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Mind-Shattering Novels of Philip K. Dick




Best space/time mind puzzles you're going to enjoy this side of eternity

Philip K. Dick was abducted by... his own mind, and wrote about it for as long as SF industry would publish it. Which is extremely lucky for millions of his fans, me included.



Unless you are a particle physicist (for whom nothing is as it seems anyway), you're not likely to meet as many convoluted and unpredictable ideas and storylines as in Philip K. Dick's science fiction (the requirement, of course, is that it all still has to make coherent sense, otherwise we could just switch on Douglas Adams' Improbability Drive and publish the outcome).

PKD was a one-man factory of apocalyptic "What-ifs?", staggering in their scope and suggested outcomes. His stories are often dark in tone, but intensely satisfying: crammed with concepts and ideas, tightly written and pretty much unforgettable.

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Philip K. Dick
"UBIK" (nv)

(based on "What the Dead Men Say")
© Worlds of Tomorrow, Jun 1964
story: The Preserving Machine, 1969
novel: Doubleday, 1969
--all time sf novel : 1987 Locus /37
--sf novel : 1998 Locus /43 (tie)
--/ second place sf novel
--/ idea award
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ style award
--/ shock value

Review by author M. Christian
Philip K. Dick loved to play with reality: what it might be, what it could be, and how it could be twisted and warped. Ubik, which was published in 1969, is a perfect example of Dick at his most playful, wild, and enjoyable – all the while having an obvious blast playing his might be, could be, and twisted and warped reality games.

At first Ubik is a science fiction drama, with Dick’s signature surreal details and devices: a Machiavellian fight between two powerful organizations in a technologically advanced North America.

Then, as they say, things get weird – as weird as only Dick can make them. Escaping a bomb blast on the moon, the main characters soon begin to see the world -- their reality -- fracture and break. It takes them a while, but eventually they figure out that they are all in suspended animation, in half-life, and that they are being snuffed out one by one by a powerful being – and that the only thing that might save them is a weird, and ubiquitous, substance called UBIK.

But even though UBIK is a very strange book it still is immensely readable, which demonstrates Dick’s tremendous talent. All too often bizarre is simply an author’s excuse for chaos, where meaning and characterization gets tossed for cheap surreal details. But that’s never true for Dick and absolutely not true with UBIK: things get very bizarre in the book but never as the expense of the core principles of a great book: characters, story, description, and so forth.

Ubik is pure Dick, and a must-read: a wonderfully bizarre adventure that’ll make you stare at the wall for hours and wonder, as Dick surely did, about what’s really on the other side of it.


Artwork courtesy Tim Warnock

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Want to read a novel that includes enough concepts and ideas for 4 or 5 science fiction novels in it? Here is your chance; don't swallow it all at once -

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"Now Wait For Last Year" (nv)
© 1966, Doubleday Books
--/ third place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award


(review by Avi Abrams)
"When his wife takes a strange new narcotic and then maliciously slips some into his drink, the main character finds himself slipping back and forth through time." Against the backdrop of a pointless war being waged between planets (as a reason for a certain government to control population - typically Dickian stand-in for the Cold War), the main character (while unable to control his place in time) tries to maintain the balance of power by keeping Earth's eccentric and ailing leader in good health, (remember Brezhnev?) Plus there is the disturbing relationship between the submissive main character and his destructive, manipulative wife" (wikipedia).

But wait, there is more: collecting rare artifacts from 1935 to furnish some tycoon's Mars-based recreation of his Washington childhood. A number of live copies of certain Government Leader - any, or none of which could be the real one. Small starship-controlling devices/creatures (mechanical hamsters?) manufactured by a large corporation become the centerpiece of an employee's secret obsession - to give them a kind of intelligence and send them scuttling off around the plant on tiny metal carts. A sort of "creation/ liberation" kick. Well, never mind - there are twelve different layers to this novel ("Nothing what you know is true") - in Dick's typical paranoid fashion.

At the end of the book, the multiple past-lines and clones of main personalities will spiral out of control in a barely cohesive plot, but then even the plot itself, like a crazed centipede, will trip over its hallucinogenic legs, curl up in despair and die, unable to resolve the complexities of its existence.


Artwork courtesy Tim Warnock

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"The Penultimate Truth" (nv)
(exp. from "The Defenders")
(based on "Mold For Yancy")
© Galaxy, Jan 1953
novel: Belmont, 1964
--/ third place apocalyptic sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ emotion award

(review by Avi Abrams)
"The Penultimate Truth" is the ultimate Cold War nightmare with a quintessential paranoia premise: the world's population lives underground in small factories called 'Tanks'. They are making complex robots to fight World War III above, but get all information about the war... also from robots. So, almost predictably, it turns out that the war had been finished ten years ago and the ruling elite (with attendant robots) is enjoying country estates on the Earth's surface, in the meantime keeping humanity locked up "for its own good". The novel has a dark, brooding tone, somewhat similar to another creepy Cold War masterpiece, "Level 7" by Mordecai Roshwald.

The original story "The Defenders" starts with Philip K. Dick's patented "mundane breakfast and a strangely sinister dialog in the kitchen", and then quickly advances along paranoia scale into a sheer propaganda lunacy territory. Not everything is logical and believable in the plot, but for all of us "Dr. Strangelove" junkies, it does not need to be. All-too-trusting humans and over-the-top conspiracy plot are forgivable, being a vehicle for a strange apocalyptic environment and atmosphere - all too enjoyable in the capable PKD hands.



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Also Read: PKD Short Stories Review ->

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COMMENTS:

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent reviews of extraordinary writings of:

a. a demented mind
b. the last sane man on Earth
c. a secret conspiracy to enslave robots and free mankind
d. a secret conspiracy to enslave mankind and free robots
e. all of the above

As a longstanding PDK fan, I'm going with "e".

Thank you for bringing PDK to the attention of those who have never heard of him. He was a remarkable man possesed by a phenomenal mind.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Michael Grosberg said...

Umm, the description of "The Penultimate Truth" is plain wrong. In the novel, most of Earth's population is indeed underground, making robots. But above ground, it's not robots who control things. It's a human elite, the former leaders and top bureaucracy from both sides, who enjoy the depopulated earth and control large estates while their human brethren suffer underground. The robots made by the underground humans are simply used as servants. In Dick's world, robots are usually untrustworthy... but the establishment, the human political leadership and the captains of industry, are even worse.

3:48 AM  
Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you Michael, you're right - I made it more clear. All this adds to "The Truman Show" dimension of this story...

10:19 AM  
Blogger Malene said...

Great reviews! Love the pictures by Tim Warnock!

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Matthew said...

The only PKD novel I read was Ubik. I thought it was pretty good but not revelatory. I was fascinated and impressed with some parts but not very much with the work as a whole. I read Gene Wolfe about the same time and I think he is a far more talented writer of bizarre science fiction.
One weakness of PKD is in my eye his language. His style is nothing notable. So are most of his visual descriptions. It seemed to me that his strategy of describing futuristic designs was to avoid describing their appearance but to concentrate on the functions and perhaps general measurements. For the man who is most famous for creating the original for the visual feast of a movie Blade Runner, which is often seen as heralding a new era of aesthetics in scifi (inspiring even William Gibson), this is pretty disappointing.
On the other hand, he has a strength of conveying a certain bodily feeling and things like tricks of the eye.

Reading Michael Moorcock's polemic criticism of PDK's characters in particular, I feel inclined to agree. They are rather types than original inventions. Now you may like his types, but the statement about the mediocre artistry remains. (At least I can agree with my experience of that one novel. Maybe I would change my mind with some other story of his.)

I think his existential themes and effects of philosophical confusion are very interesting, but other authors, such as Gene Wolfe, handle them with greater ease and mastership of style.

1:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch is not to be unread. Some of the best SciFi films in the last 30 years have been based on PKD's stories.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you Matthew for this insight... Gene Wolfe is a must-read, but his writing is also uneven, alas.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best novel.... Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

5:31 PM  

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