Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Maze of Death (1968)

I struggled some with this short novel by Philip K. Dick and by the time I got to the end I think I figured out why. It's a typical Dickian scenario: a group of Americans on a desolate planet is harassed by distortions of reality. Drugs, time travel, extra dimensions, and other such factors usually account for it. Here we do not really figure out what's going on until a big reveal near the end. In its totality, the novel plays fair. Or let me put it this way. In the 30-minute span of a Twilight Zone episode it would play fair, and might even work quite well. It's a short novel and a relatively easy read, but it's heaps of weird piled on heaps of weird for no discernible reason. A group of citizens around the solar system is assembled for a mission. But communication beyond the planet is cut off before the group members can receive final instructions. Then they start to kill one another. Thus, among other things, as Wikipedia informs, this is one of Dick's darkest works, "one of the few to examine the human death instinct and capacity for murder." Well, yes, but who's to say a death is really a death in a novel by Dick, at least until we have further information (i.e., finish the book)? Maybe that's one of the prices you pay as an author for fucking with reality on a regular basis. It didn't concern me much that these characters were killing one another, because they do so in such casual and bizarre ways I basically didn't believe it, or reserved judgment. There's an interesting conceit here about the existence of God having been verified, and now reachable through appropriate channels. I liked it but it smelled awfully churchy, with analogies for Jesus and Satan and maybe the Holy Ghost too if I thought about it enough. But I don't want to think about that at all. What is the Holy Trinity doing in my science fiction novel? That's one question I have. Something is not right in this picture. Everything appears so normal and yet. And it's the usual bunch of PKD everyday people, with the usual California or Western tuning. But I didn't like the way the explanatory concept was reserved for a twist at the end. That's short story stuff. I'm not much impressed with the turn to religious ideas either. It makes me worried what the '70s will bring—remember, this is my first encounter with most of these.

In case it's not at the library.

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