The Man Who Japed
Copyright 1956 by
Philip K. Dick
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
Total Recall or
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"
On the subject of bitter humour, of course, let's not forget his
concept of active assimilation.
"Even woven baskets?"
"Baskets, handbills, stencilled signs. The works"
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.