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Three-Book Review of Philip K. Dick: The Simulacra; The Penultimate Truth; The Crack In Space

Updated on February 1, 2016
wingedcentaur profile image

The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.


The Simulacra

First up is The Simulacra, a Vintage Books paperback; Vintage Books is a division of Random House, Inc. The first Vintage Books edition was put out in May 2002; the novel was originally published under Philip K. Dick's copyright in 1964. The book is 214 pages.

Philip K. Dick was a science fiction writer who used all of the conceptual apparatus of the genre. That included human-looking, human-sounding, and human-feeling robots, which are what Simulacra are. As I've said before, Philip K. Dick, as a science fiction writer, tended to de-mystify certain phenomena in the science fiction universe. This downplaying may well strike today's reader of science fiction as odd.

I'm convinced that the reason for this lies in the fact that Dick was more interested in the political and metaphysical ideas he was pursuing, rather than the special effects, per se, of the science fiction genre.

What I'm saying is that Dick wrote very human stories concerning the relationship of the individual to the state, the dangers of too much centralized power, the nature of reality, and God. He often did this by using the apparatus of science fiction as, primarily, a delivery system, propelling the readers into those spheres of concern.

Because of this, Philip K. Dick sometimes wrote in such a way that would put him in violation of one of today's Golden Rules in Fiction Writing: 'show, don't tell.' He would be in violation, also, of a related rule that goes something like this: 'If there is a gun on the mantle, make sure somebody fires it?'

I'm talking about time travel. In the science fiction universe of Philip K. Dick (he wrote 36 novels and 5 short story collections) time travel is taken for granted---so much so that it is almost blasé. In this SF universe time travel is well established as a tool of power politics, by which the political and economic elite try to get the advantage over their rivals. That is certainly the case in The Simulacra.

Mr. Dick often chose not to actually demonstrate the phenomena of time travel, in real time, for us readers. He often elected to simply have characters refer to time travel as having been deployed. So don't look for a bell and whistles, flashing lights time travel scene in this novel, because there isn't one.

Time travel is used as a predictive tool, to look into the future. But, of course, it is not as simple as that. We are given to understand that there are multiple futures possible, each with varying degrees of probability of coming about. You have to be a better analyst than your adversary, in guessing which future is most likely, and then acting in whatever way is indicated for you to take best advantage of that.

Does that make sense?

I hope so.

What is The Simulacra all about?

At this point I think it would be easier if I just "read" to you, the blurb on the back cover.

"Set in the middle of the twenty-first century, The Simulacra is the story of an America where the whole government is a fraud and the President is an android. Against this backdrop Dr. Superb, the sole remaining psychotherapist, is struggling to practice in a world full of the maladjusted. Ian Duncan is desperately in love with the first lady, Nicole Thibideaux, who he has never met. Richard Kongrosian refuses to see anyone because he is convinced his body odor is lethal. And the fascistic Bertold Goltz is trying to overthrow the government. With wonderful aplomb, Philip K. Dick brings this story to a crashing conclusion and in classic fashion shows there is always another layer of conspiracy beneath the one we see."


The Penultimate Truth

The Penultimate Truth is a Vintage Books paperback of 191 pages in length. Vintage Books is a division of Random House Inc., in New York. The first Vintage Books edition was put out in August of 2004. The novel was originally published under Philip K. Dick's own copyright in 1964.

I think I'll start, this time, by reading you the blurb of synopsis from the back cover. There we read:

"What if you discovered that everything you knew about the world was a lie? That's the question at the heart of Philip K. Dick's futuristic novel about political oppression, the show business of politics, and the sinister potential of the military-industrial complex. This wry, paranoid thriller imagines a future in which the earth has been ravaged, and cities are burnt-out wastelands to dangerous for human life. Americans have been shipped underground, where they toil in crowded industrial anthills and receive a steady diet of inspiring speeches from a president who never seems to age. Nick St. James, like the rest of the masses, believes in the words of his leader. But all that changes when he travels to the surface---where what he finds is more shocking than anything he could possibly imagine."

Time travel is used as both a predictive tool in power politics, as well as a way of playing "dirty tricks" on adversaries. You will want to watch out for that in this book.

I think you will find this book to be one of Philip K. Dick's most action-packed, care-free "thrillers" (as I usually define the term, "thriller"), in relative terms.

This book is a thriller, as I usually define the term, in that there is action which builds to an explosive climax. This book is not suspense, however, as I usually define that term, because there is no specific time constraint which governs the actions of anybody. Remember, time travel exists in the science fiction universe of Philip K. Dick; and therefore---as sometimes happens in Dick's books---one can just go back in time and try again, if one doesn't get 'X' right, and do that almost ad infinitum, if necessary.

And, truth be told, the "edge," if you will, is often shaved off Mr. Dick's thrillers, in that the we are led step-by-step, as it were, to the "moment of truth." Then the "camera" cuts away, so to speak, and then, later, we are merely told what happened with the moment of truth, not shown.

I don't mind this myself; but some of the features of Philip K. Dick's narrative technique may be an acquired taste.

The Penultimate Truth is a political thriller, with conspiracy operating at its most devious, for the highest possible stakes---literally the world itself, and that's not hyperbole. I won't say more because I don't want to give the plot away; I want you to have the pleasure of discovering it for yourselves.


The Crack In Space

This book is a 188-page paperback, published by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., in New York. The first Vintage Books edition was put out in March 2005. The novel was first published by Ace Books, Inc., in 1966. From the back cover we read:

"In The Crack In Space, a repairman discovers that a hole in a faulty Jifi-scuttler leads to a parallel world. Jim Briskin, campaigning to be the first black president of the United States, thinks alter-Earth is the solution to the chronic overpopulation that has seventy million people cryogenically frozen; Tito Cravelli, a shadowy private detective, wants to know why Dr. Lurton Sands is hiding his mistress there; billionaire mutant George Walt wants to make the empty world all his own. But when the other Earth turns out to be inhabited, everything changes."

"Jifi-scuttler" is merely Philip K. Dick's situational, eccentric nomenclature for air car---you know, the things we had been promised for the year 2000? The vehicles operate through a limited form of time travel, so the story says. But as usual, those details are not important in a Philip K. Dick novel.

The blurb also mentioned "overpopulation," which was a real-life, actual concern of liberal-ish policy wonk types in the 1960s. Several of Philip K. Dick's novels pick up on the theme of overpopulation, usually showing that the supposed "cure" was worse than the supposed sickness.

Like most science fiction writers, Philip K. Dick was interested in such things as parallel dimensions and human evolution and frequently wrote speculatively about those things, as he has in The Crack In Space.

This book is a thriller, as I usually define the term; and not a novel of suspense, as I usually define the term. This book, too, has a relatively light, care-free tone of fun. There is, of course, a meditation on means and ends. You know: Are the means ever and/or always justified by the ends?

Keep your eye out for that. The novel makes a stab at suggesting there might be some ambiguity between saviors and villains---but not really in the case of this story. As harsh as the hero is, the prospect of things going on, status quo, is worse. Killing this person---the effective ruler or shogun of this society---can be likened to killing Hitler.

On the one hand, all human life is sacred, and all that; but when it comes to someone like Hitler... The "Hitler" in The Crack In Space is comparable---at least in my opinion.

Yes, I think that'll do it.

Thank you for reading!


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    • wingedcentaur profile image

      William Thomas 23 months ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Thanks, Frank. I appreciate it; and a belated Happy New Year to you as well!

      Take it easy.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 23 months ago from Shelton

      First and foremost.. good to see you and Happy New Year Belated of course.. the three book wrap up.. actually a very good idea.. it keeps the reader of your review sitting still.. great idea my friend :) Frank