Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb (1963)

Fun facts to know and tell: The publication date for Dr. Bloodmoney is 1965, the subtitle is "or How We Got Along After the Bomb," and the scenario is a post-apocalypse Earth wrecked by nuclear war. Yet Philip K. Dick's novel was actually written prior to the release of Stanley Kubrick's movie Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (the first test screening for which, as an entirely gratuitous aside, was November 22, 1963), Thus, the tie-in is more likely the inspiration of an editor with an eye cocked on the market, as reported in Wikipedia. Chilean novelist Roberto Bolano called Dr. Bloodmoney a masterpiece, but I'm not so sure. Certainly it has many of the wholly unexpected and wonderfully weird hallmarks of Dick: a pair of emotionally symbiotic twins, one living inside the other ... an astronaut stuck in orbit reading Of Human Bondage to the survivors below ... mutant strains of animals and humans from the radiation ... and not one but two devastating nuclear events. Mental illness once again tends to reflect deeper understanding. And all of it is related in straightforward, unadorned fashion. I'm just not sure it altogether works. There is a fairly startling lack of any sense of trauma and/or dread among the survivors. They worry about a lot of weird little things, but the basic situation is so calmly accepted by one and all, less than 10 years after ruinous nuclear incidents, that it becomes hard to believe and a little dull for that. Even Dr. Strangelove, a comedy, strikes notes that put its events into perspective. On the other hand, Dr. Bloodmoney, which doesn't seem to me particularly comic in its intent, can be funny. Reading Of Human Bondage aloud from space, for example. One of Dick's canniest strategies always is the simplicity of his language, which can set the strange ideas into evocative context, but here it more often felt banal. There was not a single character I cared much of anything about—and in general there are way too many of them, with no obvious purpose except to square up narrative circles. I suppose there's something useful suggested by the banality, and even the smallest of Dick's ideas can open up wide. But this feels so emotionally disconnected from its own realities as to approach a kind of disassociativeness in its own right, which I appreciate. But to what end? Compared to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, for example, this too often feels like a kindergarten make-believe to me.

In case it's not at the library.

1 comment:

  1. This one holds a special place in our hearts, for the Berkeley setting. It wasn't just that ... there is a specific reference at the very beginning that always brought a smile, when we find that after the (first) apocalypse, Edy's is still in business. It is/was a real place, not just a candy shop, more like an old-school diner, with waitresses who looked like they'd been working there since WWII. Our joke was that nothing could kill Edy's, not even a nuclear accident. It opened during the Depression ... my Mom, who grew up in Berkeley, knew it from her childhood. Sadly, we were wrong about Edy's, which was demolished in the late-90s to make way for an Eddie Bauer's (which itself eventually went out of business ... there's a FedEx office there now). If I remember correctly, there was a Civil Defense underground shelter nearby, which we decided was why Dick put part of the story in that area. (Reading about this led me to a fascinating fact I hadn't previously known, cool enough that I'll have to write about it somewhere.)