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A Review of A Maze of Death

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 10, 2014

A Maze of DeathA Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this somewhat dark book, and read it in under a day. It’s similar to Ubik in some ways, but that’s all I’ll say about that. In this book, 14 people are stranded on a strange world called Delmak-O — some because they’ve been transferred there for work, others because they’ve prayed for it. In this life, prayers can be answered by real life deities via an odd type of wireless network.

These 14 people wind up on Delmak-O without any idea of what they’re to be doing. There’s a marine biologist, a psychologist, a doctor, a custodian, an electronics man, etc., et al. Once the final person arrives, they are to hook up with an orbiting satellite to be given tape recorded instructions and information. They accomplish this, only to find the tape recording itself, thus dooming them to total ignorance. Their vehicles to Delmak-O were one way rockets and they don’t have the processing power to get a radio wave out to any other inhabited world. They’re stranded. And they can’t stand each other.

Okay, now things start getting weird. We see various scenes from different points of view, and we watch as people die, are even murdered. It spooks everyone, so half set out in search of this mysterious building which they think will have some answers for what’s going on, leaving the other half back at their settlement. When the travelers find the building, each sees a different sign over the door, I guess one that would appeal to their basic instincts and preferences. One sees a winery, another an insane asylum, another a religious institution. One of the funnier (if you can call it that) moments is when one of the really deranged ones thinks it’s a porn show featuring beastiality! However, one of the group members dies in a river, so they travel to a “tench,” which are native mounds of protoplasmic gelatin capable of reproducing any object placed before them. One of the new arrivals, Russel, thinks the tench can answer questions, and it actually does, but as riddles.

Meanwhile, back at the settlement, we see two more murders and suddenly there are only three people left there. The group returns to join them, and the main protagonist in the story, Seth Morley, is shot in the shoulder. The doctor operates on him and leaves him in the lab. Two black leather-wearing men show up to take Morley away from there, to safety. As they’re flying in their ship, he dozes off, awakens, steals one of their guns — which are supposed to be set to stun — and kills them both. The ship has taken him to the Building, which appears to be ominous, so he takes off and is taken to London. They’re on a post-apocalyptic earth where the major cities are now deserted, not Delmak-O, which doesn’t exist. He returns to the settlement … and I’m going no further. Let’s just say I didn’t see the end coming. Dick totally surprised me, which shouldn’t be a surprise because he was a genius. Let’s just say that his well known theme of alternate worlds appears here. Indeed, there are a couple of major plot twists at the very end that surprised me, and I actually found them satisfying, unlike some reviewers, and unlike my own experiences with some of Dick’s books. This ending didn’t feel so rushed to me. It made sense. Everything was tied up and you finally understand what’s been going on.

I don’t know that I would recommend this book to be the first book that a reader new to Dick should read. There are others I would choose first. But I have to give this book five stars because I enjoyed it so much and because it doesn’t have some of those irritating holes that other Dick books can have in them. It’s tight. I strongly recommend it.

View all my reviews

6 Responses to “A Review of A Maze of Death”

  1. Sounds very intriguing. I enjoy your reviews.

    Like

  2. In my top five PKD novels. I’d love to read your take on some of his short story collections…. Like, The Preserving Machine….

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    • I have two large short story collections of his works, one of which is called Selected Stories. A superior collection of short stories by Dick, who I think writes better short stories than his actual novels. Some of his better known shorts are in this book, but some obscure ones are as well, making this a must have for any fan. I think you would like it. I can’t remember the name of the other collection, but it’s equally as good and better yet, there’s not much cross over, so you get a lot of short stories by having both books. I’ll have to look up the name of the other one. If you want me to comment on actual stories themselves, I’d have to go back through those books because it’s been years since I read them. Cheers!

      Like

    • The other was The Selected Stories of Philip K Dick. Very good.

      Like

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