Written in the same year as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep (1966), Nick and the Glimmung is Philip K Dick’s only published science fiction story for children. Also known as The Glimmung of Plowman’s Planet, it is the story of a boy, his pet cat Horace and his mum and dad who all emigrate from an over-crowded Earth to a dangerous colony planet.
Nick meets a variety of odd creatures on the planet and comes up against the titular Glimmung; a creature of great destructive power who is the main actor in a war between creatures on the planet. Nick accidentally comes into the possession of one of the Glimmung’s books which is constantly being updated by some magical process to tell all that has gone and all that will on the planet.
The Glimmung wants the book back for fear that it will reveal how it can be defeated. In actual fact Nick finds that it’s not quite as simple as that and while he is able to wound the Glimmung and drive him off, the Glimmung is left to fester rather than killed outright. Nick also learns the ultimate fate of his cat which goes missing, but is reunited with Horace thanks to an unexpected bit of help from one of the supposedly dangerous creatures.
Among the many creatures he meets, Nick encounters a Father-Thing which is destroyed by the local police and a similar Nick-Thing which escapes extermination and they say will try and replace him. This facet of the book obviously relates to Dick’s short story ‘The Father Thing’. It is this Nick-Thing which lets Nick have his cat back and does not try to take Nick’s life. It’s a strange ending given what we know of the evil intent of the fungus –Things from what we’re told earlier in this book and Dick’s other story.
What is evident from the book is that Dick has a great love for cats, and indeed Horace is based on one of his cats. Dick’s observations about the cat’s behaviour are heart-warming, especially the idea that Horace asks a question of everyone, perhaps the same question every time, but will never receive a satisfactory answer. It’s interesting therefore that the driving element in the book is Nick’s interest in the Glimmung’s book rather than a quest to try and find his cat (something that you’d expect to find in a children’s book).
There’s some typically interesting stuff within the 128 pages and given the menagerie of creatures – the ever-hungry Wub (see also short story ‘Beyond Lies the Wub’) who communicates in a frustratingly limited fashion via pre-written cards, the flying-umbrella bat creatures the Werjes who are scared of the smell of blue cheese, the elusive long-faced trobes, the rare klakes and the small round nunks, the infinitely useful but weakening printers (the clue’s in the name, much like the grumpy Mül Converter in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) and the helpful Spiddles – I felt like there might be room for a longer story or a sequel of some sort.
Plowman’s Planet and the Glimmung make a reappearance in Galactic Pot Healer written around two years later. In this later novel for adults the Glimmung is a Wizard of Oz- like character as powerful as in the children’s book but perhaps less intent on destroying the planet, and the book of truth is once more a feature of the story.
(Image from Pixabay)