Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Cosmic Puppets (1953)

In case I needed any reminders of Philip K. Dick's productivity, this little feller comes along: written in 1953, his fifth novel, and published in 1957, his fourth published. It's raw and fanciful, basically going to the H.P. Lovecraft well for its charge, yet insanely compelling. It reminds me of the kind of exercises produced by another '50s science fiction writer, Fredric Brown, small-town American innocence in confrontation with dark forces. It also foreshadows Rod Serling by several years, and Dick could well have been under the spell of Ray Bradbury too. Guy is on vacation with his harpy wife. Decides he wants to pay a visit to the town where he was born and lived until he was 9, nearly 20 years earlier. But when he gets there everything is different in weird ways. The streets and stores have different names and nobody remembers him. Also kids are molding with clay and the objects come to life. Plus something about the anthropomorphic shape of the horizon. It's all quite mysterious. And as the plot wends its way across its stepping stones of convenience and coincidence it never loses momentum. The potency of the ideas is still strangely strong. There is a fairly steady stream of weird shit going on at any given time, and one of the secrets to this whole thing is the trim size, under 150 pages. It keeps you guessing, whops you upside the head, ropes you and jerks you along, and before you know it it's done. Good and evil weigh in with all the usual markers—rats, spiders, and snakes on the one side, sunshine and golden goodness on the other. There's not a lot to it but it is profoundly Dick all the same, at a practically primitive brainstem level, with cascading masks of reality itself continually tearing away and filling in again with fresh detail. That's how he does it. Who does that? And somehow he burrows inside our heads as well, to the kind of dislocations of novels such as Martian Time-Slip, when it feels like he's actually in there, doing something. Changing reality. There are roots of that here.

In case it's not at the library.

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