no great secret that PKD pushed his personal life as far out as his novels – even a feverish Dicolyte like Agent Johnny cannot claim to suspect himself of burgling his own house whilst under the influence of drugs….

Bob Arctor….

And the Brawcommended titles? Hmm, I’d consider A Scanner Darkly (1977) to be amongst the very best – strange as it sounds part of this is the impression created by the book itself, the text is noticeably denser than other novels, the story seems to have been long laboured over and it feels razor sharp and precise – and it certainly would justify garnering the same ‘classic literature’ tag that has (unfortunately) seen The Man In The High Castle quarantined away from the rest of his tacky oeuvre (or vice versa, depending on your POV). Chronologically if you were to tackle Time Out Of Joint before High Castle following that with Martian Time-Slip (1964), The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch (1965), Now Wait For Last Year (1966), Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep (1968) Ubik (1969) Our Friends From Frolix 8 and A Scanner Darkly then you’d be getting a very decent headbang for your buck. 1981’s oft-mentioned VALIS is not for the faint of heart, the trial run that is Radio Free Albemuth (1976/1985), though slighter, is much more easily digested. From my age-old list – itself a relic salvaged from another alternative existence altogether – Dr. Bloodmoney (1965) Galactic Pot-Healer (1969) The Transmigration Of Timothy Archer (1982) and Confessions Of A Crap Artist (1959/1975) are yet to be explored. If the latter’s about an emaciated, unemployable loser who willingly feeds his precious lifeforce into an ambivalent ‘electronic brain machine’ while meshing with a healthier, saner and more success full other reality then maybe, just maybe, we’re all on to something….