Posts Tagged ‘precognition’

Philip K Dick: The Variable Man

December 19, 2018

51+oGZq4bGL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_This next volume in the publication sequence of Dick’s work is a collection of five novellas, in which a range of different Dickian themes emerge and are developed. In The Variable Man, he has several balls juggling from the word go: war being planned and fought using the statistically calculated probability of winning it, and time travel just for starters; it’s a man brought back from another time that throws all the calculations of the warmongers awry because he is not part of the data… and it’s the sheer humanity of the man from the past, marooned in this horrific future world, which is particularly appealing: Dick in so many of his stories and novels, both SF and not, focuses on ordinary common decency and goodness as a contrast to the awfulness of so many of his futures.

The crazy science and insane weaponry, as well as a deus ex machina at the end, do not enhance the story’s credibility – if that’s the right word – but Dick’s ideas do demand our respect when human values win out against tyranny.

Second Variety is too close for comfort and quite simply chilling: autonomous, self-replicating weapons seek out and kill the last surviving humans, becoming ever more devious and complex, and ultimately developing the ability to go to war with each other, cutting out the human middle-man. A prophecy from sixty years ago.

Minority Report looks at another of Dick’s favourite ideas, mental deviants this time in the form of precogs who can foresee who will commit a crime in the future, enabling a tyrannical future state to take those people into preventive detention. Works wonders for the crime rate, but at what cost? Already Dick is out to make us think, but then he makes it more complicated: how accurate might precognition be, and if someone knew what was foreseen about them, might it affect their actions? In which case… you see where he’s leading you? This is a thing I’m realising about Dick as I work through his books: some writers will take one idea and work through it well and thoroughly, whereas Dick throws in the metaphorical kitchen sink. You’re in a whirlwind; you may be able to follow all the plot complexities; the story may work or it may not, but you have to admire the sheer verve.

Autofac: how can humans outwit the intelligent machines they once devised? In a post-war world society strives painfully and slowly to rebuild itself, constantly thwarted by vast underground factories programmed to provide their every need but obviously impeding self-sufficiency. When humans succeed in confusing and thwarting the automated factories, these end up going to war with each other for the scarce resources they need to kep functioning. Dick is years ahead of his time in exploring some of the questions that a few intelligent minds are currently starting to consider in the light of new technology: are we too late?

In the end, I decided that the final story, World of Talent, just had too much going on to be comprehensible: masterly maybe, but the all the different mental talents – psi, precog, telepathy and I don’t know what else, and time-travel too, was just a bit much. Bizarre.

Philip K Dick: The Man Who Japed

November 28, 2018

12208046._SY75_Again in this novel Dick explores – in his own way – the 1950s pressures on individuals to conform to society’s norms; in the aftermath of a nuclear war, Morec (=moral reclamation) prescribes duty and service to others and runs a police state with machines spying on everyone and local block meetings subjecting everyone’s minor offences to public gaze, scrutiny and condemnation. We have Dick in his own time, along with his and that time’s interest in the powers and potential of psychoanalysis; he’s also interested in the possibility of a refuge or sanctuary from it all…

As the hero gradually uncovers the truth about the past and Morec, as well as committing a number of anti-social acts which he is completely unaware of, we see him gradually rediscovering aspects of our behaviour that contribute to making us human. This is an idea Huxley explored in Brave New World, where we must surely end up agreeing that all those ‘happy’ beings in their world of limitless sex, drugs and consumer goods are not actually human as we understand the word.

Interestingly, the delivery, receipt and dispatch of a wide range of consumer goods in his 25th century world, imagined in the late 1950s, seems very similar to Ama*on Logistics… And also presciently, the future names our times ‘The Age of Waste’.

Dick brings out human qualities such as loyalty very powerfully, in small ways, through neighbours, spouses, and other ordinary people; this trait in the chaotic world of distrust, paranoia and spying shines through. The conclusion of the novel brilliantly offers us Dick’s take on Swift’s A Modest Proposal, as well as being just a little too rushed and open to be a truly satisfying end to the story.

Reading Dick serially (as I’m currently doing until I get bored or distracted) is interesting in several ways. I’m certainly increasingly aware of an astonishing imagination at work, in a rather chaotic way; biographical details suggest a troubled genius, but he manages, almost effortlessly, and through sketching rather than a wealth of detail, to create many different worlds and timelines in his futures. He is skilled at throwing us into the middle of a story and, once we are hooked, then he fleshes out the new world with further details which develop the depth of his picture without getting too much in the way of his fast-moving plots.

He’s a writer very interested in the hidden corners and recessed of the mind and what darkness may lurk there. He creates aliens (occasionally) and is particularly prone to inserting precogs (beings who can see the future, or some of it) and telepaths into his stories, and what any of these creations end up contributing to the story is always unexpected. Dick is never predictable…

Philip K Dick: The World Jones Made

November 24, 2018

51MNfmxaawL._AC_US218_We start with a refuge: a miniature world, an Eden Project from the 1950s in which a group of mutants survive in a fake Venusian atmosphere, unable to live outside on Earth itself. It’s another post-nuclear war scenario, with the question hanging over the entire novel: are these mutants human? And, of course attitudes to those who are different would have pervaded Dick’s United States in his time, with the growth of the black civil rights movement… a writer is a creature of his time, as well as a visionary.

Post-war, the government philosophy is relativism: all are equal, everything is OK and to challenge this is a crime; what led to war is punishable, and yet not everyone can accept the new world.

Jones is the first precog to feature in A Dick novel: he can see into the future. Only a year, and, as it eventually turns out, only partially, but this obviously gives him immense power. There can be no freedom if someone knows what’s going to happen; does this make such a creature a kind of god, too? And here we see another trope of a lot of Dick’s fiction: weird religions of the future. Coming from the US where there are already plenty of these, he’s not that original.

Jones preaches a hatred of the alien creatures that have begun to appear from outer space, nothing more than protozoa, but incomprehensible and consequently the target of hatred and fiery destruction. We have the picture of an entire world, a civilisation on the verge of disintegration, again, not inconceivable during the Cold War. In this novel Dick seems suddenly to be a much more mature and thoughtful writer, much more complex in his ideas than in his previous works. Much more of his narrative is on the human level, and far less on the weirder bug-eyed-monster level of SF. We also find his first references to recreational drug use and its effects, which will figure more saliently in his later work, especially in such classics as The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

Jones, despite his precog ability, fails in his bid for world power but founds another religion after his death, and the mutants build a new world, clearly as humans, on Venus, sheltering a small group of earthlings in a refuge on their planet…

I note in conclusion that my copy of the novel is a genuine 1950s US pulp paperback: the edges are slightly yellowed, and yet the binding is as strong as ever – there’s quality for you! And in his 25th century, Dick still has people reading print newspapers, and making copies of documents using carbon paper… hands up anyone who knows what that was! On the other had, he has visualised mobile phones and robot baby-watchers.

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