Philip K. Dick

Confessions of a Crap Artist (246 pgs) 4/5

When Dick says ‘crap artist’ he means ‘bullshitter’ not someone who can’t paint. This is one of Dick’s non-genre books based on life in California in the 1950’s. The main character, Jack, is a conspiracy nut and collector of whacked out ideas, he is socially dysfunctional and what would later be referred to as a ‘slacker’ I guess. He goes to live with his sister’s family in a huge house in the middle of nowhere and observes the break-up of their relationship.

The character of Fay, Jack’s sister, I think has to have been constructed from Dick’s own sometimes twisted opinions on the fairer sex. Fay is somewhat of a control freak and shows psychopathic tendencies. She manages to break up a newly wed couple by manipulating the young husband who she sees as a good replacement for her worn out older model – Charley Hume. Charley is no saint himself and has anger management issues and a deep desire to kill Fay once he gets out of hospital, a place where as far as he’s concerned Fay put him.

Like most of his books this explores some of the darker places that make up the human mind, but in my opinion some of the people involved are caricatures rather than characters. Does this make Dick the ultimate crap artist?

Galactic Pot-Healer (177 pgs) 4/5

Dick had to have been high when he wrote this – it’s just one of the maddest books I have read. ‘Pot’ in the eye-catching title is not marijuana, but it might as well be, because the story of a titanic being (the Glimmung) calling helpers from across the galaxy to raise a cathedral from the depths of an ocean on a distant planet is mad. Joe Fernwright is one such person being called. He fixes ceramic pots for a living – much like an antique furniture restorer. The titan that does the calling is so powerful that he could be regarded as a god and Joe has no choice but to answer the call and join the other mixture of humans and aliens that have been called from across the galaxy to help in the Glimmung’s endeavour.

As the story progresses it transpires that there are two Glimmungs and two cathedrals under the water, representing good and evil. Joe finds himself involved in determining the future of the planet – will they bring a new golden age or bring disaster upon those who live there? To make matters worse the history, present and future of the planet and those upon it has already been written down in a freely available book. The book is the only book on the planet, constantly updated but hard to read because it is written in many languages.

The story is all over the shop in terms of plot and delivery, but is captivating in its madness.

The Cosmic Puppets (143 pgs) 5/5

I have little doubt that this will get made into a film once Dick’s cannon of ‘full on’ sci-fi has been exhausted by Hollywood (I will do a post in the future about the films that have evolved from this man’s work), however this is more akin to the work of Stephen King than the likes of Asimov.

While on a driving holiday across the US, Ted Barton feels compelled to return to his childhood town to see how it has changed since he left. What he finds is a town completely different from the one he remembers and a populace who has no recollection of his existence or that of the buildings and street names that appear to be missing.

It transpires that the residents are in the thrall of a two-way power struggle between the giants who stand watching over the town and an unseen barrier keeps everyone from leaving the town.

I am sure King has penned a short story with similar elements and they both work equally well. Some of the imagery in ‘cosmic puppets’ sent shivers down my spine. Done well it will make a great film. As a book it is a satisfying short read.

We Can Build You (252 pgs) 5/5

As is sometimes the case with sci-fi books and especially Philip K Dick books the back-cover blurb bears no real resemblance to the core of the story contained within this book. True there is a simulcra of Abraham Lincoln involved but there’s no trip to the moon and no plan as described on the back to populate it’s colonies with famous fake people. There is a plan by the tycoon Barrows to use androids to make the moon colonies look normal for would-be settlers but this is an aside in a terrestrial based novel mainly about different forms of mental illness.

These mental illnesses are experienced by the main character Louis who works in the electronic organ and piano business that has turned its hand to creating androids, the daughter of one of the company owners Pris (who has spent time in a state run mental hospital) and Abraham Lincoln himself who appears to be severely depressed most of the time.

In my opinion this is Dick at his best – reflecting on everyday human conditions in a far fetched environment. In this book there is very little of what always seems to me to be drug related surrealism (although I read somewhere that Dick insisted that he didn’t do hard drugs, it’s hard to envisage how some of his books such as `The Game Players of Titan’ or `The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’ could have been written without chemical help) and it makes a pleasant change. This story for all its flights of fancy seems grounded in realism and the reflections on what it is to be human and to be afflicted by self-delusion, paranoia, OCD, and depression. There is no cure-all wonder drug and instead the state relies on long-term social exclusion, counselling and group therapy as a cure. Mental health is endemic in Dick’s vision of the future. The flying cars, androids and lunar colonies are a given.

Time Out of Joint (212 pgs) 3/5

In short this book starts off with mystery surrounding a man’s seemingly mundane life and builds intrigue about the man’s odd situation very well, but the ultimate payoff when the author reveals what is actually going on is a little disappointing. It’s hard to say anything else or draw similarities without totally giving away the plot.

Philip K Dick has written better books than this but that is not to say that you should avoid reading this one – just don’t expect to be blown away. The ‘Afterword’ by Lou Stathis goes some way in explaining why the book itself seems out of joint and implies that Dick rewrote it following feedback from the publisher.

This is labelled as Book 55 in the great ‘SF MASTERWORKS’ series out of which Dick has at least eight entries including ‘The Penultimate Truth’, ‘The Simulcra’, ‘The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said’, ‘Valis’, ‘Now Wait for Last Year’, and ‘Martian Time Slip’… I would suggest that most of these are superior to this book and all are well worth a read.

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