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A Three-Book Review of Philip K. Dick: Dr. BloodMoney; Solar Lottery; and Counter-Clock Word
Dr. Blood Money
The first book up is Dr. BloodMoney. The volume I have in my hands is a Vintage Books paperback (Vintage Books is a division of Random House: New York). The first Vintage Books edition was put out in May of 2002. The novel was first published by Ace Books, Inc., in 1965.
This book is a long one by Mr. Dick's usual standards of concision, at 298 pages.
This book is about how humanity regroups after suffering through a cataclysmic nuclear war. It is about how humanity tries to put civilization back together; and we get a glimpse as to how far they have been set back technologically, scientifically, and even medically. Certain natural resources that had been taken for granted are gone; and now people are reduced to pulling the cars by horse because there are no fossil fuels left.
Now then, as always, my purpose in writing these "reviews" is not to, in any way, presume for myself the power or judgment to "rank" them, to say how many stars they should get out of five, or anything like that. I never do the whole good points/bad points thing, which is so subjective when it comes to fiction.
My purpose is to try to give you an idea of what you will be in for, should you decide either to buy this book from a bookstore, or simply check it out from your local public library to read.
Now then, if any of you out there have ever read Stephen King's novel, The Stand, I think you will have some idea of the flavor of Dick's Dr. BloodMoney. This is not a criticism of Mr. King, but in my opinion, Philip K. Dick has managed to tell the same kind of story, of the same scope, in a fraction of the space.
As you may know, Stephen King's post world cataclysm novel is about fourteen hundred pages. Philip K. Dick's only approaches three hundred. Of course, I have my own view of how Mr. Dick managed that, which we will come to in a moment.
But another way in which Philip K. Dick's novel compares to, or matches up with Stephen King's novel, is this: I would say that Philip K. Dick's "Dr. BloodMoney" is, essentially and effectively, the science fiction narrative "flip side" of the coin to Mr. King's supernatural horror of "The Stand."
Another way to put it is to say that both novels are, in my opinion, rather like "mirror images" of one another.
Seriously, folks! If you found Stephen King's The Stand as I did---to this day I still think it is his masterwork---I am confident that you will find Philip K. Dick's Dr. BloodMoney equally gripping and a bit more quirky fun.
Just remember, with Philip K. Dick and Stephen King, we are dealing with writers in two different genres. That means we are dealing with two different sets of "special effects," if you will: fictional "science" and the fictional supernatural.
One last point before we leave this "review."
I said before that, as I see it, Philip K. Dick managed to tell roughly the same story, of the same degree of depth and breadth, in a fraction of the number of pages used by Mr. King. In my opinion, that has a lot to do with the storytelling style Mr. Dick used, and seems to have used regularly in his novels.
Philip K. Dick seems to have made much more extensive use of a technique I call the experiential past tense in storytelling than Stephen King ever did or does. Mr. King, like most authors today, seem to be firmly in the "don't tell, show" camp; and there is nothing wrong with that.
I won't go into the full definition of what I mean by the term here. Let me just say that in Mr. Dick's novels, action is often referred to rather than shown to us, the reader, directly, if you know what I mean. Today that approach would be considered a violation of today's "don't tell, show" rule. However, I find it terribly efficient.
Also, one never feels, at all, cheated, if that is the word, when reading a Philip K. Dick novel. You will never, ever be bored with a Philip K. Dick book. You may, on occasion, find yourself confounded, but never bored.
You have to understand one thing about Mr. Dick's writing. He was not a writer of action scenes, per se. He was never a James Patterson type. This is not to say that Philip K. Dick novels do not have any action in them, because they most certainly do. You just have to understand that ideas, political and metaphysical, mattered much more to him than action set-pieces, as it were.
Another thing you will find with this and other Philip K. Dick novels, is that he blends the fantastic and surreal quite easily and naturally with the ordinary, down home, and down-to-earth. The effect tends to demystify the fantastic and mystify the ordinary.
Let me just "read" you the not very summarizing summary from the back cover of the paperback. It goes like this:
"Dr. BloodMoney is a post-nuclear holocaust masterpiece filled with Dick's most memorable characters: Hoppy Harrington, a deformed mutant with telekinetic powers; Walt Dangerfield, a selfless disc jockey stranded in a satellite circling the globe; Dr. Bluthgeld, the megalomaniac physicist largely responsible for the decimated state of the world; and Stuart McConcie and Bonny Keller, two unremarkable people bent on survival of goodness in a world devastated by evil.
One last thing
There is another way Philip K. Dick seems to have kept the length of his novels down, as far as I can tell. He seems to have done this by having everybody take the fantastic and uncanny for granted. In other words, the things we, the readers, see are just a surprise to us, not to the other characters of the story.
For example, in "Dr. BloodMoney" it is taken for granted, as general knowledge, that handicapped people like Hoppy (born with no arms and no legs, using a vehicle with artificial pincer-like appendages) sometimes have telekinetic powers (capable of "action at a distance" and all that).
In still other words, the fantastic and uncanny never intrudes upon anyone's sense of how reality works---at least initially--- as is the case in Stephen Kings The Stand. In yet other words again, in Dr. BloodMoney what we might call hyper-reality and ordinary reality form a unit that everyone knows about and accepts. In Stephen King's The Stand a new, hyper-reality is initially experienced as a traumatic intrusion, in a psychological sense by many ordinary people.
Solar Lottery is a Vintage Books paperback of 200 pages. Vintage Books is a division of Random House, Inc.-New York. The first Vintage Books edition was put out in June of 2003. It was originally published under Philip K. Dick's copyright, in 1955.
Even at two hundred pages, Solar Lottery is a relatively long novel for Mr. Dick. He was an extremely concise writer by today's standards.
What is "Solar Lottery"?
Well, it is a quirky science fiction action thriller. The book is a thriller, as I usually define the word, in that plot is constructed of a building series of events that conclude with a "shattering climax" and so forth. It is a "space opera," I suppose, in that its scope is interplanetary and cosmic.
The book feels like an old fashion action adrenaline shot, in many ways. This book is also a work of suspense, as I usually define that term, in that one or more characters do need to accomplish certain tasks, fitting them within a specific time window, in order to achieve the desired outcome for themselves, or to prevent their antagonists from achieving their desired outcomes.
The book is an interesting combination of medieval social structure and the interplanetary, intergalactic age. For example, you don't just get a job and an employer in the world of "Solar Lottery." The lord and serf system is in effect. You don't sign an employment contract, you take "fealty oaths."
Its a sort of "crime" novel, in the sense that "in a society of criminals, the innocent man goes to jail," as one of the characters has occasion to say.
I must say that I find this to be one of Dick's relatively more lighthearted novels, unless I am missing something. But let me "read" to you the blurb that is on the back cover now. It goes:
"The year is 2203, and the ruler of the Universe is chosen according to the random laws of a strange game under the control of Quizmaster Verrick, But when Ted Bentley, a research technician recently dismissed from his job, signs on to work for Verrick, he has no idea that Leon Cartwright is about to become the new Quizmaster. Nor does he know that he's about to play an integral part in the plot to assassinate Cartwright so that Verrick can resume leadership of a universe not nearly as random as it appears."
By "universe" we are not talking about a cosmos filled with varied, sentient beings. We are talking about seven billion humans spread out over the galaxy. This is not the world of Star Trek or Star Wars or anything like that. One thing one discovers about Philip K. Dick's work is that he tended to demystify what we would imagine most worthy of mystification; and mystified things we would imagine most unworthy of mystification.
The edition we are working with is a Vintage Books paperback. The first Vintage Books edition was put out in November of 2002. By the way, Vintage Books is a division of Random House, Inc., in New York. It was originally published under Philip K. Dick's copyright in 1967. And the novel is 218 pages.
Now then, one thing to keep firmly in mind about the work of Philip K. Dick is that reality, itself, was his theme; or rather, it was one of the core topics of his speculative investigations. There was and is no one, in my humble opinion, more cleverly inventive at imagining different ways that the fabric of reality might unfold. Indeed, it really is not overstatement, or hyperbole, to call Philip K. Dick a "visionary."
In Counter-Clock World we find the Earth subjected to a phenomena known as the "Hobart Phase," which causes time to run backward. People greet each other with "Goodbye," and depart with "Hello." We might pause here to say that people know what is going on and that they are living through this phase.
Then why don't they force themselves to say "hello" and "goodbye" at the proper junctures?
Because everything else going on around them virtually compels it. You see, reality is running backward. For example, one smokes a cigarette. It begins as a butt and when it is finished it is a complete cigarette and placed back in the package. To smoke a pack of cigarettes is really to smoke a pack of butts, which then, under the Hobart Phase, become full cigarettes to be placed back in the package and returned from the store from which they were bought.
Libraries are not in the business of spreading created knowledge, under the Hobart Phase. Instead, they are in the business of eradicating books. This is not a Fahrenheit 451 situation because authors, themselves, are in the business of rather un-writing books. Remember, this is the time-reversing Hobart Phase we're talking about.
But that's not all, of course. The dead return to life---no zombies. No matter how long one has been dead, they reassemble at the molecular level, reanimate, and then scream to be let out of their graves.
People also "age" in reverse; they get younger. The process goes on beyond the fetal stage. Indeed, babies go around soliciting women to implant them into their wombs. When the babies finally disappear after implantation, the women understand these babies to have formed "a part of them forever."
The Hobart Phase goes on, everyone knows what is happening and adapts themselves to it; but nobody knows how long it will go on or if it will ever stop.
This being the case, saying "goodbye" in greeting and "hello" upon departure might make perfect sense. The true "hello," as it were might be for a time when all beings (and things) meet up again, so to speak, at "The Source," whatever that is.
I mention that because there is a strong influence of Hinduism present in the body of Philip K. Dick's work. As I understand it, Hinduism generally holds that the universe goes through countless cycles. One way to interpret this "Hobart Phase" business, in the context of Hinduism, is to say that, perhaps, this time-reversal signifies the fact that the universe has run "its course," and is winding up to prepare another round, from the beginning again, as it were.
Anyway, I would have loved to see the operation of criminal justice under the Hobart Phase. This is not a criticism, from me, about this novel; it is just me being greedy.
Thank you for reading.