My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Finished this book over a month ago and it’s been sitting in my “to be reviewed” pile since then and man do I feel like an arse about it! A book should be reviewed as soon upon completion as possible! But then again, this book was so damned strange (and for this author, that says something!) that I think I wanted to take some time and let my mind process it. First conclusion off the top of my head? This is probably his single most under-rated book that I’ve seen thus far. Truly.
That done, lets do a quick recap shall we? Just so you know what I mean about the ‘processing it’ thing…
Basically this is very much a Philip K. Dick book, simple and amusing but at the same time very dark and disturbing – all the while toying very quietly with philosophical concepts of finding meaning in ones life, repression, belief, freedom (in general and of choice), deity as a concept and even fatalism. In short, a mind-bogglingly entertaining journey that provokes thought and the urge to re-evaluate the world around you.
The story is told through the perspective of our protagonist – Joe Fernwright – who is just another average cog in the machine of the “Communal North American Citizen’s Republic”, which is the repressive and controlling government in this totalitarian future.
Joe works a day job, doing little of any consequence and more because he is expected to sit in an office and be just another beige pattern, another square peg to fit the appropriate hole. But he isn’t… not exactly. By trade, he is/was actually a ‘pot-healer’ (someone who can fix and restore pottery and the like) except that work is so scarce he barely ever does it anymore – and the inflation in this dystopic future is truly terrifying. I mean in today’s day and age where economies and the state of those affairs is so much more sharply in focus, complex and in peoples’ awareness I found that aspect of this book hit home so much more and once again showed how universal and how much ahead of his time as a conceptual thinker this author was.
Little surprise that he is hands down my favourite of all time.
Anyway, to cut things – Joe gets a mysterious invitation to join a truly motley and mixed crew of numerous experts from a myriad of planets who have been gathered by this god-like being called the Glimmung to travel to his planet, Plowman’s Planet (a.k.a Sirius Five), where they will aid him in the raising of a sunken cathedral called Heldscalla from an ocean.
The brunt of the narrative is from hereon as we prepare to and then travel to Plowman’s Planet with Joe, meet the mixed bag of characters who have been given this chance as well and all the revelations and experiences he goes through.
This is definitely not one of the really heavy stories or really intense type that he is often known for, this story for me is very much quintessential of his best work and though a tad milder and slow, remains an example of his writing in top form.
The core of this book in a lot of ways (for me at least) was the slightly funnier rendering of the core philosophies being played with here. Not a “haha!” funny and definitely unlike most other humour in such things – this is a darker, more subtle and slightly more literary kind of humour, subtle and full of meaning in it’s own right. Couple that with the core concept of religious scripture, belief and the nature of destiny and you have one of the most unique stories I’ve ever read.
Possibly slower than what a lot of folks are used to, this is one that I would highly recommend if what I’ve written thus far intrigues you in any fashion at all because it is deceptively slow and subtle – before you know it, you are hooked and will find yourself slowly reading the whole book at one sitting if no one or nothing breaks your concentration.
And of course we get further examples in the details of how Dick was ahead of his time – not just in his style and content – but in the somewhat prescient way that a lot of the greatest sci-fi tends to be, predicting future practices and technology. In this case we see it in things like the game that Joe plays – he and several other people like himself across the globe connect with each other at work using their computers and the game involves thinking of movie names, sayings and such, putting them into a language translating computer and sending the imperfect results to each other and then letting the other person try and guess the original title/saying. Think about this in the context that this story was first published in 1969, well before the modern internet, personal computers at every station at offices, email and video-chatting and Google translator that anybody can use.
Essentially a great and very refreshing read that was a nice, surreal break from all the stuff I tend to read most of the time. As a fan, I loved this book to pieces, albeit after some contemplation – which I think of as a sign of a good book, one that makes you consider its ideas and THEN like it for what it really IS.
Even if you are not a fan or familiar with his work (outside of the many movie adaptations that he is now more commonly known for), I would say check if out if the ideas I’ve shown here and the concepts intrigue you because for someone with even a slightly open mind, this book really opens it up properly. Whether you agree with the ideas and answers in the end (and Dick does provide his own) is never the point of it all, as a favourite line of mine says, “It’s the journey that’s the worthier part.”