A Review of Philip K. Dick: Five Novels of the 1960s and 70s

Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s (Library of America #183)Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I only read three of the five novels in this anthology, as I already own and have read two of them. So this review will only be about the three I just finished reading. All in all, it wasn’t the best anthology of Dick’s work I could expect, but I guess the first volume of this three volume series was. I thought a couple of the novels in this book were a little weak, but a couple were also very good — thus, the four out of five stars….

The book starts with Martian Time-Slip. It’s about human colonies on a desolate Mars, and right away you meet the indigenous Martian population, the Bleekmen — also called “niggers” because they’re black, I guess. I tell you, I’m starting to get pissed off at Dick’s overt racism in his novels, even though I’ve never read of any evidence that he was a racist. In my review of Flow My Tears, I wrote the following:

“I’m starting to notice a disturbing theme in Dick’s books: he doesn’t seem to hold black people in high regard. In this novel, black people are being sterilized out of existence and Jason seems to be glad of it. Dick also treats blacks oddly in The Crack in Space and there are pissed off, drugged out black people in Counter-Clock World. Evidently, Watts serves as Dick’s place of ultimate black fear and evil.”

To refer to your characters as “niggers,” even in the early ’60s, seems outrageous to me. It’s not like Dick was from the South or anything….

Anyway, we meet Jack Bohlen, a schizophrenic repairman, who is hired to construct a device for communicating with Manfred, a severely autistic child who others think can tell the future. I found the novel boring and it was obsessed with schizophrenia, which in odd 1960s understandings of it, is shakily discussed here. Apparently every third person in the world has it. Okay then…. I stayed the course and read the book, but the ending completely threw me, and not in a good way. Of course, Dick’s endings are often very twisty, but this one made no sense to me at all. It’s like he wrote himself into a corner and came up with this quick “fix” to get himself out of the jam, and that’s how he left it. I found the book depressing and unsatisfying and would be hard pressed to give it three stars.

The next book was Dr. Bloodmoney, which was better. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel, which might seem trite now, but was probably fairly original when it was published in the ’60s. There are a LOT of characters and sometimes it’s hard to remember all of them and what they all do, but Dick ties them together (sometimes TOO neatly) so that everything works out. It’s a far fetched idea he writes about, but I was willing to buy it, so there you go. I did think it was a little too long and could have been more concise. Maybe 3.5 stars.

A pretty good novel was the third one, Now Wait For Last Year. It’s about a drug called JJ-180, a hallucinogenic that’s not only mind altering, but it causes people to move in time, forwards, backwards, etc. One capsule is completing addicting, and it eventually causes death. It was developed as a weapon of war, since Terra (Earth) is joined with the Starmen to fight the Reegs, a war the Terrans are losing. We meet Dr. Eric Sweetscent and his wife Kathy, who he’s on the outs with. He works for a large company, but is hired to serve as the UN Secretary General’s personal physician. However, the plot starts getting odd when Eric encounters several different version of the “The Mole” and when Kathy sneakily addicts Eric to JJ-180, where he discovers he goes forward in time. He seeks an antidote, and finds one. He also finds alternate realities, a recurring PKD theme, and even talks to himself in other years to get advice. He finds that the Reegs are actually a good ally to have in the future, and that with them, the Terrans defeat the Starmen, but as there are alternate realities to different years, he has a lot to deal with. He’s on the run throughout part of the novel, and things are not always what they seem. There seem to be some irrelevant plot points in the novel, which weakens it a bit in my mind (why does the Mole send him to the girl in Pasadena — pointless…), but the characters in this book seem, for PKD, surprisingly fleshed out and it’s a good read. My only significant complaint is the abrupt ending, a complaint I have about a lot of Dick’s books. I was reading and wondering what was going to happen next, only to turn the page and find out I’d come to the end of the novel. No warning. Very disquieting. Still, a pretty decent book.

You’ll find my review of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said at https://hankrules2011.wordpress.com/20… and of A Scanner Darkly (a very good book) at https://hankrules2011.wordpress.com/20….

This book isn’t perfect, but it’s worth reading. There are some fine tales here. Recommended.

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One thought on “A Review of Philip K. Dick: Five Novels of the 1960s and 70s

  1. southernhon

    Dr. Bloodmoney and Dr. Sweetscent. Cool names. PKD certainly got creative with those. Dr. Bloodmoney sounds like a potentially cool story.


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