About the Author
Also by Philip K. Dick
Praise for Philip K. Dick
TO TIM AND SERENA POWERS,
MY DEAREST FRIENDS
PHILIP K. DICK
AN INTRODUCTION BY ROGER ZELAZNY
(1) Once there was a man who repaired trash compactors because that was what he loved doing more than anything else in the world—
(2) Once there was a man who repaired trash compactors in a society short on building materials, where properly compacted trash could be used as an architectural base—
(3) Once there was a man who hated trash compactors but repaired them for a living and to keep his manic wife in tranquilisers so that he did not have to spend so much time with his mistress, who was less fun now that she had converted to the new religion—
(4) Once there was a man who, in purposely misassembling the trash compactors he hated, produced a machine which—
It is no good. I can’t do it. I can play the Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Trash Compactor Repairman Game, but I cannot turn it into a story at once puzzling, poignant, grotesque, philosophical, satirical, and fun. There is a very special way of doing this and the first step in its mastery involves being Philip K. Dick.
Brian Aldiss has called him “one of the masters of present-day discontents,” a thing readily apparent in much of his work. But one of the great fascinations his work holds for me is the effects achieved when he dumps these discontents into that special machine in his head and turns on the current. It is not simply that I consider it a form of aesthetic cheating to compare one writer with another, but I cannot think of another writer with whom to compare Philip Dick. Aldiss suggests Pirandello, which is not bad for the one small aspect of reality shuffling. But Pirandello’s was basically a destructive machine. It was a triumph of technique over convention, possessed of but one basic message no matter what was fed into the chopper. Philip Dick’s is a far more complicated program. His management of a story takes you from here to there in a God-knows-how, seemingly haphazard fashion, which, upon reflection, follows a logical line of development—but only on reflection. While you are trapped within the spell of its telling, you are in no better position than one of its invariably overwhelmed characters when it comes to seeing what will happen next.
These characters are often victims, prisoners, manipulated men and women. It is generally doubtful whether they will leave the world with less evil in it than they found there. But you never know. They try. They are usually at bat in the last half of the ninth inning with the tying run on base, two men out, two strikes and three balls riding, with the possibility of the game being called on account of rain at any second. But then, what is rain? Or a ballpark?
The worlds through which Philip Dick’s characters move are subject to cancellation or revision without notice. Reality is approximately as dependable as a politician’s promise. Whether it is a drug, a time-warp, a machine, or an alien entity responsible for the bewildering shifting of situations about his people, the result is the same: Reality, of the capital “R” variety, has become as relative a thing as the dryness of our respective Martinis. Yet the struggle goes on, the fight continues. Against what? Ultimately, Powers, Principalities, Thrones, and Dominations, often contained in hosts who are themselves victims, prisoners, manipulated men and women.
All of which sounds like grimly serious fare. Wrong. Strike the “grimly,” add a comma and the following: but one of the marks of Philip Dick’s mastery lies in the tone of his work. He is possessed of a sense of humour for which I am unable to locate an appropriate adjective. Wry, grotesque, slapstick, satirical, ironic…None of them quite fits to the point of generality, though all may be found without looking too far. His characters take pratfalls at the most serious moments; pathetic irony may invade the most comic scene. It is a rare and estimable quality to direct such a show successfully.
Who else in this cockeyed universe could design a society thriving on the bridge-playing abilities of its leaders, with the delightful rule that a husband and wife team may undergo instant divorce at the end of a bad game? Or throw in a car that nags its owner for oil changes, tuneups, and new tires? I see you’ve already guessed. The book is The Game-Players of Titan.—Or a story which opens with a psychoanalyst diagnosing his patient as a typical paranoid for believing he is being followed, has his telephone tapped and that everyone hates him—until the analyst realises who the man is, understands that he probably is under surveillance and is suddenly overwhelmed with hatred for him. The patient is Doctor Bloodmoney, in the book of the same name, a kaleidoscopically brilliant piece of story-telling.
Three of my other personal favorites are:
Ubik—which Larry Ashmead at Doubleday thrust into my hands one afternoon with excitement and a smile, telling me I had to read it immediately. I began it on the train back to Baltimore that evening and could have wound up in Cincinnati or Kansas City had it not been for a conductor who might have understudied Jerome Hines. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, a book I read at a more stationary single sitting, and whose title occasionally runs through my head to the tune of “Greensleeves.” I am not certain why. The tune, I mean. The single sitting part becomes self-explanatory on opening the book.
Galactic Pot-Healer—When the encyclopedia defines a particular creature as the dominant life-form on a certain planet and then points out that the species only consists of one member…This one is almost whimsical. But not quite. A Philip Dick book can never be categorised that neatly. But this one is a bit special in the focussing of its humours (Elizabethan usage) and in the almost pastoral quality of certain sections.
By mentioning these personal favourites, I do not intend to detract from his other works. I have read almost all of Philip Dick’s stories and I have never put down a single one with that feeling all readers know at some time or other, that a writer has cheated, has taken an easy way out, rather than addressing himself with his full abilities to the issues he has invoked. Philip Dick is an honest writer in this respect—or, if I am wrong and he does ever handle something in the other fashion, then it is a tribute to his artistry that he succeeds so well in concealing it.
Inventiveness. Wit. Artistic integrity. Three very good things to have. To say them, however, is perhaps to talk more about the mind behind the words than the ends to which they are addressed. For to say them in all good-intentioned honesty about a story results mainly in a heaping of abstractions.
A story is a series of effects. I owned at the beginning that Philip Dick’s effects fascinate me even more than the social discontents pulsing through the neon tube in front of the wrinkled mirror suspended by the piano wire from the windmill of his mind. He is a writer’s writer, rich enough in fancy that he can afford to throw away in a paragraph ideas another writer might build a book upon. I cannot detail these effects. But then, I could not have written the label for the Ubik can either. It is the variety and near-surreal aptne
ss of his juxtapositions which defend this matter, too, against facile categorisation. The subjective response, however, when a Philip Dick book has been finished and put aside is that, upon reflection, it does not seem so much that one holds the memory of a story; rather, it is the after effects of a poem rich in metaphor that seem to remain.
This I value, partly because it does defy a full mapping, but mainly because that which is left of a Philip Dick story when the details have been forgotten is a thing which comes to me at odd times and offers me a feeling or a thought; therefore, a thing which leaves me richer for having known it.
A TURTLE WHICH EXPLORER CAPTAIN COOK GAVE TO THE KING OF TONGA IN 1777 DIED YESTERDAY. IT WAS NEARLY 200 YEARS OLD.
THE ANIMAL, CALLED TU’IMALILA, DIED AT THE ROYAL PALACE GROUND IN THE TONGAN CAPITAL OF NUKU, ALOFA.
THE PEOPLE OF TONGA REGARDED THE ANIMAL AS A CHIEF AND SPECIAL KEEPERS WERE APPOINTED TO LOOK AFTER IT. IT WAS BLINDED IN A BUSH FIRE A FEW YEARS AGO.
TONGA RADIO SAID TU’IMALILA’S CARCASS WOULD BE SENT TO THE AUCKLAND MUSEUM IN NEW ZEALAND.
A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard. Surprised—it always surprised him to find himself awake without prior notice—he rose from the bed, stood up in his multicolored pajamas, and stretched. Now, in her bed, his wife Iran opened her gray, unmerry eyes, blinked, then groaned and shut her eyes again.
“You set your Penfield too weak,” he said to her. “I’ll reset it and you’ll be awake and—”
“Keep your hand off my settings.” Her voice held bitter sharpness. “I don’t want to be awake.”
He seated himself beside her, bent over her, and explained softly. “If you set the surge up high enough, you’ll be glad you’re awake; that’s the whole point. At setting C it overcomes the threshold barring consciousness, as it does for me.” Friendlily, because he felt well-disposed toward the world—his setting had been at D—he patted her bare, pale shoulder.
“Get your crude cop’s hand away,” Iran said.
“I’m not a cop.” He felt irritable, now, although he hadn’t dialed for it.
“You’re worse,” his wife said, her eyes still shut. “You’re a murderer hired by the cops.”
“I’ve never killed a human being in my life.” His irritability had risen now; had become outright hostility.
Iran said, “Just those poor andys.”
“I notice you’ve never had any hesitation as to spending the bounty money I bring home on whatever momentarily attracts your attention.” He rose, strode to the console of his mood organ. “Instead of saving,” he said, “so we could buy a real sheep, to replace that fake electric one upstairs. A mere electric animal, and me earning all that I’ve worked my way up to through the years.” At his console he hesitated between dialing for a thalamic suppressant (which would abolish his mood of rage) or a thalamic stimulant (which would make him irked enough to win the argument).
“If you dial,” Iran said, eyes open and watching, “for greater venom, then I’ll dial the same. I’ll dial the maximum and you’ll see a fight that makes every argument we’ve had up to now seem like nothing. Dial and see; just try me.” She rose swiftly, loped to the console of her own mood organ, stood glaring at him, waiting.
He sighed, defeated by her threat. “I’ll dial what’s on my schedule for today.” Examining the schedule for January 3, 2021, he saw that a businesslike professional attitude was called for. “If I dial by schedule,” he said warily, “will you agree to also?” He waited, canny enough not to commit himself until his wife had agreed to follow suit.
“My schedule for today lists a six-hour self-accusatory depression,” Iran said.
“What? Why did you schedule that?” It defeated the whole purpose of the mood organ. “I didn’t even know you could set it for that,” he said gloomily.
“I was sitting here one afternoon,” Iran said, “and naturally I had turned on ‘Buster Friendly and His Friendly Friends’ and he was talking about a big news item he’s about to break and then that awful commercial came on, the one I hate; you know, for Mountibank Lead Codpieces. And so for a minute I shut off the sound. And I heard the building, this building; I heard the—” She gestured.
“Empty apartments,” Rick said. Sometimes he heard them at night when he was supposed to be asleep. And yet, for this day and age a one-half occupied conapt building rated high in the scheme of population density; out in what had been before the war the suburbs, one could find buildings entirely empty…or so he had heard. He had let the information remain secondhand; like most people he did not care to experience it directly.
“At that moment,” Iran said, “when I had the TV sound off, I was in a 382 mood; I had just dialed it. So although I heard the emptiness intellectually, I didn’t feel it. My first reaction consisted of being grateful that we could afford a Penfield mood organ. But then I realized how unhealthy it was, sensing the absence of life, not just in this building but everywhere, and not reacting—do you see? I guess you don’t. But that used to be considered a sign of mental illness; they called it ‘absence of appropriate affect.’ So I left the TV sound off and I sat down at my mood organ and I experimented. And I finally found a setting for despair.” Her dark, pert face showed satisfaction, as if she had achieved something of worth. “So I put it on my schedule for twice a month; I think that’s a reasonable amount of time to feel hopeless about everything, about staying here on Earth after everybody who’s smart has emigrated, don’t you think?”
“But a mood like that,” Rick said, “you’re apt to stay in it, not dial your way out. Despair like that, about total reality, is self-perpetuating.”
“I program an automatic resetting for three hours later,” his wife said sleekly. “A 481. Awareness of the manifold possibilities open to me in the future; new hope that—”
“I know 481,” he interrupted. He had dialed out the combination many times; he relied on it greatly. “Listen,” he said, seating himself on his bed and taking hold of her hands to draw her down beside him, “even with an automatic cutoff it’s dangerous to undergo a depression, any kind. Forget what you’ve scheduled and I’ll forget what I’ve scheduled; we’ll dial a 104 together and both experience it, and then you stay in it while I reset mine for my usual businesslike attitude. That way I’ll want to hop up to the roof and check out the sheep and then head for the office; meanwhile I’ll know you’re not sitting here brooding with no TV.” He released her slim, long fingers, passed through the spacious apartment to the living room, which smelled faintly of last night’s cigarettes. There he bent to turn on the TV.
From the bedroom Iran’s voice came. “I can’t stand TV before breakfast.”
“Dial 888,” Rick said as the set warmed. “The desire to watch TV, no matter what’s on it.”
“I don’t feel like dialing anything at all now,” Iran said.
“Then dial 3,” he said.
“I can’t dial a setting that stimulates my cerebral cortex into wanting to dial! If I don’t want to dial, I don’t want to dial that most of all, because then I will want to dial, and wanting to dial is right now the most alien drive I can imagine; I just want to sit here on the bed and stare at the floor.” Her voice had become sharp with overtones of bleakness as her soul congealed and she ceased to move, as the instinctive, omnipresent film of great weight, of an almost absolute inertia, settled over her.
He turned up the TV sound, and the voice of Buster Friendly boomed out and filled the room. “—ho ho, folks. Time now for a brief note on today’s weather. The Mongoose satellite reports that fallout will be especially pronounced toward noon and will then taper off, so all you folks who’ll be venturing out—”
Appearing beside him, her long nightgown trailing wispily, Iran shut off the TV set. “Okay, I give up; I’ll dial. Anything you want me to be; ecstatic sexual bliss—I feel so
bad I’ll even endure that. What the hell. What difference does it make?”
“I’ll dial for both of us,” Rick said, and led her back into the bedroom. There, at her console, he dialed 594: pleased acknowledgment of husband’s superior wisdom in all matters. On his own console he dialed for a creative and fresh attitude toward his job, although this he hardly needed; such was his habitual, innate approach without recourse to Penfield artificial brain stimulation.
After a hurried breakfast—he had lost time due to the discussion with his wife—he ascended clad for venturing out, including his Ajax model Mountibank Lead Codpiece, to the covered roof pasture whereon his electric sheep “grazed.” Whereon it, sophisticated piece of hardware that it was, chomped away in simulated contentment, bamboozling the other tenants of the building.
Of course, some of their animals undoubtedly consisted of electronic circuitry fakes, too; he had of course never nosed into the matter, any more than they, his neighbors, had pried into the real workings of his sheep. Nothing could be more impolite. To say, “Is your sheep genuine?” would be a worse breach of manners than to inquire whether a citizen’s teeth, hair, or internal organs would test out authentic.
The morning air, spilling over with radioactive motes, gray and sun-beclouding, belched about him, haunting his nose; he sniffed involuntarily the taint of death. Well, that was too strong a description for it, he decided as he made his way to the particular plot of sod which he owned along with the unduly large apartment below. The legacy of World War Terminus had diminished in potency; those who could not survive the dust had passed into oblivion years ago, and the dust, weaker now and confronting the strong survivors, only deranged minds and genetic properties. Despite his lead codpiece, the dust—undoubtedly—filtered in and at him, brought him daily, so long as he failed to emigrate, its little load of befouling filth. So far, medical checkups taken monthly confirmed him as a regular: a man who could reproduce within the tolerances set by law. Any month, however, the exam by the San Francisco Police Department doctors could reveal otherwise. Continually, new specials came into existence, created out of regulars by the omnipresent dust. The saying currently blabbed by posters, TV ads, and government junk mail, ran: “Emigrate or degenerate! The choice is yours!” Very true, Rick thought as he opened the gate to his little pasture and approached his electric sheep. But I can’t emigrate, he said to himself. Because of my job.