The Simulacra by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Simulacra is the funniest Philip K Dick book I’ve read to date. There were some hilarious moments, very funny scenes. That said, it was often hard to follow and somewhat convoluted. I think one major thing that contributes to this is there are so many characters to keep track of. I think I read somewhere that there are over 60 characters in this book, and I believe it. There really is no primary protagonist. The story is told from the point of view of quite a few characters. Among them are First Lady Nicole Thibodeaux, who has somehow remained ageless for her entire 73 years in office (why no one questions this is beyond me), Richard Kongrosian, a psychokinetic pianist on the edge of complete psychotic collapse, who worries about his his “phobic body odor,” as well as his turning invisible. We don’t really know whether he has an odor or not or whether he turns invisible or not. It’s never made clear. Dr. Egon Superb is the USEA’s (United States of Europe and America — basically the US with Germany now dominating) last practicing psychotherapist, as the practice has been outlawed due to the power of the drug cartels which are pushing their psychotropic medications as the real answer to mental illness. Vince and Chic Strikerock are brothers who are employed at rival simulacrum companies who become caught up in a love triangle with Vince’s ex-wife and in corporate espionage as well. Nat Flieger is a record company exec who travels to atom bomb-ravaged northern California, which has a group of people called “chuppers” who are basically Neanderthals. He wants to record Kongrosian, only to find out he’s at a psychiatric hospital in San Francisco. Bertold Goltz is a neo-Nazi street agitator who is also a time traveler, using the von Lessinger principle in order to accomplish this. There are two fellows who play classical music with jugs, who get to perform at the White House. There’s more, much more.
One of the zany plots is for Nicole, whose presidential husbands of four years are all simulacrums, to try and bring back Nazi Hermann Goering from the past, yet we’re never told why. We’re simply told he has to agree to their plans (world domination?), but the answer is never really given and this piece of the plot is kind of just dropped when Goering is shot to death by the National Police (NP). There are Loony Luke car dealerships which disappear and move around at will, selling jalopies that make one way trips to Mars. There are aliens and talking advertisements the size of bugs that everyone hates. There’s a device where people make confessions, although the confessing people are treated as though they’re being given lie detectors, making for uncomfortable scenes. There are also characters who kind of disappear from the plot, such as Edgar Stone, a conapt resident, and Israeli prime minister Emil Stark. Why are they dropped? What happens to them?
Nicole is treated as the mother of the country, as well as the conceptual mistress, because she’s totally hot and everyone loves her to death. Her secret? She’s an actress. The original one’s been dead for some time. She’s really a pretty well developed character, unlike a number of the others, and it’s a pleasure to watch her and Kongrosian in action.
Like many Dick novels, this one ends abruptly, but unlike many of his novels, I thought it wasn’t tied up very nicely. I thought it was too open ended and could have been written for a sequel. I would give the ending 3.5 stars; actually the entire book 3.5 stars. This definitely isn’t his best work, which is surprising since it was published in 1964, his best writing phase in my opinion. If you’re new to Dick, I wouldn’t start with this book, but for Dick fans, it’s a must read. Cautiously recommended.
2 thoughts on “A Review of The Simulacra”
I enjoy Dick’s work, but haven’t run across this one. I’ll have to check it out.
As usual, you present a very honest and thorough review. I only have one question. I have noticed with a lot of reviewers there is so much of the story explained that little remains except the detail. I assume that these reviews would not be something to accompany a book posting for sale. BTW, you have convinced me this is not a book for me because I would notice those inconsistencies. I am nearly killing myself editing my own novel for continuity errors. The nice thing about a fantasy piece is at least I don’t have to be historically correct! 🙂
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