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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

The Man Who Japed

Copyright 1956 by Philip K. Dick

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point one SOJALS point one SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Very good (4/5)

I first read this in 1970 and most recently on the 1st January 2003

In year of 2114, humanity has survived, barely, the nuclear holocaust that ruined so much of the Earth. The world is ruled by a totalitarian government, in the style of Communist China of the 1950's. The ideology is Moral Reclamation, the rejection of the old liberal moralities of the twentieth century that led to the nuclear war, and the re-adoption of strict puritanical thought and behaviour.

Population is restricted to the limited inhabitable areas. Population density is high and accommodation is extremely cramped. In the cities, people live in miniscule multipurpose rooms in stark apartment blocks. Block wardens are alert for any infractions of the unforgiving moral code and in weekly block meetings, offences are discussed and punished.

But away from the Earth, the colony planets are thriving, sending resources back to the mother world.

Allen Purcell and his wife Janet are the owners of an up and coming propaganda agency. Their agency is now big enough to sell direct to Telemedia, the government-owned entertainment and propaganda company that controls access to the media. Purcell and his wife are respectable, respected citizens and Purcell believes in his work and trusts in the principles of Moral Reclamation. He really believes that he does.

So he can't understand why he's started vandalizing the symbols of the the society he supports. Still, no one has yet found out what he's been up to. If he is identified as the vandal, he'll lose everything - his business, his apartment, all he's worked for.

He knows that any scandal will reflect on his wife as well, and she's already balanced on the edge, a shadow of her former self, worn down by this sad society.

So the next morning he's disconcerted to find a senior Committee member, Sue Frost, waiting for him in his office, and waiting with a stunning offer that he can not refuse.

Then there's Gretchen Malparto, a young women he meets who is much more than she seems, and who becomes another factor in his fall from grace.

Wonderful stuff! And this is just a minor Dick novel. It's not "The Man In The High Castle" or "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said". I doubt there'll every be Blade Runner, Total Recall or Minority Report movie made from it, yet, it's a brilliant, sensitive, inspiring gem of a novel.

Dick's writing is superb. Look at the lovely atmospheric detail he throws into this novel: the steam-powered Getabout cars with a top-speed of 35mph and drivers so incompetent in this future dystopia that panic sets in at 20mph and crashes are inevitable. Look at his characters: Janet his wife, Myron Mavis, Sue Frost, the incompetent Dr. Malparto, Fred Luddy, Tom Gates and Professor Sugarman. Look at how he describes the dysfunctional, dehumanized society with it's juveniles, its teenage Cohorts, it's terrible inefficiencies.

And look at his bitter humour, for example with regard to an earlier propaganda campaign:

"We had a huge projection, on all media, within twenty-four hours"
"Even woven baskets?"
"Baskets, handbills, stencilled signs. The works"
On the subject of bitter humour, of course, let's not forget his concept of active assimilation.

Philip K. Dick was for very many years my favorite author. His work is personal, vital. He writes about ordinary people dragged into extraordinary circumstances, pushed to their limits, muddling through and sometimes surprising themselves and their fellows. Dick had his finger on the human condition, he's telling us something important about life. And of course, his books have a lot about drugs.

Loaded on the 31st January 2003.
Cover of The Man Who Japed
Cover art by Syusuke Nakamura/Photonica and Heidi North