Drugs, Hallucinations, and the Quest For Dick

by Arthur B

The long-running review series continues with a look at the Dicks of 1964.
Philip K. Dick followed up an absurdly productive 1963 with an equally absurdly productive 1964, providing all the substantiation anyone could desire for his claim that he used amphetamines as a writing aid. His marriage to Anne was on the wane, with some shockingly abusive incidents in 1963 more or less killing any hope of piecing it back together, and the process of divorce had begun with Dick initiating it, having moved out.

Whereas such incredible disruptions to one's personal life might put some off their writing, Dick seems to have kept up the pace. We know that he was acutely aware of the precariousness of his finances, and perhaps he feared that the divorce would make his fiscal situation even worse, so churning out more novels must have seemed like the pragmatic thing to do. However, at the same time as we will see Dick was also gripped by powerful and strange fears at this time, with one novel in particular being built around a spiritual experience entirely out of line with ordinary reality.

Three novels here unambiguously originated in this year, the manuscripts having arrived at his literary agency during this time. I am also including here two Dick novels for which, for reasons which will be outlined in their respective reviews, the dating is a bit harder to call. Lies, Inc. I would say properly belongs to 1964’s crop because although a substantial expansion took place in 1965, the expansion material mostly seems to riff on the basic ideas laid down in the original 1964 novella. Deus Irae belongs here because most of the direct-from-Dick material in this collaboration was penned in 1964, though Roger Zelazny’s contributions and Dick’s coda were penned substantially later.

Clans of the Alphane Moon

In a Solar System recovering from a war against the Alphanes that the Terrans just about won, we discover one Chuck Rittersdorf. Chuck is, like so many other Dick protagonists we’ve met up to this point, a man whose marriage is on the rocks. His wife, Mary, is seeking a divorce, they’re living separately, and due to the punitive alimony laws she is trying to compel him to get a better job so that he can earn enough to keep her and the kids in the level of comfort they’re accustomed to whilst Mary, a respected psychiatrist, does some pro bono work for the Terran space colonial authorities.

Chuck’s current job is as a robot programmer for the CIA. With the USA surrounded by a cordon of Communist countries and the intelligentsia having utter contempt for the secret services, the CIA is poorly funded and relies heavily on simulacra as opposed to actual human agents. Whilst capable of being piloted by remote control, these simulacra are more typically designed to operate autonomously, using propaganda scripts developed by Chuck and his colleagues to try and promote the American way of life in a world which isn’t inclined to listen.

This is alright work as far as Chuck is concerned, but Mary despairs of his lack of ambition and even more acute lack of earning power, and she pushes him to take on a second job as a scriptwriter for TV comedian Bunny Hentman. Stuck in a routine of near-constant work, reliant on amphetamines to stay awake on a 24/7 basis, and living in a miserable little apartment in a building mostly occupied by non-Terrans of various sorts, Chuck is understandably unhappy. When we are first introduced to him, it isn’t long before he ends up attempting suicide; this attempt is thwarted by his neighbour, Lord Running Clam, a telepathic slime mould from Ganymede, who points out that Chuck has an opportunity to do something a bit less self-destructive, though still in essence kind of destructive.

Specifically, Chuck has been tasked by his superiors in the CIA with the remote control operation of Dan Mageboom, a CIA simulacrum who will be joining Mary on her mission to the off-world colonies. For the mission is to go to the Alphane home system, where a lost Terran colony exists on the moon Alpha III M2. Granted, the colony’s only major feature was a mental hospital, occupied by all those for whom the unique stresses of interstellar colonisation had exacerbated whatever pre-existing conditions and predispositions to conditions they were burdened with.

In the wake of being cut off from the colonial authorities’ control as a result of the Terra-Alpha war, the patients have left the hospital and scattered to the four winds, gathering together in clan groupings based on their diagnosis - for instance, the “Heebs” have hebephrenia, whilst the “Pares” are the paranoids, and so on. The “Poly” clan consists both of those with polymorphic schizophrenia, and those who for one reason or another haven’t differentiated into a clan yet, and there’s hints that the boundaries between clans may not be especially rigid, with passing references to some characters passing from one clan to another. Each clan has established its own little town separate from the others, named after a historical figure popularly diagnosed as belonging to one clan or another (so the Pares live in Adolfville, for instance), but they do have a council where they come together to discuss matters of collective importance, and they are inventive, intelligent, and educated enough to develop a decent level of technology by themselves - the manic Manes of Da Vinci Heights, in particular, have some nice toys at their command.

But is all this, plus the psionic powers some of the clans are prone to developing, enough to assert their independence against Terran authorities who now seek to reinstitutionalise them? Does Chuck dare to follow through on Lord Running Clam’s terrible suggestion of using DM to assassinate Mary, and then claim that it was a signal error of the sort known to happen with remote-controlled simulacra? Why does the vulgar Bunny H have a high-ranking member of the Alphane government sponsoring his show - and why, for that matter, does Bunny want Chuck to write a comedy sketch about a CIA agent using a simulacrum to kill his nagging wife?

So, there’s two big issues to unpack here: the first is the novel’s take on mental health, and the latter (intimately connected to the first) is the whole “Chuck wants to murder Mary” angle on the plot. The first aspect of the book is the part which dooms it to become dated; psychiatry has come a long way since the 1960s, and whilst attitudes to mental illness have not changed nearly as much as we might have hoped the professional understanding of it has. The specific diagnostic categories that the clans adopt as tribal identities, and the particular understanding of them expressed in the book, inevitably reflect the state of play in 1964, as sussed out by someone who wasn’t a psychiatric professional and who may not have been keeping up to date with the latest literature. (For instance, the Heebs are depicted as being slobs who don’t look after themselves or their surroundings beyond doing the bare minimum necessary, but can be cajoled into doing janitorial work or other simple labour and who do well there, and I have the impression that that’s a rather simplistic and extremely out of date take on disorganised schizophrenia.)

That said, Dick is at least careful to be reasonably compassionate in his depictions of the inhabitants of Alpha III M2, and the particular form their society takes is a clever way of illustrating how diagnostic categories can end up becoming markers of identity, particularly in a society where people are not assumed to be ill or defective simply because they match a particular set of diagnostic criteria. A recurring idea in Dick’s work - it’s quite prominent in Martian Time-Slip - is how our ideas of neurodivergent and neurotypical behaviour (not terms he used because, to my knowledge, they weren’t in wide circulation when he was writing) are shaped to a large extent by our cultural context. Whilst it can sound reasonable enough rule of thumb to say that a particular cognitive quirk becomes a mental health issue once it starts to adversely affect the person’s ability to live as they wish, enjoy their live, or get by in society, Dick seems to have been very keen to promote the notion that the very arrangement of modern society may be hostile and harmful to people with particular outlooks who may thrive perfectly well if they are allowed to exist in a different societal context.

Of course, Dick wasn’t alone at the time in pondering whether psychiatric institutions were a little too quick to pathologise people. Ken Kesey had put out One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest a couple of years before, and the Soviet Union’s co-option of the psychiatric profession as a means of suppressing dissidents was all too real. The worrying power of psychiatry as a potential tool of social control was high on the agenda. Sometimes people went too far in the opposite direction in opposing psychiatry; after the decidedly sceptical reception Dianetics received from the psychiatric community, L. Ron Hubbard became increasingly hostile to it, beginning with Dianeticists and early Scientologists taking part in a lot of the 1950s protest movements against psychiatric excesses and culminating in the Scientology space opera mythology which has the evil psychs implanting thetans with various different sets of diabolical control mechanisms (of which the R-6 Implants relating to the whole Xenu myth is merely the most well-known, possibly because it was held to be so much more dangerous than the other psych implants that an entire OT level was dedicated to its careful removal).

Dick does not go that far here. The fact that the schizophrenics of the clans have latent psionic potential may be a reiteration of his regular theme of the sort of psychic powers SF fanboys at the time dreamed about being potentially accompanied by less welcome side effects, but it’s also an acknowledgement that at least some psychiatric conditions are not mere cultural constructs, but have some physical root cause. (The fact that most children of the clans don’t stay with the Polys forever likewise suggests an awareness that genetic predisposition to particular conditions is a thing.) But even so, the fact that people can move between clans as their symptoms and worldview changes suggests that the clan system may be a bit too formalised and narrow to truly take into account the full range of symptoms and conditions people can manifest, which in turn is of course an acknowledgement that the DSM is a descriptive work rather than a prescriptive one. The fact that the clans have a society that, despite its quirks, can mount a credible defence against Terran aggression, and the fact that they are able to clearly enunciate what they want and agree on sensible policies for achieving that, together present an extremely optimistic vision of what people can achieve if you let them live as they wish to live.

On the flipside, the fact that occasionally the clan members’ conditions does cause them some marked challenges suggests that Dick sees the answer to bad psychiatric practice is better, more compassionate practice, rather than to simply denying all mental health support to those who want to seek help. Likewise, Chuck’s decision at the end of the book to start a community for people who are “normal” (or at least don’t have a condition that qualifies for a formal diagnosis) suggests that being socially expected to have some sort of formal diagnosis can be just as limiting and damaging as being condemned for having one in the first place. There’s an interesting potential there to explore how many members of the clans actually full-on possess the symptoms of the conditions they identify with, and how many of them are just going along with what is socially expected of them in order to get along, but Dick doesn’t really explore that point and I rather think that it is a missed opportunity.

Intertwined with the mental health aspects of the book is the running feud between Chuck and Mary. Dick often loses perspective and all sense of good taste when writing about marital difficulties, and this time around he goes above and beyond to try and push an interpretation that isn't really supported by the facts. At the end of the novel, both Chuck and Mary take some of Mary’s diagnostic tests; Chuck is assessed as being “normal”, whilst Mary is assessed as concealing a deep depression (despite her efforts to maintain a manic facade). This outcome is, frankly, ridiculous. The first significant thing we see Chuck do is attempt suicide; the next major thing he does is to plot Mary’s murder. He is, quite literally, a danger to himself and others. To give him a clean bill of health is farcical.

I suppose that there is the remote possibility that this is intentional, and that we are supposed to see this as a sign that strict diagnostic categories are nonsense and that just because someone can't be put in a neat box doesn't mean they don't have profound mental health problems. However, that really isn't how it comes across - it's presented more as Chuck finally taking the wind out of Mary’s sails so she will acquiesce to his decisions and be a good little wifey again. This is especially repellent when you consider Dick’s own marital breakdown at the time that the novel was written. We've seen over and over again how Dick would include autobiographical elements in his stories, especially where romantic relationships are concerned, and thanks to Anne we now know how psychiatric institutions intersect with the disintegration of her marriage to Dick.

Early on in the novel, it genuinely feels to me like Dick is acknowledging on some level that maybe he was the bad guy in all this - after all, even at the time plotting to kill your wife wasn't seen as the action of a sympathetic character. Later, when Chuck and Mary find themselves in a deadly struggle on Alpha III M2, it feels like Dick is saying “Maybe we’re both to blame”. With this conclusion, it feels like Dick is saying “Maybe I was right all along and you were the crazy one after all, Anne”. This would be a petty and vindictive thing to say in the context of any divorce, but in one where Dick tried to get Anne locked up in a mental hospital (and temporarily succeeded) it shows a breathtaking lack of self-awareness.

This isn’t the only point of commonality between Chuck and Mary’s issues and the conflict between Phil and Anne. One of the Chuck’s recurring issues is how he earns much less than Mary for his writing, and Mary pushes him into taking the comedy job for the sake of getting more money. This isn’t the only time Dick would express this frustration; in fact, as we’ve seen in previous articles, men feeling emasculated and shamed by the fact that their wife earns more than them regularly crop up in Dick’s novels from his time with Anne, as a reflection of his own discomfort about finances.

It’s possible, in fact, to see this very novel as exactly the sort of comedic throw-away work that Chuck is nudged into by Mary, which may explain how that comedy is constantly ruined by this sour tone. Certainly, whilst some of the comedic parts in here work just fine - Lord Running Clam’s polite interjections and eccentric biology perhaps represent the best example of this - others feel like Dick trying to write some sort of lowbrow sex comedy. The nadir is reached when Gabriel Baines, leader of the paranoid clan, decides to try and seduce Mary to convince her to drop the plan to rehospitalise all the moon’s inhabitants. Aside from the intrinsicly rohypnol-flavoured yuckiness of using a “love potion” for comedic effect, the scene also just becomes weird and embarrassing when the love potion turns out to stimulate more than it relaxes, and Mary turns out to have a biting fetish, so Baines ends up being overpowered by her and nibbled into unconsciousness as he cries and pleads and begs her to stop.

Cast Kenneth Williams as Baines, and you’ve got a scene from Carry On Dicking right there.

On top of the sleazy sex comedy, there’s a lot of talk about women’s breasts, and how in this future the fashion in cosmetic surgery is for nipple dilation in addition to breast augmentation. The book isn’t as boob-fixated as, say, Robert Heinlein’s Number of the Breast, but pretty much nothing is, and it’s a kind of juvenile and irritating aspect of the novel that adds absolutely no value.

Whether or not Dick wrote this as a cheap throw-away work to earn some quick cash at the time, in retrospect, he seems to have considered to be a fairly good example of his work, particularly when it comes to the way the different factions and people are all working at cross-purposes to each other, and they all have different inaccurate assumptions about each other’s motives, until Chuck realises that it’s become completely impossible to work out who any particular faction’s true allies and enemies are. Dick is on point at least to that extent - this aspect of the novel is especially well realised, and the speculative society he presents with the clans is, whilst perhaps not entirely realistic, at least a genuinely interesting thought experiment and worth consideration for anyone who is especially interested in the way diagnostic categories and markers of identity can bleed into each other. However, Dick is in full-on grouchy divorcee axe-grinding mode here, and that kind of ruins the fun at points and stops this being a really central entry in his portfolio.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

With the process of interstellar colonisation being as hard and miserable as it is - and yet also decidedly necessary, due to the rampant global warming that has hit the point where the seas are beginning to dry up - the UN has had to give up looking for volunteers and institute a draft. In their hovels on Mars and other plants, the draftees while away their time in a drugged stupor; by using the “translating drug” Can-D, they can communally enter into and interact with a shared world for a time. Typically, this is done in conjunction with a “layout” - a doll’s house and accessories, so the colonists can enter into and live the lives of Perky Pat and her boyfriend Walt (with multiple colonists inhabiting Pat or Walt in group trips).

Leo Bulero is the boss of P.P. Layouts, manufacturer of the Perky Pat range, and employs top precognitives like Barney Mayerson and Roni Fugate to suss out future trends in fashion, ensuring that Pat and Walt always get the best accessories. Bulero is also, much to the chagrin of the UN, the main kingpin behind the Can-D trade. But Bulero has a problem: maverick industrialist Palmer Eldritch has returned from a decade-long business trip to Proxima Centauri with a competing product, the hot new translating drug Chew-Z. Rather than having to share a hallucination based on a layout with a strictly limited time span, those who chew Chew-Z can enjoy it for a subjective aeon, and get to live in a private world tailored to them for the duration.

There's one major problem, though; Palmer Eldritch, or the thing that is using his form, owns all those worlds outright. And those who are exposed to Chew-Z are contaminated by him - it's like a perverse communion, where Eldritch (who might not be God but may be an order of magnitude closer to divinity than humans are) becomes you and you become him. Bulero is intent on taking down Eldritch, even if it means murder - but for his part, Eldritch is considering having one of his Chew-Z addicts die for his sins...

As Dick would later explain it, the inspiration for this novel was a potent experience he endured in the summer of 1963. Rather than working in the house he shared with Anne and the children - surely a particularly uncomfortable prospect as their marriage was right in the process of total collapse - Dick maintained an isolated little writing shed where he could go and be alone with his typewriter, his amphetamines, and his ideas. One day, strolling to the shed, the universe reconfigured itself on him; he became aware that a vast face was peering over the world, with empty, slot-like eyes. It was the face, he was convinced, of the Devil, or at the very least of an evil divine force which had the world entirely in its control, and which only the transcendent God could oppose.

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of how Dick described this hallucination was the fact that it wasn’t at all brief - in fact, it lasted for a whole month, during which he attempted to convert to the Anglo-Catholic church in order to make it go away, but it didn’t work. Having previously written about deities disguised as the very stuff of the world itself in The Cosmic Puppets, Dick found himself living in such a world, and afterwards he appears to have been absolutely convinced that what he saw was a valid, legitimate appreciation of a higher reality which is, thankfully, filtered from us most of the time.

The sheer, absolute terror implicit in such an experience can only be imagined; amazingly, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch actually makes the reader imagine it. Be not deceived: although at first in tone and style it seems to be a typical Dick of this era, I would actually classify the book as an uncharacteristic but extremely successful diversion into outright horror, with the sheer malevolence of Palmer Eldritch seeping from the pages like elemental cosmic sin. It’s both his scariest book and, by far, his outright weirdest book, involving as it does a more complete breakdown of objectivity than anything else he wrote; any event which occurs in the book after Leo Bulero gets dosed with Chew-Z can be questioned in terms of whether it really occurs, or whether it’s all yet another game of Eldritch’s.

The ending of the book offers no clear hope; whilst Eldritch might, possibly have been defeated, Leo Bulero and all his fellow passengers on the ship he is taking to Earth all bear the stigmata (slot eyes, metal teeth, prosthetic hand) which reveal that they are under Eldritch’s influence, and more to the point the book makes sure to point out that Eldritch likes to be the first person people meet on arrival at an airport, just to emphasise the impossibility of escape from him, and the novel closes as the ship flies towards its destination wreathed in the terrible possibility that Palmer Eldritch is waiting at the other end of the journey.

Although in some ways it is a unique piece within Dick’s bibliography, facing pure terror to an extent he never had before and never would again, the novel also hits on themes which had been bubbling up through his work for some time and would be built on in future work. (The concept of Can-D translation as a way of passing time is reminiscent of the central twist of A Maze of Death, for instance.) It also represented the most overtly religious novel he had written up to that point - not just for the maltheistic depiction of Palmer Eldritch and the prominent role of his stigmata in the first place, but also in terms of the way the conflict between Can-D and Chew-Z resembles a shift in religious paradigm. The way it involves a change in the meaning and nature of the drug communion involved is reminiscent of conflicts within Christianity; you can also read Can-D as resembling polytheism (in that you have discrete groups inhabiting various doll characters) and Chew-Z as monotheism (in that there is only one power in control of it), or Can-D as being idolatrous in terms of its use of the doll props whilst Chew-Z is iconoclastic because no such accessories are required for its use. The conversations amongst the Mars colonists about whether they really do become Pat and Walt on a real Earth when they take Can-D or if it is all an illusion or if it is something in between truth and illusion are rather reminiscent of discussions between early Christians about Christology and Communion, and the desert environment of Mars calls to mind the Egyptian desert where the early monastic communities had these debates.

A lot of the overt discussion of religion in the book comes from the character of Anne Hawthorne, an iteration of Dick’s dark-haired girl character - though actually, Dick’s fear of women for once doesn’t get much of a shout this time. For once, the women in the book are not evil and out to control and/or destroy the protagonist; even the character of Roni, who ambitiously competes with her fellow fashion precog Barney for position in the Bulero organisation, doesn’t really do any harm; Eldritch is by far the greater threat here. You even have a somewhat more even-handed take on the collapse of Dick’s marriage than you typically get in novels of his from around this period in the form of the subplot surrounding Helen and Richard Hnatt. Richard insists on the couple having E-therapy, an experimental procedure which is supposed to push the subject up the evolutionary ladder (which is daft because evolution isn’t a ladder, though I suppose it makes sense as a riff on Dick and Anne’s ongoing debate about human evolution that informed The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike). Helen suffers adverse side-effects whilst Richard ends up growing a sense of empathy and stops the therapy course, realising he’s been an utter heel for trying to force Helen into a therapy which really only he needed.

Speaking of empathy, there are disturbing implications in the novel that, in stark contrast to many of Dick’s other works, the exercise of empathy may not be enough to save us. Can-D is, in principle, a great way to cultivate empathy, since it involves a shared experience of being Perky Pat and her friends, but in practice the colonists end up so caught up in bickering about what to make Pat and pals do that they can't properly enjoy the experience, and it takes an awful lot of time away from work that could go towards making Mars pleasant to live on. Chew-Z’s solipsistic nature makes it a direct attack on empathy, and corrosive to it, particularly since the more empathy you attempt whilst on Chew-Z the more scope you give Palmer Eldritch to mess with you.

In terms of its connections to other Dick stories, there’s a passing mention of recurring character Jim Briskin in his role as a “news clown”, but interestingly this is only in the Can-D world of Pat and Walt, raising the question of whether Briskin is a real person in the setting of the novel, or whether Briskin is fictional and his presence in the Perky Pat world is a sign that it too is fictional, or whether Briskin is real only Pat and Walt’s world and they are in alternate timeline. My hunch, on the balance of probabilities, is that he is a known figure even in the “waking world” of the novel, because the colonists are depicted as being very preoccupied with accuracy in constructing their layouts, their conversations reminiscent of tabletop RPGers geeking out over some historical fact or point of canon or whether the impale rules make sense.

(Speaking of which, in his Exegesis Dick made odd comments about his novel VALIS being art for the “Dungeons & Dragons era”, and if you were feeling flippant you could point to the Can-D and Chew-Z experiences as being precognitive depictions of different approaches to tabletop RPGs - Chew-Z’s presentation of a world curated by a single individual being the traditional RPG format with a group of players each controlling one player character and a referee controlling everything else in the game world, whilst Can-D resembles more experimental indie RPG formats with communally shared control of the direction of the narrative and the behaviour of characters.)

This is a stunningly malevolent standout piece within DIck’s body of work, and represents his most sustained and successful foray into utter illucidity. If it were any more delirious, you’d be getting to the point of dropping out of genre fiction altogether into the realm occupied by very experimental work like William Burroughs’ wilder work. Due to its significance in the development of Dick’s work, and in particular the development of the specifically religious aspects of his writing, it’s no surprise that Dick has a lot to say about it in the Exegesis. In fact, thanks in part to the way it depicts a malevolent artificial reality imprisoning people in a manner that fits in extremely well with the concerns of his 2-3-74 experience, it’s mentioned in the Exegesis (or at least the massive tome of published extracts from it) more than any of the books we’ve reviewed in this series to date.

In particular, Dick saw his later experiences as essentially being sequels to his original Palmer Eldritch vision. It is suggested in the novel that Eldritch may well be God himself. Dick, by the 1970s, seems to have decided that he really did see God in the Sun back in 1963, and his fearfulness of him was an imperfection in Dick, and that in retrospect the vision can be seen as the beginning of a process of reconciliation between Dick and God which reached its culmination in the 2-3-74 incidents. (Or, alternately, that Palmer Eldritch was a Demiurge-like false god that the novel exposes.) He further thought that The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch was part of a multi-volume metanovel he’d been unconsciously induced to write by God in order to do the work of reinjecting God into the world to remake reality into His image.

Or at least, that is how he saw it in his more full-blown true believer moments. When he was taken with a more sceptical, self-analytical mode, he proposed that the vision was nothing less than a sign that he’d been “partly psychotic” for years, with a full-blown episode of psychosis occurring in 2-3-74. If that is true, it may be preferable for all of us, because if Palmer Eldritch had a hand in writing this book then it means nothing good.

The Penultimate Truth

For his next story, Dick would go political again and asked a modified version of the classic Vietnam War question: “What if they gave a peace and nobody came?”

Nicholas St. James is the president of the Tom Mix “ant tank” - a densely populated deep underground shelter complex where the population have taken shelter for the past fifteen years or so, the Cold War having gone hot after a territorial dispute on Mars between the superpowers turned violent and lead to a nuclear exchange on Earth. The inhabitants of the ant tank spend their days working in factories producing “leadies” - robots who do most of the fighting topside. It’s a hard life down there, but at least they aren’t up on the surface, where radiation, horrendous biological warfare diseases, and highly advanced weapons make the surface a living hell.

Or at least, that’s what they are told on TV newsreels and in speeches from Talbot Yancy, acting President of the USA. But none of it is true; Yancy is an android bolted to a desk on a film set, and conditions topside are downright pleasant. Oh, sure, there are some radiation areas here and there, but the leaders of the Western and Eastern blocs saw sense after the opening blows of the conflict and cancelled the war before it hit a true point of no return. After well over a decade, the reclamation of the surface world is coming along nicely under the guidance of a global authority led by one Stanton Brose, particularly since the vast majority of the population on both sides is still own in the ant tanks.

You see, the topsiders tell themselves that they have a responsibility to pretend that the war is still going - because it was the masses who bayed for blood when the fighting broke out, not the elites, and if they were let free they’d do it all over again. So the elite “Yance-men” work devising propaganda and faking war footage to feed to the masses, via the benign leader figure of Talbot Yancy (who also provides the same service to the Communist world from a mockup of the General Secretary’s office in Moscow). The leadies manufactured by the ant tankers are used as the personal servants of the Yance-men, who lord it over massive park-like estates in the reclaimed areas.

Nicholas has a problem that is going to lead him to discover this terrible truth: Souza, the chief mechanic of his tank, is dying and needs an artificial pancreas transplant to survive, but these are supposedly only available on the surface in military hospitals. Without Souza’s expertise, Tom Mix will fall behind quota, and there’s a risk that they will be turfed out onto the surface to fend for themselves. Or at least, they believe that this is the case; the novel doesn’t specify what would have actually happened had they failed to meet the quota, but there’s reference to an appeals process which I suspect would have provided a pretext to give the Tom Mix a “reprieve” - and probably land the political commissioner sent down from the surface to monitor things in deep trouble for allowing things to come to such a pass.

But the tankers don’t know that, so they believe the threat to their lives is real. (Remember, they truly believe that to go topside is near certain-death.) So a group of radicals among the tankers strongarm Nicholas into heading up top himself on a desperate mission to find that pancreas - and set him on a course which will entwine his destiny with that of Joseph Adams, a Yance-man who is increasingly unconvinced that he and the others are doing the right thing. Joseph’s crisis of confidence is exacerbated because Brose has forced him into a plot to destroy Louis Runcible - a entrepreneur who builds and manages the luxury high-rise apartment buildings that tankers who make it topside are confined to in a level of comfort well beyond what they enjoy down below, but with nowhere near the freedom enjoyed by the Yance-men. Why is Brose trying to destroy Runcible, who is sabotaging Brose’s plot, and what’s the deal with David Lantano, the mystery Yance-man who seems to have come out of nowhere but may hold the destiny of Earth in his hands?

The Penultimate Truth is primarily a mashup of The Defenders and In the Mold of Yancy, two short stories from substantially earlier in Dick’s career. Interestingly, Dick seems to take the opposite moral this time around; whereas in The Defenders he seemed to side with the robots who were keeping humanity down below because the surface was genuinely wrecked and human beings were too aggressively tribalistic to be trusted up there, by this point he seems to have had a change of heart and rejected that sort of paternalism as being toxic to people’s freedom and self-determination. Other past works also creep in here and there. In particular, Runcible and the plot against him, which involves using a time scoop to plant fake archaeological items on some of his land, are a sci-fi take on the character of the same name and the prank played upon him in The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, and there’s an assassination weapon used which is the same weapon (and uses more or less precisely the same MO) as the one in The Unreconstructed M.

Furthermore, David Lantano’s secret makes him a riff on Corith from Dr. Futurity - but note that despite his very similar origins as a Cherokee warband leader who’s come unstuck in time, Lantano’s agenda here is not based on some sort of race war, even though the novel does carry with it a number of depressing implications about racial politics prior to the outbreak of nuclear war. For instance, black people seem to be a rarity, and people assume Lantano’s skin colour is down to radiation burns; there’s also mentions that the bulk of the Cherokee were shipped off to Mars and then ended up getting bombed to extinction when the war broke out there, offering a latter-day culmination of the process of shunting First Nations peoples onto reservations by pushing them off the planet entirely.

A particularly dark (and uncomfortably familiar-feeling) take on prewar history takes place in chapter 10. Here, Dick depicts Joseph, trying to figure things out, following the advice offered by a leady to review “Documentaries A and B”, classic works of propaganda produced in 1982 by West German master director Gottlieb Fischer, which are regarded as such brilliant exemplars of the form that they’re a basic part of Yance-man training. The Documentaries are distorted twins of one another; presented as definitive histories of World War II, one was produced for the Western Bloc and one for the Soviet Bloc, each in its own way designed to spin the War in a way which supported Cold War-era policies.

Specifically, Documentary B was intended to convince citizens of Communist countries that not only had Russia done the brunt of the work in conquering the Reich (arguably true), but that the Western countries had basically conspired with Hitler to fake being at war with him for appearance’s sake whilst actually using Germany as their attack dog against the Soviet Union. Documentary A is even more disturbing; it effectively tries to make the Nazi apologist case that Hitler only ever really wanted to act as a bulwark against Communism, and it was Communist subversives - including Franklin Roosevelt himself - who both distorted the historical perception of what he was up to and who engineered the surrender of Eastern Europe to Stalin. As part of this, Dick describes how Fischer makes the case that all that starvation and hardship in German-controlled territories was purely down to British blockades forcing a famine on the region… in other words, it’s a massive work of Holocaust denial, funded and supported by the Western powers in order to get Germany off the hook as part of the process of bolstering West Germany as crucial allies against the Soviets.

This is not the first time that Dick would express a fear that Western governments would adopt a policy, officially or otherwise, of playing down the severity of the Holocaust or even forgiving the Nazis entirely for the sake of Cold War propaganda; I’m reminded in particular of the plot point in The Simulacra in which the US government uses time travel to arm the Reich in return for promises to dial back on the Holocaust, and of course there’s the long shadow of The Man In the High Castle to consider. It is especially interesting to see Dick writing about this in 1964, at a time when the modern Holocaust denial movement was in its early stages, with a range of publications in preceding years advancing views which have since become cliches of the movement. Whilst Dick was thankfully off the mark when it came to the US government giving official credence on a grand scale to Holocaust denial theories (though given Donald Trump and Steven Bannon time, they’ll probably get around to it), he was right on the money when it came to people’s capability to fall for massive lies about events that took place well within living memory.

This novel is much better than I remember it being, I think because by this point in his career Dick had become really adept at picking out short stories which ended up gelling well together into a more cohesive whole - in some cases the compatibilities are obvious, as with The Defenders and Yancy both involving massive deceptions of the general public, but the use of material from The Unreconstructed M and The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike and Dr. Futurity (all of which in their own way involve forgeries) is less obvious but actually kind of works in the end. The end result is that the world depicted seems substantially richer and the seams are there only if you go out of your way to look for them and it adds up to more than the sum of its parts - much in the same way as The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, in fact.

It also helps that his misogyny flag isn’t flying high this time around. (This may be due to there not being many active female characters in the story at all, mind, but it’s still a positive development.)

Lies, Inc. (AKA The Unteleported Man)

Rachmael ben Applebaum is the scion of the Applebaum family corporation, which was ruined when its investments in developing interstellar starships were rendered near-worthless by the development of teleportation technology controlled by the German industrial juggernaut THL. With the aid of their teleporters, THL are sponsoring the colonisation of Whale’s Mouth, a habitable planet orbiting Fomalhaut. Rachmael, however, does not trust THL, and especially does not trust the Whale’s Mouth project. Supposedly, teleportation is a one-way process, but the technology needed to test that hypothesis is, of course, proprietary to THL. Information can be fed back, though - but the image being sent back is too perfect, a settlement of millions of colonists with no appreciable discontent expressed in defiance of all statistical credibility and simple psychology.

It looks like the only way to check out THL’s claims is for Rachmael to take the Omphalos, the grand interstellar ship that was the last major project of the Applebaum corporation before the teleporter discoveries sank it, and use it to fly to Whale’s Mouth on the eighteen-year journey through conventional space. He might even be able to do it, if he can convince the powerful private police agency Listening Instructional Educational Services Incorporated, popularly known as Lies, Inc., to help him out...

This has perhaps the most convoluted publication history of any of Dick’s novels. Originally, it was a novella of less than half the length of the version currently available today. Then Dick was asked to expand it for publication as a novel, and so in 1965 he turned in a wildly hallucinatory extra hundred pages or so which added numerous extra levels of unreality and illucidity to proceedings. The publishers were upset because it looked like Dick had phones it in by churning out a bunch of material that just amounts to one long LSD trip - which is unfair, because the actual LSD trip portion of the expansion is just the tip of a very strange iceberg. As a result, the the expansion wasn't used, until come 1979 Dick’s fortunes were on an upswing and a publisher expressed interest in putting the material out. Dick retrieved the expansion and then started fiddling with the whole structure of the novel, tacking on a new first chapter and sprinkling a few references to stuff added in that chapter here and there before getting distracted.

Then Dick died and things got messier; some of the pages from the expansion went missing, along with any idea of exactly where the expansion material was supposed to slot in; a 1980s version of the book came out with John Sladek drafted in to write necessary connecting material. Finally, in 2003 a final version emerged - the one I have read for this review - as a result of the missing pages showing up as well as information on where the extra material is meant to go.

As far as the stuff constituting the original novella goes, it's all fairly routine Dick - flat characterisation and prurient ideas about women’s fashion trends of the future on the downside, but on the upside a tense and imaginative proto-cyberpunk story of conspiracy and paranoia and forgery of the sort that Dick could pretty much turn out in his sleep at this point (and, indeed, odds were he did in fact churn it out in an altered state of consciousness). Its major weakness is that the characterisation is quite flat even by Dick’s standards. He does include a kick-ass woman spy in the form of Freya Holm, but also feels a need to make her the lover of Matson Glazer-Holliday, the boss of Lies, Inc., making her another in the parade of beautiful mistresses of powerful men that Dick protagonists fall in love with. Speaking of which, it implies that Rachmael decides to undertake a teleportation mission to Whale’s Mouth (his starship ride having been derailed) in part out of a desire to save Freya, but there's more or less no groundwork done to establish that he has such feelings for her - not even in the extra 100 pages added later.

The expansion material - now, that is just odd. I can certainly see why Don Wollheim of Ace wrote it off as acid-inspired nonsense, because not only is there a big fat dose of LSD involved early on, but it’s also followed up by a long discussion of Rachmael’s bad trip in a group of fellow hallucinators who talk about it in the sort of jargon which was in vogue at the time in the more academic-sounding and theoretical side of the psychedelic subculture. The idea developed here goes beyond LSD, though - instead, it has it that THL keeps the truth of Whale’s Mouth hidden even from the colonists by dint of “Telpor sickness”, a nasty little side effect deliberately slipped into the teleportation process that leaves suffers caught between reality and various “Paraworlds”, manipulated by THL brainwashing technicians for their own reasons. It feels like a mashup of ideas from Eye In the Sky (what with each person having their own subjective world) and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (with the control of hallucinations by dark external forces), and the Lovecraftian excesses of the nastier Paraworlds seem like a bid to recapture the illucid nightmare of the latter novel which almost but not quite works.

The expansion is stuffed to the gills with ideas that don't quite have the space here to really develop and breathe, but there is some notable stuff. Dick inadvertently worked in a metaphor for the novel’s own tortured publication history by including a mysterious book used in the Paraworld brainwashing programs to manipulate people; purporting to be a history of the colony, the text therein sometimes (but not always) quotes the actual text of the novel, lampshading some of the inconsistencies and continuity weirdness that has been left behind by Dick’s unfinished revision process.

Said revision process from 1979 doesn't seem to have progressed very far, with the result that it clutters the text a little with minor additions that never get fully developed. At that point in time, of course, Dick’s writing revolved largely around the “2-3-74” experience that he analysed exhaustively in the Exegesis. Drawing on ideas in that, Dick riffs on the concept of police agencies informing people's states of mind by beaming sophisticated information packages directly into their brain; the new chapter 1 begins with a Lies, Inc. computer managing this process malfunctioning and beaming data about a rat on a garbage heap into Rachmael’s head, so that in the early sections of the novel he sometimes has the impression that he is actually a rat receiving lessons from a messiah-like rat guru named Abba. This is trippy but ultimately comes to nothing; the biggest failing is that Lies, Inc.’s computer system doing this never gets mentioned again, so the whole thread is just sort of left dangling.

Nonetheless, the 2003 revision of the book is the closest we will ever get to a definitive version of the story. Dick’s literary executor Paul Williams provides notes in an appendix on the publication history and identifies the expansion material. If you want to experience something approximating the original novella, you could skip chapter 1, ignore the rat stuff, and at the start of chapter 8, before the expansion material comes in, you have to assume it isn't Rachmael going through the teleport centre but Matson. However, I would say that without the Paraworld stuff the story feels a little lightweight. It is a confusing morass of zero characterisation and weird obsessions, but it's oddly haunting despite that; like the LSD trip and other hallucinations described therein, you're left with the sense that something profound has been experienced but unable to put your finger on what.

The biggest disappointment of the book overall, I feel, is that in all of its iterations Dick conspires to simply never bother tackling Rachmael doing the 18 year journey, circumstances always conspiring to stop it. The idea of Dick taking on something like Moorcock’s The Black Corridor is a tremendously fun one, but he wouldn’t really properly tackle the idea until I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon (AKA Frozen Journey).

Deus Irae

In the aftermath of a catastrophic nuclear war, Christianity wanes among the ranks of the survivors and in its place rises the Servants Of Wrath, who teach that God is a stern and malevolent punisher. They also believe that God came to the world within living memory as Carl Lufteufel, the chairman of ERDA - the US government agency responsible for unleashing the terror weapons which devastated and transformed the world.

In the small town of Charlottesville, Utah, the limbless Tibor McMasters labours for the church on painting a great mural depicting the Deus Irae - and it falls on him to take his cow-drawn cart on the road on a pilgrimage to find him, wherever he is hiding, so as to capture his true face for the image. Tibor, meanwhile, is not sure about the SOW, and has been contemplating becoming a Christian; Peter Sands, one of the local faithful, finds himself inspired to follow Tibor, but torn between protecting him from the dangers of the wasteland and intervening to make sure his mural for a false god is never completes. And just what does Mr Lufteufel think of all this?

This is an accidental collaboration between Dick and Roger Zelazny. Dick had started on the story in 1964, and had produced about 50 pages or so of material before he realised that he didn’t know enough about Christianity to really do justice to the ideas he wanted to work with. As it turned out, over the next few years he would rapidly learn a lot about Christianity and he would become fixated on esoteric interpretations of it after 2-3-74, so in retrospect Dick could have happily just waited a while to come back to it later. At the time, of course, he didn’t know that, so he started farming the notes out to see if he could get someone to collaborate and eventually Roger Zelazny ended up in charge of the project.

At the time, Zelazny’s career was puttering along but hadn’t majorly taken off - he hadn’t yet had any of his novels published, even. However, that soon changed, with well-received pieces like Lord of Light, the Amber series, and so on propelling him to the front rank of the new wave of SF writers. As a result, his work on the book was slow, but he kept at it bit by bit, with frequent discussions with Dick; eventually, he finished his part, whereon he sent it back to Dick in 1976, who gave it a final polish and sent it off to be published.

Dick’s major 1976 contribution to the book was to tack on a final chapter to round it out, but he also seems to have stepped back to put in a pinch of his 2-3-74 stuff early on in the context of a drug experience by Peter Sands (whose use of vision-inducing drugs to try and directly see God is frowned on by his priest, who regards it as a form of Gnosticism). However, much of the story seems rooted more in Dick’s earlier mystical experience - specifically, we’re back looking at the Palmer Eldritch incident once again. In particular, in a shuddersomely gruesome sequence in which he tries to remove some shrapnel from his forehead, Lufteufel inadvertently makes his own equivalent of the Shroud of Turin, which has the empty slot eyes characteristic of the Palmer Eldritch vision, and an encounter Tibor has with the divine part of Lufteufel feels much like the sort of divine trolling Palmer Eldritch got up to in Three Stigmata.

In terms of where Dick’s contributions end and Zelazny’s begin, I am inclined to draw the line after chapter six, since chapters five and six read like they’re the last dangling bits of Dick’s 1964 notes. They’re two short vignettes about Lufteufel himself - including the Shroud of Turin bit - and I am fairly sure they are chronologically out of order but were left where they are perhaps because neither Dick nor Zelazny got around to finding a more natural place to integrate them into the narrative. Chapter seven abruptly shifts the narrative forward, so after last seeing Tibor weighing up whether or not he should go on his pilgrimage we have him already well on his way, which seems like a writing decision you would make if you want to bite the bullet and say “Fuck it, let’s get this narrative moving”.

Zelazny’s section seems to involve him writing up Tibor’s journey whilst riffing on a cross-section of old Dick short stories, mostly from his nuclear war-focused era of the 1950s. There is a pointless diversion to meet an autofac which seems to exist only to take up page count, whilst the title threat of The Great C becomes a recurring danger, to the point where entire chunks of text from that story get recycled. Further padding is added by various failures of Tibor’s cart, and by Peter Sands’ journey, during which Zelazny makes sure to have Peter encounter everyone that Tibor encountered along the way, mostly redundantly.

To be honest, to a large extent the second half of the novel seems to be an exercise in Zelazny keeping Dick’s ideas warm for a sufficient page count to get the story to novel length, then bringing them to some sort of appropriate conclusion. He doesn’t seem to have much of his own to add here, and to be honest I’m not convinced either author was really feeling it here; it feels like Dick and Zelazny cannibalising and adding lots of Gnosticism to Dr Bloodmoney. You’ve got the search for a bureaucrat-scientist responsible for nuclear holocaust who's living incognito in a survivor community, you’ve got a limbless person as a major character (though Tibor is a lot nicer and less powerful than Hoppy Harrington), you have the way the person responsible for the nuclear armageddon seems to have some extremely powerful psionic/spiritual powers but doesn’t seem to be entirely conscious of that, and you have the climax in which the bureaucrat and the limbless man get into a one-on-one fight which only one survives.

It’s notable that there are incidents in the novel which seem to be genuinely supernatural and spiritual in nature, slotting it into the theological SF category occupied by Dick, James Blish, Walter M. Miller, and a very few others. (In stark contrast to some conservative strands in SF today, it’s a theology very much based on metaphysical and spiritual consideration of transcendent realities, rather than pushing conservative moral dogmas.) In terms of religious Easter eggs in there, the name “Peter Sands” feels like a reference to St. Peter as a rock of the Church that has become blasted and eroded by time and disasters, and it’s hard not to see the SOW faith as being a bit Old Testament-y - indeed, in the Exegesis Dick would talk of Deus Irae as being somehow related to Judaism, and I’m not sure how that would fit in unless the idea is that the SOW are following the vengeful Old Testament version of God. (Given that this turns out to be false, this may unfortunately feed into some of the more antisemitic implications of Gnosticism.)

Part of me thinks that the story would be improved if the Zelazny bits were stripped out and Dick had recast the thing as a novella, but at the same time I really like the way Zelazny hits on a neat way to allow Tibor to believe his quest is over and go home without facing the crushing, demoralising truth that he himself actually killed Lufteufel without knowing it was Lufteufel because Lufteufel arbitrarily murdered his dog. As it stands, it seems to want to be a delivery vector for a bunch of thoughts about theology which in 1964 he hadn't studied enough to enunciate and which by 1976 he had gone down too weird of a rabbit hole to clearly communicate.

Perhaps the largest flaw of the novel is that we never quite get to know Lufteufel well enough to figure out how he and the more divine manifestations are linked, but given how jumbled it is and how dependent it is on self-plagiarising better Dick stories there’s plenty of flaws here. Dick would, in the Exegesis, talk of it as being simultaneously his worst and best novel. I certainly don’t think it qualifies as his best, and I think it would go too far to call it his worst, but it’s pretty far down the list.

Drugs to the Left of Me, Nazis To the Right (Stuck In the Middle With Dick)

One novel that Dick started in 1964 and never came to fruition was a sequel to The Man In the High Castle, of which two chapters of the first draft survive. It appears to pick up the action very soon after the end of the original novel, but is much more focused on the Nazis themselves (who were a bit of a shadow off the edge of the stage in the original book). Goebbels seems to have the edge in the power struggle within the Reich, the armed forces have discovered a way into our timeline, which they are researching, and as leader of the SS Reinhard Heydrich attempts to strongarm Wegener, the Abwehr agent from the original novel, into reporting on the parallel worlds project. Putting the timeline-slipping at centre stage and making it something which can be studied in a lab seems to be a much more conventional SF approach than the original novel (in which Mr Tagomi’s visit felt more like a spiritual experience), and I feel that a sequel that took that direction would probably not be an especially worthy followup to the original novel. In addition, the depiction of the Nazis here is a little too much in the territory of cartoon villains, what with them collecting pickled birth defect fetuses and the like.

On balance, then, it is probably for the best that Dick shelved the project. In a way, it’s even kind of admirable, because The Man In the High Castle was a sufficiently big hit that it must have been commercially tempting to put out another riff on it. Certainly, discussion of it was continuing in fandom circles, and Dick responded to some of it in his fanzine letter Naziism and the High Castle. This offers slightly muddled thoughts on Naziism and ultra-nationalism, decrying in particular some of the excesses committed by far-right hardliners in Israel, and putting out a plea for people to treat one another as individuals without regard to group identity, a sentiment common in left-leaning thinkers of Dick’s era. Some parts of the essay can come across as slightly glib victim-blaming, particularly the bit where he seems to be suggesting that the victims of Holocaust carried some portion of blame for it in some manner, though the letter is sufficiently muddled and sloppily-written that it’s hard to say to just what extent Dick was serious about it. (If he meant what he wrote there, however, it’s pretty astonishingly callous). The publication in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick inadvertently reveals Lawrence Sutin’s limitations as a biographer of Dick arising from his shallow understanding of the fandom circles Dick moved in; Sutin identifies “fen” as a typo, when in fact “fen” was used as a plural of “fan” by some geek circles of the era.

It is another 1964 essay, though, which far better illustrates where Dick was coming from in 1964. In Drugs, Hallucinations, and the Quest For Reality, Dick attempts to make the case that hallucinations are an example not of altered or inventive perceptions, but of some manner of heightened or unfiltered perception of a higher reality. He also argues that the reason hallucinations are distressing and difficult to discuss is that they relate to things we have no language for and thus cannot adequately communicate with others about what they have experienced. There is a strong note of Gnosticism here, in that the Gnostics were not satisfied with merely hearing about God on a second-hand basis but sought direct experience of God.

Dick's departure from the family home allowed him to spend much more quality time with his drugs, a habit he had been hiding from Anne (who in the process of their marriage disintegrating found receipts from the pharmacist for various drugs she had no idea Dick was taking). Unmoored by the demands of family life, he could fully enter the booming California drug culture of the 1960s as a sort of elder statesman of the movement. With his novels of 1964, we see a mixture of contempt for conventional authority, theological curiosity, a burning hunger for direct experience of God and the true reality, and drugs being presented as a perilous but workable tool in order to overthrow the dark power, wipe clean the doors of perception and encounter divinity and the ultimate truth. In short, they can be read collectively as a manifesto for the psychedelic movement, a Bible for the nascent LSD religion of the 1960s - though one which, in the form of Palmer Eldritch, presents a God who cannot be altogether trusted.

bookmark this with - facebook - delicious - digg - stumbleupon - reddit

Comments (go to latest)
at 12:50 on 2018-06-18
No comments on this article. Why don't you post one?
In order to post comments, you need to log in to Ferretbrain or authenticate with OpenID. Don't have an account? See the About Us page for more details.

Show / Hide Comments -- More in November 2016