Thursday 4 October 2018

A Philip K. Dick In Time Saves Nine....

The Zap Gun
(pub. 1967) - Gollancz, 2006

After the Plowshare Protocols way back in 2002, Lars Powderdry, Wes-bloc's brilliant weapons fashion designer, has been inventing elaborate devices that only seem to be massively lethal. And the deception is taking a heavy toll of his personal life. But when the alien satellites appear in the sky and it's clear that they aren't friendly, the world suddenly needs military might like never before. So, Wes-bloc and Peep-East temporarily patch up their differences and Lars meets up with Lilo Popchev, his eastern counterpart, in the hope that they can create a weapon to save the world. It's a difficult task made even trickier by Lars falling in love with Lilo even though he knows she's trying to kill him . . .

The first 30 pages of this book are, quite frankly, dizzying in their intensity - almost to the point of being off-putting - I quickly jumped away from this then returned to start anew, my mindset better refreshed. Thankfully, a display of typically human hubris at the conclusion of the 3rd chapter helps crank things into a somewhat more accessible (and recognisable) gear. Originally published as Project Plowshare in the United States in Worlds Of Tomorrow - 'plowsharing', as I understand it, is the process of replicating a weapon as a harmless domestic product like, say, a shaver. As such, this has to be one of the weirdest PKD novels. The crunching of the number of ideas here - weapons conjured from trance states, our usual teen temptress, comic books, imposing aliens - really push things to the outer limits, even by his outre standards. The cheap, lurid 3D comic is called The Blue Cephalopod Man From Titan, so that ought to give you some idea of the (unchartered) territory being explored here. There's a great moment about 2/3 of the way in where I was 'gigglin' like a loon, marvelling at sheer twists and turns of the plot - pretty wacky and ridiculous stuff! A satisfying book, but best approached expecting plenty of rather obtuse "eh?!" moments as PKD fits/jams the pieces of his puzzle together as the plot(s) hurtle out of control towards the barely formed finish line....

....It was about time that someone with universal knowledge like himself got on the UN-W Natsec Board instead of the usual morons, the mass pursaps who read nothing but the headlines of the homeopapes and naturally the sports and animated cartoon strips and of course the dirty stuff about sex, and otherwise poisoned their empty minds with toxic, mass-produced garbage which was deliberately produced by the large corporations who really ran things, if you knew the inside story-....

          "What bothers me," Lars said as the up-elevator came and he and Maren entered it, "is that the elite, in this case, doesn't even bother to guard that knowledge which makes it the elite." There is, he thought, probably a free pamphlet, distributed by UN-West for the asking, called something like,  HOW WE RULE YOU FELLAS AND WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

          Ahead, beyond an open door, sat a-a stick-like clothed skeleton, whose dim, retracted, withered-pumpkin, caved-in face revolved slowly as if motor-driven. The eyes did not blink. The features were unstirred by emotions. The organism had deteriorated into a mere perceiving-machine. Sense-organs that swiveled back and forth ceaselessly, taking in data although how much eventually reached the brain, was recorded and understood, God knew. Perhaps absolutely none.

Galactic Pot-Healer
(pub. 1969) - Grafton Books, 1987

Joe Fernwright's skills as a pot-healer are obsolete. Stuck in a miserable subterranean room, he can't even affort to keep up the payments on his window-hologram.
And every week there's a rush to the supermarket before galloping inflation wipes out the value of his dole.
Until the Glimmung offers a way out.
On Plowman's Planet this curiously fallible deity is gathering a team to raise the submerged cathedral of Heldskalla.
The Book of Kalends says it can't be done.
But following an animated conversation with his own corpse beneathe the Mare Nostrum, Joe decides to do battle with fate itself ...

Another great PKD novel - and one you can actually judge by its cover! - following on from Ubik and leading into A Maze Of Death (and continuing his frankly stellar run throughout the mid-60's). You can see how by comparison, being it's surrounded by pretty heavyweight contenders - in much the same way as equally excellent Our Friends From Frolix 8 seems to have been forgotten, sandwiched as it is between A Maze Of Death and Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said - the novel is often overlooked and as such currently out of print. I always feel a responsibility when writing about PKD books to not give too much away. All I can say is that Joe Fernwright, your standard PKD hopeless case, near jobless and suicidal, is recruited by the seriously idiosyncratic and exceedingly humourous alien, Glimmung, to assist him in his task of raising the cathedral of Heldskalla on Plowman's Planet in this novel that is by turns funny, grotesque and deeply thoughtful. I've opted to quote some of the best, most personally affecting passages below.... (As something of a strange bonus, this Grafton edition was "printed and bound in Great Britain by Collins, Glasgow".)

Death is very close, he thought. When you think in this manner. I can feel it, he decided. How near I am. Nothing is killing me; I have no enemy, no antagonist; I am merely expiring, like a magazine subscription: month by month. Because, he thought, I am too hollowed out to participate any longer.

Strength. The strength of being, he thought, and opposite to that the peace of non-being. Which was better? Strength wore out in the end, every time; so perhaps that was the answer and no more was needed. Strength - being - was temporary. And peace - non-being - was eternal; it had existed prior to his birth and would resume for him after his death. The period of strength, in-between, was merely an episode, a short flexing of borrowed muscles - a body which would have to be returned . . . to the real owner.

...his fear deprived him of his sense of being human, and of being a man. It was not a man's fear; it was the fear of a small animal. It shrank him, as if devolving him into ages past; it eradicated the contemporary aspects of his self, his being. God, he thought. I am feeling a fear that is millions of years old.

No comments:

Post a Comment