Thursday, 15 March 2018

The Man With Two Philip K. Dicks....

The Game-players Of Titan
 (pub. 1963) - Voyager, 1996

Roaming the pristine landscape of Earth, cared for by machines and aliens, the few remaining humans alive since the war with Titan play Bluff to maximise the remote chance some pairings will produce a child. When Pete Garden, a particularly suicidal member of the Pretty Blue Fox game-playing group, loses his current wife and his deed to Berkeley, he stumbles upon a far bigger, more sinister version of the game. The telepathic Vugs of Titan are the players and the stake is the Earth itself.

The first Philip K. Dick book I have read in some time. Initially I considered, as the story wasn't really grabbing me, giving up on this novel after about 50 pages. Aside from the blip in the pacing it has all you could want from PKD. There's the tried and tested structure of chapters jumping back and forth between multiple characters - themselves divided into two distinct social strata - and the complicated machinations of the game (of Bluff) itself to get a handle on.

Of course, as (un)expected the story suddenly takes an quite intriguing, typically Dickian twist, around page 70 and we're off (and at last I'm well and truly in!). From then on it's a case of bluff and double-bluff, with a tasty side portion of warring telepathic powers and puzzling shifts between planets and realities .... or is it? It transpires the Titanian Vugs of the title are caught up in their own power struggle and our unfortunate game-players are seemingly caught up within that .... or are they...? Maybe one of the talking cars will lose the attitude long enough to reveal all....

...'Mutreaux,' she said, 'can you turn your thoughts to - ' It was difficult to know what to call it. She had, in her hundred years of scanning, never run into anything quite like it. Puzzled, she passed over Mutreaux' surface thoughts and probed into the deeper levels of his psyche, into the involuntary and repressed syndromes which had been excluded as part of his ego-character, of the conscious self-system.
     Now she was in a region of ambivalent drives, and of nebulous and stillborn wishes, anxieties, doubts interwoven with regressive beliefs and libido wishes of a fantastic nature. It was not a pleasant region but each person had it; she was accustomed to it, by now. This was what made her existence so rife with difficulty, running into this hostile area of the human mind. Each perception and observation which Dave Mutreaux had rejected in himself existed here, imperishable, living on in a kind of half-life, feeding deeply on his psychic energy.
     He could not be held responsible for these, and yet there they were anyhow, semi-autonomous and - feral. Opposed to everything Mutreaux consciously, deliberately believed in. In opposition to all his life aims.
     Much could be learned about Mutreaux' psyche by this examination of what he chose to - or had to - reject from consciousness.

The Simulacra
(pub. 1964) - Magnum Books, 1977

Earth in the twenty-first century was a shifting, shadowy and dangerous world. Most people were content merely to survive, and to grab what little pleasure they could. But there were others who cunningly played the game of world mastery. Among them were the outstandingly beautiful woman who had ruled the White House for nearly a centruy, the world's last practising psychiatrist, a psychokinetic pianist, the time traveller, the 'chuppers', and the simulacra...

One of four(!) PKD books published in 1964, together with The Penultimate Truth, Martian Time-Slip and Clans of the Alphane Moon (though it seems he wrote six(!) altogether that year!). I'd consider this to be peak period DicKiverse!(?!) and you can't escape the feeling that he really took a bit more time with this book (if that's at all within the realms of human possibility!) There's everything you'd happily expect from Philip K. Dick here only rendered with just a bit more substance.

It's hard to write a truly constructive review as part of the joy of this book (as it is with most PKD books) is the little flourishes of imagination, the bizarre turns of phrase or those canny and sublime moments, the delightful juxtapositions where countless fantastical ideas rub up against the all-too-familiar trials and tribulations of the everyday grind. It's this honest skill - something that I think Agent Johnny himself has managed to master - that so appeals to me and, to my mind, it's this understanding of (dare I say it) 'humanity' and what it is to be human (messy and frightening and confusing!) that clearly separates PKD from the usual sci-fi pack. Still, strap yourself in for a bit of time travel, Nazis, insidious advertising, futuristic audio recording techniques, an irresistible infatuation with a political simulacra and so much more....

... he was seeing, he realized, a demonstration by political extremists, the so-called Sons of Job, neo-Nazis who seemed to have sprung up everywhere, of late, even here in this god-for-saken town in California.
     And yet wasn't this actually the most likely place for the Sons of Job to show themselves? This decadent region reeked of defeat; here lived those who had failed, Bes who held no real role in the system. The Sons of Job, like the Nazis of the past, fed on disappointment, on the disinherited. Yet these backwater towns which time had bypassed were the movement's feeding-ground ... it should not have surprised him, then, to see this.
     But these were not Germans; these were Americans.
     It was a sobering thought ...