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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The Man Who Japed

The Man Who Japed was published in 1956 and is Dick’s second science fiction novel, after Solar Lottery. It was originally published by Ace Books, in a volume with E. C. Tudd’s The Space Born. This was a common practice in the “golden age” of science fiction as a way to promote younger authors.


Chapter Summaries
Chapter 1 — Allen Purcell and his wife Janet wake up in their one room apartment. The apartment transforms from a bedroom to a kitchen in preparation for the start of the day. Janet gets in line to use the communal bathrooms. Allen takes some pills to deal with his slight hangover. He has three wines while he took a risky trip to Hokkaido he took the previous night on a company ship. Purcell is the owner of Allen Purcells, Inc., an agency that produces propaganda campaigns (called packets) for the government. While his company is small compared to the big four leaders, he thinks his produces the most innovative ideas. The rest just borrow old principles of Moral Reclamation dating back decades to the time of Major Streiter. Janet comes back and asks him about his trip. Allen insists that no one saw him and that he only went for advice from a colleague, Sugarman. They look out at the park, which has a large statue of Streiter. On his way out, Purcell is stopped and questioned by Mrs. Burmingham of the Parents Citizens’ Committee. She asks about Janet and about his trip to Hokkaido. It is a common enough encounter, fully in line with the goals and objectives of Moral Reclamation. Allen learned to survive them. Like the juveniles, it was just part of life.

Chapter 2 — Allen Purcell arrives at his fourth floor office and is informed that Sue Frost, an administrator at Telemedia has arrived. Purcell immediately goes to see her. Frost is an older woman, very professional and serious. Frost shows Purcell a packet his agency produces and informs him that Myron, the head of Telemedia, had “qualms” about it. The packet is an image of a man trying to grow an apple tree on the colony, but it dies. She is uncertain what the Morec (short for Moral Reclamation) of it is. Purcell explains that the message is that he should not have tried to grow the apple tree far from Earth, in the colonies. It symbolizes the need for a spiritual center. Frost explains that with all the money spent on colonial development, the packet will not do. The Morec is too opaque. Purcell insists on taking the packet back, but Frost wants it revised for clarity. Fred Luddy, who worked on the packet, concedes Frosts’ point. Purcell immediately fires him for insubordination. Frost stays to review the agency and praises Purcell for his decision.

Chapter 3 — Allen Purcell is at the office of Myron Mavis, the head of Telemedia. He calls home to tell his wife he will be home late. He begins to discuss the future of Telemedia with Sue Frost. Frost wants to break up Telemedia into smaller segments. The centralized job is too much for Mavis. They discuss the “domino method” used to sustain ideological purity in society. Purcell thinks the theory is false because a single individual will always rise up to contest the collective. They talk about this Mavis who insists that such individuals are “noose” (or neuropsychiatric) and sent to the resort planet anyway. They take a Getabout to the committee building. Another Getabout labelled as from The Pure Food and Drug League tries to pass them. Its attempt causes an accident forcing the party to walk to the committee building. Mavis is kept behind. Frost makes it clear that she wants to attend the committee meeting without Mavis.

Chapter 4 — Allen Purcell returns home at 9:30 PM. Janet Purcell begins to fix him a later dinner. Allen begins to break down when telling Janet that he has been offered Myron Mavis’ job as head of Telemedia. He fears the job because of Mavis’ rapid burnout from being head of Telemadia. He talks about the old men who separate from life by moving to Hokkaido, slowly dying in the ruins. He wonders what the point they are trying to make is. Janet shows him a newspaper report about the vandalism of the statue of Major Jules Streiter. Janet suspects it was Allen and he confessed that he removed the statue’s head. Janet is not too worried that he will be caught but is curious about why he did it. Allen finds it funny that he “japed” the statue and a few hours later is offered a major promotion.

Chapter 5 — Allen Purcell visits the park that houses the vandalized statue of Major Streiter. The status is covered up with a large wooden box. A citizen at the park mentions rumors that the “anarchists” that vandalized the statue will soon be bombing Telemedia or tainting the drinking water. He thinks that the people who did this want to take down Morec. Purcell sees a dark haired girl also watching the police work at the site. There was fake blood at the site leading from the statue, which increases the feeling of anxiety among the citizens looking at the scene. The dark haired girl confesses to being happy that the status has been destroyed. She wants to celebrate. They walk away and discuss the boldness of the crime. The status was not only painted in fake blood, but reformed to make it look like Major Streiter is reading to kick his own head. She asks about Purcell’s condition. He admits that he had job worried and an aloof wife. She gives him an address that promises to help him. As she walks away, he realizes that the girl was waiting for him.

Chapter 6 — Allen Purcell calls Sue Frost, leaving a message letting her know that he cannot make a decision about taking the job as head of Telemedia so quickly. He worried as well about the possibility that his japing of the Major Streiter statue would be discovered. He looks at the piece of paper the girl gave him, it only has “Health Resort Gretchen Malparto” written on it. This points to the place that Morec society sends deserters and other degenerates. Sue Frost replies the message, giving Purcell four and a half days to decide on the job. He contacts the Mental Health Resort and finds that Gretchen Malparto is the brother of a doctor there. He makes an appointment under the name Mr. Coates.

Chapter 7 —Allen Purcell attends the weekly block meeting for his housing unit, officiated by Mrs. Birmingham, the warden of the block. He observes the juveniles, who serve as informers reporting on the moral behavior of the community. Purcell sees them as a sinister force. He warns Janet not to interfere when he is called up for the public confessional. The first case that comes up is Miss J.E. who is accused of having sex. In the end, J.E. was released with a verbal reprimand, given by an electronic voice that poses as the impartial judge. Next, Purcell is accused of arriving home drunk, falling asleep in public, and speaking a curse word. He confesses to drinking three glasses of wine in Hokkaido (a fact that is deemed irrelevant). The voice gets to the heart of the matter. Purcell is supposed to be dedicated to the morality of the community, yet is proven to be capable of moral failing. It then turns on the community, accusing them of not doing enough to respect Purcell and honor his presence. After the meeting Purcell meets Wales, a member of the community. He is revealed to have been the voice tonight and explains that Purcell is well-liked in the community.

Chapter 8—Purcell, posing as Mr. Coates, sees Doctor Malparto. Malparto reveals that he knows who he is and understands his case. “Coates” tells Malparto that a switch went off in his head, causing him to jape the statue of Major Streiter, leading to his conflict over taking the job at Telemedia. “Coates” discusses how he likes the frontier and how he met his wife in the colonies. He was attracted to the open debate there. He then agrees to treatment, with a payment based on his income (in good Morec style). He tells Malparto that he visited friends in Hokkaido before japing the statue, before this he had some beer. Malparto gets some equipment ready and clears his schedule so he can look deep into “Coates” suppressed memories.

Chapter 9—In his memory Allen Purcell is leaving the Agency. He sees a cluster of neon lights and goes to investigate them. He sees a group of boys who explain that the lights came from Bellatrix 7. They begin to talk about how they want to emigrate to the colonies. Purcell counters that their parents worked hard to lease homes so close to the center. He realizes that Morec is not natural, which explained the boys’ desire to leave. He almost purchases a fifth of scotch and a 3.2 beer (made of hay) from an Autofac commissary. This is all he can remember before going to Hokkaido. At Hokkaido Purcell visits Tom Gates and Sugermann (Sugie) who make their living digging up old trash and selling it. Gates is there when he arrives and he looks at what they have for sale. His attention is drawn to old magazines and a pornographic novel called The Indefatigable Virgin. Also in their collection is a copy of Ulysses by James Joyce. Sugermann comes up the stairs and explains the history of the censorship of Ulysses. Purcell gets annoyed at the thought of all the knowledge lost by Morec dumping these “unMorec” texts in the trash. He deeply wants the Joyce book but cannot afford it. In Malparto’s office, the doctor and patient debrief. Malparto points out that the japery had no impact on Morec society, but it made some of the Cohorts who were sent to guard and cover the statue up laugh.

Chapter 10—At the Agency, Purcell learns that Luddy started working at a competing firm taking all the packets with him. Purcell realizes that this means they will need to focus on creating entirely new packets, this was an unfortunate side effect of firing someone. Purcell calls his wife, making a joke by pretending to be from the Mortuary League, before making dinner plans. That evening the Purcells, along with their two kids, visit a museum which had a disply on life in the “Age of Waste.” Ned, their son, wants to see an exhibit recreating their homes and the destruction of the nuclear war. Purcell tells Janet about Luddy’s defection and theft of materials. He is confident that he is still more creative than Luddy and can develop better packets in the future. He decides to take the job as head of Telemedia, in part to crush Luddy’s new employers Blake-Moffet. The next morning, Purcell lets Sue Frost know he is taking the job.

Chapter 11—Allen Purcell has a dream that involves him destroying a parked Getabout with a giant stone. He returns to his bed without a work to his wife.

Chapter 12—The next day Allen Purcell wakes up next to his wife, who asks him where he went around 3 AM. He tries to explain his dream, which took place on some jungle planet. Janet Purcell notices that the head of Major Steiter is in a laundry bag in the closet. Allen realizes that the dream was real, he had grabbed a large stone in the form of Steiter’s head. Allen calls the Mental Health Resort to get advice from Droctor Malparto. “Mr. Coates” arrives in Malparto’s office and tells him how he stole the head. Malparto artempts an ESP deck experiment. The tests confirm that “Coates” does not have normal psi-talents, but Malparto wonders if he has “extra extra-sensory perception.” Malpart begins a series of tests to identify Purcell’s ability. They all fail. Before Malparto can finish his long list of tests, “Coates” leaves the office with a vague promise to return.

Chapter 13—Allen Purcell gets off a bus and encounters a suburban neighborhood. He talks about shopping with the man next to him. Purcell does not know where he is and knows that he is not in Malparto’s Health Resort anymore. He also knows this place is not Morec society, especially when encountering a nude sunbather. He asks the woman for directions to his home, which she discovers from an identification card, listing his named as John Coates. He goes to the house, passes a baby that recognizes him and enters. Inside he finds Gretchen Malparto addressing him familiarly. He learns that they have been married. Apparently they have been married for four year. He mentions the stone head, but Gretchen does not seem to understand. Purcell realizes that he is in a delusional world constructed by the John Coates personality. Purcell begins to hear people discuss his case. Purcell tells Gretchen that he is having a psychotic fantasy. His environment breaks down around him.

Chapter 14—Allen Purcell opens his eyes and finds the room returned but Gretchen had vanished. He explores the room and hears voices that he identifies as Doctor Malparto and Gretchen. He finds out how Gretchen was creating a fake room using an electronic device. He uses it to expose the reality. Looking at a newspaper he finds that he is not in a fantasy world but in the Vega System, the Other World where Morec society sends people who cannot be cured. He writes his “wife” a note telling her that he apparently impregnated another woman. He calls for instructions on getting off the planet and back to Earth. Unable to afford the fare, he tries to call Earth. He goes to the space port, and demands to be allowed to return to Morec. He threatens to kill a hostage until he is allowed onto the ship, into the hands of a Morec sheriff.

Chapter 15—It took Allen Purcell a good part of a week to return to Earth, giving him one day before he had to start his job at Telemedia. He realizes that Malparto was attempting to spirit him away to the Other World for some reason. Janet was told by Malparto that Allen was having a breakdown and needed to recuperate in the Other World. He contacts Sue Frost who demands he come immediately to her apartment. When he arrives at Frost’s apartment she confronts him on his long, unexpected, and unexplained absence. Tony Blake from Blake-Moffet arrives as well, along with Luddy. She tells him that Blake had provided documents that suggest Purcell has divorced his wife or has been seeing other women, crimes that would make him illegible for the job. They had knowledge that he left Earth with Gretchen (although they had the named Grace Maldini). They know he left Earth and that Janet Purcell lied about his actions during the week. They demand to see the girl. He confesses only to the trip to Hokkaido to get materials, denying any affair or plans for divorce.

Chapter 16—Allen Purcell is preparing to start his new job at Telemedia and Myron Mavis wishes him luck. Mavis knows that Blake was obviously sore at Purcell getting the position. They also review the rejected packet showing the tree that died. Purcell suggests a desire to see that packet put out. He calls his wife and tells her to make plans for celebrating. He refuses to explain what happened at Frost’s apartment. The first person who comes to see him is Gretchen Malparto.

Chapter 17—Allen Purcell threatens Gretchen Malparto with being arrests for her and her brother’s actions. He locked the door and calls his colleague at his Agency to come in secret. Gretechen defends her actions, blaming her brother for the planning, but expressing a real desire to be with Purcell in the Other World. She also explains that her brother really thinks that he has a psi-ability, maybe precognition. Gretchen, however, thinks Purcell has something more dangerous, a sense of humor. He is a rare example of a balanced human being in an unbalanced world. He has been given the job of overseeing the ethics of society. Gretchen sees Purcell as ethical, but not sharing the ethics of society at large. Both japery and Morec are necessary to keep the society functioning, in the same way that censorship requires people willing to sell banned books. She confesses a romantic attraction to Purcell and asks for a kiss goodbye before she parts from him forever. He does, but their kiss is caught by a juvenile. Purcell manages to destroy the juvenile, but Blake and Luddy barge in and try to retrieve its film. He instructs Gretchen to flee. With evidence of the kiss, Purcell will lose his position to the Blake-Moffet men.

Chapter 18—Allen Purcell tells Janet that he is going to go to the block meeting and fight against the system, since they are going to lose their lease anyway. He thinks that as long as he is Director of Telemedia he may be able to get a lease out of Sue Frost. He decides that Gretchen was not in the frame-up job, but he is still not clear on her and her brother’s motivations for taking him to the Other World. He has no idea how Sue Frost will read the event and respond to it.

Chapter 19—Allen Purcell is brought before the housing unit block meeting for engaging “in a vile enterprise” with a woman and for destroying the surveillance equipment (the juvenile) that recorded the deed. The public investigation into his actions two days earlier (one his first day of work at Telemedia) it contentious. Purcell attempts to claim that the woman he was with (Gretchen Malparto) was just a friend, and had nothing to do with his earlier trip to Hokkaido. Purcell begins to lash out at the voice—much more harsh than the one he faced before. He also attacked the entire system of public inquisition. With this, the council of ladies terminates Purcell’s lease in the building. He and Janet have two weeks to move out. He sees Mr. Wales who tells Purcell that has had secured a new lease and had moved out so he could not be there to defend Purcell. Wales invites Purcell over to his new place for a visit. Back at work, Sur Frost also invites Purcell and his wife to dinner, later asking for his written resignation. Purcell refuses, forcing Sue Frost to go through the formal process with the committee.

Chapter 20—Mr. Wales enters his new apartment and is overcome with guilt over having not helped Allen Purcell, who had helped so many others during the block meetings. He yells to the empty room: “You can have it back.”

Chapter 21—Allen Purcell informs his staff that he has been asked to resign and will be fired soon, within a week. He tells them that they may be fired for what he will have them do over the next week, giving them the option to sit out the assignments. Only a woman named Nan stayed behind from his immediate staff. He sends her to survey the departments. Purcell directs Phyllis Frame of the historical research department to put together a profile on Major Streiter. He supplements his depleted staff with workers from his private agency. Another worker who stayed behind was the head of music Mr. Gleeby. Later in the day, Purcell explains to Gleeby that they are going to put out a major jape on Streiter. At home, Allen Purcell shows Janet the television plug for the broadcast, which will be about Major Streiter’s “active assimilation” policy. The newspaper later reported about the emerging interest in “active assimilation,” which Purcell explains was something he just invented.

Chapter 22—Debate about reviving active assimilation is running high, with many people thinking its return will help deal with the social deviants increasingly populating the Other World and undermining Morec society. With the project done, near total saturation of society with the message will be easily accomplished. Sue Frost comes to Purcell’s office to find out what he has been working on. He refuses to explain. Purcell prepares bottles of Scotch for celebration. He takes a call from Myron Mavis and instructs the former head of Telemedia not to miss the broadcast. The broadcast is called “The Pageant of Time” and it is about Major Streiter’s policy of active assimilation. It is presented as a formal historical documentary, with some Telemedia staff members posing as established academics. Sugarman comes to help with the broadcast as well. It begins with a review of the decline of society in Streiter’s time and how morality was only being preserved within the small bands of Reclaimers. They explain that active assimilation preceded the autofac system and that the first assimilation took place in 1987. Gleeby, posing as one of the academics, makes it clear that assimilation was a euphemism for cannibalism. The broadcast is shut down at this point.

Chapter 23—The staff at Telemedia manage to get their power back up to continue the broadcast. The discussion had moved on from the methods of assimilation (boiling being a favorite) to the contemporary use of assimilation to solve social problems. Properly prepared assimilation will not only create a deterrence against anti-social behavior but will also create a gourmet cuisine. Eventually, the broadcast is shut down and the audience is advised to stop watching due to “technical difficulties.” The Telemedia staff implements their escape plan. Allen Purcell finds his wife who is prepared to leave. He tells her that Streiter did not litearlly eat people, but that it was a good metaphor for Morec. The Purcells were about to catch the same ship as Mavis Myron, leaving for Sirius. Myron promised them use of half of the planet, but they decide to face the consequences. While waiting for the Cohort to arrest him, Allen Purcell announces to a small crowd that he japed the statue of Major Streiter.

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Important Characters and Concepts

Allen Purcell: Allen Purcell is the head of Research Agency, a government contractor providing propaganda for the government. His is one of the smallest of the agencies in his field, but it is known for its creativity and challenge material, called packets. Over the course of the novel Purcell is lifted up to be the head of the major government media apparatus, called Telemedia. Despite this he is secretly—and initially unknown to himself—a political dissenter. His realization that he has contempt for the system is the major plotline in the book. He involves himself in two major “japes”: the vandalism of a statue of Major Streiter and a falsified documentary. By the end of the novel, Purcell is in open moral and political rebellion.

Morec: Morec is short for Moral Reclamation, a neo-Puritian philosophy the emerged after a nuclear war (ending in 1972) under the leadership of Major Streiter. The details of this movement are shadowed by propaganda, however. The major components of Morec are the total surveillance of the population through mechanical devices called juveniles, public inquisitions at the level of the housing unit, the expulsion of those deemed neuropsychiatrics to the frontier worlds, a heavy propaganda apparatus, and the use of local leaders to distribute knowledge (called dominos). Philip K. Dick presents the major weakness of Morec as the autonomous individual, a sentiment briefly introduced by Purcell early in the novel.

Telemedia: At the beginning of the novel Telemedia (known as T-M) is run by Myron Mavis, an overworked and burned out bureaucrat. It is presented as the most important and powerful of the government bureaus. T-M is responsible for all the propaganda, television, radio, and print media within Morec society. They make used of contractors such as Allen Purcell to craft their message. The major goal is to promote policies of the government with undermining Morec principles. Sometimes this is difficult as evidenced by a packet Purcell presents that suggests a central Morec concept, but at the expense of frontier agricultural policy. Outside of Telemedia The Man Who Japed gives little information about the rest of the government.

Gretchen Malparto: Gretchen Malparto is a dark-haired and sexually attractive woman who catches Purcell’s attention at the park while he watches the police deal with the vandalized statue. Using her brother (a psychiatrist) as an accomplice, she get Purcell into psychiatric treatment and then spirits him away to the Other World, a frontier dumping ground for the morally debased. Her motives are left ambiguous, but she is integral in Purcell’s realization that he is an enemy of Morec. She is also responsible for Purcell being forced into open rebellion, by kissing him in front of the gaze of juveniles. Her connection to the Other World strongly suggests that Malparto and her brother are part of a resistance movement.

Block meetings: The most important possession that people in Morec society have is their lease. All land is owned by the state, so leases are earned and passed down through the family. People can lose their lease if they are deemed morally unacceptable to the block community. In weekly meetings, reports on the morally-suspicious behavior of building residents are investigated in public inquisitions. Violators are punished in various ways, the most extreme punishment being the loss of a lease. A voice serves as an apparently neutral, but authoritative, arbiter. The voice is always a disguised resident of the building.

Economy: The economy of Morec society entails a deep contraction. On the one hand it embraces a Calvinist work ethic that requires everyone to work hard. Leisure is always a potential violation of Morec. Yet, autofacs (automated factors, see “Autofac”) have taken over much of the work of production. The frontier economies are apparently less automated and focus on agricultural production.

The Other World: The Other World is a planet in another star system where neuropsychiatric “patients” are sent for exile. Life on the Other World resembles 1950s American suburbia, but without many of the moral hangups. Sexuality is much more liberated. Martial monogamy is nonexistence and nudity is accepted. However, it appears to be a functioning society largely independent from the Morec core on Earth. Other colonies are more closely tied to Earth through agricultural programs, investments, and settlement.

Hokkaido: Hokkaido is a place on Earth that has not been subject to Morec, largely due to the intense levels of radiation there. Purcell visits Hokkaido before the events of the novel. His travels there are held in suspicion by the block leaders. A vibrant black market exists in Hokkaido. Purcell himself finds a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses, while visiting Hokkaido, although he cannot afford to purchase it.

Psi-ability: As in many of Philip K. Dick’s novels and stories, The Man Who Japed is populated by some posthumans. The Malpartos suspect that Purcell had a psi-power, although Gretchen Malparto eventually concludes that his ability is merely to have a sense of humor in a humorless world. However, the novel does not give any verified demonstrations of psi abilities, nor an analysis of how they fit into the Morec society.


Initial Review
The Man Who Japed combines a handful of ideas from Philip K. Dick’s early stories, but is still quite unique, particularly in in world-building. Dick’s major contribution in this novel is the construction of Morec, or Moral Reclamation. Although we have some Orwellian imagery here (the abbreviated names, the struggle of the individual who feels at odds with the system, “juveniles” are informers on adults—here they are robotic), Morec is not the full dictatorship of a party-state. Instead, we are given a much more decentralized and loose system. Morality is enforced not by the state but by the individual housing units. In this way, Morec looks more like an expanded system of gated communities, or elite suburban developments. The punishment for not obeying the laws is exile from the community through the loss of a lease. The worst offenders are sent to the Other World. Other criminals go to agricultural colonies to work. So while the state seems to care about how people think—it creates Telemedia to try to enforce conformity—it is not too worked up when the system fails. No torture, no executions are necessary. Dick, looking at the 1950s middle class in America probably though that would be enough to create a morally-unified community.

The most philosophically interesting part of the novel has to do with the protagonist, Allen Purcell, and his relationship with Morec. When the reader meets Purcell, we learn that he is a high-ranking supporter of Morec. His entire profession revolves around crafting its message. Yet, he is driven to break the rules of the society. Some are minor infractions such as drinking too much or visiting Hokkaido, known for its black market. His worst crime, however, is the japery of the statue of Major Streiter, the founder of Morec. He has only a vague memory of doing this. Gretchen Malparto and her brother attempt to learn what made him do it, and in the process take him to the Other World, where Gretchen attempts to seduce him into being his wife. He flees the Other World, returns to Earth to take a job as head of Telemedia, but with his memories fully awakened. This allows him to enter into full rebellion against the system, leading to the ultimate japery, the construction of a false history of Major Streiter, suggesting that he was a cannibal.

Here again we see Dick coming out as fundamentally anti-Orwellian. In 1984, truth was being denied by the state in order to sustain its own power. Without a past, the people could have no future. Dick turns this on its head and shows how a false history can be used as a tool of resistance. It is important to remember that censorship is not so much the suppression of truth, but the imposition of one subjectivity (that of the state) on all of society, abolishing competing subjectivities. Dick realized this and wrote The Man Who Japed to show how lies can be liberating, or at least a challenge to those in power. This is the major power of the novel. Even the title shows that Dick thought the moral center of the novel is in the japery, not in the “truth.”

It is often too easy to downplay the importance of Philip K. Dick’s early novels, calling them undeveloped, hasty, or “apprentice” works. They are not often read by students of Dick. Fans may look at them with curiosity but tend to prefer his later famous works. I believe, however, that we have much to learn from Dick’s early novels and, especially, the 1952–1955 stories. They have themes that do not exist in the later works. It is for this reason that they are often ignored. Those looking for the religious, philosophical, or spiritual messages will leave The Man Who Japed with disappointment. Reading it with an open mind is revealing, and helps us think about power. Community morality can be as powerful as the tyranny of the state. We rarely glimpse the police or the government authority in the novel, but Ms. Birmingham, who runs the block meetings at Purcell’s building is an authoritarian figure indeed, and much more frightening in her own way than “Big Brother,” largely because she is so familiar.

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The Alien Mind

Story Background
“The Alien Mind” was originally published in The Yuba City High Times in February 1981. It can now be found in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 385–387.

Plot Summary
Jason Bedford woke up from his theta chamber and realized that his interstellar ship is off course. He never makes such errors but the Maknosians are altering him of his misdirection. They remind him that they need the vaccine his is delivering. Bedford learns that his cat, sent to accompany him on the trip, was pushing buttons on the control module and likely caused the error. He strangles the cat in rage, for embarrassing him in front of the alien minds.

Bedford’s ship arrives at Meknos III. They ask him for the whereabouts of his cat. He denies having one, but the Meknosians locate a large supply of cat food. He confesses he had a cat named Norman and the Meknosians send Bedford on his way.

On his way back to Earth, on a two year trip, Bedford learns that his theta chamber is disabled. He asks the Meknosians for aid and they just tell him that there are tapes he can watch. The compartment meant to hold the tapes had only a cat toy. He also finds that all of his food has been replaced with cat food, all of the same flavor.

“The Alien Mind” was the last short story Dick published. It is a brief story, actually published in a newspaper. It has a brief and poignant message, summing up Dick’s love of living things and his belief that human morality requires solidarity with both people and animals. Bedford saw the cat that accompanied him on his trip as first a play thing to help him survive the long trip. When he realizes that it has been messing with the controls, it becomes a nuisance that he removes. He is surprised to learn that his customers, the Meknosians, are more concerned for the cat than for the delivery of vaccine. They have the empathy for the cat that Bedford lacks. The aliens punish him by making him experience the two year trip with only the food and entertainment given a cat. We imagine that after two years, Bedford will be likely quite insane. If not, he will perhaps appreciate a bit more how enticing the controls will look after months of looking at the same cat toy and bad kibble.

Another interesting level of the story is the apparent awe and reverence Bedford has for the Meknosians. Over a small error, he is humiliated so badly that he must kill the cat. He mentions the alien mind twice. First to the cat he says: “You humiliated me in the eyes of an alien. You have reduced me to idiocy vis-a-vis the alien mind.” (385) The second time he mentions the alien mind is to himself when he realizes what they have done to his ship’s stories. “The alien mind, Bedford thought. Mysterious and cruel.” (387) His intense awe of the otherness of the alien allows him to accept their judgment.

Philip K. Dick Fan Site review of “The Alien Mind.”


Posted in Alien Life, Animals, Humanism, Philip K. Dick, Philosophy, Power, Space Exploration | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Rautavaara’s Case

Story Background
“Rautavaara’s Case” was originally published in Omni in October 1980. It can now be found in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 375–383.

Plot Summary
Beings from Proxima report on the malfunction that caused the deaths of three technicians in a science globe monitoring magnetic fields. They sent a robot and learned that one of the three “Earth persons” could be saved. Agnetta Rautavaara’s life was saved by using her body as nutrients to keep her brain alive. Their took this action in accordance with interplanetary agreements. When the Earth persons were informed of what was done, they were furious and blamed the “Approximations” (called that due to their non-corporeal existence and their home system) for over-stepping by keeping Rautavaara alive.

Rautavaara sees the bodies of the other two technicians, Travis and Elms. Since she is going back in time, she soon sees them alive. They see a figure who they identify as Jesus Christ on the ship. Rautavaara explains to the other two that they are dead. Elms, who is Christian, starts to explain his faithfulness to him. Elms tries to go with Christ.

The beings from Proxima observe with members of the Earth Board of Inquiry Rautavaara’s brain. The “Approximations” want to observe her as a window into the afterlife and the Earth person’s experience of a personal savior. They talk the Earth Board of Inquiry representatives into implanting into Rautavaara’s brain, the Proxima conception of an afterlife.

Elms is still trying to talk the Figure into taking him and the others with him. Rautavaara discusses this with Travis. Suddenly the form of the Figure changes and horrified Elms and Rautavaara observe the Christ Figure eat Travis.

The Earth Board is horrified, but the Proxima beings suggest this is just the opposite of the religion of the Earth persons. They are actually horrified by a religion that allows the worshiper to consumer a God. As plasma beings, the Proxima beings see their afterlife being consumed by their material God. The experiment is ended and both sides learn they cannot hope to understand the other.

With “Rautavaara’s Case” we see Dick again in his late career religious mode. In this case, we have an interesting speculation about the nature of religious belief and how that may contribute to fundamental differences between species. The “Approximations” are plasma beings, so they see nothing odd or immoral about keeping Rautavaara’s brain alive. They see no use for a body. That is straight forward enough. The theological consequences of this are more profound. The “Approximations,” as energy beings invert the relationship between worshiper and God. In Christianity, God become flesh and worshipers consumer him in a communion. The result of this is an afterlife where the soul exists in a non-corporeal state. In the Proxima religion, God does the consuming with the Approximation afterlife apparently corporeal (unlike their life). The afterlife is simply a projection of they do not have in life. “In terms of the basic relationship to God, the Earth race held a diametrically opposite view from us. This of course must be attributed to the fact that they are a somatic race and we are a plasma. They drink the blood of their God; they eat his flesh; that way they become immortal. To then, there is no scandal in this.” (382) As this makes clear, the goal of the Proxima religion is the end of the immortality of life. This story is better on the ramifications of cross-cultural communication than on any real theology. (As always, despite what too many fans say, Dick is a better sociologist than a philosopher/theologian.) Ultimately we see the absolute limitations of a relationship between humans and aliens.

This story has ramifications for bio-medical ethics. While I doubt the issue of the morality of a plasma being will come into conflict with our own anytime soon, we do often face divergent morality between the patient and the doctor in more mundane issues. As the occasional high-profile case shows, even the question of the after-life informs how patients and doctors make decisions about treatment and end of life care. To the end, the “Approximations” believed that they were right in experimenting on Rautavaara’s brain. They see themselves as unfairly punished for making the right choice. By showing the horror of the experience for Rautavaara, Dick seems to suggest the errors of arrogance in medical experimentation.

For all the weight given to ideas that Dick was a religious philosopher, he was almost embarrassingly narrow-minded. Christianity is usually presented homogeneously. Islam is almost never mentioned in his work. Eastern religions are given some introduction, but not always taken seriously. Here we read with a bit of disbelief when the beings from Proxima point out that all Earth beings are Christian. Why would this be? Why is Christianity almost always the gold standard for religious speculation in his works? The VALIS trilogy is awash in speculative Christian theology. It is too bad that we cannot see more about the diversity of religious experiences in his work. When we do (as in this story) it is to make a clever point about Christianity.

Wikipedia page for the story.

Philip K. Dick Dan Site review.

Posted in Afterlife, Alien Life, Bureaucracy, Philip K. Dick, Politics, Posthumanism, Religion, Space Exploration, Supernatural Abilities, Transhumanism | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon

Story Background
“I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon” was originally published in Playboy in December 1980. It can now be found in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 359–373.

Plot Summary
Victor Kemmings is on an interstellar voyage that will take ten years, so he is supposed to be in cryogenic suspension. Instead he awakens and is informed by the computer that he cannot be put back into cryogenic suspension. The computer tells him that he will feed him sensory images drawn from his personal memories. Victor fears that he will be under the authoritarian control of the computer for ten years (likely to feel much longer). He cannot even walk around the ship because it lacks air and provisions.

The first memories that are reconstructed into experiences involves Martine, Victor’s wife, who he lived with. The memory begins to break down and Victor is filled with terror when Martine vanishes. The computer decides to try an earlier memory.

The next memory involves a childhood experience. Victor arranged for his cat to kill a bird. After this he was stung by a bee, something he took as punishment for his act. He felt immense guilt for doing this. In the memory, a shadow and immense presence, scold him for his cruelty and demands he never do it again. Victor realizes how difficult it is for him to find happy memories of his past. The ship tries to give him another happy memory of his time with Martine, but this one again dwells on the guilt he felt over the death of the bird. Victor suggests he would be happy at the destination, so the ship sees this as a solution.

Victor wakes up along with the other crew members. He has a bee sting treated by a robot doctor and begins having memories of killing the bird. He realizes that he is still in the ship. Since the ship computer can only draw experiences from Victor’s memories, they will all be clouded by his neuroses and guilt.

The ship settles on recreating experiences of Victor’s arrival at his destination. They will be flawed, but will perhaps make the long trip manageable. During the trip, the ship locates Martine Kemmings. She agrees to meet Victor at the colony planet to help him make the transition. At the port Victor recalls his experiences and is a bit proud of how he has managed to explore every level of his subconscious. Assuming that this is all another constructed memory, Victor tries to Martine about how the memory will deconstruct. He refuses to believe that he has finally reached his destination.

“I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon” is, in my opinion, the strongest of Dick’s final short stories. While the basic idea of people being lost in space for long periods of time, trying to cope with the banality of space travel was explored earlier in A Maze of Death, this story strikes us as even more horrible because of the total loneliness experienced by Victor Kemmings. At least the people in A Maze of Death had a variety of experiences they could share. In a sense, they could explore the limits of each other’s’ subconscious, not merely their own. Victor had only his own neurotic personality to navigate. The trouble with this, is he was not a healthy person, obsessed about a minor incident he experience as a kid. Memories, usually such an important part of what it means to be human for Philip K. Dick are what utterly destroy Victor during this space flight.

This story builds on the theme that space exploration and travel is an unbearable horrible experience. In some ways, “Alien Mind,” Dick’s last published story is yet another part of his argument.

There is not a whole lot in this story in terms of social, political, or cultural critique. It is still a very nice science fiction story, written from a mature perspective.

Wikipedia page for “I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon”

Philip K. Dick Fan Site review.

Article on the use of cryogenics in space exploration.

“Going Looney in Space”

Posted in Childhood, Consumerism, Family, Knowledge, Mental Illness, Philip K. Dick, Space Exploration, Technology, Time Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Strange Memories of Death

Story Background
“Strange Memories of Death” was originally published in Interzone in Summer 1984, over four years after it was received by Dick’s agent. It can now be found in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 353–358.

Plot Summary
The narrator has some “vain thoughts” about a woman who tossed him out, but he is distracted by other concerns. Today is the day that the “Lysol Lady” will be evicted. She is insane. She avoids any contact with people and always smells of Lysol she sues to expel some unknown horrors from her apartment. The new owners of the building wanted to get rid of her. Strangely, the Lysol Lady had enough common sense to contact Legal Aid. This would show her as mentally stable enough to get special treatment. In fact, everyone was forced to either purchase their apartment or leave, as they are being transformed into condominiums. The narrator goes to get a newspaper and admits to himself that he is no difference from the Lysol Lady. People may call him “Cat Man.” The only difference is that he has money to buy the condo. He thinks about helping her. There was an example of renters winning a similar fight in another building. He thinks about writing the Lysol Lady a note pledging his aid. He also thinks at the same time about writing a note to his former lover, confessing how much she meant to him. He thinks about the case in the news about a woman, Brenda Spenser, who shot eleven people. Maybe the Lysol Lady is as mentally unbalanced—and as armed—as Spenser. He begins to understand the Lysol Lady. She has prepared her apartment as her place to die, but by being pushed out her plans are disturbed. Like all psychotics she will take the more difficult route and challenge the powerful. In a way she was too adult and no longer willing to play games.

The next day, the narrator sees Al Newcum, the sales representative for the condo company. He explains that the Housing Authority found a new place for the Lysol Lady (named Mrs. Archer). They are paying her rent. The narrator wishes someone would pay his rent but Newcum reminds him that he bought his apartment.

There are a handful of interesting things going on in “Strange Memories of Death,” one of Philip K. Dick’s last stories. It appeared after his death, but unlike some other previously unpublished tales it made its first appearance before The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick. This is clearly a mainstream story, lacking any science fiction elements. It also reads to be quite autobiographical. In which case, Dick’s anxiety over being only a few steps away from the “Lysol Lady” (maybe only more respected in the community because of his money) comes off quite clearly. When writing this story, Dick was reflecting on how his strange ideas and strange behavior may have looked on others.

Although largely an internal monologue about the thoughts and actions of people on the borderland of sanity, there are some interesting social issues in the background. The most prominent of these is the war against the underclass due to urban development. In this case, the apartments of many poor or middle-income people were transformed into condominiums. This forced most of the people out. A few remained by buying their unit. Only the Lysol Lady decided to resist the developers. This strikes the narrator as a possible sign of her maturity. While the rest accept the logic of the game, she seems to be playing a more adult game by creating her own rules. Still, in the end, the developers win and she is thrown off onto the state. The government puts the Lysol Lady in subsidized housing.

Another issue in this story is the apparent consequences of de-institutionalization of mental health care. In a short five page story we are given three examples of clearly mentally unbalanced people: the narrator, the Lysol Lady, and a perpetrator of a mass shooting Brenda Spenser. None of these people seem to have anywhere to go for aid, except an apparently ineffective time in therapy. The consequences of ignoring the mentally ill in society are sometimes horrific, as with Spenser, but often more mundane issues of social isolation. The Lysol Lady’s social isolation is a form of institutional violence made possible by disinvestment in mental health care, and—of course—a society becoming more mentally ill itself.

Lots of good background at Philip K. Dick Fan Site.

Posted in Mental Illness, Philip K. Dick, Urban Issues | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments