A post-apocalyptic cold war style tale early in this author’s career that contains entertaining edges and hints, emblematic of future efforts in plot ideation and explorations into uncertainties for which this author is known.
The world in which this story lies is bleak and barren, seemingly hopeless. Machines have been given a new genesis of artificial intelligence. Enter the minor “claw” universe of Philip K. Dick where Soviet forces decimated the planet in a preemptive nuclear strike and the UN responded by creating lethal, autonomous, and self-replicating robots which turned the tide in their favor.
Soldiers populate most of the narrative. Seemingly. The author does a good job of describing the stark emotion of living in such a ruined environment and also conveying the fear and trauma of having seen the vast might and precariousness created by humanity’s super weapons. This story encapsulates well the paranoias and fascinations of post-war nuclear potentials. In particular, and in typical PKD fashion, the author drills right down into the singular mind of the protagonist. After broadly painting the massive powers which hold the world in sway, PKD wastes no time in flinging the main character out into a terrible alternate existence. In this way, we the readers, feel the full weight of uncertainty and helplessness one person can feel treading among destructive titans of power.
And yet, none of the agency is lost. We still experience the character’s journey as he is sent on his mission to answer a strange request for parley amid the wastelands between the two long-warring armies. Then we truly enter the corridors of PKD’s mind as the protagonist is pitted against other individuals who he must decide whether or not to trust. Not that this author has a monopoly on questionable veracity, however it’s the clever method in which he weaves his uncertainties that makes him stand out.
In some ways this tale might be nothing new to a fan of PKD, and in that regard the manner in which things wrap up probably seems trite even for the time they were written. And yet, the sense of it all, and the way that we get inside the character’s head as he experiences the conflicts of his situation feels special. PKD has a way of exploring interesting ideas and concepts and then taking a wild left turn into the spiraling void that never seems to land the way it ought too. That’s what makes his work unique. He gives us protagonists that are sometimes barely fleshed out, but he also leaves room for us to inhabit them. There is just the right amount of detail filled in to allow us inside so that we can be taken on the strange journey which his tales usually take.
This story has these things. The setting is not particularly different. The robots are, though. They are like things we’ve seen before and things we know and things that are unimaginable, but things we can understand. Strange anomalies that populate the protagonist’s world that must be considered. The other characters feel that way, too. One wonders if that is how PKD felt sometimes. Our own world is full of odd and sometimes dangerous things that must be reckoned as we try to carry on with our existence. So read along on this entertaining narrative journey as you escape reality, only to dive deeper inside reality.
Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).