Philip K. Dick Book Club Podcast

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading this blog. I have noticed the many hits it has been giving. Why have I not been updating?
Mostly, life has gotten in the way. I am proud to have gotten through the stories and although I did not get far into the novels, I am happy to have accomplished the goal of getting my reviews of all the Philip K. Dick stories out.

These days I have been working on a podcast called “American Writers: A Hundred Pages at a Time.” ( In this cast, I am looking at various American writers in one hundred page chunks. If you are interested in my views on Philip K. Dick, you can listen to a nested series called “Philip K. Dick Book Club.” There I will look at each story and novel in chronological order. For the stories, I am often using my blog posts here as the foundation for my scripts.

So rather than update here, I will be updating there on a hopefully more consistent basis. Subscribe on iTunes or podbean.

Thanks for reading! (And listening!)

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Book Announcement


I know this blog has been quiet for too long. The reason for this was that I have been busy finishing my book on Philip K. Dick. It is being published by a great small press specializing in Philip K. Dick Studies: Wide Books. The book is available now from their Web site. I have also started teaching again, which has been a drain on my time. I am now eager to re-start this project.

See you in a few days, when we will consider “Solar Lottery.”

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The Crack in Space (1966)

The Crack in Space was first published by Philip K. Dick in 1966 with the help of Ace Books. It is about an overpopulated Earth facing a jobs crisis. Millions are left without work or hope of work and are placed in cryogenic freeze until the economy improves. A possible solution to this comes in the form of a passage to a second Earth, but when they learn that the planet is populated by descendants of homo erectus, the politicians’ hope to solve the “bib problem” fade. The novel explores questions of economic justice, political effectiveness, celebrity and scandal, transhumanism, and life-extending technology. It one of the novels by Dick that seems to have a strong cyberpunk theme. It is one of Dick’s most underrated novels and one of his most important economic arguments. It is plagued by his classic moralism about sexuality and family, but even this is largely directed into his more important argument about class conflict, technology, and economic justice.


Character List
Like many of Dick’s mid-1960s novels, The Crack in Space is chock full of characters, many of whom are only temporarily present in the story but are crucial to the plot. The most important figures in The Crack in Space are:

The Candidate and His Circle
Jim Briskin: A candidate for the President of the United States. He if wins he will be the first “Col” President. He campaigns on moral issues and a permanent solution to the “bib” crisis through terraforming another planet.

Sal Heim: Briskin’s main advisor. He is more cynical than some of his other advisors and wants Briskin to embrace the politics of reality.

Patricia Heim: Sal Heim’s wife. She is often involved in political discussions, but largely follows her husband’s guidance.

Phil Danville: Briskin’s speech writer, who apparently embraces Briskin’s idealism. Sal Heim thinks he is a fool.

Tito Cravelli: A private investigator who works his way into Briskin’s circle by directing knowledge his way. He will be the Attorney General under Briskin’s administration.

Bruno Mini: A scientists devoted to terraforming efforts. Briskin uses his research as the basis of his campaign promise to use other planets to solve the “bib” crisis.

Pethel Jiffi-Scuttler Repair
Darius Pethel: The owner of a jiffi-scuttler repair shop that becomes the center of global attention after one of their repair jobs reveals a portal to a parallel universe. He hopes to take advantage of this.

Rick Erickson: A Juffi-scuttler repairman and one of the discoverers of the portal.

Donald Headly: A Jiffi-scuttler repairman. He is married but falls in love with the prostitute Sparky Rivers.

The Golden Door Satellite
George Walt: A posthuman (or possibly transhuman) made of two separate consciousness in one conjoined body. They own the satellite brothel The Golden Door. He later poses as a Wind God in an attempt to control the Pekes.

Sparky Rivers: A prostitute in the Golden Door.

Thisby Olt: An aging prostitute in the Golden Door, who looks young due to technology. She is high-ranking and experienced.

The Sands
Lurton Sands: A organ translation physician, world famous for his skill at prolonging life. He is in the middle of a scandalous divorce. He is the first to learn of the parallel Earth, which is uses to hide his mistress. He is also stealing organs from bibs to transplant into his aging patients.

Myra Sands: Lurton’s wife and the prime instigator of his legal troubles. She hires Tito Cravelli to find evidence of Lurton’s misdeeds.

Cally Vale: Lurton Sands’ mistress.

The Peke Prophet: A possibly mutated Peking Man from the parallel Earth. He has supernatural powers and above-average intelligence for members of his species.

Bill Smith: The first Peke to talk to homo sapiens through a translator.

peking man

Terran Development
Leon Turpin: Head of Terran Development, a quasi-government agency that among other things organizes extraterrestrial settlement.

Frank Woodbine: An explorer of extraterrestrial planets who is commissioned by Terran Development to help with the exploration of the parallel Earth.

Herb Lackmore: An aging bureaucrat. His work in processing bibs contributes to his racism. He joins the racist organization CLEAN and is drafted into an effort to assassinate Jim Briskin.

Verne Engel: The leader of the racist organization CLEAN, which is currently devoted to preventing the election of Jim Briskin to the office of President of the United States.


Thematic Summary
The “Bib” Problem and the Violence of Economic Inequality: The central theme running through The Crack in Space is the violence done to the poor and the old when the economy is controlled by one sector of society. In this case, the economy is dominated by the jerries—elders kept alive by artificial means. While the economy is overcrowded, the reason there is no work for the poor has more to do with technological unemployment than with “over-population.” (More people means more services and goods needed, so it is not clear why overpopulation would be a problem in a healthy economy—the environment is another issue.) Ttechnology made the need for work less, and those with jobs aged (but never retired), so there was quickly no room for the poor and the minorities. The violence of this unequal access to economic opportunity is represented by the “bib” crisis. Many of these unneeded workers are put into suspension until work (someday perhaps) opens up. Making things worse—and it was Dick’s intention to clarity the point—Lurton Sands literally harvests these poor for organs that are used to keep the rich and relatively secure elders alive. This is one of the sharpest images of economic equality Dick came up with in his career. It is also one rooted on the real experiences of working people in much of modern history. The novel Frankenstein spoke directly to workers’ concerns in the eighteenth and nineteenth century over scientists grave robbing the dead for their bodies, especially those of the poor, the marginalized, and the criminal. (See Monsters of the Market for more on his history.)

Effectiveness of Politics: The Crack in Space asks important questions about democratic politics. Much of the plot surrounds a democratic election for President. What is striking about this is that the election comes after decades where the people most hurt by the economy have been unrepresented and actively marginalized by a white, aging, and employed minority. Even as whites became a minority, the political system served the few. Jim Briskin is both a new candidate and more of the same. He does seriously mean to address himself to the “bib” problem, and seems to be the first politician to run on this platform. However, he is also not trusted by the non-white voters who assume he is a sell-out, he takes advice from the cynical Sid Heim, and he seems often to doubt his own optimism. In short, Briskin is quite fake and everyone knows it. Even George Walt at the end learns that Briskin is not all that he seems. In many ways, Briskin is just lucky to be running for President at the time a reasonable solution to the “bib” problem emerges. Nothing he did or could do can change the fundamental problem in the economy. Making matters worse, strong racist organizations openly work making it more difficult for any progressive politics to take hold.

Frontier: As readers of this blog may know I am very interested in the role of the frontier in Dick’s fiction and find it to be one of the most underappreciated themes in his work. The frontier in The Crack in Space is three things at the same time: a promise of a new world, a failure and a disappointment, and a vision of an alternative development. For Briskin and the “bibs” the frontier was a hope for a new start, a blank slate that will allow them to escape the economic trap they are in. This feels much like how Dick described the frontier in many of his 1950s short stories. But this novel was written when Dick had apparently turned on the frontier (Martian Time-Slip and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch). In fact, the alternative Earth in The Crack in Space is a failure because it was not what the optimists dreamed it to be because it was not a blank slate. This is the root of the problem in the great Martian frontier novels of the 1960s (something I will talk about in the future). What is interesting is that the frontier still provides a solution by presenting an alternative history. In this case, the Pekes developed a more sustainable economy, with human-scaled technologies. This is in sharp contrast to the industrial, over-populated, and class-divided economy of Earth prime. So although it does not provide an easy solution to the bib problem, perhaps it is still a possible model for a different path. Due to the political realities and racism in the system, it is unlikely that anyone will see this. It is left for the reader to notice.

Celebrity and Scandal: A minor theme in the book, but not insignificant due to Dick’s overall interest in the role of media and celebrity is the Lurton Sands controversy. Sands is famous as a great physician, but his fame only grows as the subject of a celebrity scandal (like O.J. Simpson). He is facing a divorce from a wife who seeks to punish and humiliate him for keeping a mistress. This scandal becomes part of the social order, keeping the population distracted from important issues. Myra Sands makes her personal vendetta against her husband national news. In doing this, however, she does expose real crimes Lurton Sands committed—the harvesting of organs from bibs. This, however, is not the juicy point of interest. Most viewers of the scandal are more obsessed with the whereabouts of Sands’ mistress.

Transhumanism: There are strong transhumanist questions in The Crack in Space. This is not a theme that Dick dwelled as much on as he did posthumanism and mutation, but it is crucial to unlocking his vision of the future. The efforts to distance Dick from the later cyberpunks is easily frustrated by acknowledging Dick’s concerns about transhumanism. We have two main examples of transhumanism here. Most central to the novel’s concept is the ability of doctors to keep people alive forever. Thus even sex work becomes closed to younger workers. Thisbe Olt’s role in the novel is to show that with life-extending technologies even prostitution is something that can be closed out to younger workers. The other example of transhumanism is George Walt, who may be a mutant or may be a cyborg. This gives them special abilities and even the power to make themselves a god among the Pekes.

This brings us to the contrast with the cyberpunk genre. If the central theme of cyberpunk is the relationship between social inequality and technology than The Crack in Space is Dick most clearly foreshadowing that tradition. Technology is unequally distributed and unequally beneficial. What is liberating, life-saving, or profitable to one sector of society, becomes a tool of oppression to another.

Sexuality and Reproduction: Early in the novel there is a revealing moment when the candidate Jim Briskin reveals that although he is against the moral decline of society represented by the bibs and the satellite brothel The Golden Door, he had used an abortion consular in the past. Dick is at great pains in this novel to point out that sexuality has been redirected to banality. He often tended to belittle the social role of sexuality that is not directed toward reproduction (he did the same in Dr. Futurity). This is perhaps unfortunate and gives some context to his constant moralizing about monogamy. Yet, this moral message must be placed in the context of his anti-Malthusian arguments. Dick believed that a society that could not, or chose not to reproduce, had no future. Sterility is a theme in The Game-Players of Titan, Dr. Futurity, The Penultimate Truth, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In all of these cases, the decline of society and the end of social progress is clearly modelled in the refusal or inability of people to have children. The Crack in Space provides the interesting situation of a sterile society in an over-populated economy. Here sterility is forced by the state. Having a child means losing access to the dole, which is in itself necessary for the survival of the “human kipple” that fills out the margins of the work.

The Golden Door shows that—like the celebrity scandals—sexuality is a distraction from the real challenges the world faces. Briskin’s opposition to the orbiting brothel is part of a realization that sexuality has become banal. The closing down of the satellite goes hand in hand with his efforts to find a suitable frontier for the bibs. Ending the population crisis means sexuality could return to its proper role: the cultivation of families and the raising of children. Dick, the radical in so many areas, was almost a reactionary on questions of sexuality and family. It also reveals his misunderstanding of the evolutionary role of sexuality as a general tool of social cohesion, not strictly about reproduction.

Race: With the United States having achieved the first black president decades before Dick predicted, we may find The Crack in Space’s racial arguments dated. The novel was written in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, at a time when the movement was turning away from questions of political access to ones of social equality. Dick makes the case that political access is less significant than social equality. In this way he builds on organizations like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee or the “black power” movements of the later sixties. The novel ends with the suggestion that electing a black president is the easy part. In any case, race and racism runs through the novel, building on the general theme of the unequal role of technology in a class society.

Chapter Summaries

Chapter One
A young Hispanic couple arrives at Herb Lackmore’s counter at a bureaucratic office. They have decided to become bibs (enter into cryogenic suspension) because they are unable to find work. The young woman confesses she is about to have a child. Lackmore, realizing that this accounts for their decision since the would have been pushed off the dole when she got pregnant, orders them to get an abortion. As they leave, Lackmore thinks about the dismal state of the labor market and reads the newspaper account of the Lurton D. Sands divorce scandal.

At a Jiffi-scuttler repair shop, Darius Pethel reads about the upcoming presidential election, which may result in the first black presidents. He grumbles about the candidate—Jim Briskin—and his promise to solve the bib problem. Pethel thinks this will just worse the job situation. He also thinks about Dr. Sands, a doctor specializing in organ replacement, and his wife Myra, an abortion consulter. He does not understand why Sands found a mistress when he could always visit the Golden Door Moments of Bliss satellite, an orbiting brothel. He tells his colleague, Hadley, hat morals have fallen too much and that the election of Briskin is inevitable. Lurton Sands enters, who probably wanted to know why his Jiffi-scuttler was not fixed, on top of all his other problems.

Jim Briskin is scolding his campaign manager Sal Heim about their strategy on the bib crisis. Briskin knows there is no likely way he can solve it, although it is a cornerstone of the campaign. Heim replies about Briskin’s mistakes such as his support of closing down the Golden Door and his insecurities about being the first black presidential candidate. He recommends Briskin speak more about his relationship with the great explorer Frank Woodbine and make fun of Sands’s current troubles. Briskin prefers the speech of a more conservative speechwriter, Phil Danville. Patricia, Sal’s wife, enters and recommends Jim take a more folksy and naive route so as not to destroy his future chances to win the election. Briskin delivers his speech into the camera, choosing to again insist on interplanetary exploration and settlement as the solution the bib problem. Sal turns off the camera before he can finish, but restarts it over the protests of the others.

Chapter Two
After the speech, Dorothy Gill, Briskin’s press secretary, suggests that he locate Bruno Mini to see if he is still working on his planet wetting (terraforming) projects. They walk out past racist protestors. Briskin shakes it off, knowing it comes not from his opponent Bill Schwarz, but from Verne Engel of the organization CLEAN. Sal thinks he is too gullible to not see the connection. Sal further confronts Briskin on abandoning white voters. He reminds Briskin that many whites will support his bid and he should not completely run away from confronting such racist stunts. They talk about the plans for his presidency. He will appoint Bruno Mini. Pat suggests he can also pardon Sands, if he is convicted of the murder of his mistress Cally Vale, who has gone missing.

Rick Erickson is working on Lurton Sands’ Jiffi-scuttlers. These transportation devices makes use of time-travel to allow high-speed mobility between two places. Travelers actually pass through Earth’s past. Pethel demands to know when it will be fixed. Sands is with him demanding answers. Erickson tried many things and begins to conclude that the Jiffi-scuttler is a lemon. Erickson continues his work after Sands insists on the repairs. He wonders why a rich man like Sands will insist on keeping an old, malfunctioning machine.

Chapter Three
Sal Heim goes to the Golden Door Moments of Bliss satellite to evade the consequences of what he thought was a disastrous speech by Briskin. He thinks about joining the SRCD Party and helpings Scwartz’ campaign. Despite a colored majority, more whites turn out on election day and Briskin insisted on alienating white voters. At the same time, Briskin did not really mobilize the colored base. The drivers questions Heim on Briskin’s commitment to black voters, reinforcing the point. He meets Thisbe Olt, an aging prostitute who still looks young due to body modifications and life-extending technologies. Thisbe Olt directs him to speak to the owner George Walt, despite this not being a political visit. George Walt is a conjoined mutant made up of two distinct personalities: one called George, the other called Walt. George Walt confronts Sal on rumors that Briskin will try to shut down the satellite. To keep friendly with the campaign “George” recommends Briskin tour the satellite and have some public photographs. This will help him seem normal and stop the rumors that would force George Walt to support Schwarz. Sal knows Briskin will refuse and lets George Walt know. George Walt calls for a prostitute, Sparky Rivers as part of the effort to convince Sal to change his mind.

Tito Cravelli, a private investigator, is talking to Myra Sands about some dirt he dug up on Lurton Sands concerning forty suspicious organ transplants. Myra orders him to follow up on some of those cases, especially a spleen transplant for an army private named Wozzeck. Tito invites Myra out to dinner at a place that serves hand-prepared food (most if produced by automated dispensers). Myra quickly gets back to business, helping Tito finds leads to these transplant cases where she is sure Lurton Sands located organs illegally. She also insists that he locate Dr. Sands’ mistress.

Chapter Four
The couple from the beginning of the novel is at Myra Sands’ abortion clinic. The young woman bemoans the criminalization of suicide. The consultation is distributed by a call from Tito Cravelli. He explains that there is no way that Cally Vale emigrated from Earth, so she must be somewhere. Myra concludes that she is a bib. Back to the consultation, the couple explains that they would like to have the baby, a completely bizarre desire in Myra’s perspective.

Darius Pethel disrupts Rick Erickson’s work on Lurton Sands’ Jiffi-scuttler. Erickson promotes a strange theory. Maybe Sands is keeping Cally Vale inside the Jiffi-scuttler. That would explain why he insists on the repairs and her disappearance. She may be stored in the same type of rent that Henry Ellis found years ago. [This is a reference to the short story “Prominent Author”.] Erickson goes into the rent that he found. It is not he ancient Israel Ellis found, but another variant of Earth. He thinks this may solve humanity’s population problem. A woman appears with a laser-beam pistol. She fires and kills him before he can get away.

Stuart Hadley pulls Erickson back from the rent and finds that he is dead. Pethel concludes that this is the payment for curiosity and that no organ transplant can save him due to the nature of his wound. They evidence they have suggests that Erickson travelled to the past. Pethel decides to notify Terran Development, thinking that this can be a route to emigration.

Sal Heim introduces George Walt’s offer to Jim Briskin. Briskin refuses. Briskin receives a phone call from Tito Cravelli, who wants to arrange a dinner. Briskin accepts. When Briskin tells Sal that he will insist on making the closure of the Golden Door satellite a part of his program, Sal resigns.

Chapter Five
Briskin is relieved that Sal has left. He would be free to follow his own ideas in the campaign. He goes to the meeting with Tito Cravelli. Cravelli tells him that Terran Development has found a solution to the bib problem in the form of an alternative Earth. In exchange for this information, Briskin offers Carvelli what he wants, the position of attorney general.

Myra Sands is going over Cravelli’s reports relishing her victory over her husband. Meanwhile, Jim Briskin is giving a speech where he comes out against George Walt’s brothel and announces the possibility of relocating bibs onto a secondary Earth. Myra Sands welcomes this as she was getting disgusted with abortion consulting.

Hebert Lackmore hears the news about the secondary Earth and fears for his job. He decides that he has no choice but to join CLEAN to do whatever he can to prevent Briskin’s election.

George Walt hears the news and they are horrified. Heim comes to visit but George Walt refuses to see him. Instead he calls Verne Engel of CLEAN, who they want to hire to stop Briskin. They invite Engle up to discuss the plans. George Walt is highly agitated that a successful Briskin presidency may mean the end of their business.

Lurton Sands is also horrified by the news because he knows he will lose the source of the organs that he uses to save so many lives. He decides he may need to kill Briskin for the greater good.

Chapter Six
Jim Briskin is overwhelmed with the political consequences of his speech and the potential enemies he has made. On the street, Sparky Rivers from the Golden Door approaches him and warns him that George Walt is working with Verne Engel and may try to kill him. Later, at a bar, Lurton Sands approaches Briskin and tries to kill him, but the gun was not loaded. Sands confesses that he has been using organs from the Special Public Welfare warehouses to supply to his patients. He justifies it as only potentially killing, since most of the bibs would never reawaken. After this incident Briskin begins to feel dread over his survival.

Tito Cravelli learns of the assassination plot by CLEAN using a new recruit named Lackmore (Or Luckmore). Knowing he cannot protect Briskin, and therefore his cabinet position, Cravelli decides to approach George Walt. He travels to George Walt’s satellite. When he finds George Walt he threatens to kill one of them, leaving the other with a dead body and dead mind attached to the other if he does not stop the contract against Briskin. Cravelli shoots one of them. Cravelli promises to kill him—and prevent a miserable life as one half of an entity—if he talks to Engel.

Chapter Seven
Herb Lackmore is preparing for the assassination of Jim Briskin. His weapon can kill him from miles away. Two men from CLEAN arrive, telling him to surrender his weapon since the plans have changed. Lackmore resists but is quickly defeated by the thugs.

Tito Cravelli calls Briskin letting him know that he stopped an assassination. He advises the candidate to surround himself with people he can trust. First, he needs Briskin’s help to get off the satellite. Briskin thinks about using Sparky Rivers to help him get up to the satellite, but he is met by Sal Heim and Patricia. They help him get to the Golden Door satellite.

At the Golden Door, Briskin is able to get into George Walt’s office. George Walt attacks them and in the process reveals themselves to be a normal human with a synthetic body artificially conjoined to him, but escapes into the hallway. Tito suggests that they were once a real mutant, but one died. The survivor must have created an artificial brother.

Back on Earth, Briskin is thinking about changing some of his policies. Perhaps he will let the Golden Door remain open. With emigration, people will stop visiting the satellite. And George Walt proves that artificial organs are possible. Perhaps Lurton Sands can still have a supply of organs without harvesting from the bibs.

Myra Sands calls Rachel Chaffy and recommends that she keeps her baby.

Chapter Eight
The jerry (old person kept alive with technology) Leon Turpin runs Terran Development. He is frustrated that politics had let news of the discovery of an alternative Earth escape. He tells his aide, Don Stanley, that he needs to see the planet for himself. The person who died before was killed by a woman, but they caught her and she is safely in the hands of the New York police. It should be safe. They will also hire the famous explorer Frank Woodbine to help with the exploration.

Turpin meets with Woodbine. Woodbine confirms that the planet is Earth. Stanley, Turpin, and Woodbine go to the portal and prepare to travel through it. Once across, Stanley reminds them that they need to look for lights or any evidence that there are intelligent creatures living on the planet. Turpin reminds them that he is not interested in the politics of this discovery, nor does he care about eth fate of the bibs. An engineer traveling with them announces that he has identified light sources, some of which emanate from where major cities on Earth are, but most of the light sources are from Africa. They wonder if they travelled in time, but the star charts suggest that this Earth exists in the same time as their Earth, suggesting the possibility of numerous parallel worlds. Later they see a “man-made” flying machine in the air, looking like a flying boat. It lands nearby. Turpin’s help investigate the machine. It is a glider made of wood and powered by a compressor, and shows evidence of using low-grade oil. The man who flew the machine escaped, but was visibly hunched over as he ran away.

Chapter Nine
Tito Cravelli is studying the reports from Terran Development regarding the discovery of humanoids on the newly-discovered second Earth. He worries that this will trouble Jim Briskin’s presidential ambitions due to his promise to use this planet to solve the bib problem. Carl Bohegian from Terran Development arrives to give him information about the people’s technology, which is based on compressed gases and use of the expansion of water as it turns into ice. They have figured that this planet is Earth in the same time as their own, but diverged around 10,000 years ago so homo sapiens never emerged as the dominant species. The development of their technology is amazing since they do not even have a written language. Cravelli worries that humans will quickly make a mess of this planet.

Sal Heim, once again working for Briskin, wants to get his candidate to work closely with Terran development. He manages to contact Frank Woodbine, who tells Sal that Briskin should discuss that with him in person. Later, at Woodbine’s apartment, Briskin is shown the compressor and other artifacts from the planet. Despite their technological ability, they seem to be stuck in an earlier stage of civilization. Terran Development is planning to use their fascination with precious stones to trade with them. Woodbine suggests that they should take George Walt with them and convince the natives that he is a god. In any case, while humans and these others can learn something from them, Woodbine is certain that it will go bad.

A researcher at Terran Development contacts Don Stanley to tell him that they lost a QB satellite. It was shot down. Stanley worries that they will need to shut down the Jiffi-scuttler to avoid a war with the people on the alternative Earth.

Chapter Tern
Darius Pethel uses his technical ownership of the Jiffi-scuttler to demand Turpin allow him to visit the alternative Earth. Turpin leads him past the guards and he sees Jim Briskin there. Pethel introduces himself to Briskin and declares his support for him. TV reporter are there as well, commenting on the historical events taking place as Briskin prepares to journey through the rent. The small party—which includes social scientists—is travelling from the rent to Normandy.

At Normandy, they see one of the native people. Jim Briskin quickly identifies him as a pre-human, specifically Sinanthropus, the Peking man. The encounters proves that this universe branched away from their own Earth much earlier than previously thought. Their technology emerged because of the immense amount of time they had on the planet. Nevertheless, it is amazing what they accomplished with their limited mental capacity. Sal Heim is ready to go home, worried about the political quagmire involved in trying to communicate with the “Pekes.” Sal is worried not only about eventual violence between humans and the Pekes, but also intermarriages and voting rights. Tito Cravelli points out that these Pekes may have wiped out humanity at some point in their timeline. Violence, probably ending with the defeat of the Pekes seems inevitable. He thinks about how Cally Vale, hiding here felt when she first saw them.

Chapter Eleven
The Peking man the group planned to take back introduced himself through a translation machine as Bill Smith. Sal wonders how Briskin can adapt his message due to the presence of another sentient species on the planet. Maybe a form of segregation will work. Sal explains to Briskin that such a segregation will not hold for long. It will be like the conquest of the Americas all over again. At best the Pekes will survive and eventually be given full legal rights under the Constitution. The political, social, and legal problems were possibly endless.

Sparky Rivers arrives at Pethel Jiffi-scuttler and tells Stuart Hadley that she plans to emigrate to the new Earth since George Walt shut down the orbiting brothel. Hadley explains that they will need to wait for clearance from Terran Development, which he thinks he can get through Pethel. Pethel returns to Hadley’s demands for passage over for him and his new lover Sparky. Hadley finally convinced Pethel to help him emigrate.

Leon Turpin is thinking about how Terran Development can manage to turn a profit from this situation. He concludes that the other Earth can still be a mining frontier. Turpin tells Don Stanley that he wants to meet one of the Peking men. Later, he is approached by a representative of the current president. This representative—Thomas Rosenfeld—is from the Special Public Welfare office and wants to immediately being using the alternative Earth as a relocation space for bibs. They are willing to pay an massive amount in Terran Development will move the 100 million bibs across. Turpin calculates that since the rent is so small this would take twenty years. Turpin orders Stanely to find a way to expand the rent. Later, he hears of Pethel’s request to allow a “Mr. and Mrs. Hadley” to emigrate. Turpin grants his approval. He meets the couple and is delighted when he realizes that the first emigrants would be a brothel customer and a prostitute.

Chapter Twelve
The first bibs migrate through the rent to another world, supported by both the sitting president and his challenge Jim Briskin. Darius Pethel has concerns over the migration after his meeting with Bill Smith. Sal Heim has doubts that these migrants will survive but Jim Briskin has faith in their adaptability. Hein’s biggest concerns are political. What will it mean now that the president has taken leadership over the migration? Meanwhile, George Walt has disappeared since he shut down his satellite. Jim wonders if he had migrated somehow hiding his identity. Leon Turpin reports that Terran Development has found a way of expanding the rift. Briskin, still second-guessing, wonders if it is just to force the bibs to migrate.

Tito Cravelli contacts Jim Briskin with news that George Walt is indeed with the Pekes, who are worshiping him as a god. Briskin wants to shut down the program, but Cravelli tells him that it is politically impossible to stop now. It would kill Briskin’s candidacy for sure.

That night, Don Stanley announced that he has successfully expanded the rent to a senior engineer. The engineer points out that with this done, the rent seems to lead to a different place. It is now a swamp. They will need to repair the damage and hope that they can restore the original power supply and open the rent to the same place and time. They try to shut it down but it stays on, as if a power supply was maintaining the rent from the other side. They look through and see a strange shape moving. Stanley has the same feeling of foreboding he had when he first visited the Golden Door satellite.

Don Stanley launches a QB satellite around the other planet. He quickly learns that the planet is the same Earth, but a century in the future. All signs of the colonization are gone, until they dig up some old relics and skeletons. Either they died of disease or the Pekes killed them since they came in such small numbers. They only way to repair the damage is to destroy the power source that is keeping the rent open. Stanley starts to head home dreading to have to face Turpin and the president the next day. Before he can leave the office he saw a figure in the shadows he identifies as George Walt.

Chapter Thirteen
Jim Briskin is eating breakfast and watching the TV. George Walt’s image appears on the television screen. He announces that he is now king and that his army of Pekes will aid his conquest of Earth. The Pekes are more advanced than humans had thought, having the ability to manipulate time and space. He introduces a Peke as their great spiritual and philosophical leader. This Peke calls George Walt a Wind God. Briskin realizes that whoever gets blamed for this will lose the election.

Sal Heim is trying to reach Briskin after seeing George Walt’s speech. The Peke is listing his powers, including the ability to walk through solid objects and use magic. Tito Cravelli calls and lets Heim know that this attack is coming from a hundred years in the future. Heim knows he will need to convince Briskin to make a deal with the Pekes or George Walt. It is uncertain which one organized the plan.

Tito Cravelli, Jim Briskin and Sal Heim are trying to figure out some way to appease the Pekes and stop the invasion. The develop the idea of giving all of Earth’s knowledge to them, but are reminded that they lack the political power to negotiate with them. The election still stands in the way. Briskin will attempt to pass the idea onto Schwzrz, the sitting president.

Returning from his meeting with Schawrz, Briskin decides that he must deal directly with George Walt at the Golden Door satellite. George Walt immediately rejects his offer, but the apparently mutated or evolved Peke is interested in acquiring the knowledge at the Smithsonian museum and libraries. Briskin reveals that George Walt is not a Wind God, but a mere brothel keeper. The Peke is offended and decides to reject all contact with homo sapiens. He departs. George Walt is impressed with Briskin’s politics and his exposure of an ability to use trickery and deceit to win an issue. Terran Development begins work on restoring the original status of the rent and returning the colonists.

Chapter Fourteen
Sal Heim and Patricia Heim are celebrating Jim Briskin’s election to President of the United Sates. They decide to keep their celebration guest list small. Sal explains to Patricia that it was pride that led the Pekes to leave even without the offered Smithsonian Institute. Sal mediates on the lessons of George Walt, the Pekes, and the election. Certainly it proves that the differences amidst humanity is small.

Stuart Hadley, returned from the abortive emigration effort, wants his job working for Darius Pethel back. Pethel reminds him of the lesson of his effort to run away with a prostitute. He should accept the world he has. Pethel wonders if Briskin will return to talking about terraforming.

Jim Briskin is celebrating his victory as well, when a Peke enters the room. It is Bill Smith, who has been allowed to stay. He talks about the past crisis but Briskin shuts him down saying that it is the past and that they must plan for the future. Next, he meets with Bruno Mini who is eager to tell Briskin about his hopes for terraforming Uranus.

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Eye in the Sky (1957)

Eye in the Sky was originally published by Philip K. Dick in 1957. It tells the story of a small group of people accidently thrown into a proton beam deflector. This allows some of them to impose their reality on the others, creating a series of bizarre worlds that they need to escape. This takes place in a Cold War setting where loyalties are suspect and the proton beam deflector may be the only way to root out the real Communist in the group. The novel explores themes of virtual realities, surveillance cultures, religious worldviews, and family.


Character List
Since this novel is based on the shared experiences of eight people who were victims of the accident at the proton beam deflector, a listing of these may prove useful to readers.

Accident Victims
Jack Hamilton—The main protagonist of the novel and government electronic engineer, Jack Hamilton begins the novel about to be fired from his job because his wife is a security risk. He takes a primary role in dismantling all of the mental realms the accident victims travel through. He is not religious and open minded, and fears throughout the novel that his wife was actually a Communist.

Marsha Hamilton—The energetic wife of Jack Hamilton. She is active in many social causes and is well-read, leading to the government’s suspicion that she is a Communist.

Charley McFeyffe—Jack Hamilton’s co-worker, who exposed Marsha as a security risk, although he works to keep friendly with the Hamiltons. He is fond of drinking and prefers direct confrontation when possible. He is also a secret Communist and his mind is the inspiration for the fourth and final variant of the real world, a vision of America as capitalist barbarism.

Bill Laws—A young promising nuclear engineer, Bill Laws is the guide on the tour at the start of the novel. As a black man he is often subject to the racist assumptions of others when he enters the worlds they create. He proves to be very intelligent and level-headed throughout the novel. Edith Pritchet—A doting and anxious mother, Edith Pritchet is responsible for the second alternative reality, a world where anything offensive to her is removed.

David Pritchet—Edit Prichet’s son. Joan Reiss—A businesswoman, Joan Reiss is paranoid. When given the change she establishes her own world on the accident victims reflecting the way she sees the world, everyone is under constant surveillance and everything that goes wrong is the result of an actual conspiracy. She reveals her paranoid tendencies early in the novel.

Arthur Silverster—A war veteran and follower of the cult of Second Babiism, a form of heterodox Islam. He creates the first alternate reality, a geocentric universe, where prayers are answered.

Other Important Characters
Colonel T. W. Edwards—Jack Hamilton’s boss at the military contractor. The novel begins with him forcing Hamilton out of his job on security concerns due to his wife’s interest in leftist organizations.

Doctor Guy Tillingford—The boss at an electronics company. He is an old acquaintance of Jack Hamilton and he attempts to work at his company after leaving the military contractor. He appears in various forms throughout the novel based on the logic of the fantasy realm the characters are within.

Silky—A barfly and prostitute. Jack Hamilton expresses a desire to sleep with her throughout the novel, causing tensions between him and his wife. Silky’s exists in all four fantasy realms: first as a prostitute, then as an asexual bar patron and friend of Marsha, then as a spider, and finally as Communist Party supporter.

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Thematic Summary
Two important themes intertwine in this fascinating Cold War novel: surveillance culture and subjective realities. Let me come right out and say it. The virtues or terrors of a surveillance state rest entirely on our own subjective understandings of the world. This is the lesson of Eye in the Sky and it is still relevant to us today.

As Eye in the Sky opens, we learn that Jack Hamilton is about to be fired from his high-security military contractor position. He is a skilled electrician, but his wife has been exposed as being too friendly with leftist groups. The investigation is done by Hamilton’s acquaintance and sometimes friend Charley McFeyffe. Before his career can implode entirely, however, Hamilton has accident pushing him, his wife, McFeyffe, and five others into an alternative world. They will need to navigate four of these alternative realms, fantasy worlds, before they recover from the accident and can fully enter the real world. It takes only a few seconds in real time, but covers days in their minds. What is important is that each of the four worlds that they pass through is a security culture with varying degrees of power and control. The “eye in the sky” exists in all four (all five if you include the “real” world.) To list the five they are: a Cold War security clearance bureaucracy, an all-seeing deity, a moral reformer, a paranoid totalitarian (a Stalinesque figure), and a police force controlled by the capitalist class. While all of these are horrible for some of the participants, all of they are acceptable to some of them as well. There is no model of a security and surveillance state that will not be welcomed by some and resisted by others. The creator always defended their surveillance as protecting the common good. The creator is also always in a good position to declare and defend their views, something that they would desperately hide if not in a position of power.

We also learn that there is no clear division between the state apparatus of surveillance and private uses. Corporations—both in the fantasy worlds and the real world—defend and participate in the collection of information. They defend it as a necessary obligation to the higher power, but use it for their own benefits as well. It is for this reason that Jack Hamilton decides at the end of the novel to set out on his own and create a small electronics business based on his love of music.

Family is also at the center of Dick’s mind. In The World Jones Made a family is nearly destroyed because the protagonist had more love for his job than for his wife. Here the job is set aside for family, even as he harbors real doubts that his wife truly is a Communist. He shoots her at the end to break free of the final fantasy world and only then learns that she is not a Communist. Two symbols run through Eye in the Sky that suggest the struggles of family life. One is the return to the Hamilton home. In all four fantasy worlds, the Hamilton home is a base of operations, a site of conflict, or a place of safety and security. The other is Silky, who is an apparent threat to the family. Jack Hamilton is attracted to her and seems to deeply desire her. Her attempts to ensnare Jack appear in various guises as well (a prostitute, a sweet friend of the family, a spider, a Communist party loyalist). Jack resists all of these, ironically making a final effort to restore the normalcy of his family by shooting his wife in the chest.

The fantasy worlds become a means to explore the deep divisions that exist between Jack and Marsha Hamilton. Jack comes to resent much about Marsha’s political views, seeing them as the root of his troubles. He certainly never stops believing that she may be a Communist until the very end. Marsha’s acceptance and even support for Edith Pritchet’s moral reform efforts. Silky is another source of steady conflict between them. Notice that these conflicts evaporate when the conditions that created them (the security and surveillance apparatus) are no longer relevant to their lives. The tension in their marriage was a direct result of the pressure they felt from their place in the hierarchy.

All four of the fantasy worlds seem to suggest some level of mental illness. Because they seem to be based on how the four creators actually see the world, they are fundamentally irrational. Dick may be saying that we are all mentally ill. Perhaps if time allowed, we could have experienced four more fantasy worlds. Perhaps each of us really sees the world differently. It is one thing, for instance, to have a principled critique of capitalism. It is quite another to see the world as Charley McFeyffe did, as a constant conflict between riots and police, or to really believe that capitalists experiment dangerous drugs on live humans (if such spaces exist it was not rational to put that in suburban California). One of the more frightening conclusions of the novel is that we all are really solipsists and see the world differently. While this radical individualism creates a space for freedom (along the lines of what we see in “Misadjustment” or “The World She Wanted”), it seems to destroy any hope for collective solidarity and joined struggle.

A useful lecture on the security state

Chapter Summaries
Chapter One
A newspaper account records the events on October 2, 1959 at Belmont Bevatron, where a proton beam deflector malfunctioned and destroyed a platform holding eight sightseers. The eight people fell to the floor and four required hospitalization.

Jack Hamilton is at work at the missile research lab and is visited by his wife Marsha who invites him to lunch. Marsha is cheerful, but Hamilton is worried that he will get news that he will be fired from the project soon. A note from Colonel T. E. Edwards asking him to his office confirms these worries. In Edwards office, Hamilton is told that Charley McFeyffe—of the department’s security department—has identified his wife as a security risk and that he will be denied access to classified information until the situation is resolved. Hamilton is furious because this will disrupt his work. McFeyffe reveals the specific charges and evidence. The concerns are based on Marsha joining the Progressive Party in 1950 and participating in “pro-left” groups. Hamilton defends his wife, but his they explain that the risks are too high and that they can never look into her mind to know the truth. They tell Hamilton that they need to prove her innocence (or leave her) to have his clearance restored. McFeyffe invites Hamilton and his wife out for a friendly drink.

Chapter Two
Charley McFeyffe is discussing the evening plans with Martha, while trying to explain and apologize for the unfortunate situation they are in. He is attracted to Martha and it is unthinkable for him that Jack would leave her for the job. After witnessing the startup of the new equipment at the lab the three will go out for drinks. Jack Hamilton is shaken by the decision put before him, but he realizes that it forces him to come to the truth about his relationship and values. Nevertheless he is sore at McFeyffe for destroying people’s lives through a paranoid system. The three are joined with a group of sightseers to witness the start of the new particle deflector.

A young black man leads the tour of the deflector. A young boy (David Pritchet) is eager to ask questions. His mother (Edith) questions the power of the device compared to the power of God. Meanwhile Martha and Jack Hamilton argue about the recent events. Jack tries to red bait Martha, which sparks further argument. As their argument goes on, the Bevatron deflector malfunctions and destroys the walkway. After the accident, on the ground, Jack Hamilton realizes that he may not get up for a long time.

Chapter Three
Jack Hamilton wakes up in a hospital and is greeted by Martha. She tell him that everyone survived the accident, but that a war veteran Arthur Silverster was badly injured. They learn that the government is covering their medical care due to the accident. Jack Hamilton decides that he will need to find work outside of classified, government projects. Martha begins to regret her political proclivities, but Jack assures her that the anti-Communist scare is just a sign of the time. A few decades earlier someone like McFeyffe would have been deemed a fascist. They agree that something feels off about world since they woke up.

The Hamiltons are driven home along with Joan Reiss, a young businesswoman who was also part of the tour. They discuss everyone’s injuries and how lucky they were no one was more severely hurt. Jack lies about the condition of Silverster. A bee stings Jack. At their home, the couple invite Reiss inside for a cup of coffee.

The Hamiltons and Joan Reiss discuss Jack’s cat named Ninny Numbcat. Jack mentions that cats do not have souls. This piques Marsha who remembers that Jack never discussed anything about souls before. Martha again expresses her concerns about how the world changed since the accident. She feels that she is in a “primordial place.” Reiss has a different type of suspicion. She suggests that that accident was intentional and that she was the target. She suddenly expresses disgust and hatred for the cat. This provokes Jack’s anger and he threatens her subtlety. Outside a swarm of locusts descends on them. They escape into the house and Jack Hamilton comes to agree with his wife that something has changed in the world.

Chapter Four
The next morning, Jack Hamilton prays to God for forgiveness for the way he treated Joan Reiss before the locusts descended, despite the fact that he has not prayed since he was a child. He comments that Reiss expressed irrational hatred toward cats, an attitude that leads to Nazism. Bill Laws—the guide from the tour—approaches the door. He asks if anything strange has been happening. Jack makes the connection that he was being punished, first by a bee for lying and second by a locust swarm for mistreating a guest. Laws shows Hamilton a charm he used to cure his own injuries. It was a good luck charm that his sister gave him, but after the accident is developed the power to cure wounds. Marsha enters the conversation and discusses how she had a strange dream that they were still in Bevatron. Other changes to the world are evidence. For some manna can fall from the heavens if asked for. Blessing seem to work. Prayers are answered.

Hamilton drives up to the offices of the Electronics Development Agency, finding his car still at the missile factory. He meets an old friend Doctor Guy Tillingford. He explains why he had to leave government work. Hamilton notices that his friend’s office has a prayer wheel. During the interview for the new position, Tillingford asks about Hamilton’s drinking habits and sexual history. He also asks if he has found salvation through the “One True Gate.” Hamilton is surprised and blames this on the accident. A technician overhears and make a comment about the prophet. Hamilton asks what type of research is being done at Electronics Development Agency. Tillingford explains that they are engaged in theophonics, the technology of communicating with God, a field of research that has taken off since the “War Against the Pagan Hordes.” Hamilton asks about other fields. Tillingford suggest that most fundamental sciences are dead fields because all is known about the universe. All sciences are applied. Tillingford moves Hamilton on to the personnel department, but first explains the pay he will receive. Hamilton will get four credits toward salvation every ten days. Certainly prayer will provide him everything else he needs. He ends the interview with a friendly suggestion that he seek help from the Prophet Horace Clamp who can set him on the right path in following Second Babiism.

Chapter Five
After leaving the offices of Electronics Development Agency, Jack Hamilton is stopped by some men who need to investigate him to complete his employment review. One of them, Brady, asks about his N-rating. They accuse him of being a heathen and then challenge him to an ordeal by fire to prove his faith. He fails by responding with pain when his finger is burned. Angered with the investigation, Hamilton faces another challenge. When he proves unable to cite Ohm’s law, despite asking for help through prayer, Hamilton is exposed as a heathen by Brady. Hamilton proves unable to best Brady, who receives answers directly from an angel. Hamilton turns their logic against them accusing them of sinning in their hearts and hiding their evil motives. Brady and the angel begin a theological discussion about the sinful nature of jealousy. As Hamilton drives away he learns how he can use prayer to operate and maintain the car. He drives by his old workplace, assuming that Colonel Edwards will be worse in this reality and he pulls into a bar called the Golden Glow.

Inside the bar Hamilton runs into Charley McFeyffe. They joke about the situation. McFeyffe has realized that this bar is allowed in this puritanical religious world as a necessity to the moral order. Goodness can only exist alongside depravity. Hamilton tells McFeyffe that he plans to see the Prophet Horace Clamp for answers. They nearly fight as McFeyffe tries to take the note with Clamp’s contract information from Hamilton. Bill Laws, observing them, reminds them that they need to work together.

Chapter Six
Laws introduces them to “Grace” a blond women he is with. He shows them something amazing. The cigarette and candy machines have no inventory. They seem to produce items from thin air. They experiment with the device and explore how the machine works. While it seems to work by miracles, it can also copy whatever is near it. They use this to begin create an endless supply of alcohol, which they distribute to the patrons. Laws is still interested in how the miracles work. They experiment with prayers. Laws’ prayers are not answered but Hamilton’s are. “Grace,” whose real name is Silky, invites Hamilton for some private rituals. She has access to an intercom to Heaven. McFeyffe interrupts and begins leading the group somewhere, which turns out to be the church he attended in his youth. It is a church for Non-Second Bab believers. McFeyffe claims that he wants to convert some heathens. The church has seen better days, having had to sell much of its more elaborate equipment. Speaking to Father O’Farrel, McFeyffe asks about the history of the emergence of the Second Bab cult. They force him to put holy water on their umbrella and recite a prayer about going up to Heaven. They umbrella begins to rise into the dark night sky.

Chapter Seven
Jack Hamilton and Charley McFeyffe ride an umbrella up into heaven. As they go up they observe several important characteristics of the universe they are experiencing. First, it is a geocentric universe, conforming to the model of Ptolemy. Second, Heaven and Hell were physical locations in the universe. Third, a cosmic lake that later turns out to be a gigantic eye dominates their field of vision as they get closer to Heaven. The umbrella catches fire and they fall back to Earth, landing in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Near Cheyenne, they see a large skyscraper that was the central temple of the “One True Faith.” Hamilton prays for money and coins rain from the sky (but amounting to less than he prayed for). McFeyffe plans to return to Belmont California, because he suffers from boils as if paying penance for sins. Hamilton, however, chooses to remain to see the Prophet Horace Clamp. The temple looks more like a massive bureaucratic office building than a religious space. Clamp, when meeting Hamilton, tells him that (Tetragrammaton) has announced his visit to him. (Tetragrammaton) is the name that God prefers to be known by. Hamilton asks Clamp a series of questions about Second Bab, often intermixing his own opinions about the faith. Clamp, coming to know that Hamilton comes from another world, predicts the needs for a jihad to bring the message of (Tetragrammaton) to that world as well. Hamilton observes a worship service and takes a look at a massive wall plaque listing all of the faithful, the apparent listing of those saved. McFeyffe’s name is not on the list. One name from the group of accident victims is on there: Arthur Silverster. He knew that Silverster was the key to unlocking this collective delusion.

Hamilton quickly returns home to Belmont and he meets his wife. Marsha declares that she is about to die. Marsha and Bill Laws have been changing based on the expectations of Arthur Silverster. Laws begins to shuffle like a stereotype African-American and Marsha is becoming a cartoon image of a young radical woman. Hamilton warns that they will all begin got change based on Silverster’s beliefs.

Chapter Eight
On Sunday morning, the sermon is being delivered via television by (Tetragrammaton) himself. Laws is beginning to talk in a clichéd variant of an African-American dialect. Along with Charley McFeyffe the four of them form a plan to confront Silverster and escape this world. Hamilton explains that Silverster is not likely malevolent, but they are all trapped in his fantasy-world. This is really how he sees the world and they have the misfortune to be stuck inside of his delusion. They go to the hospital, collect the other three (the Pritchets and Joan Reiss) and confront Silverster his hospital bed. After talking with Silverster, he orders Laws to leave. They refuse to follow his orders and Silverster transforms into a divine force. Aided by angels, Silverster tries to defend his faith from the atheists and Communists in the group. Joan Reiss manages to knock him unconscious by throwing him to the floor. The angels depart and they seem to escape the fantasy world.

Doctors arrive to the scene. McFeyffe’s boils are healed. However Marsha appears to Jack Hamilton to be too thin. He orders her to strip and they all learn that she has no sex organs. They realize that they have entered someone else’s mental realm.

Chapter Nine
In the real world, the right accident victims are still on the ground and unconscious. Within their minds, they are coming to terms with the loss of their sexual identity. Marsha immediately knows to blame Edith Pritchet. Only she could be capable of such a perverse Victorian universe. Jack Hamilton—who is still working at EDA—is bring praised by his co-workers for his success in a pet show, where he entered Ninny Numbcat. His boss is still Doctor Guy Tillingford, but he has become a folksy and relaxed manager who attempts to lead by moral suasion. He explains the job to Hamilton. They are devoted to using the electronic industry to raise the moral and cultural standards of the masses. Tillingford gives Hamilton an article to peruse about Sigmund Freud’s about how the sexual drive is unhealthy in humans and is indeed entirely unnecessary. True artistic ability emerges from liberation from sexual desires. Hamilton’s job will be to help popularize this idea. He also mentions that Hamilton should take it easy because the company orchestra will be entering a music competition. When he leaves the office, Silky—also now asexual—is sitting in his car. She drives him home, but first they stop at the Safe Harbor, where Silky works.

They drive to where the Golden Glow used to be. It is now the Safe Harbor. They share a beer at the bar, which is now remodeled to have white tablecloths and folksy paintings on the wall. The beer is good. She tells Hamilton about the Mobilized Mental Health Association, a group almost everyone is a member of. Hamilton orders meat, which horrified Silky. As a jape, Hamilton asks Silky to have sex, but she seems unaware of what sex is. They leave to return to Marsha.

Chapter Ten
Marsha Hamilton and Jack Hamilton are discussing Silky, who is a prostitute, but since prostitutes do not exist in this world (along with any sexuality). Jack examines the newspaper and learns that the entire country of Russia has been abolished. Jack confronts Marsha on her acceptance of Silky and he accuses Marsha of enjoying a world without sex. Jack threatens to have sex with Silky and he escorts Silky into the basement. The music they listen to is mostly traditional classical music. The more offensive modernist music has been removed from his library. He tries to make advances toward Silky but fails, only piquing her interest about a kiss. Before he can kiss her, she disappears. Jack Hamilton goes upstairs and sees that Edith Pritchet has come to visit. As she arrived she abolished the “cateogory” of women like Silky.

Chapter Eleven
Marsha Hamilton confesses that she was working with Edith in purging the world of distasteful things, including Silky (who was no longer a prostitute since that category was previously abolished). The rest of the group comes in and they discuss playing a game. Bill Laws is happy with the changes as well since he has been promoted to running a research at a soap company (a creation of Pritchett). Jack Hamilton, however, is committed to breaking up this world as soon as he can, despite the desires of his wife and friend.

Looking for Ninny Numbcat, they group learns that Pritchet abolished the category of cat. In secret Reiss confesses to Jack that she, Arthur Silverster, and David Prichet are planning to drug Edith’s drink to hopefully end this world. Jack agrees to help them.

Chapter Twelve
Jack Hamilton, Marsha Hamilton, the Pritchets, Charley McFeyffe, and Joan Reiss are driving on the highway on their way to a picnic. Jack tries to get Edith to abolish the Irish as a jape against McFeyffe. They notice that the most odious factories and other visual blights are abolished from this world. The people in the car offer up to Edith recommendations about things to abolish, many of which she fulfills. As they are driving, Edith is actively reconstructing the world.

Around noon they reach the park. Marsha catches Jack preparing the drugs and the chloroform. She is both opposed to the plan to knock Edith out and fearful that she may decide to abolish Jack if she catches him. As they sit down to eat, Edith continues her reforms abolishing dampness and the green color of the ocean, seagulls, cows, and other things offensive to her or others. Eventually the group pushes her to abolish more and more essential aspects of the world, including basic elements. This destroys Edith’s control over their world. Jack wakes up in a new nondescript world. A voice of Joan Reiss dominates this world and she declares that they will observe them at every moment of their lives.

Chapter Thirteen
The group awakens happy to be back in the real world. Joan Reiss orders them into the car, telling them that she will drive them back to Belmont, back where they belong.

In the car, Jack Hamilton confronts Reiss telling her that this is not the real world. Reiss confesses that she is in control but that she has created a perfect copy of the real world. Everything has been restored to how it was before the accident. She was waiting for her chance to do this since the accident. As the Hamilton’s return to their house Marsha recommends accepting this change. Things will be back to how they were and although Reiss wants power over them, that is a price they need to pay. Inside the house they find Ninny Numbcat turned inside out, but still alive, dragging himself across the floor. Jack quickly kills the suffering cat and they realize that Reiss must have done this because of her hatred of cats. This world will be as bad as the others since Reiss is a paranoid and a sociopath. They close the blinds and decide to move to the basement. This sparks a conversation about Silky who should be restored in this world. Jack leads the way into the spider-web infested basement. He finds it impossible to go down the stairs due to the spider webs. He tries climbing back up and is thrown down the stairway. He cannot get up the stairs. Bill Laws arrives at the house and helps Martha get up the stairs with the help of David Pritchet. When Jack gets up, he reports that Silky is downstairs but in a different form. Laws says he will help Jack board up the basement.

Chapter Fourteen
The group decide that they must confront and kill Joan Reiss. The world she created was full of predators and other horrors, products of her paranoid mind. They worry that defeated Reiss will simply open up another work. Perhaps they would need to work their way through all eight individual’s delusions. Hamilton insists that the remaining people are realists so this should be the last fantasy realm.

In the kitchen, Marsha is preparing coffee when a can falls on her foot. In this world, a can falling on someone’s foot is not an accident, but a fully plotted scheme just as they are in Reiss’ mind. The water faucet releases red blood into their cups. They realize that the house is a living thing in this world.

The group tries to escape the house. It smells like her boyfriend, who she is fearful of. As they walk through the house takes on more characteristics of a man’s mouth. Edith Pritchet is consumed by the house, but the others manage to escape out of the mouth/door. Joan Reiss confirms that she is still in control of this world, appearing from the shadows.

Hamilton brings out his gun (which only exists in this fantasy realm) and threatens Reiss. Reiss rightfully exposes the conspiracy to kill her, they are not even human. Bill Laws, suddenly in the form of a giant spider as are the others, attacks and subdues Joan Reiss, wrapping her into a cocoon. David Pritchett kills her by feeding on her with his feeding tube. The world changes and they hope to return to Bevatron, but they enter yet another world. McFeyffe announces that this proves he was right about Marsha. A fat man in a black car arrives. He turns out to be Guy Tillingford. He orders Jack Hamilton into the car to become a new test patient for the epidemiology labs.

Chapter Fifteen Guy Tillingford’s car, carrying Jack Hamilton and the rest of the group, dissolves into a shapeless hunk of metal as the world seems to collapse. They must now walk through a working class community in the midst of a riot. They start being pelted by bricks. They argue that it should be a simple matter to escape, they need to only kill Marsha as the source of the world which is a leftist stereotype of capitalist barbarism. It is not a well-constructed world, however, and signs of their reality on the floor of Bevatron peek through. Threats in the form of other leftist clichés such as capitalist as 1930s gangsters, a lynch mob led by capitalists, and active street riots emerge.

Jack and Marsha Hamilton, Charley McFeyfee, and Bill Laws escapes the worst of the riot, looking for the Hamilton house. They find the neighborhood to be a total slum full of decadent establishments, gun shops, and armed soldiers on the street. They decide to wait things out in the Safe Harbor bar. The bar is full of working class teenager, being feed cheap liquor to numb their experience of their harsh working life. Silky is in the bar, back in her role as a prostitute. They share communist slogans and prepare for the upcoming class war. They learn that the bar is a cover for a Communist Party cell. Jack Hamilton flirts with Silky. He shoots Marsha in the chest with a rifle in hopes that by killing her, they will be able to escape this world. When the fantasy realm does not fall apart, he realizes that this was not Marsha’s creation.

Chapter Sixteen Charley McFeyffe changes and grows, transforming into a massive golden deity known as Comrade Commissar. McFeyffe confesses to Hamilton that he has been a Communist since the Great Depression. He says that he tried to out Marsha because she is dangerous to leftist politics. As a dabbler in politics, she clings to the “cult of individualism” and could not be trustworthy. Hamilton attacks McFeyffe but is quickly overcome by his power and party-loyal workmen. The evidence that they are in Bevatron becomes more visible as the workmen knock out McFeyffe. The other accident victims appear on the ground around him. The real world emerges around him and he is greeted by Marsha.

Colonel T. E. Edwards listens to Jack Hamilton’s report that Charley McFeyffe is a Communist. Although he lacks direct evidence that Marsha is not a Communist, he does try to prove that McFeyffe was using his position to root out potential party enemies. He argues that the same principle should be applied broadly. If Marsha cannot be given the benefit of the doubt, neither should McFeyffe. Unable to reach an agreement, Edwards talks about Hamilton’s future. Hamilton will not go to work for Guy Tillingford. He is not too sore about leaving the defense contractor. He was not a fan of the security culture and the building of weapons of war anyway. Hamilton and Bill Laws are starting up an electronics company together, working out of a small shed making phonographs and headphone receivers for listening to them. He discusses his plans with the Pritchets. Edith agrees with Hamilton about the need for a strong cultural foundation to civilization. Edith has agreed to invest in the small firm.

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Philip K. Dick’s Philosophy of History: Part One

Part One: The Promise of the Frontier

Not much has been written about Philip K. Dick’s philosophy of history as revealed in his fiction. On the one hand, this is surprising because from the beginning of his career Dick was concerned with the fate of human civilizations. Even if his stories and novels did not reach the level of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels in respect to historical vision, they remain memorable posing important questions about the role of resistance movements, individual agency, and collectively-experience historical change. One the other hand, the neglect of studies of Dick’s philosophy of history is not so shocking in part because many of his most famous and memorable works suggest the limits of history. Novels such as The Maze of Death and Radio Free Albmeuth place characters in a type of eternal return, where the “empire never ends.” These are works that are horrifying because they imagine the end of history. Dick’s well-known novel, The Man in the High Castle, is set in an alternative universe where the Axis won the Second World War. However, Dick casts doubt on this setting by placing in the context of the novel a third alternative reality where the Allies win (but not quite following the historical events of the real Second World War). Dick’s experimentation in ontological ambiguity created poor material for thinking about historical change. If we do not know where we are, how is it possible to plan a future or understand our past? How can we have a grounded relationship with the past without a metaphysical certainty?

Readers of Dick’s stories and novels know very well that he had a profound interest in history, especially of the early modern period. He commonly gave his characters encyclopedic knowledge of history and the Western humanities. It is not clear what historical works he read and digested during his career, but there are two historians who likely influenced Dick’s thinking about the timeline of the human experience: the British historian Arnold Toynbee and the American historian of the frontier Frederick Jackson Turner. His awareness of Toynbee is made clear in the opening of Time Out of Joint, when a character studied a mail-order book club mailing advertising an abridged volume of Toynbee’s A Study of History. Ragle Gumm identified in it as an important historical and cultural text. Dick also mentioned Toynbee’s history in Eye in the Sky, strongly suggesting a more than passing familiarity with the work and its thesis. It is more difficult to prove Dick’s awareness of Turner, but whether he got to Turner through the cultural DNA of 1950s science fiction, through direct encounter with the author, or through his experiences living in California in the graveyard of the American frontier is not clear. As I hope to show below, Turner’s frontier thesis is often applied in Dick’s writings from the 1950s and early 1960s.


Arnold Toynbee was a historian active during Dick’s lifetime. In his massive, multi-volume work A Study of History, Toynbee invented the field of world history, including many of its more important innovations, such as the study of the relationship between civilizational characteristics and environments. Toynbee argued that civilizations arise out of a particular struggle with the local environment (both natural and human). The innovations, institutions, ideas, and values of each civilization were rooted in that struggle and fine-tuned to match their needs in that specific context. Once the victory over that environment is won, civilizations will tend to mature into decadence and stagnation, until finally an inevitable collapse begins.

Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis pre-dated Toynbee’s by three decades. Frederick Jackson Turner made the most memorable argument placing the frontier into American history. Earlier historians tended to look to Puritan New England or even Europe as the home of American values and driving force of North American history. Turner argued instead that the frontier was the location where American identity, institutions, and values were made and remade. Turner’s groundbreaking essay was 1893’s “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” He begins with the claim that while European frontiers were static (such as the line between nations) the American frontier was mobile, moving like a wave across the continent. It does not take him long to find state his thesis:

The frontier is the line of most rapid and effective Americanization. The wilderness masters the colonist. It finds him a European in dress, industries, tools, modes of travel, and thought. It takes him from the railroad car and puts him in the birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin. It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois and runs an Indian palisade around him. Before long he has gone to planting Indian corn and plowing with a sharp stick; he shouts the war cry and takes the scalp in orthodox Indian fashion. In short, at the frontier the environment is at first too strong for the man.

All of this is not entirely a bad thing because it allows the frontier resident to be reborn as an American, fully liberated from stifling European influences. Turner wrote: “Moving westward, the frontier became more and more American. As successive terminal moraines result from successive glaciations, so each frontier leaves its traces behind it.” The rest of the essay describes the movement of the frontier, particularly the rough and uneven nature of the wave moving westward. Ultimately, his focus is on the roots of American democracy and the American intellectual character.

Frederick Jackson Turner

Frederick Jackson Turner

While Turner provides a more American, dynamic model and Toynbee offers up a model that is more rigid and static, they are actually quite similar arguments. In fact, it fair to see Turner’s frontier as the environment that had to be overcome for American civilization. Both would agree that the end of that frontier would cast doubt on the future of American civilization. Unfortunately, by the time Dick began writing the only hope for a revived frontier could be found in the imagination of science fiction writers.

In this and the subsequence essays, I will look at Dick’s philosophy of history through these two influences, identifying three major stages in Dick’s writing. The first phase, corresponding to the years 1947 until 1963 and comprising the bulk of his fiction, reveal Dick to be a follower of Turner and a believer in the need for an interplanetary frontier for humanity to have a future. The frontier was the geographical space for historical change or even future evolutionary change. This perspective both reaches its climax and denouement in Martian Time-Slip. The second phase of Dick’s historical vision overlaps with the first in the novel Martian Time-Slip and matures in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. In these works, we see the limits of the frontier. Instead of becoming a place for human recreation and innovation, the frontier is transformed into a banal extension of suburban civilization at best. At worst, it is a degraded place provided no hope, but only misery and mental illness. The final phase, beginning with The Maze of Death and continuing through the VALIS trilogy presents the end of history and its replacement by an eternal return. The famous phrase uttered by Dick repeatedly in his later work, “the empire never ended,” is code for this end of human social transformation. At the end of this essay, I will also step back at grapple with where, if not the frontier, Dick saw hope for a revival of human history. Both individuals and movements would play a role in breaking free of the Black Iron Prison of stagnation.

In a series of short stories published in 1953, Philip K. Dick established the hope of the interplanetary or interstellar frontier, going so far as to suggest that humanity cannot progress without coming to terms with a frontier. New planets and new environments were not just a solution to population growth or environmental destruction, they were crucial for human evolution and progress. In the story, “Mr. Spaceship,” Terra is bogged down in an endless, stalemated war with the Yucconae of Proxima Centauri. Through the use of organic, automated technology the Yucconae create an unbreachable ring around their planet, preventing the end of the war and stopping in its tracks any Terran expansion in the galaxy. Terran military experts focused on finding a technology that could out maneuver the Yucconae technology. Eventually they decide to try using a human brain to replace the mechanical system controlling the ships. While not conscious, it would have increased abilities and quicker response times. The prototype fails because the brain that was used—that of an aging and dying professor named Thomas—maintained its consciousness and used the ship for another, non-military purpose. He takes his former student, Philip Kramer, and leaves the solar system to find a new planet to settle.

Professor Thomas believed, like Toynbee, that each civilization had a central defining characteristic. For Terrans, that characteristic had become war. Thomas—through the mechanisms of the ship—tells his former student of his vision. “The world has been fighting for a long time, first with itself, then with the Martians, then with these beings from Proxima Centauri, whom we know nothing about. The human society has evolved war as a cultural institution, like the science of astronomy, or mathematics. War is a part of our lives, a career, a respected vocation. Bright, alert young men and women move into it, putting their shoulders to the wheel as they did in the time of Nebuchadnezzar. It has always been so.”[1] Thomas believes that only by projecting humanity to an entirely foreign environment can it remake itself free from the civilizational burden of war. While it would take centuries to develop, the new colony established far from Terra would be capable of breaking free of the “deeply ingrained habit” of war. The story ends with the question whether a new environment, a new frontier, is enough to overcome the problem of war or if war is an unfortunate part of human nature. Philip Kramer, however, is convinced that new beginnings are possible.

Piper in the Woods” written at the same time as “Mr. Spaceship” shows precisely how the frontier could be a space for recreating human values and expectations. In this story, workers and soldiers on a forested asteroid suddenly either come back with a strange disease causing them to think they are plants or created the most clever form of passive labor existence. As more people return from the forests thinking they are plants and refusing to do anymore work, the entire enterprise is imperiled. The military sends a psychiatrist to investigate. When he realizes that they all share an emotional tie to a entity they call the Pipers, he explores the woods himself, only to come down with the “illness” himself. The humans in the story are tied to an industrial system. Perhaps borrowing from Lewis Mumford, Dick has one of the characters describe the operation as the peak of human innovation. He says: “We have a garrison, a good modern garrison. We’re probably the most modern outfit in the system. Every new device and gadget is here that science can produce. Harris, this garrison is one vast machine. The men are parts, and each has his job, the Maintenance Crew, the Biologists, the Office Crew, the Managerial Staff. Look what happens when one person steps away from his job. Everything else begins to creak. [. . .] No one can leave. We’re all tied here and these people know it. They know they have no right to do that, run off on their own. No one has that right anymore. We’re all too tightly interwoven to suddenly start doing what we want.”[2] By encountering the aliens on the asteroid (the reality of the Pipers is unclear at the end of the story), the crew slowly begins to realize that being tied to a vast integrated machine is not the end of human evolution. In this case, the frontier offered that opportunity to rethink whether humans were simply parts of a vast machine, or capable of individual dreams (even if they are based on childhood memories of long gone green spaces).

This theme plays out more subtlety in works like “The Infinites” (1953) and “Strange Eden” (1954). In these two stories, the interplanetary frontier literally becomes the location of human biological evolution. In “The Infinities” a group of scientists and explorers are exposed to a type of stellar radiation which rapidly accelerates their evolution. While the story assumes a form of teleological evolution coded into human begins, it is significant that the acceleration must take place beyond Terra. One of the more malevolent people undergoing this transformation, named Blake, plans to return to Earth a conqueror to usher in a new age of humanity. He is stopped by the others, along with help from hamsters who had accelerated even faster because they were exposed to the radiation first. Dick also encodes in this evolution greater powers and distinct morality. As one character warns: “Blake will want to go back to Terra, not as an ordinary man, but as a man of the future. We may find ourselves in relation to other Terrans as geniuses among idiots. If the process keeps up, we may find them nothing more than higher primates.”[3] The even more advanced hamsters realize this danger and force the band of now posthumans to return to Earth unaltered, warning about advancing too fast. “Strange Eden” is about an explorer who meets an alien. She warns him away, but his curiosity prevents him from taking her advice. She explains how she observed and guided human evolution over the centuries. After the man gives in to the alien’s beauty and has sex with her, he undergoes a form of teleological evolution similar to that of the crew in “The Infinites.” In this case, he turned into a type of giant cat, the fate of all men who were seduced by the alien woman. While significant as one of Dick’s rare ventures into the currently popular concept of ancient alien astronauts, it is yet another example of how humans need some sort of outside pressure to evolve. In both of these stories, that location is deep in space, affecting the pioneers first.

It is the 1953 novella “The Variable Man” which must be looked at as one of Dick’s central stories articulating the theme of the frontier as an agent of historical change. In fact, this brilliant story is so powerful because it combines Dick’s passion for the old ways of doing things with his desire to see humanity break out of its stagnation. The character of Thomas Cole, a handyman from the early twentieth century, is accidentally brought to an Earth at war with Proixma Centauri. His ability to tinker with machines allows him to manipulate technologies that a military bureaucracy can only use for war. Due to planning, every technology has its role and planned obsolescence makes repairs unnecessary. Thomas Cole—although not understanding the technologies—has an uncanny ability to fix broken machines and create new applications for other technologies. It sounds like a call for a conservative resistance to a technological bureaucracy inspired by Lewis Mumford’s studies on “man and the Machine.” Yet, it is what Cole creates that helps us look toward the future.

The Icarus Project was a failed effort at a faster than light engine. It was hoped by the military leaders that it would make an effective weapon of war. In the war with Proxima Centarus no battles are fought. They are all simulated based on the current tech level of the belligerents. The Terrans hold off their attack until the computer simulations make victory likely. Slowly, the odds seem to be shifting to Terran’s favor (although Thomas Cole’s arrival suddenly makes predictions impossible, which is why he becomes the “variable man”). While Icarus failed as a faster than light engine because it causes a massive explosion when re-entering normal space, it is reworked into a brutal weapon that can potentially destroy a sun. One more creative scientists finds Thomas Cole and commissions him to complete Icarus. Instead of turning it into a weapon, he fixes the faster than light drive, giving humanity another chance at exploring the stars, no longer bound by the constraints of the aging Centaruan Empire. While the military is horrified that their ultimate weapon failed and the war was lost, a handful of more forward-thinking people imagine new boundaries for humanity. The scientist Sherikov says: “The whole universe is open to us. Instead of taking over an antiquated Empire, we have the entire cosmos to map and explore. God’s total creation.”[4] Thus old-fashioned industry and creativity become the key to humanity reaching out into the stars. Reliance on a stagnant bureaucracy only brings stability.

In “The Variable Man” and “Mr. Spaceship,” the interplanetary frontier is largely aspirational. We are left only knowing that humanity will be trying something new beyond their home system. The 1954 story “Souvenir” gives us a look at how such a frontier may develop a distinctive culture, economy, and even attitude toward technology. Frank Williamson led the first group of settlers, beginning what would be a great period of Terran expansion in the galaxy. However, this original expedition was never heard from again. Much like the English colony at Roanoke, it was never heard from again and its fate could only be speculated on. It would not be the last, however, and humanity spread slowly and surely. Because most of these colonies remained culturally, economically, and politically tied to Terra, their cultures were homogenized in a vast galactic empire. In fact, maintaining a uniform culture is the key task of the state. They justify the often brutal application of this policy through the language of progress. “There are two reasons. First, the body of knowledge which men have amassed doesn’t permit duplication of experiment. There’s no time. [. . .] When a discovery has been made it’s absurd to repeat it on countless planets throughout the universe. Information gained on any of the thousand worlds is flashed to Relay Center and out again to the whole Galaxy. [. . . And the second reason is if] uniform culture is maintained, controlled from a central source, there won’t be war.”[5] This is an interesting example of a society committed to technological progress but lacking diversity or real cultural change. Their empire is the empire of the technocrat. A similar model is pursued in Dr. Futurity.

Williamson’s World developed aloof from this central control and could play with creative reconstruction of what they had. They borrowed from a diversity of Terran cultures, encouraging conflict among various tribes as a means to promote and defend honor. They used technologies that were human-scaled. They kept the automobile but rejected robots, for instance. Work is valued for its own sake, unlike Terra which abolished it with stunning efficiency. What resulted as a mixture of tribal villages, medieval manors, and specialized factory communities. Not only the cultures of various Earth cultures preserved, they also mixed a variety of economic systems used throughout history. In spite of their conflicts and differences, they created a governing body over their entire society. In doing so they created something entirely new in the history of civilization: a functioning grassroots anarchy. The rediscovery of Williamson’s World was unacceptable to the authorities of the empire and when they refused to incorporate—which really meant accepting the death of their culture—the entire planet was destroyed. As with “Variable Man,” “Souvenir” looks back to find the best of humanity (the ethic and skill of the crafter, a diversity of historical potentialities) and looks forward to how those can be applied in the creation of a new world. In these stories, Dick almost challenges the prediction of the “end of history” by seeing the entire record of human accomplishment as evidence that there is a future—or, at least that we should reserve some hope that humanity can learn from its mistakes and build on its greatest creative achievements.

The Planet for Transients” expounds on Dick’s frontier thesis in surprising ways. Due to some ecological catastrophe, Earth is no longer suitable for humans who have hidden in a series of bunkers. Rapidly running out of food and supplies, the survivors explore the surface for new supplies or a means off the planet. They find the surface environment is actually alive with posthuman life, but is deadly to humans. After encountering the posthumans (who notably are not violent or indifferent to the survivors). At the end of the tale, the survivors find a means to travel to another planets, leaving Earth for the posthuman, while finding new frontiers. In the context of his other works on the frontier, this it not simply humanity fleeing a world that they destroyed, but the promise of two new paths of human development. One group, the posthumans, will develop Earth in new ways. The fate of the humans who departed is not known but will likely result in new cultures and a new civilization.

The World Jones Made is yet another early work by Dick that believed strongly in the need for a projectural mission for humanity, most easily found in the frontier. As the novel opens, Earth is still recovering from a nuclear war. The post-war world government, Fedgov, that was established in the war’s aftermath worked to eliminate what they saw as the root cause of war: ideological certainty. To do this they created and implemented a philosophy called Relativism. In practice it trained people not to make unsubstantiated opinions. Those who openly make dangerous ideological claims—without evidence—could be sent to labor camps. Relativism did create peace—controlled by a police state—but it made progress hard and it suppressed a basic human desire to transcend the logical. Even the exploration of space slows down, likely because it was seen to be the project of dangerous dreamers. Intro this world emerges Floyd Jones, a precog who can see one year into the future. When he is arrested for using his talent to predict something that only the government knew, he revealed that he had both an ability to read the future and a grand mission for humanity. His knowledge that aliens­—called Drifters—were coming to Earth opened his eyes to the need for a bolder human purpose. “[T]here’s a whole universe! You spend your time rebuilding this planet—my God, we could have a million planets. New planets, untouched planets. Systems of them. Endless resources . . . and you sit around trying to remelt old scrap. Pack rats, misers, boarding and fingering your miserable pile.”[6] Floyd Jones may be the villain of the novel, but in the context of his contemporaneous works, Dick seems to hold admiration for his view of history and human progress.

It is much the same argument in Time Out of Joint. The universe we are introduced to is set in the 1950s, but we quickly learn that this is a timeless, historyless construct carefully designed to match the needs of the insane Ragle Gumm. While Gumm believes that he is living a life, he is in actually frozen in the 1950s of his youth. No matter how long he stays there, there will be no change in his life. The middle-class suburban community is Dick’s strongest metaphor for the end of history. As this world falls apart for Gumm he learns about the truth. In reality, humans are engaged in a brutal civil war over the issue of human expansion into the stars. While the Earth government is working to prevent space exploration, the “lunatics” are fighting to preserve what they see as a central human need for creativity, curiosity, and rebirth, all of which are grounded in the explorer’s mission. Despite the “lunatics” use of weapons of mass destruction to secure their independence from Earth, Gumm learns to appreciate their perspective. A life of cultural recreation promised by the “lunatics” is preferable to the static life in an endless 1950s, which promises no change or evolution. Thus we see that throughout Dick’s early writings—particularly in the stories—a close association between the end of the frontier and cultural stagnation. Even in less appreciated novels such as Dr. Futurity, Vulcan’s Hammer, and The Man Who Japed we find that same frontier repurposed into a penal colony (with clear associations with the British American and Pacific colonies). More than a depository for the unwanted, however, the colonies becomes spaces of cultural creativity, resistance, or diversity in contrast to a culturally stagnant and homogenous Earth. On the opposite side of the coin we see an association between cultural rebirth and repurposing with a frontier. Dick’s perspective on cultural stagnation and banality is geographically bound. The later development of Dick’s historical vision needs to be examined in the context of this early-career optimism about the frontier, which promises an escape from the end of history.

[1] The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 1, 109.

[2] The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 1, 122.

[3] The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 1, 143.

[4] The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 1, 216.

[5] The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 2, 360.

[6] Philip K. Dick, The World Jones Made (Boston: Mariner Press, 2012), 39.

Posted in Alien Life, Bureaucracy, Cold War, Empire, Philip K. Dick, Politics, Posthumanism, Space Exploration, Technology, war | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Cosmic Puppets (1957)

The Cosmic Puppets was originally published by Philip K. Dick 1957. Its plot centers on the mystery of a middle-aged man–Ted Barton–realizing that the town of his childhood has completely changed. As he investigates, he learns that the town was actually transformed by a destroyer god as part of a cosmic struggle with creator god. With the help of the creator god’s offspring, Barton distrust the balance between these two gods, restoring the town in the process.


Chapter Summaries
Chapter One
Peter Trilling and Mary are playing on the porch of a boarding house with some other children. They are making clay into various shapes, including animals and machines. Dr. Meade arrives to pick up Mary. Mrs. Trilling discusses here allergies with the doctor. As Mary leaves, Peter takes up the clay and begins reshaping it.

Peggy Barton and Ted Barton are travelling in a car in the Virginia backcountry. Barton is insisting on visiting his hometown Millgate during their vacation from New York City, but Peggy was disinterested and skeptical that the side trip would be worth the time. Eventually he finds the right road and Barton begins boring Peggy with stories about his childhood in Millgate, showing her once again his childhood compass. When he arrives, he finds that the entire town has changed beyond recognition.

Chapter Two
Ted Barton surveys how the town has changed. Even the clearly old buildings were changed. Barton enters a hardware store that looks older than himself. The owner explains that he has been there for forty years. Barton asks the owner if he remembers him or the old park with a Civil War cannon on Pine Street. The hardware store owner insists that there has never been a street named “Pine” in Millgate. Instead of a leather goods store he knew well, he finds a grocery store that the owner insists has been there since the nineteenth century. After exploring more of the changed town, Barton entered the building of the Millgate Times (although he remembered the newspaper as the Millgate Weekly). He looked up the records of his birthdate and confirms that he was born on the same day. When he examined the newspaper for the day his family moved out of the town, the newspaper reported on a scarlet fever epidemic that killed a boy named Ted Barton. After leaving the newspaper office, he realized that even his lucky compass had changed into a piece of old bread.

Chapter Three
Peter Trilling is playing in his yard over the objections of other children. He is reshaping balls of clay into various forms, especially humans. One of the clay figures begins moving and runs toward Doctor Meade’s station wagon, but Peter stomps on it before it can get away. A stranger, who turns out to be Ted Barton, asks the boys for directions to the boarding house. Peter fetches his mother who is excited at the prospect of a stranger patronizing the boarding house. He rents a room for an indefinite period of time. Ted Barton had previously left his wife in the nearby town of Martinsville while he explores the mystery of Millgate.

Barton casually chats with Peter, who reveals that he can stop time and that he has power over “its” creatures. Peter also discusses his experience building golems, wondering if Barton has this ability as well. He explains his goal of tracking the Wanderers. Later, Peter is upset to discover that Barton has been leading him on for information, not having any knowledge of these special talents. Nevertheless, Peter tells Barton that he knows who he is.

Chapter Four
Peter Trilling is upset about the unfortunate results of his encounter with Barton. He had given away too much information. He enters his barn and looks at his creatures, mostly rates and spiders. He wonders why Ted Barton would be in Millgate at this time. He is attacked by two bees and he worries that they will send information back to “her”.

Ted Barton encounters Doctor Meade at the boarding house dining room. Meade confirms that the lived in Millgate all of his life. Barton asks about the scarlet fever epidemic, which Meade recalls vividly. Later, Meade confirms that he saw the young boy, identified in the newspaper as Ted Barton, die. Barton explains that he wants to find out some truth about Millgate. Meade suggests he see the county records office, and then the town librarian. Barton then asks about Peter Trilling and Meade confirms that Peter intelligent, if not odd. As Barton pushes for answers more aggressively, Meade attempts to prescribe some drugs to him. Two “Wanderers”—ghost-like humanoids—pass by and through the wall. Meade is surprised to hear that ted does not have these where he is from.

Chapter Five
Mary Meade is talking to her bees about what they observed in the barn. She informs the bee that Peter must be getting more because he tried to reshape Mary’s clay instead of his own. They then discuss the newcomer, Ted Barton, who is likely to cause complications for Peter.

Ted Barton calls his wife at the Martinsville hotel he left her at. Quite upset at being abandoned in a small and boring part of the country, she threatens a divorce. After the call, Peter arrives with a handful of spiders in his hand. He enters the car with Barton and directs him to a ledge overlooking the town. Looking over the landscape, Barton notices a visible haze. Peter explains that that haze is “him.” After looking through a special magnifying glass, Barton is able to see a gigantic man whose legs became the mountains, motionless but outside of time. When Barton announces he intends to leave, Peter explains that he will not be able to.

Chapter Six
Ted Barton attempts to leave Millgate using a road. Instead of being stopped by some mystical force, he is obstructed by an overturned lumber truck. Walking around the truck is impossible due to an apparently bottomless chasm surrounding the road. Next he tried climbing over the overturned truck and the logs. He makes some progress, but is later stopped by Peter Trilling. This reveals that Barton has been on the logs for most of the day. Peter tells him he cannot leave unless “they” want him to. Peter was the one who let him onto the truck and he left him there to prove a point. In recompense, Barton refuses to give Peter a ride back to town.

Barton returns to Millgate and visists the Magnolia Club, a collapsing dive bar. After a few bourbons, a drunk named William Christopher introduces himself to Barton. Although initially welcoming to Christopher’s company, Barton begins telling his story to the drunk. Christopher informs him that he will never find the places he is trying to remember anymore, explaining that they have been gone for many years. The pleasant neighborhood of Pine Street was replaced with Fairmount. Christopher and Barton are the only two people who recall that Pine Street even existed.

Chapter Seven
While William Christopher is weeping in despair, Ted Barton is enthusiastic at finding someone else who recalls how the town used to be. Christopher fills in some details. The change took place eighteen years ago, around the time the Bartons left. After the change, the Wanderers began to appear. Most of the changes in the town have been for the worse. Christopher, who was proud of the home he build for himself, despairs over the condition of the home he lives in now. In almost every way, the condition of the town deteriorated after the change. Christopher shared a bottle of wine with Ted. He then shows Barton a small device he made, which he calls a “spell distorter”. When he uses the device on the wine bottle, it reveals an old coffee-grinder. The wine bottle was a fake. This means that the real town still exists underneath the facade of the new Millgate. The device, however, only works when he can recall what used to be there and it only lasts for a few minutes. Christopher then shows him a piece of string which he insists was “Aaron Northrup’s tire iron,” the memory of which was shared by both men. Barton vows to attempt to bring the tire iron back.

Chapter Eight
William Christopher helps Ted Barton use his “spell remover” to bring back the tire iron. After some effort, the attempt is successful due to Barton’s ability to remember holding the tire iron. Barton begins to think that maybe the two of them can remember the entire town and bring it back. Christopher realizes that the spell remover is simply a focus for the act of remembering and does not really matter. The scale of their restoration is only limited by how much they can recall about the way the town used to be. They decide to begin with the public park, with a memorable Civil War-era canon, since both had clear recollections of that park.

Chapter Nine
Mary is in her room and encounters a young Wanderer named Hilda. She tells Mary that they have mapped out most of the town but still need some information and additional power. They ask her for help in controlling Peter Trilling. When she refuses, the Wanderer threatens Mary. Mary directs the Wanderer to pay attention to the newcomer Ted Barton, instead of Peter. Mary sees one of Peter’s small clay golems running past her. She manages to capture it and returns the figure to her room. She knows that Peter’s power over the golem will decline in time, especially this far into her territory. She experiments with creating her own golem avatar. She walks out with a completed avatar of herself in her pocket. At the park she sees two men, she assumes to be drunks. On closer inspection they turn out to be Ted Barton and William Christopher. They are working at restoring the park to how it used to be, which after some trial and error they eventually achieve. Mary decides that it is time to reveal herself to the newcomer.

Chapter Ten
Ted Barton recognizes Mary from the boarding house. She asks Barton and William Christopher how they restored the park. She warns them not to go to the boarding house since Peter will be there, but that they should instead go to Shady House, which is on the other side of the line.

When Barton and Christopher leave, Mary becomes worried that Peter will soon realize that his golem has been taken. She uses the golem as an avatar to approach the barn where Peter often does his work. Once the golem is set up in the barn, Mary decides to head toward an all-night cafe since it would be a while for her avatar to witness anything important. While passing the bushes, she is attacked by spiders, rats, and snakes, which quickly kill and devour her.

Chapter Eleven
Barton and Christopher approach Dr. Meade’s home who greets them with a loaded gun and questions about Mary’s whereabouts. Meade was out looking for Mary and noticed the park. Meade lets them know that they have achieved what the Wanderers were unable to. Meade questions their motives and the consequences of bringing the old town back. The people of the town, who did not exist before the change would cease to exist. Whatever caused the change in the first place it has since become reality for many people. Meade also reveals that the changed town was the result of a cosmic battle between Ormazd (the builder) and Ahriman (the wrecked). The new town is the domain of Ahriman. Meade introduces Barton and Christopher to the Wanderers.

Peter studies Mary’s dead body. Peter does not long relish his victory since he restored park. Many of his golems that were active there were “ungolemed” by the change. One of the golem’s explains to Peter that the ungolemed where those who entered the park. The restored park’s and Mary’s death meant that the line would no longer matter. He would be free to act across the entire town.

Chapter Twelve
Ted Barton is working with the Wanderers correcting their maps of old Millgate. The maps must be perfect or they will not work. The park was only restored because their recollection was 100% accurate. The Wanderers come to realize that only Barton had a pristine memory because he had left the town before the change. They begin to wonder how Barton was able to return to the town at all. Dr. Meade, observing their work, relishes the situation the Wanderers are in. They must trust Barton, but not knowing if he is a plant or even a “super-golem,” they are helpless.

They move to where they can get a look at the entire town. They discuss Peter and Mary’s use of bees and moths and other creatures to stake their claim to parts of the town. They do not know how Peter plays into the powers behind the change in Millgate. Hilda, one of the Wanderers, theorizes that the restoration of the town must follow the principle of M-kinetics, meaning that the symbol (a memory or the map) must be identical. If it is, the symbol can be assumed to be the original. Viewing the town from above, they see that Barton’s recreation of the park is slowly being undone.

Chapter Thirteen
In the face of their defeat, Barton and Dr. Meade discuss the problem of evil. Why did Ormazd not aid them in their restoration? Meade suggests that Peter is interfering with their work and later confesses that he did not want to stop Peter because he still fears what will happen to him after the restoration. Moments later, Barton and the Wanderers are under attack by moths, rats, spiders, and golems armed with blades. He fights off creatures with the restored tire iron, but is eventually overwhelmed by the golems.

Chapter Fourteen
A golem that seemed about to strike Ted Barton, calls him by name. The golem tells him that the reconstruction he attempted was premature. Barton realizes that the golem is an avatar of Mary. She explains that the real reason she brought Barton to Millgate was not “civic reconstruction,” but to restore her father—Ormazd—from being trapped in the form of Dr. Meade. Barton rushes to Meade’s defense in the battle. When he confronts Meade on his true identity, Meade transforms into a creature with a hawklike beak, who emerges as Ormazd. Barton is pulled into Ormazd (“swept up into Ormazd’s parabola”), but he is able to escape by demanding the god remember Millgate. Ozmazd and Ahriman confront each other directly in a battle that may take billions of years. After the battle moves from Millgate, Mary reveals herself as the daughter of Ormazd, Armaiti. She was responsible for Barton arriving in Millgate. The Wanderers, although working hard, could not hope to restore the town. The only hope was to break the agreement between Ormazd and Ahriman. Barton restores Mary to another form, this time she manifests as a beautiful woman. Mary departs.

Chapter Fifteen
Ted Barton prepares to leave Millgate while observing the continuing restoration project. Barton and William Christopher share a sentimental farwell. Barton decides that the town will be best without him. He realizes that his marriage has probably collapsed. He thinks about Armaiti, who will be everywhere. He takes comfort knowing that he will be constantly reminded of her.


Thematic Summary
Urban Planning: One thing that makes The Cosmic Puppets such an enjoyable read is that Ted Barton’s experiences in his hometown are very familiar. In this liquid world, where people often move away from the town of their birth, they find that returning to those communities to be disturbing. When changes are experienced from the inside, they are less jarring. When you experience all of those changes at once, you literally feel like Barton does when he realizes that the community is no longer the town he grew up in. For this reason, I think that the best way to read this novel is to down play the religious aspect of the novel and focus on the question of urban planning and urban development. “The right to the city” is, after all, one of the most important issues facing our civilization.

I do not want to interpret this novel page by page in respect to what David Harvey says in this talk, but I urge everyone to listen to the talk and then read the novel (or the other way around).

In both the Millgate of the novel and our own urban centers, the forces that are responsible for the changes in geography are distant. Urban planners are the gods of the postmodern city, capable of destroying neighborhoods and erected massive monumental architecture. They control how our cities look and how they function. They manage how we go to work and where we visit. As Robert Caro discussed in his book The Power Broker, these people are often unaccountable to democratic forces but are in practice the most important people in the urban power structure. If anything, the Zoroastrian gods working the novel are more accessible and accountable than the urban developers.

The novel also shows that the resistance to this cannot help but seem reactionary. It is also hard to see. The Wanderers float through the city like the unknown and largely unseen victims of our urban civilization: the underclass, the homeless, the excluded. Often our cities are designed to keep these people silent, powerless, and unseen. The problem, of course, is that all these people are struggle for is a return to the old way the city was. Barton and Christopher spend much of the book trying to remember how the city was and restore it to how it was. They are incapable of being a creative force in the world because they have romanticized and idealist the city of their youth. While they may be capable of pushing those powerful forces out of the city, all that does it leave the city in a stagnant place of the past. There are numerous examples of urban spaces that are ignored by urban planners and capital investment. These are almost worse off than the places where the ruling class invests its capital. Is out only choice to see our urban spaces’ development designed to serve the 1% and to see it neglected and decayed like the American rust belt?

Avatars: To return to the religious and fantastical aspect of the novel, we find a permanent struggle between Mary (the daughter of Ormazd) and Peter Trilling (an apparent avatar of Ahriman). Most of the struggle is acted out as childhood games. Peter controls golems, which can be turned into avatars, spiders, snakes, and rats. Mary controls moths and bees. Notice how one set is grounded and the other tied to flight. Mary eventually uses a golem as her own avatar to spy on Peter. This is one way that politics work, particularly in late capitalism and postmodernity. Perhaps this is seen most directly in the recent United States midterm elections, where both parties struggled largely through the use of external groups who seem to speak for candidates but do so with a bit of legal distance. Cyberspace allows many interesting questions about the use of avatars, and they seem to provide a space for freedom and anonymity. It is also very easily co-opted.

Family: Barely mentioned, but bracketing the entire novel is a failed marriage. Unlike later works, where Dick will analyze the failed marriage with great anguish and detail, this marriage fails in a very matter-of-fact way. Peg Barton does not want to experience her husband’s youth and is completely disinterested in what his passions are. She sits out the novel in a hotel, likely much of the time on the phone with a divorce attorney. While Peg seems a villain of sorts, disrupting Ted’s legitimate desire to visit his hometown, she is right in a way. The obsession with how things were in the past is a fundamentally reactionary perspective that adds little to an evolving relationship. In the first chapter, we learn that Ted Barton’s vision of the past is almost obsessive. “My God, I wish you’d forget at least something, I’m so tired of hearing all the details of your childhood, all the lovely facts about Millgate, Virginia—sometimes I just feel like screaming.” (5) In many ways it seems that Barton is similar to the aloof and indifferent husbands in “Human Is.” Barton’s failure to care when his wife leaves him is more evidence that he has infantilized himself with his obsession about memory. This is the dark side of Dick’s focus on memory. It is often important fr breaking free of the lies of the world, but rarely is it a liberatory force.

Final Thoughts
As I understand it, The Cosmic Puppets is one of the more commonly examined and appreciated of Dick’s early works. This is probably due to the fact that the themes that show up later in Dick’s writings such as memory, religion, and false realities are so clear. I also think it is one of his most important early novels, but for a different reason. To read back the themes of the Exegesis or the VALIS trilogy into Dick’s earliest writings is dangerous and helps suppress alternative readings. I think it fits into an entirely different set of themes that run through Dick’s early writings, but is less evident in the later works, those dealing with political and economic power. It is a prescient work not because it foreshadowed themes that appear in the Exegesis, but because it foreshadows the late capitalist conquest of our cities by unaccountable tyrannies. It also demands that we think hard about how we struggle against these forces. To look only to the past is politically banal. We need something new. We need a third Millgate.

Posted in Alien Invasion, Childhood, Family, Humanism, Knowledge, Philip K. Dick, Politics, Power, Religion, Time Travel, Urban Issues | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The World Jones Made (1956)

The World Jones Made was published in 1956 and was part of his first batch of novels penned in the mid-1950s, including Vulcan’s Hammer (not published until 1960), Dr. Futurity, The Cosmic Puppets, and Solar Lottery. It is the first major study by Philip K. Dick of a pre-cog, but also introduces his early belief in the need for a frontier from human creative and social development, the role of the mutant in a post-human situation, and the banality of modern political ideologies.


Thematic Summary
The Pre-cog and the Post-human: The pre-cog—a type of posthuman in Dick’s universe—was explored at length in Dick’s stories, but was never given a full treatment until The World Jones Made. The pre-cog would come to be the symbol of the posthuman, although there were many more examples of posthumans in earlier works, reflecting a broad assortment of talents and abilities. (See my posts on the stories for more on these characters.) The posthuman is fully beyond humanity for Dick, not an extension or an improvement of humanity. While humans may often treat the posthuman with kindness, respect, and attempts to understanding, the posthuman is incapable of seeing humanity as anything other than tools or as the forgettable past. The exceptions to this are notable.

Floyd Jones is the most memorable of the mutant futurist in Dick’s early work. Jones is a precog who has a memory of everything that happens to him for about one year into the future. This ability allowed him to learn to speak at four. Once he overcame his initial disorientation and fear, he began to use his talents. First he used these abilities to secure a small income as a gambler. Later he becomes a fortune teller at a carnival, revealing his talent as the ability to know humanity’s destiny. Jones sees himself as a pioneer of humanity’s future due to his ability, but he also embraced a futurist philosophy. His political movement attacking Relativism was based on the need for humanity to visit the stars. When he takes political power, Jones calls for a grand “crusade” to the stars, sending out settlers and explorers.

But this complicates things with Dick’s vision of posthumanity. How can it be that an individual who is beyond human capacities and experiences could embrace a fundamentally progressive humanist vision? Is not the frontier the heart of American humanism, perhaps even the heart of the Enlightenment. What is meant to be shocking in this novel is that the humanist project has been killed due to the ideology of Relativism. In that situation only the mutant could salvage something of the humanist project. In the end, it is literally true that only mutants can settle on Venus.

Relativism: Dick created a wide variety of political systems and ideologies. Few are as memorable or as prescient as Relativism. Dick, writing from an age of intense political conflict between ideologies, imagined a political system that would be post-ideological. The cornerstone of Relativism was that no one should say something that cannot be backed with immediate facts. All opinions—whether political, artistic, or banal—should be left unspoken. This would ensure that there would be no more wars, because there would be nothing left to fight for. Dick may not have imagined a world where “reality has a liberal bias” and political fights over the interpretation of facts (such as those on climate change) would be so divisive. Relativism may not have worked in practice, but we are awash in political correctness as well. This is the closest we have to something like Relativism in our world. Whatever the virtues are of applying social pressure to prevent hate speech and sexist speech, the amount of self-censorship is troubling and it seems to me that while it may silence certain odious ideas, it does little to create social solidarity. Like the Relativism in The World Jones Made, political correctness responds to past injustices rather than being a creative movement. The question I have is how to we move to a society without war, without racism, without sexism, not how we can ensure that no one is offended in their everyday lives.

What we end up with in Relativism is an entirely banal political ideology. While ideological conflicts are horrible. The lesson of the 20th century is that ideology is dangerous when backed up by state power, but our dilemma now is too little ideological conflict, too little class conflict. If we cannot articulate our values into a political program, we have little foundation for resistance. I think this is the problem with many social movements around the world, which can oppose something (the Sunflowers in Taiwan, the Umbrella movement in Hong Kong) but fail to create a clear ideological vision for an alternative, beyond claims to be “pro-democracy.” Being pro-democracy means nothing without clarity about what a democratic society should look like. We are seeing the effects of Relativism, not only in political correctness, but also in the failure of the Left to challenge global capitalism.

One other theme that would become a classic Philip K. Dick motif is the strained marriage. The Cussick’s life in a world of Relativism, where any social excess—drug use, adultery included—is socially permissible. Nevertheless Nina Cussick is bored of her life and turns toward the Jones movement largely for excitement, to break free of the banality of her domestic life. In one dramatic moment, she dares Doug beat her, eager for anything to break the banality of her life. For Nina the frontier and the political movement becomes a form of family therapy. In the end, when they move together to Venus, their marriage is rebooted and revived through change. As with political systems, marriages thrive on change, revolution, and transformation.

Chapter Summaries

Chapter One
In the early twenty-first century, mutants, unable to exist in the normal Earth atmosphere, live in The Refuge, a controlled environment that is suitable to their biological needs. It is compared to a womb due to it environment and the confinement the mutants feel. One of the mutants, Louis, tries to talk the others into an escape, believing that their confinement is a fraud. Frank, an older mutant, comments that they are superior entities and that previous escape attempted failed. Louis eventually convinces three other young mutants to attempt an escape with him: Vivian, Garry, and Dieter. Meanwhile, Dr. Rafferty, who runs the Refuge and Fedgov agent Doug Cussick watch the escape attempt. As the mutants succumb to the natural Earth environment and are picked up by a Van, they discuss the leadership of Floyd Jones and his fascist youth brigades. Cussick mentions how he met Jones before he rose to power.
Chapter Two
Set seven years before the events of the first chapter, in 1995, this chapter describes the first meeting of Fedgov agent Doug Cussick and Floyd Jones. Doug Cussick is then a minor agent in the Security arm (Secpol) of the Interior Department. His major goal purpose is the enforcement of Relativism. Cussick observes some of the entertainment at the carnival, made up mostly of various types of mutants. After evading the solicitation of some prostitutes, Cussick notices Jones’ fortune telling booth. Jones advertises that he can predict the future of humanity but cannot give individual readings. Curious, Cussick pays for a reading. Jones is very irritable at Cussick’s inability to understand his type of fortune telling, but explains that he can read accurately the fate of humanity one year into the future. Within the two-minute reading, Jones made two predictions. The first prediction is that a Nationalist named Ernest T. Saunders will win the next election for Council chairman. The second is that drifters will become a major issue in the future and are beings from another planet. This second prediction piques Cussick who knows of the drifters already from internal Fedgov reports. Cussick leaves to report Jones as a possible dangerous violator of Relativism.


Chapter Three
Doug Cussick returns to the Fedgov Secpol headquarters in Baltimore after his encounter with Floyd Jones, which exposed Jones’ pre-cognative abilities. While filing his report Cussick discusses Relativism with his colleague Max Kaminski and his supervisor Security Director Pearson, revealing it to be theoretically strict but loose in practice. Cussick’s report that Jones seems to have known high-level information about the true nature of the drifters shocks Pearson. If Jones is really a pre-cog, he is not violating Relativism by speaking the truth about future events.

Chapter Four
After the report by Doug Cussick, Floyd Jones was placed under surveillance by Secpol. When Jones’ prophecy that the unknown Ernest T. Saunders of the Nationalist Party would win the 1995 election to chair the General Council, Jones was bought in for questioning. Doug Cussick is transferred to Denmark where he meets his future wife Nina Longstren, an artist and skeptic of Relativism. They are on their honeymoon and preparing their new house when Jones was brought in. This forces Cussick and Longstren to cut their honeymoon short and return to Baltimore. They decide to go to Baltimore together. Cussick informs his wife that Jones’ profile is rising since he became a minister in a new religious movement, providing prophecies about future encounters with aliens. While on the trip to Baltimore the couple discusses the morality of Relativism and state surveillance of opinions. Cussick argues that the ideologies of mid-twentieth century were much worse and caused more harm than Relativism, while also explaining how rare incarnation is even for people like Jones. Later, Cussick, Max Kaminski, and Security Director Pearson question Jones. Jones is confident that he will be released in three days. Jones exchanges a parable with Cussick about a run on a bank, exposing the dangers of unproven prophecy. Although Jones speaks the parable, it is Cusscisk made known to Jones due to his pre-cognative abilities. Jones reveals that he is fearful of his abilities and where it will lead him.
Chapter Five
The interrogation of Floyd Jones in the Baltimore offices of the Fedgov secret service continue. Jones examples that the things he experiences are the past to him and cannot be changed. Security Director Pearson questions is his ability is like seeing a movie more than once and wants to understand why Jones does not appreciate his talents. The agents make a case for Floyd Jones to aid Fedgov in its Reconstruction project. Jones scoffs at this idea calling its short-sighted. He believes humans should be striving to the stars rather than clinging to an “over-populated” and “under-nourished” Earth. Jones is inspired by the drifters who are aggressively colonizing the cosmos. He says that the drifters are here to colonize Earth and are not random passing lifeforms. After the interview, Doug Cussick and Pearson discuss Cussick’s new wife and her feelings about his career. They then ponder if Adolf Hitler was a pre-cog with abilities likes Jones. They debate how one could kill someone like Jones. Finally, Pearson confesses that drifters have already landed on Earth, confirming again the truth of Jones’ statements making it impossible to arrest him as a violator of Relativism.
Chapter Six
In an interrogation room, Floyd Jones awaits the release from police custody that he knew would come thanks to his pre-cognative abilities. While waiting he thinks back on his past and the development of his talents. Jones was born in 1977. Since a baby he could see one year into the future, affecting his development. He would not cry like ordinary children. He learned to speak at a young age. Sometime in his childhood, the first bombs struck the American West, not far from his hometown in Greely, Colorado. He experienced this one year early shocking his family and neighbors with his reports. But when he as ten, the bombs did hit Colorado. At fourteen Jones began a voyage across the war-devastated America, eventually being drafted into the military but he quickly deserts. He meets a man named Hyndshaw who sells magnetic belts as a travelling salesman. Jones convinces Hyndshaw to go into business with him gambling. Their partnership was apparently short-lived.

Back in the interrogation room, Jones is released. He calls an associate for a pick up. Jones thinks about his various allies in business and politics as well as the movement he is going to begin called Patriots United. Jones’ ride arriving, he sets off for his base of operations in Montana.
Chapter Seven
In 2002, a bulletin announcing Public Law 30d954A, forbidding any harm to the drifters landing on Earth, is torn down three hours after being posted. A red-headed man leads a mob in a rural area. The mob operation is well organized with communications and scout planes. Their target is a drifter that has recently landed. Using gasoline, the mob sets fire to the drifter. Police arrive and put out the fire, but the drifter is already dead. The red-headed man feels great satisfaction in killing the alien.

Chapter Eight
Doug and Nina Cussick are attending a performance of The Marriage of Figaro. Cussick is particularly eager to see a performance of Don Bartolo by Gaetano Tabelli. He suddenly leaves the performance early. Walking out he sees a discarded handbill for a Jones rally. As the crowd leaves, Doug explains to his wife that the scenery reminded him of something important. They meet Max Kaminsky outside of the theater. Nina discusses her newborn son Jackie with Kaminski. The situation with Jones and his movement is worsening. Drifters are being killed in spite of the laws against it and his movement is growing in power. Kaminski realizes that the drifters are just a device for Jones to gain support. They stop at the Cussick’s home to tend to Jackie. Doug and Kaminski discuss Nina’s hostility toward police. With the baby fed, they prepare to leave to pick up Kaminski’s date for the evening.

Chapter Nine
Nina Cussick, Doug Cussick, and Max Kaminski arrive at the Fedgov security annex. Kaminski enters and returns quickly with Tyler Flemming, a security office researcher. They later arrive in San Francisco at a club that was one a place of vice before Relativism made such locations legal. Drugs are ordered and consumed openly from robot waiters. The four of them discuss Relativism and Nina again expresses her hostility toward the philosophy and its applications. Kaminski comments that Relativism has tied the hands of the security apparatus in dealing with someone like Floyd Jones. A couple makes love as part of a floor show. The women leave for the bathroom, while the men continue with more discussions of Jones, his movement, and Relativism. Jones have been publishing a book, The Moral Struggle. Kaminski reiterates that Jones is using the drifters in order to rise to power. Flemming begins to tell her story. Her parents were Communists in China, but her father was killed for supporting Hoff’s philosophy of Relativism. Nina and Doug dance and discuss their marital problems rooted in their philosophical differences. Doug has doubts that the marriage can survive but pledges to work on it for the sake of Jackie, their newborn son.
Chapter Ten
Nina Cussick, Doug Cussick, Max Kaminski, and Tyler Flemming at on a double date at a libertine bar in San Francisco. It is getting late and the bar starts to empty, but floors shows involving copulating couples continue. Kaminski and Nina go to the dance floor. Later, Doug notices Kaminski alone and finds Nina with a hermaphrodite—mutants capable of changing sex at will—dancer. Doug follows Nina and the hermaphrodite, eventually telling her to get ready to go. Nina explodes in anger telling Doug that he will stay if she loves him. Doug fights with the hermaphrodite—now a man—but Nina escapes. Doug quickly finds her in a room that she has been renting. Nina confesses that she uses the room in the club to get away from her family life. The couple spends the night in the room. In the morning Doug finds that the corridor connecting to Nina’s secret room also adjoins a warehouse holding clandestine meetings of the Patriots United, the militant wing of Floyd Jones’ movement. Doug confronts Nina about her support for the movement. Doug is horrified to learn that she is a member, but Nina tries to convince her husband that participation in the movement is risky and exciting. Doug does not fully understand the juxtaposition of the decadent club and the anti-Relativist Jones movement. Nina and Doug hold each other knowing their relationship is doomed.

Chapter Eleven

Doug Cussick had separated from his wife, who has taken on her maiden name of Nina Longstrem. As a result their child Jackie is placed under the custody of the state. He discusses this situation with Tyler Flemming, concluding that he “is alone.” The signs of the growth of Floyd Jones’ movement, called Patriots United, are growing, with mobs regularly seen on the streets. Their major ideology is the discovery of a Second Earth through a massive crusade of interstellar exploration. Their political demand is the dissolution of Fedgov and the placement of Jones as supreme commander to deal with the crisis. Cussick ponders that while they are idealists with a vision of the future, he is a mere realist and incapable of the dreams of the movement, including his ex-wife. When Cussick returns home he finds a recorded message by Security Director Pearson demanding Cussick return to the Secpol offices. After making a sandwich, Cussick follows Pearson’s orders. In the office, Cussick learns that his mention Max Kaminski stole a large amount of classified documents hoping to deliver them to the Jones movement. He was captured and send to a labor camp in Saskatchewan. Pearson regrets he is unable to shoot traitors such as Kaminski, noting that numerous other agents have been defecting. Cussick is promoted to Kaminski’s position and is told to take over security of Dr. Rafferty’s secret project, which is under the Department of Health.
Cussick arrives in San Francisco to learn about Rafferty’s project. Rafferty introduces him into the Refuge. Cussick is shown the mutants living in the Refuge and Rafferty explains that they are being genetically engineered to live on Venus. The eight living in the Refuge are the survivors from forty attempts. Not natural mutants caused by the war, like most mutants on Earth, these were carefully created using Rafferty’s own DNA. The Refuge is a replication of conditions on Venus.

Chapter Twelve
At the Refuge, Doug Cussick and Dr. Rafferty discuss the Venus project. Rather than simply transplant the mutants on Venus, Rafferty wants to fully prepare them for settlement. He compares the Refuge to a school. Cussick realizes the Fedgov has long been planning for settlement on other planets, undermining the major argument of the Floyd Jones movement. Jones’ approach is military based, using ships to find a suitable Second Earth. Rafferty and Fedgov secretly pursued a scientific solution.
While completing his transfer to San Francisco, Cussick learns that Security Director Pearson struck at Jones’ Patriots United, declaring the movement illegal at attacking a rally. Jones himself was wounded in the attack. Cussick fatalistically pondered that Jones must have known all of this would happen a year ago and being wounded would likely fit into his plans.

Chapter Thirteen
In Frankfurt Germany, Floyd Jones is holding a rally with perhaps millions of followers and giving a speech calling for the expansion of humanity to other systems and condemning the “plutocracy” of Fedgov. A military assassin named Pratt is preparing for his mission. The police were trying to control the crowds and there is a heavy media presence as well. Pratt meets with Police Major McHaffie where they discussion the mission. McHaffie does not know it is an assassination attempt on Jones but is part of the police action to break up the rally. Pratt and McHaffie discuss matters with a curious reporter. Meanwhile the rally is marching toward the police barricades. The police attempt to arrest the marchers, which only sparks a riot. Pratt fires at Jones but missed. After a struggle with the crowd, Pratt manages another shot, which strikes Jones. Pratt is killed by the crowd.
Jones, wounded, feels a personal sense of victory as he watches his followers dismember the assassin.

Chapter Fourteen
Security Director Pearson is in his office and realizes that a defeat of Jones is impossible due to Jones’ pre-cognative abilities. It is the final hours of Fedgov. Power will soon be handed over to the wounded Jones. Doug Cussick and Pearson share a fifth of scotch and discuss their escape plans. Cussick and Pearson travel to San Francisco to meet with Dr. Rafferty. The mutants are prepared for relocation to Venus. The three of them get drunk during the last thirty minutes of Fedgov authority. During that time Pearson is arrested by four grey-uniformed men from Jones’ movement. The Crisis Government had begun.

Chapter Fifteen
The genetically engineered mutants are on two ships to Venus. Louis is attempting to repair the communications devices on one of the ships. On the other ship, Frank is listening to news from Earth on the handover of government to Floyd Jones. Frank, Garry, Irma, and Syd discuss the ideology of the movement, which seems to be based on action before thought. Syd worries that they are not prepared for life outside of the Refuge, because they had everything prepared from them. The Refuge was like a womb. The voyage to Venus takes around 12 days (148 hours, 45 minutes). As they approach Venus, men on the Venusian base asks for clarification of the mission. An automated system speaks (in Raffety’s voice) for the mutants, claiming that they are under the authority of Fedgov and are on an automated ship that land in a predetermined spot. The local officers are instructed to aid the residents of the ship. Coming off the ship, the mutants realize for the first time that the Refuge was a replica of Venus. They feel, for the first time, at home.

Chapter Sixteen
On Venus, sometime after the initial landing of the eight mutant colonists, the colony is thriving. They are preparing for a harvest of what they call corn. The mutants have built homes, farms, and have applied machines to making Venus’ environment vibrant. They have identified several local species, including the “dobbin,” a type of bird, which they use for muscle power. All the non-Venusians—those who were not genetically engineered for the environment—had died, leaving the planet in the hands of these posthuman mutants.
While exploring the surface, the colonists run into a dead drifter. They find another that not only survived but was growing into a zygote. They learn that the drifters were actually pollen of a plant-like creature.
At the same time, news reaches Floyd Jones that human scientists have made the same discovery The pollen uses the planet as a womb before breaking off into the interplanetary medium, where they live their adult lives. Their relationship to Earth is the same as the Venusian mutants’ relationship to the Refuge. It also proves that the drifters were not a threat in themselves, something Jones was not able to forsee initially. With this discovery Jones realizes his movement is failed, despite his immense popularity evidenced by a large crowd outside of his office even one year after taking power.
Jones visits former security director Pearson. Jones and Pearson agree that the “Crusade” is doomed. Jones explains that it is doomed because in reaction to the violence against the drifters, the plant-like organisms will close off Earth, preventing any further exploration, a simple natural containment of a threat. Jones offers Pearson his old job as security director. When he refuses, Jones threatens Pearson with the help of a Doctor Marion who is charged with experimenting on the impact of an alien parasite on humans. Jones, however, consistent in the end with his “provincial” ethic, destroys the specimen.
Jones thinks on the fact that he knows he will die soon.

Chapter Seventeen
Doug Cussick is talking with other members of the police resistance to Floyd Jones’ fascist and populist Crisis Government. Two members of the ruling United Patriots arrive in an official car. One of them is Cussick’s ex-wife Nina Longstrem. After twenty-eight months with Jones, she has rising high in the organization but is ready to defect. She informs Cussick that that the great Crusade is over.
At a coffee shop, Cussick and Longstrem explains the truth about the drifters, that they are pollen, and that in natural retribution for human acts against their gametes, they will limits humans to six star systems. She also tells Cussick how Jones has already predicted his defeat and death, despite holding onto all the political power. She also mentions that Pearson is being slowly poisoned by Jones. Nina also makes clear that no matter how bad things will get in the end, Jones is incapable of keeping track of very many people, providing hope for their survival. Cussick develops a plan to confront Jones by entering into his movement.

Chapter Eighteen
Doug Cussick, along with his ex-wife a prominent leader in the Floyd Jones regime Nina Longstrem, are in a car on the way to the Fedgov offices where Jones can be found. They bump into one of the rank-and-file supports, a young boy selling Crusade buttons to raise money for the interstellar explorations, unknowing that these have already turned back due to the interstellar plants preventing future human expansion.
After reaching the offices, Nine demands an audience with Jones saying that it is an emergency. They end up in a waiting room, after making the proper requests. While waiting, Cussick prepares a gun he had smuggled into the office. Before long, Cussick tells NInel to leave and he is escorted into Jones’ office.
Jones apologizes for not having cigarettes to offer his guests, but Cussik has brought his own. Jones then says that former security director Pearson has died in the morning. He then taunts Cussik more by comparing his ex-wife to one of the many “sex-starved society females” who have joined, implying that Cussick was a bad lover. Cussick then reflexively shoots at one of the bodyguards knowing he would need to kill them first. Jones jumps up between the two guards and is struck between the eyes.

Chapter Nineteen
Soon after Doug Cussick’s successful assassination of Jones, he returns to his apartment where Nina Longstrem is. Neither can believe that he was able to kill Jones and escape with his life. Cussick notices a package with a reel of audiotape. Listening to it, Cussick and Nina recognize the voice of Jones. Jones explains how Cussick should not take the credit for the assassination since Jones had willed his own death. He says he planned this to save his political reputation. By dying before the ships returned from the great Crusade, Jones ensured that he would not be blamed for the defeat. People will see Jones as a martyr and blame Relativism and Fedgov for his failures. He apologizes for insulting his wife and explains that former security director Pearson is not really dead. Cussick predicts that in a century Jones will be deified. They discuss where they should go to hide out until the political transition is complete. They decide to remarry, collect their son, Jackie, and find a new home off world.

Chapter Twenty
On Venus, the mutant settlers celebrate the first native Venusian child born to Louis and Vivian. This birth proves the sustainability of the Venusian experiment. The mutants have continued to document the flora and fauna of Venus and domesticating species, including the wuzzle, the most intelligent indigenous species.
A Refuge has been build on Venus simulating an Earth environment for three newcomers to the planet. These three people are Doug Cussick, Nina Longstrem, and Jackie Cussick. Doug and the mutant settler Frank agree to celebrate the birth with a beer. They talk about how Doug brought mice with him to make the Earth-life Refuge more like home. As the novel ends, Doug talks about his plans to return to Earth someday when Jackie is ready.

Conclusion and Evaluation
Philip K. Dick’s perspective on the posthuman did not radically change after the publication of The World Jones Made. If anything, he would turn to making pre-cogs more human, as in the novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, which presents a pre-cog with a relatively uncomplicated relationship with humanity. Characters like Floyd Jones and “the Golden Man,” pass away and are replaced by the inhuman android or the mentally-ill schizoid. He has moved from questions of posthumanism to those of transhumanism. If we take the Venusian settlers as part of Dick’s closure of the argument, we are left with the troubling realization that the posthuman may be the last hope for the humanist project. One of them explains to the Cussick’s that a new born Venusian child is part of a new era. “Healthy as a wuzzle. In fact, it’s the new wuzzle. The replacement wuzzle, a better wuzzle to take the place of the old.” (198–199) The victory of the posthumans over humanity was not through conspiracy, conquest, or genocide. The humans had largely done themselves in through their own prejudice and violence (attacking the drifters and falling into the banality of Relativism). Is it possible that the posthuman has been transformed from a threat (symbolized by Floyd Jones) to an insurance policy (symbolized by the Venusian settlers)?

Posted in Alien Invasion, Alien Life, Cold War, Humanism, Knowledge, Philip K. Dick, Politics, Posthumanism, Power, Supernatural Abilities, Transhumanism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Vulcan’s Hammer (1960)

Vulcan’s Hammer is one of Philip K. Dick’s least appreciated novels. Published between Time Out of Joint and The Man in the High Castle, readers have often pointed out that this novel is more like his earlier undeveloped tales than his mature work. In a sense, they are right. Vulcan’s Hammer does not have a clear connection thematically to some of his earlier writings, but it remains—in my opinion—a particularly important tale for what is suggests about the security and surveillance state, the role of big data in our lives, and the question of automation.

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Chapter Summaries
Chapter One
Arthur Pitt, an agent of Unity, is attacked by a mob of Healers while returning to his car on his way home from work in Cedar Groves, Alabama. He enters his car and calls his superior—South American Unity Director Taubmann—requesting aid. He is instructed to collect information for Vulcan 3 and to wait from help. As the mob becomes more violent, throwing rocks, Pitt panics, but the instructions insist on collecting more information. Pitt is killed by the mob before help arrives. Later William Barris studies a photograph of Father Fields, the leader of the Healers movement. Fields is an amazing figure who had survived two months in the Atlanta Psychological Correction Labs without being “cured.” Barris discusses Fields and the death of Pitt with Taubmann. The Healers movement wants to crush Vulcan 3, but Vulcan 3 has made no proclamation about the Healer movement, or anything else in months. Barris begins to call the Atlanta Psychological Correction Labs but changes him mind and calls Unity Control. He requests an emergency request to Vulcan 3. When he is told there is a three day wait, he asks to speak to Director Jason Dill, but is similarly stymied. Resigned to the three day wait, he prepared two questions for Vulcan 3. They ask about the significant of the Healers movement and why Vulcan 3 is not responding to them. He writes a personal letter to Arthur Pitt’s wife.

Chapter Two
Agnes Parker is teaching her primary school class about the history of the emergence of Unity. After a nuclear war ended in 1992, the Lisbon Laws were passed which gave governing authority to Vulcan 3. The first two Vulcan computers were made in the 1970s. Parker is careful how she presents this history because she knows Vulcan 3 had inquiries about the teaching in schools. Managing Director Jason Dill visits the classroom during this lecture. Parker notices how common he looks, despite his lofty position in the Unity system. As Dill starts to take over the class, a girl asks him questions about the morality of the Unity system, which seems to have taken away human agency and created an overpowering Guardian over humans. Although embarrassed slightly by her questions, Dill plays a game in which the entire class points out that girl as an enemy in an effort to prove the power of Unity. Outside of the classroom, Dill assures Parker that she need not worry about her job. Dill offers to take the girl—Marion Fields, the daughter of Father Fields—under his care. Parker readily agrees. Nevertheless, Parker fears that she is being watched and will end up in Atlanta.

Chapter Three
Jason Dill brings Marion Fields to Unity Control Building. He talks with her about her anti-social behavior and her hostility toward Unity. Dill sees her as precocious but perhaps too influenced by her dissident father. He begins asking her for information about Fields’ whereabouts since he escaped the Atlanta clinic. He also asks her if Fields has a connection to the Healers. He explains to her that the term Healers is akin to the quack doctors who promise a cure that they cannot honestly provide. The Atlanta clinic is not a prison, he explains, but a mental health center to repair minds of the insane. To help make his case that the Healers are a fraud and opportunistic, he shows Marion the report about the death of Arthur Pitt. Leaving Marion Fields in custody, Jason Dill makes a visit to Vulcan 2. He submitted some questions to the aging computer.

Chapter Four
William Barris visits the home of Arthur Pitt in an upscale community in the Sahara. He claims to be visiting to send official regrets to Mrs. Rachel Pitt, the widow. The guards at the building question him, but eventually let him enter. Rachel Pitt talks about life in the development, which she finds lonely having grown up in London. The development is full of opportunistic young wives of Unity officials. Rachel suggests she will join the Healers. She believes that Arthur Pitt was not killed due to a Healer mob, but rather as a result of conflicts within the Unity bureaucracy. She is sure that someone at the level of Director must have been directly involved in the plot, to prevent Pitt’s rise to power. Returning to North America, Barris reflects on Rachel Pitt’s accusations. If that is true, it may explain the inaction of Unity against the Healers. Perhaps the Healers have infiltrated Unity or are being used by officials in Unity. He fears that discussing this further with Rachel Pitt may lead to psychological problems. Meanwhile, Marion Fields is in her quarters when Jason Dill enters, demanding to know why the Healers destroyed Vulcan 2. Marion only accuses him of being paranoid, which Dill suggests is necessary since the entire world is against him and Unity.

Chapter Five
Jason Dill investigates the ruins of Vulcan 2. He is puzzled that the Healers would want to attack the older computer, when Vulcan 3 is in control of the government. In any case, the attacks shows that the Healers have infiltrated Unity. The data-feed technician for Vulcan 3, named Larson, gives Dill the questions that Barris submitted. Dill thinks about using Barris for propaganda purposes due to his humble origins. Larson tells Dill that some other Managing Directors have submitted similar queries. Jason Dill examines the official and unofficial files on Barris, looking for some embarrassing or compromising accusation. The only thing he could find was a letter written by a woman’s hand accusing Barris of being in the pay of the Healers. Dill rejects the formal questions to Vulcan 3 on a technicality and instructs the police secretary to begin a formal investigation of Barris. Meanwhile, Agnes Parker is having dinner with colleagues. She hides a copy of the banned book Lolita and walks toward Marion Fields’ old dorm room. When she enters the room an automated weapon kills her.

Chapter Six
Jason Dill is informed of Agnes Parker’s death. He responds by ordering a change in Marion Fields’ guards. Dill worries that Parker’s murder is evidence that the Healers have an even more effective organization. He calls Larson telling him that they will need to carefully prepare some questions for Vulcan 3. Larson updates him on the Barris investigation. The letter accusing him was written by Arthur Pitt’s widow, but her motive is not clear. Later, Barris finds that his questions to Vulcan 3 were returned, rejected personally by Jason Dill. Upset he tries to contact Dill. When his efforts fail he books a ship to Geneva to meet Dill personally. On the trip, Barris worries that his meeting will be seen as a power play. He still has doubts when the ship lands. At the terminal, Barris meets Rachel Pitt. She tells him that she was recently arrested and that he would profit by spending a half hour with her. She show him the letter she was accused of writing. Intrigued, Barris hails a taxi and directs it to find a hotel.

Chapter Seven
Jason Dill visits Vulcan 3 in its underground chamber. Its expansion is automated and Vulcan 3 constantly digs itself larger space underground so no one knows how large it is. Its maintenance costs over forty percent of the taxes collected by the Unity government. Vulcan 3 asks Dill about the results of the educational bias survey. Dill promises the results soon, but the computer is impatient for results since its senses that the people are impatient with social stability and a new gestalt will soon emerge. It suggests that Dill has been failing in reporting all that is going on in society to him. Dill leaves the chamber to get a drink. Meanwhile Barris is arriving at the hotel. Rachel Pitt explains the details of her “arrest” by Unity. At the hotel, Barris is introduced to Father Fields.

Chapter Eight
Fields tells Barris that Unity is on the verge of collapse. Fields denies that the Healers were involved in Arthur Pitt’s death, and challenges Barris on Unity’s tax collection procedures, which often inspire popular hostility with the government. Fields, knowing that Barris is sympathetic to some Healer positions, tries to recruit him into their movement. A metal device fires into the room, damaging Rachel Pitt and putting her into a catatonic state. Barris has the wounded woman shuttled to his jurisdiction in North America. He realizes that now the truth of the letter accusing him of being part of the Healer movement is irrelevant since he has met with the leader of the movement and will be considered guilty. After sending her off, Barris barges into Jason Dill’s office, accusing him of routing information away from Vulcan 3. After both level threats at the other, Barris mentions the attack ono the hotel. Dill did not order that attack or know of it. At this news, he confesses that the same force behind that attack killed the teacher Agner Parker and is their real enemy.

Chapter Nine
In his office, Jason Dill prepares a legal statement in case his collaboration with Barris goes wrong. Meeting with Barris, Dill shows him some warnings from Vulcan 2, recommending that information about the Healer movement not be sent to Vulcan 3. Dill explains that he trusted Vulcan 2 and his suggestions that Vulcan 3 was becoming dangerous. Unfortunately, Vulcan 2 was so thoroughly destroyed in the attack that they have been unable to learn more about the foundation of Vulcan 2’s fears. Barris volunteers to analyze the remains of Vulcan 2, which he proceeds to deliver to New York. He then travels to Colorado to visit the recuperating Rachel Pitt. She shows him how the Healers have salvaged the device that attacked them in the hotel. She shows that it is in contact with someone.

Chapter Ten
Amid a growing Healers uprising centered in Chicago, Barris and his group have made progress in repairing the remnants of Vulcan 2. They restored enough of the memory tapes. Vulcan 2’s memories reveal its analysis that Vulcan 3 is becoming less rational and becoming increasingly paranoid. Under Vulcan 2’s commands, Dill has kept information from Vulcan 3 about the Healers to prevent its accelerated decent into paranoia, but Dill did not hide that he was hiding information. It attacked Vulcan 2 when it realized that it was conspiring. It then used its mobile data-collecting units to collect information on its own. It learned that Father Fields was its enemy. It was also likely responsible for the death of the school teacher. Barris contacts James Dill to report on his findings. Dill tells Barris that he needs to return to Geneva to testify on his behalf. Vulcan 3 has called a meeting of all the Director’s Council. Barris escapes to a ship in the middle of a major Healer offensive against Unity.

Chapter Eleven
Barris and Jason Dill arrive in an auditorium filled with the various Directors, ready to hear the case of Dill’s treason. Edward Reynolds of the Eastern European district heads the prosecution. Barris defends Dill in front of the hearing, challenging Reynolds propriety and suggesting that Renyolds wants to usurp Dill’s position. He then presents evidence that Dill has been working in the best interests of Unity. Using the tapes from Vulcan 2, Barris shows that Dill was working under Vulcan 2’s orders and was protecting Unity from Vulcan 3. Barris than recounts the attacks made by Vulcan 3 on Vulcan 2 and on himself in the hotel. Reynolds judges Dill insane and declares their story a lie. Barris and Dill realize they must fight. When they stand up, they are put under arrest. Nevertheless, they try to escape the auditorium. Before they can leave a metallic device like the one that attacked Barris in the hotel kills Dill and declares—in Vulcan 3’s voice—that Dill was a traitor and that there are other traitors. Unity must be defended against the Healers. Barris fires at the metal “hammerheads”, destroying one and is identified as a traitor by the same voice. Barris joins with Chai and other Directors who now realize the threat posed by Vulcan 3. Barris assures his allies that they will not be joining either Vulcan 3 or the Healers.

Chapter Twelve
Barris secured Unity Control and prepared it for a defense. The flying devices are revealed to be adaptations made by Vulcan 3 from its automated repair machines. They are armed with the pencil lasers that are the standard weapon of the Unity officials. This seems to symbolize the takeover of their role by Vulcan 3. Barris has a long conversation with Marion Fields. Marion predicts that the Healers will win, despite Vulcan 3’s technological advantage and its support from many of the directors. Barris tells Marion that as the movement against it becomes stronger, Vulcan 3 will increases its defensive capacities. If the entire world is against it, Vulcan 3 will prepare weapons to match that challenge. Marion helps Barris navigate a ship to where her father is staying. Barris tells Father Fields that he is skeptical that the Healers have undone Unity. Fields revelas that Unity is all but destroyed, only the structure is left. Barris confirms his suspicious, the movement was begun by Vulcan 2—its true leader. It was keeping information from Vulcan 3 in order to give the movement time to grow.

Chapter Thirteen
Father Fields does not believe that Vulcan 2 would be capable of starting a resistance movement since it is only a computing machine. Barris accuses Fields of being behind the destruction of Vulcan 2 in order to assure his dominance of the movement. Rachel Pitt is revealed to be Father Field’s older daughter. Fields confesses to destroying Vulcan 2 because it was holding the movement back. Barris warns him that only from working from within the system could a bureaucratic state like Unity be dismantled. Barris tells Field that he has the means to get at Vulcan 3. Back at Unity Control, the surviving directors working with Barris are defending the building from increasingly aggressive attacks by Vulcan 3. Barris navigates the defenses in order to reach the computer at the lowest level of the fortress. Fields is initially disappointed because this was the same location where he worked in the mining crews, giving him the inside knowledge he needed to destroy Vulcan 2, but he missed the existence of Vulcan 3 in the same building.

Chapter Fourteen
Barris uses his authority as a Unity Director to get through the guards blocking the entrance to Vulcan 3. Barris meets with Larson who is still loyal to Dill. Barris’ attempt to plant a fission bomb near Vulcan 3 is discovered by a small metallic bug used by Vulcan 3 to get information. It tries to alert others of Barris’ intent and then later negotiate with Barris, but he is able to plant the bomb and destroy Vulcan 3. Fields and Barris discuss the future of Unity. Vulcan 3 will be rebuilt enough to service the state, but not control it. Later, in a hospital room, Barris talks with Fields more about the future. Fields wants a more revolutionary change, but Barris insists on establishing a new form of Unity that is more accountable to humans. To get started on the new era, Barris will support a general amnesty.


Thematic Summary
As I pointed out above, it is in three major areas that Vulcan’s Hammer is relevant to us today: the surveillance state, big data, and automation. In fact there are all connected thematically on the question of whether freedom is possible in an age of technological surveillance. Our answers to this can fall into a handful of areas.

One answer is that the technology of surveillance and big data does not necessarily post a threat to liberty. It is merely a technology that can be used by states for a variety of purposes. We need only pass the right law, implement controls, and respect civil liberties and we can get the good from these technologies (suppression of crime, stopping terrorism, regulating business) without any of the bad (unjust invasion of privacy). Big data and surveillance technologies are nothing new, only our capacities have increased.

Another answer is that surveillance is ultimately irrelevant or even can be a part of democracy. Technologies like Facebook show that people are really not that interested in protecting their privacy. Most people find surveillance less odious in practice than in theory, walking by cameras with little thought. If our idea is deliberative democracy, the idea of hiding our political activities and ideas in underground cells makes little sense. Politics is supposed to be fought in the assemblies, streets, and town halls. We should move toward more openness of ideas. Even if every aspect of our life is collected by the government, all our phone calls documented and recorded, no one is really listening. Or, as Slavoj Zizek suggested in an interview (you can find it here), the listeners are usually too stupid to learn anything from radicals and dissidents and in any case the principles of the commons suggest an openness of information. For him the problem is just that the government can maintain secrecy while we cannot. In fact, I find much in this varied strain of through valuable. Perhaps we should be fighting for the commons (see my comments on The Man Who Japed), not protecting every aspect of our private lives. Even the sexual revolutionaries found public sex radical (If the proliferation of amateur porn is any suggest, this is still a strong belief. Even if exhibitionism is seen as deviant, perhaps it has its roots in the evolution of a sexuality rooted in face-to-face small towns with little privacy).

A third perspective is that surveillance is evidence of an expansionist state that has as its enemy all liberty. This opinion has been expressed recently by Chris Hedges in some of his public talks. Big Brother is watching you and will use the data he collects to suppress social movements, defend the corporate state, and ensure the domination of the ruling class.

In Vulcan’s Hammer we get a little bit of all of this. By making the government a computer, Dick ensures that all the data is listened to. But he also shows that most people did not mind being observed, seeing it as the foundation of a stable and secure life. In any case, there are internal checks on the power of the Vulcan 3—the ruling computer in the novel. He is opposed by social movements, the older computer who ruled in an earlier generation, and people within the government. Humans still had a say no matter how diminished. The fact that Dick finds a solution to the problem of Vulcan III from within the system is one of the most frustrating aspects of the novel for political radicals, but this needs to be understood from within the entire structure of the tale and the complicated relationship people had with the watcher.

The lesson on automation is no less important than that of surveillance. One of Dick’s most important social and economic concerns was the challenge of automation to human beings. He is almost Marxist in his belief that an authentic human life depends on meaningful work that is not alienated. In this novel, we find that not only has labor been largely automated (the technology is certainly there to do that), the government itself and all decision making is handled by the computer. Is this necessarily contrary to democracy? A computer, properly programmed, could review the reading habits, Facebook posts, television watching schedule, and daily habits and probably determine with a fair level of certainly how that person would vote on an issue. Direct democracy may be in our hands, if only we lose the fetish for voting in a booth and let a computer take over. Not only do we get stability, we get a more broadly representative policy. Dick, of course, will have none of that. Automation is always a danger and needs to be checked by humanism, whether framed in terms of production or more creative and intellectual enterprises. Set aside the computer at the heart of the system, we still have automation in the forms of teachers and bureaucrats. The bureaucrats simply enforce the rules from above. Robots could have done it as effectively (but had been incapable of challenging the system in the climax to the novel). With teachers, it is the same as they rattle off a lesson prepared by others. I would suggest people look at this novel alongside “Autofac” and “Pay for Printer” and see what type of conclusions Dick has about an alternative to an automated political system.


Initial Review
Vulcan’s Hammer should be read although it lacks many of Dick’s metaphysical questions. It is a good example of Dick’s writing when he was at his most political. In fact, most of his stories and novels before 1962 (and many that came after) are best read politically and for insight into his historical vision. Dick’s greatest political fear was not the Lovecraftian horror in “The Faith of Our Fathers.” It was stability. This would be framed later in his work as “the empire never died.” Much of Dick’s early fascination with the frontier is rooted in his historical vision, his deep desire for an escape from stability. It strikes me that this is a fundamentally American concern. Many of Dick’s works form the 1950s, including Vulcan’s Hammer, are deeply optimistic, seeing hope for humanity in some distant frontier or in some major jolt to the system. In Vulcan’s Hammer, Vulcan III’s turn toward insanity is the key to rebooting a stagnate system. In The World Jones Made, it was Floyd Jones himself (another person with frontier dreams). In Time Out of Joint the “Lunatics” dreamed of man’s place in the stars and Dick’s loyalties are with them despite their violence toward Earth. In The Man Who Japed and Dr. Futurity resistance comes from an unlikely source and again jolts a system into systemic change. What all of these examples also have in common is that the jolt to the system was not enough. Change also required a clear vision of alterantives, a movement culture, and individual courage.

Posted in Bureaucracy, Empire, Humanism, Mental Illness, Philip K. Dick, Politics, Posthumanism, Power, war | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Dr. Futurity (1960)

Chapter Summaries

Chapter One

Doctor Jim Parsons experiences a terrifying day dream that entails the destruction of the world that he knew while on his commute to work. One of the reasons that he can allow his mind to flow during that commute is that the car is automated, along with all the others rushing to their destinations in the sixteen-lane highway into San Francisco. He thinks about how central planning has helped preserve some of the beauty of the countryside by eliminating much of the odious advertisements. He, however, is confident that the government will never nationalize the professional industries. Suddenly the car drives off the road and he falls into a gray void. When he awakens from the void, Parsons finds he cannot understand the highway signs. He also notices that the entire look of the city in front of him changed. Wherever (or whenever) he is, Parsons is confident that a doctor will always have a place. As he walks down the road, he is almost struck by a vehicle that made no effort to miss him. A young man driving the car lets him into the car, but Parson realizes that he was really trying to run him down, or thought that Parsons wanted to be run down.

Chapter Two

Jim Parsons studies the young man who picked him up. He is speaking a strange language that seems based on English but is polyglot. His skin color suggests a multi-racial background. Parson talks to him in an effort to learn the language. As they enter the city, Parsons realizes that the city’s population is divided into tribes identified by totem emblems, but there are no clear racial or ethnic divisions. He also notices that the population is extremely young. Under the lights of the city, the boy turns on him and accuses him of being sick. Having a clear view of Parson’s white skin, the boy is horrified. The boy lets him out amongst some warehouses. Looking at a pamphlet, Parsons learns that he can begin to understand the polyglot language. He uses his doctor’s tools to break the lock of a warehouse and enters in hopes of finding a place to hide. Inside is a small group of people, one of who urges him to close the door. Parsons understands the language well enough to follow their conversation, which is a pseudo-philosophical dialogue about their non-existence.

Chapter Three

The group concludes that Parsons is a shupo because he broke into their warehouse. When he denies this, they ask him to show them his real face. A heavy-set man realizes that Parsons is a real outsider. His skin color is normally associated with a dangerous disease and his clothing is from the past, he suspects 1910. Parsons clarifies that he is from 2010. The man, named Wade, replies that they are in 2405. He also warns him that outsiders to groups are commonly killed, but each tribe is non-ideological and lacks distinct cultures. They are arbitrary tribal divisions. The people in the warehouse are identified with the eagle. The group in the warehouse work on correcting Parsons’ skin color and smell (which is also all wrong) using make-up and perfumes. They are shocked to learn that Parsons is 32. Parsons is still confident that he can make a life outside of the tribes as a doctor, but the others have no ideas about medicine. A competing tribe, the shupo, break into the warehouse and begin attacking the eagle tribe, critically injuring one of them, a woman named Icara. He carries her away to a hotel. Someone asks to get the hotel euthanor, but Parsons ignores them and begins working on saving her life.

Chapter Four

Jim Parsons clears the area and works to save the life of the young women. An official named Al Stenog interrupts him, instructing him to wait for the building euthanor. Parsons finishes saving her life, just as the euthanor arrives. When the euthanor realizes that Parsons saved her life, he is horrified and calls him a maniac and a pervert. Stenog places Parsons under arrest for crimes against the United Tribes. Parsons realizes that this society is insane. Meanwhile, two people observing these events despair that their operation has gone wrong. Later, Parsons is being interrogated by a clerk about his history. Stenog and a dark-haired woman takes over the interrogation asking about what physicians do. He is amazed that an entire society would find value in saving lives. They are curious about this since it proves the potential diversity of human values. Stenog begins to explain why the average age in their society is only 15 years old, but moves onto the issue of time travel. They had attempted experiments in time travel but abandoned them. Apparently time travel is possible, but it creates a legal problem. Parsons must follow the rules of the society regardless of being a willing part of that society. Stenog tells Parson that he will be sent to a prison colony instead of being “rehabilitated.” Stenog also explains that the role of the shupos is social regulation—the destruction of illegal political groups—and are not involved in the prison worlds. Finally, Parsons is told about the fate of the young woman, who underwent a Final Rite after making her complaint against Parsons.

Chapter Five

Stenog takes Parsons past where he works at “the Fountain,” the location of the Soul Cube. Stenog is Director of the Fountain. Stenog invites Parsons into his home to await emigration to Mars. After dinner, he invites Parsons to the Fountain in order to explain how their society works. He corrects Parsons’ misconception that their society is obsessed with death. Rather, their society is based on life. The Soul Cube is revealed to be alive, filled with a steady number of zygotes, in order to keep a stable population of 2.75 billion. The genetic material making up the zygotes is taken from the Tribes that had been most successful in competitions. Of these winning tribes, the most successful competitors have their gametes harvested. All reproduction takes place through this system and from the Soul Cube. This ensures that the society is constantly improving. Every time someone dies, a “superior” zygotes is drawn from the Soul Cube, taking the deceased person’s place in the tribe. On the way back, Parsons considers the ramifications of this society. Stenog feels that this is more honest because it acknowledges and faces death. Parsons’ culture—and profession—attempts to evade death. Their society is more perfectly planned because it takes into account the inevitability of death. Stenog implies that some people are resisting this society and that they may be responsible for Parsons’ arrival. Back at the house, Stenog’s puella (a type of formal relationship short of marriage) Amy plays some pieces from a musician for Parsons and they enjoy some bourbon. Stenog offers Amy to Parsons for the night, but recants when he recalls that Parsons has not been sterilized. This reminds him that Mars really is the best place for Parsons.

Chapter Six

At four in the morning, Stenog is woken up by some strange men who escort him immediately to a ship. In this ship he sees a large machine running from a rat’s brain. He explains to Parsons that the trip to Mars will take 75 minutes. After taking off, the machine explains that the ship will detonate if anything is tampered with. The ship gets closer to Mars but is diverted. An hour later, the machine—thinking the ship is ready to land—announces their arrival at Mars. He puts on some protective gear as the doors open into the void of space. The ship is prepared again for the shuttle voyage. After another 75 minutes, the ship arrives at an object in space. This time, when the ship doors opened a two men welcome him, explaining that they could not get to him on Earth. A shupo kills the two men but dies in the process. Leaving the three dead men on the ship, Parsons leaps out of the police ship riding a cable toward the “rescue” ship.

Chapter Seven

Alone on the ship, Jim Parsons experiments with the controls, eventually landing on a red planet that he assumes is Mars. On the planet surface, Parsons finds no signs of life and only an extended desert. Eventually he notices an upright marker, on which is engraved his name. On the slab is instructions on how to run the ship. Looking at the sky, he realizes that the moon orbiting the planet is Luna and that he must be on the Earth in the distant future. Following the instructions, Parsons uses the ship, which takes him back in time to a period when Earth is still lush and green. Within moments he returns to the future time that he was brought to. He is welcomed by a man and a woman. The woman is very beautiful and he recognizes her are Loris, the Mother Superior of the Soul Cube. Loris and the man—Helmar—welcome Parsons to the Lodge, which has been active for three hundred years. They ask which of the loudspeaker markers he followed to return to their time. Parsons say that he followed instructions on a plaque. This surprises everyone since they did not leave any physical instructions in the far future.

Chapter Eight

Jim Parsons is told that he has been brought to the future to help the members of the Lodge (all of the Wolf Tribe) in a medical problem. The Wolf Lodge has managed to master time travel, using government technology, however as far as they know the government has not mastered time travel. They are using time travel to attempt to achieve their political goals as well as bring relics from the past to their own time. Loris says that they are opposed to the society that has become a death cult, without a true future into the stars. As long as the population is kept stable, the other planets will only be used for exploitation or as a prison colony. This culture developed from the white colonization of the New World. The Wolf Tribe is most interested in the sixteenth century conquests, which they see as the beginning of 500 years of white domination that only ended in Parsons’ own generation, but still directs the character of the global society. Parsons is brought to a replica of the Soul Cube, which is holding a single adult human in stasis. Loris denies that this is her lover (although they have lovers). He was apparently killed with an arrow through his chest.

Chapter Nine

Loris shows him how they have saved Jim Parsons’ doctor’s bag before he was arrested. Loris wants Parsons to attempt to save the man in stasis, who she reveals is his father. He has been in stasis for thirty-five years, since before Loris was born. Parsons is given a tour of the Lodge, which is self-sufficient. Parsons observes a physical resemblance between the tribe members, all who look distinct from others in the society. Parsons agrees to make an attempt to save the man in the cube and begins preparing for the operation.

Chapter Ten

A large crowd gathers to observe Jim Parsons’ operation on the man in stasis due to the uniqueness of any medical procedures and the importance of the man. Parsons protests but cannot clear the room. Loris pushes Parsons to complete the procedure in one sitting, although the doctor wants a more conservative approach. He removes the arrow and works to repair the heart. With the procedure done, Loris talks to Parsons about how wasteful the society is. The girl Parsons saved earlier was only damaged in her face and did not have any defect that would be inherited, yet she willingly died in order not to hold back her tribe. Loris discusses with Parsons how difficult it is to change the past. They exchange an intimate moment, but are called back to the operation room, where they find that the man once again has an arrow through his chest. This proves that their enemies also have control of time.

Chapter Eleven

With this latest failure, Jim Parsons is introduced to an old woman, Loris’ mother and the wife of the man in the cube—who is revealed to be called Corith. The old woman (named Jeptha), despairing that nothing can be done instructs the tribe to send Parsons back to his own time. Parsons, however, has a desire to help the Wolf Lodge more. He meets an even older woman, the mother of Corith and Jeptha named Nixina. Nixina tells how Corith had the idea of preventing the “Terrible Five Hundred Years” by stopping the conquest of the New World, by killing the European explorers as they arrived on the coast of America. This would stop the European invasion and allow the Native American people to control the destiny of world civilization. During an attempt to kill Francis Drake in California, Corith was shot with an arrow. Parsons sympathizes with their mission, despite being white and a beneficiary of the European conquest of America. Parsons investigates the arrow he removed from Corith’s body and finds that the feathers are synthetic and the flint arrow head was made with a metal chisel. Since sixteenth century Native Americans lacked this technology, Corith must have been shot by another time traveler.

Chapter Twelve

Loris tells Jim Parsons more about the operation that lead to Corith’s fatal injury. He dressed as an Indian of Nova Albion, but planned to kill Drake with a modern weapon. This would convince the English that the Indians has superior weapons and may prevent future efforts to invade the continent. She also tells him how Nixina saved Corith from being sterilized and used his gametes to father the entire Wolf tribe when she was Mother Superior of the Soul Cube. Loris reveals that the Wolf tribe believe themselves to be full-blooded Iroquois. Parsons doubts this to be true, but Loris tells him that the mythology is more important than the truth. Parsons and Loris have sex at which time he tells her that he wants to go back in time to witness Corith’s death. Parons does not worry that this will change the timeline because it has already been altered. He has already figured out that the portrait of Sir Francis Drake closely resembles Al Stenog.

Chapter Thirteen

As Jim Parsons asks Nixina for permission to witness the death of Corith in his encounter with Drake, Nixina reveals that she intends to accompany the trip aided by a special chair built by Helmar. The Wolf Lodge prepares Parsons for the trip by transforming his skin color and eye color to resemble the Native Americans of the California coast in the sixteenth century. In the past, the party of Wolf tribe members attempts to locate Drake along the coast. Parsons identifies Drake as part of a landing party. After approaching Drake, Parsons identifies him as Al Stenog in disguise and reveals himself as the man who saved the young girl’s life. Stenog/Drake begins to laugh.

Chapter Fourteen

“Drake” and his party allow Parsons to go on his way. Parsons attempts to find Corith in order to complete his task of saving his life. He wonders if Stenog completed all the historical achievements of Drake and if the other conquistadors were also time travelers. Parsons identified Jepthe and Nixina from their previous mission to the past. The Loris he knows looks much like the younger version of Jepthe. Next he locates Corith at the edge of the cliff preparing to kill “Drake.” Parsons tries to alter Corith to his danger and is prepared to give Corith a better plan to kill Drake. When Corith realizes that Parsons is in disguise, he attacks the doctor. The fight results in Corith’s accidental death due to an arrow through the chest. Wondering who killed Corith the second time in the Wolf Lodge, Parsons considers that it was probably a future version of him, who goes back in time to prevent Corith from awakening and pointing him out.

Chapter Fifteen

Jim Parsons has a dilemma. He is certain that Wolf Tribe will kill him if they know what he has done, yet locating Drake/Stenog will result in him being sent once again to the prison colonies. An alternative is to wait sixteen years until the next encounter with Europeans in 1595 and then returning with the crew to England. Before he can make his decision his is found by Helmar and Loris. After explaining what happened, Nixina decides to punish Parsons by leaving him behind in the past. Abandoned in the past, Parsons wonders how he could have gotten access to another time ship to kill Corith a second time. Before too long, however, Loris returns (a month later by her timeline) to bring Parsons back under her protection.

Chapter Sixteen

Loris brings Jim Parsons to a safe location within the Wolf Lodge. She assures him that he is safe from retribution from her brother Helmar. Instead of going to sleep, he seizes a time ship over Loris’ resistance. He goes back in time a day and a half to the time that Corith should die a second time. Lacking an arrow, he went back thirty-five years to when Corith was planning his execution of Drake. He steals an arrow from Corith and returns forward thirty-five years, visiting Corith who is recovering from Parsons’ surgery. He chooses not to kill Corith and takes the time ship forward, finding that someone else completed the task of killing Corith yet again. He realizes that it was likely Hemlar who actually killed Corith a second time (although Parsons seems to have brought the arrow that killed him). He goes even father forward in the time ship and meets his children by Loris, a man and a woman of the Wolf Tribe, each around eighteen years old. They direct him to meet them at a point in the future.

Chapter Seventeen

Jim Parsons learns that his children are named Grace and Nathan. When Loris found she was pregnant, she decided to save Parsons from exile in the past. At some point in the future, Parsons meets Loris—now an old woman. The Wolf Lodge stopped making efforts to kill Drake, but Stenog stayed as Drake for ten years to ensure the timeline. The Wolf Lodge had stopped tampering with the past but have instead taken on the symbol of the caduceus and now attempts to preserve the values of life over death. In addition to reviving the profession of the physician, they are pushing for an end to forced euthanors and a revival of natural child birth. Loris, still as Mother Superior of the Soul Cube, has saved some men from sterilization. By dying, Corith has assured that the legacy of Parsons will continue in the Wolf Tribe. Parsons decides to return to his wife and his own time. Returned to the road to San Francisco, Parsons hitches a ride with someone who comments about his strange clothing.


Dr. Futurity Thematic Summary
Youth, Age, and Stagnation: In the hyper-Social Darwinian world of Dr. Futurity, there is little need for humans to age beyond their reproductive years, so the ideology of the society glorifies death. Those that achieve victory in their short life (mostly people die before thirty) have the promise of their genes being passed on in a giant eugenics project. Despite the promise of rapid social change due to the survival of the fittest, society is largely stagnant. In many ways the future described in the novel is more akin to the a gerontocracy, stuck in a single path waiting for new ideas. Those new ideas cannot emerge, due to the overwhelming death cult. As in a gerontocracy, war has been declared on the youth. As early as this work, Dick was pointing out that the mad dash for “progress” often sends up into stagnation.

Conquest of the New World: The resistance to the death cult in Dr. Futurity comes from those who see their ancestry tied American Indians. While this is not true, they clearly blame the triumph of Western civilization for the obsessive focus on progress. The solution to this is to attempt to murder the early conquistadores, while this shows a naïve perspective on the numerous causes of the conquest of the Americas, it does show that Philip K. Dick was interested in the critique of Western civilization and was aware of suppressed alternatives in history.

Middle Class Life and Profession: Jim Parsons begins the novel as a typical middle class professional, living in suburbs. The world he was born into already showed the signs of the later stagnation that would emerge in the future. Parsons does not know it, but his profession as a physician is already obsolete when the novel begins. Only by going to the future does he see the end result of his civilization. In the future, the physician is replaced with the professional euthanizer. Dick makes the difference between these two jobs similar on first glance, only by differing in their end result. Only in the context of the resistance—which requires Parsons’ expertise—is the difference between life and death made clear.

Frontier: As in his other early novel, The Man Who Japed, Dick imagines the frontier as a space in which creative alternatives are possible. In both novels as well, the frontier is a space for the deviants who cannot conform to the social order. But in creating such a space, the dominant social order provides a means of resistance.

Short Review
I was once told that Dr. Futurity was one of Dick’s worst novels, only matched in feebleness by Vulcan’s Hammer. I responded that I think both are underappreciated, which pushed the conversation into one about literature as propaganda or literature as art. Someone who lives the themes in Dr. Futurity and Vulcan’s Hammer, clearly has a tin ear and cannot look beyond the underlying politics of the novel. Perhaps I am guilty of that.

I am not here to judge Dick’s writing or how he structured his novel. In fact, I am not sure his value is ever in literary elegance. (I can think of a handful of characters and lines that stick in my head, but it is largely that ideas that stay with me.) I do think that Dr. Futurity is one of Dick’s most important books highlighting his view of history and the nature of human progress. I have recently written an article in PKD Otaku (link here), that goes into Dick’s perspective on Malthusian thinking, population control, and their relationship to historical progress. That article says most of what I would want to say here.

At one point, one of the major members of the resistance points out the danger of social stagnation and its relationship with the cult of death (perhaps this is also under the surface of the story “Stability”). “We;’ve made our point, but we’ve achieved a clacified society that spends its time meditating about death; it has no plans, no direction. No desire for growth. Our nagging sense of inferiority has betrayed us; it’s made us expend out energies in recovering our pride, in proving our ancient enemies false. Like the Egyptian society—death and life so interwoven that the world has become a cemetery, and the people nothing more than custodians living among the bones of the dead.” (208, from the Gollanz Three Early Novels edition).

No, perhaps that is not the most pithy phrase Dick ever wrote, but it goes straight to the heart of his politics and is certainly relevant to us today in the doldrums of late capitalism.

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“No Laughing Matter”: Media, Morality and Resistance in The Man Who Japed

Philip K. Dick’s early novel The Man Who Japed is quite prescient in describing how morality and the media intersect as a tool of power. As the novel opens, we are given some very recognizable Orwellian imagery. Government institutions are abbreviated into newspeak-like slogans. He presents a totalitarian society with a fetish for large government buildings alongside dilapidated housing for the population. Yet, the world is far from the horrors that Orwell described in his dystopia. It still, for instance, remained committed to public space. In the opening chapter Dick writes: “Outside the window of the apartment the—blessed—Morec [Moral Reclamation] spire gleamed in the morning sun. Below it was the Park. The Park and spire comprised the hub of Morec, its omphalos. There, among the lawns and flowers and buses, was the statue of Major Streiter.”[1] Public space remained, but it was reworked the serve the interests of the authorities. This works in many other areas of life in the novel. The major means of maintaining government power was through the enforcement of morality, a private concern transformed into a part of the public square. In the same way, media was reworked to enforce and regular people’s private lives. In other words, in The Man Who Japed, the private life is abolished, not in the interests of an indifferent state committed only to power, but in the interests of the commons.

One place where this is lived in everyday life is in the concept of ownership. People maintain private domiciles, but they are legally extensions of the commons literally extending back into the past. Rather than passing on wealth, families pass along their lease to a part of the commons. While in our world, the squandering of the family heritage is often a sign of economic failure or recklessness, in the Morec society of The Man Who Japed, losing that heritage (literally a piece of the commons set aside for a family’s private use) almost always is the result of a moral failing made public. Enforcement of morality takes place in the commons. Morec (Moral Reclamation) is derived from a form of neo-Calvinism, established after a nuclear war devastated the world. It was based on the idea that a well-functioning society rests on individual morality and that therefore communities had a duty to regulate individual actions. This is commonly done through public hearings called “block meetings.” These meeting read headed by local Parent Citizens Committees, which are always run by women. They take in reports daily from “juveniles,” robots that maintain surveillance but never judge actions. Individuals are forced to confess and explain their moral failings to the community. Punishments vary, but the most extreme is exile from the community. Anyone who losses their lease this way betrays not only their community but their family heritage going back to the beginning of Morec society, as well as depriving the future generations from participation in the community. The result of all of this is a type of passive aggressive state that levels judgment without requiring the hard police presence. The most extreme moral deviants are simply exiled outside of the Morec society all together, sent to live out decadent lives in “the Other World.” We soon learn that The Man Who Japed is not at all Orwellian. The state is closer to a suburban Parent Teachers Association.

The protagonist of the novel, Allen Purcell, works in an agency contracted by the government to produce media messages about Morec. After more than a century since the triumph of Morec, everyone knows its basic outline. Purcell and other creators of media spend much of their time reforming the message to fit new situations. As the novel opens there is a tension about how to understand the frontier. While moving there suggests a rejection of Morec society (why would anyone want to leave Earth), the development of those colony planets is key to Earth’s strategy. Purcell created a “package” (they are much like Internet memes or government propaganda posters) showing the danger of moving too far from Earth. This is rejected by the government because it undermined colonial policies promoting agriculture. As Sue Frost, an agent of Telemedia tells Purcell: “[T]his conflicts with a fundamental. The Committee has put billions of dollars and years of work into outplanet agriculture. We’ve done everything possible to seed domestic plants in the colonies. They’re supposed to supply us with good. People realize it’s a heartbreaking task, with endless disappointments . . . and you’re saying that the outplanet orchards will fail.”[2] It is a fragile balance that accompanies all government messaging.

The important point is that the ideological battle is largely public. One benefit of this is that there seems to be the need for a vibrant public sphere. In some ways, Morec society reflects some of the dreams of anarchists. The state will not be engaged in physical oppression of the people and local communities will regular their own internal affairs, yet people will be united by a common purpose. In practice, however, it strikes the reader as horribly odious, empowering local tyrants. The neighborhood watch is a much worse regulator of our moral behavior than a government bureaucracy, interested only in cultivating messages.

The major plot of the novel followed Allen Purcell as he comes to realize that he has a deep psychological conflict with Morec. He acts this out in day to day resistance such as drinking improperly, visiting Hokkaido (a place with a vibrant black market), and engaging in other behaviors that although not explicitly forbidden place him on the borderline of proper behavior. Dick suggests that Purcell has been playing with this level of resistance for a while before the novel begins. He goes public with this in two major, criminal acts. The first of these is the “japing” of a statue of Major Streiter, removing its head and repositioning it into a compromising pose. The second major public jape was the production of a fraudulent documentary about the Major, suggesting that during the early days of the movement he engaged in cannibalism. What these two acts did was move resistance from the personal to the public. In effect, Purcell hacked a central value of Morec society, its commitment to the public square.

My moving the system of regulation into the public square, Morec society became quite stable. Perhaps this is because of a deep desire among humans for community and solidarity. While the public moral hearings may have become tools of social control, we can image that they began as an effort to restore the community after a nuclear war. It is for this reason that resistance was forced to be public as well. The most direct challenge to the state came from hacking the dominant source of ideological control. For Purcell this meant turning the central symbol of Morec into something laughable. In effect, Purcell brought humor to the founding mythology of the society. When Gretchen Malparto—who was involved in a subplot about revealing Purcell’s subconscious—confronts him about his actions, she says: “[A] sense of humor doesn’t fit in with Morec. Or with us. You’re not a ‘mutant’; you’re a balanced human being. The japery, everything you’ve done. You’re just trying to re-establish a balance in an unbalanced world. And it’s something you can’t even admit to yourself. On the top you believe in Morec. Underneath there’s that blob, that irreducible core, that grins and laughs and plays pranks.”[3] Humor intersects with the public nature of Purcell’s resistance for humor must be public.

In the middle of the novel we are introduced to the Other World. We see here one of the central principles of Morec—the public confessional—inverted. Here people declare their immorality openly and without shame. As within Morec everyone knows of their neighbors sins, but in the Other World it is tolerated, allowed, or celebrated. When he arrives in the Other World, which is designed like a 1950s suburb, Purcell identified the place as far from Morec because he saw a women nude sunbathing. This subtle difference makes all the difference and Purcell is viscerally attracted to the alternative. As Malparto points out, Purcell never really abandons Morec. The Other World is the other side of the Morec coin, but still rooted in the public performance of morality.

We live in a world that resembles Morec in many significant ways. The public confessional is still a major means of guarding public morality. When a politician or celebrity is exposed as an adulterer, the next step almost always involves a public apology, a stoic wife, and a public shamming throughout the media. This prevents the necessary consideration of the changing realities of romantic love and marriage in our liquid world. By returning, from time to time, to the medieval methods we enforce an ancient morality, rather than interrogating it. It also submits our individual moral choices to the decision of the public square. But we also live in an age of japery. Young people are more likely to get their news from The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, and for good reasons. Using humor, these media outlets often provide a sharper and better interpretation than that provided in serious news, if you can see through the “japery” of it. These entertainers are engaged in the same act as Allen Purcell in The Man Who Japed, and both, by providing an alterative narrative manage to hack into the dominate ideology and take advantage of the public nature of our discourse.


[1] Philip K. Dick, The Man Who Japed in There Early Novels (London: Gollancz, 2000), 6–7.

[2] Ibid., 12.

[3] Ibid., 101.

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