A Review of The Man Who Japed
Posted by Scott Holstad on January 18, 2014
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As Philip K Dick’s third novel, this is a pretty solid effort. More linear than later works, it’s about Allen and Janet Purcell, who live in Newer York in 2114. It’s been 130 years since a nuclear war has destroyed much of the world, and thanks to a Major Streiter of years past, society now lives under Morec (Moral Reclamation), a prim and proper, puritanical society where one can’t curse, get drunk, engage in pre or extramarital sex — even neon lights are banned!
Allen is the head of his own smallish agency that produces “packets” (which are really ads) for Telemedia, the government’s communications arm. One day he wakes up and discovers what looks like blood on his clothes, as well as “real” grass (there’s not much left on Earth). Apparently, overnight, someone “japed” or desecrated a statue of Major Streiter in the park, covering it in red paint and cutting its head off. Allen thinks he did it, but doesn’t know why. Meanwhile, the head of Telemedia is retiring and he is offered the job of replacing him. I have no idea why they didn’t offer the job to one of the four “giant” agency heads, but it is what it is. Meanwhile, there are “juveniles,” smallish centipede-like robots that spy on people, and Allen has to go before an apartment block hearing because one of these caught him coming home drunk one night. Women in flowery dresses dominate these block hearings. In fact, women have a lot of power in this novel, which I don’t think is typical of Dick. By the way, apartment leases are willed and one can lose their lease in an instant if the block leaders think you’ve done wrong.
Allen gets talked into visiting a psychologist by a pretty girl he meets in the park. This psychologist is wacky and conducts numerous tests on Allen, leading to a bizarre alternate reality-type of world that is so prevalent in Dick’s later works. It’s pretty awesome. When he escapes, he goes on to find out his new job as head of Telemedia is in jeopardy, that people are out to get him, and the situation turns from bad to worse. This leads to the book’s climax — the ultimate jape!
This book is surprisingly humorous and the main couple is a dysfunctional “good” couple the reader will like. Usually, Dick’s female characters get treated pretty roughly, but I guess he hadn’t been ruined by his five marriages when this book was published in 1956. This book does display later Dick characteristics, such as a focus on shoddy psychoanalysis, nuclear wars, fascism, propaganda, and drugs. I guess he’s introducing these elements to his new readers. This isn’t his strongest book, but I think it’s pretty solid and worthy of four stars, at least. Recommended.