Vulcan’s Hammer by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Philip K. Dick’s Vulcan’s Hammer was a good, quick, and entertaining book to read. Published in 1960, it envisions a world run by the Vulcan III, a Skynet-type computer that oversees all of the world, its governments, and citizens. (There were two previous iterations of Vulcan — I and II.) Only the Unity Managing Director, Jason Dill, has access to this computer. Early in the book, a regional director named William Barris becomes suspicious of some things, particularly as there is a populist uprising amongst Luddites and social parasites instigated by self named Healers. Why hasn’t Vulcan III issued any proclamations on the Healers over the 15+ months they’ve been revolting against Unity? Is Dill withholding information from the computer for some obscure reason?
This is one of Dick’s most straightforward and “sci fi” books he wrote. There are lasers and flying cars, super computers taking over the world, and little flying killing “hammer” robots. The plot is fast paced, so character development takes a back seat in this novel, but that’s okay — it’s an enjoyable book anyway. Dick’s paranoia is ever present, although not drug-fueled (thank God!), and people who don’t obey societal dictums are taken to the feared Atlanta, where they undergo forced psychotherapy. Egads! Heh.
Barris becomes suspicious of Dill and flies to Geneva to confront him, where his suspicions are confirmed — Dill has been holding back from the Vulcan III. He’s doing this because the Vulcan II, still in operation, has warned him that III has become a living entity and may become uncontrollable — which is exactly what happens. Civil war occurs, the Healers try to take over, Vulcan III starts operating on its own, and everything becomes crazy. In this novel, there’s war, there are murders, there’s sexual intrigue, there’s technology, there’s mystery — shoot, there’s a little bit for everyone. What isn’t here is Dick’s oft-used dealings with alternate realities, and I was a bit taken aback by that. Doesn’t every Dick novel deal with alternate realities? Apparently not. This book actually reads like one of his excellent short stories and at 166 pages, is close to being one. Is this work Dick’s finest? No. Are we satisfied with the ending? Perhaps. Is this still a bit of enjoyable escapism at work? Most definitely. Heartily recommended for Dick fans, sci fi fans, and people who appreciate reading speculative fiction.