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Three books by Philip K. Dick

The last three science fiction books I read were all by Philip K. Dick, and I think I have read enough of his work to be considered a Dickhead :D I finished The Man in the High Castle (1962) most recently, and before that, The Zap Gun (1967) and The Penultimate Truth (1964). The Man in the High Castle was my favourite of the three.

All three have a lot in common - alternate post-WW2 outcomes are explored in each. The world has been divided up into various factions, each with its own mechanics for manipulating reality. Often times events are presented simultaneously where the characters don't realize that they are responsible, much like an artist doesn't realize how they can affect a viewer or a politician makes a decision that affects the outcome for citizens. I actually thought The Zap Gun and The Penultimate Truth were in the same universe, but a quick check proved that to not be true. The books were written co-currently and are very similar to each other. The Penultimate Truth was my least favourite, mostly because the last five or six chapters explain the plot and I found it too long and wordy. It shows signs of overwriting and once the plot twist comes, loses all momentum, and then ends on a cliffhanger.

Truth is based on some earlier short stories (especially "The Defenders") and feels cobbled together. What spoils a perfectly decent plot about a government conspiracy is the clunkiness of the way everything is named. Dick uses the same words across his works in a genius stroke of continuity, but they come across as not having been read out loud:

Artiforg (artificial organ)
Aud (short for audio)
Pac-Peop (Pack-Peep? Pee-op?)

The most aggravating word is the form of transportation called a flapple. I even noted the use of disemflappled, which sounds like what happens when an iPhone user switches to Android. I actually kept reading artiforg as artifrog, which started to make more sense. The technology in the book is also painfully clunky - predicting a far off future where robots and cable TV exist. It's hard to remember that the concept of cable was pretty futuristic at the time.

In comparison, The Zap Gun was much better, but the relationship between the main character, Lars, and a Russian love interest, Ms. Topchev, disappears shortly before the end of the book. This leaves the story feeling unresolved. Same with Truth and Castle - both just stop. Apparently there was going to be a sequel to Castle, but it never happened.

Back to Castle, the use of the I Ching as a plot device was really interesting and added a fortune telling quality that's usually filled by a piece of magical technology (an oracle appears in The Zap Gun as well, but it's a piece of technology). I liked the modes of deception in Castle (most of the characters have multiple realities as well). One of the characters, Frank Frink, has changed his name in order to escape persecution for being Jewish. His estranged wife, Juliana, experiences a transformation after giving a mysterious truck driver a ride, and even objects have multiple lives. Perhaps one of the reasons I liked Castle so much was the loving attention paid to material culture - the piece of paper that makes an object "authentic", the way clothing and gifts are used, interior design. If I had read Castle earlier, all this would have flown over my head.

Not so much with the other two books, but the world of Castle is an incredibly racially divided one (Germans and Japanese control the world, and each takes about a third of the US). Some characters spout some racial slurs that were popular, although probably still not socially acceptable back in the day. I don't believe it reflects on the attitude of the author though.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 27th, 2014 04:27 pm (UTC)
"The Man in the High Castle" is pretty much the classic of his books, but I can't think of author who has had more short stories turned into movies like "Total Recall," "Minority Report," and "Bladerunner."

My favorite part of "Castle" was how everyone was reading an alternative history SF novel about the US and UK winning the war and turning on each other.
Jun. 27th, 2014 04:36 pm (UTC)
Dick definitely wins the movie prize. I think that is what has always appealed to me about his works - they are often very high concept, and Castle was so meta!
Jun. 28th, 2014 02:18 am (UTC)
Somehow a few years ago I ended up reading PKD's books with artiforgs right at the same time as I watched the film Repo Men (Jude Law works for a bank, repossessing artiforgs when people miss their payments on them), and suddenly *boom* I realized that the idea of artiforgs are all over the place. T$ played Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon recently and in that one you loot corpses for cyber hearts which you use to distract giant lizards. AFAIK Repo Men is the only other place I've seen the term "artiforg," but the concept's definitely reused a lot.
Jul. 4th, 2014 12:24 am (UTC)
Oh cool, I had no idea. I have not seen Repo Men at all!
Jul. 4th, 2014 02:13 am (UTC)
Funny you should reply to this today, as I referenced Repo Men in an entirely different context earlier today - specifically, a fanfic whose ending reminded me of Repo Men's ending. Man, now I wanna watch it again, too bad it's not on Netflix streaming (at least not here, might be different where you are).
Jul. 4th, 2014 02:19 am (UTC)
So cosmic :-D

For the most part, Canadian Netflix sucks. The selection is very poor. We need to sign up with one of those third party IP spoofers to get the full meal deal. It's so sad - we would happily pay for real Netflix and Hulu.
Jul. 7th, 2014 03:46 am (UTC)
Apparently if you use the Chrome browser, there's an extension that lets it emulate being from another country, so you could view [US] American Netflix or British Netflix. I haven't looked for said extension myself though, as US Netflix gives me more than enough stuff, I don't need to try other countries.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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