Science Fiction Studies

# 5 = Volume 2, Part 1 = March 1975




Brian W. Aldiss

Dick's Maledictory Web: About and Around Martian Time-Slip

Abstract.-- Martian Time-Slip comes from the middle of one of Dick’s most creative periods. The Man in the High Castle was published in 1962. In 1963 came The Game-Players of Titan and then, in 1964, The Simulacra, The Penultimate Truth, Clans of the Alphane Moon, and Martian Time-Slip. (Although Dick wrote some thirty novels within fifteen years, his production rate is modest when compared with many other writers in the prodigal field of SF.) One of the attractions of Dick’s novels is that they all have points at which they inter-relate, although Dick never introduces characters from previous books. The relationship is more subtle—more web-like—than that. There is a web in Clans of the Alphane Moon, made by the "world-spider as it spins its web of determination for all life." The way in which Mars is parceled up between various nationalists in Martian Time-Slip is reminiscent of the parceling up of Earth into great estates in The Penultimate Truth and The Game Players of Titan. Such building blocks are by no means interchangeable from book to book; Dick’s kaleidoscope is always being shaken, and new sinister colors and patterns continuously emerge. The power in the Dickian universe resides in these blocks, rather than in his characters; even when one of the characters has a special power (like Jones’s ability to see the future in The World Jones Made), it rarely does him any good. Martian Time-Slip is full of delightful comic effects, but below this easy-going humor lies a darker stream of wit. Arnie Kott’s terrible and fatal mistake of believing that reality is merely another version of the schizoid past is part of the comedy of mistakes to which Dick’s characters always dance.

Peter Fitting

Ubik: The Deconstruction of Bourgeois SF

Abstract.-- Ubik (1969) is one of the most important SF works of the 1960s, for it is both deconstruction and a hint at reconstruction: it lays bare the principal ways that SF is used for ideological ends, in terms of science and of fiction, while tentatively looking towards a future freed from the restraints it has exposed. In this novel, Dick has exploded and transcended the SF genre and the "representation novel" of which it is a part. Dick’s writing is not easily included within traditional academic limits, for his novels are, in appearance, badly written, with superficial characterization, confusing plots, and similar deviation from "good writing." This apparent inattention to writing, along with an overabundance of traditional SF details and conventions, have earned him the neglect of the proponents both of high art and of the New Wave; while his sprawling, chaotic near-futures and his disregard for the traditional SF virtues of rationality and futurological plausibility have caused him to be overlooked by proponents of the more traditional extrapolative SF. This paper will analyze Ubik to show how Dick’s SF presents a model of a more subversive form of writing, undermining rather than reconfirming the repressive system in which it has been produced, and acting as a critique of the ideological presuppositions of the SF genre and the traditional novel.

Fredric Jameson

After Armageddon: Character Systems in Dr. Bloodmoney

Abstract.-- Dick’s voluminous work can be seen as falling into various distinct thematic groups or cycles: there is, for instance, the early VanVogtian game-playing cycle, the Nazi cycle (e.g., The Man in the High Castle, The Unteleported Man), a relatively minor Jungian cycle (of which the best effort is Galactic Pot-Healer), and finally the "metaphysical" cycle which includes his most striking novels to date, Ubik and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. In such a view, Dr. Bloodmoney (1965) can be assigned to a small but crucial middle group of eschatological novels, along with its less successful companion-piece, The Simulacra. In these two works, for the first time, there emerges that bewildering and kaleidoscopic plot structure we associate with Dick’s mature productions. At the same time, this cycle helps us to understand the origins and function of this sudden and alarming proliferation of sub-plots, minor characters, and exuberantly episodic digressions, for both of these works dramatize the utopian purgation of a fallen and historically corrupted world by some final climactic overloading, some ultimate explosion beyond which the outlines of a new and simpler social order emerge. But in the two cases, the "coding" of the evil, as well as its exorcism, is different: in The Simulacra, this is political and economic, and it is a big-corporation, entertainment-industry-type power elite which invites purgation. In Dr. Bloodmoney, the historical crisis is expressed in terms of the familiar counterculture denunciation of an evil or perverted science (compare Kurt Vonnegut in Cat’s Cradle), only too emblematically exposed by the invention of the atom bomb.

Stanislaw Lem

Philip K. Dick: A Visionary Among the Charlatans

Abstract.-- Philip Dick does not lead his critics an easy life, sincehe does not so much play the part of a guide through his phantasmagoric worlds as give the impression of one lost in their labyrinth. He has stood all the more in need of critical assistance, but he has not received it. A characteristic of Dick’s work, after its ambiguity as to genre, is its tawdriness, which is reminiscent of the goods offered at country fairs by primitive craftsmen who are at once clever and naive, possessed of more talent than self-knowledge. Dick has as a rule taken over a rubble of building materials from the run-of-the-mill American professionals of SF, frequently adding a true gleam of originality to worn-out concepts, and erecting with such materials constructions truly his own. The world gone mad, with a spasmodic flow of time and a network of causes and effects which wriggles as if nauseated, the world of frenzied physics, is unquestionably his invention. If Dick’s writings are neither of uniform quality nor fully realized, still it is only by brute force that they can be jammed into that pulp of materials, destitute of intellectual value and original structure, which makes up SF. Its fans are attracted by the worst in Dick—the typical dash of American SF, reaching to the stars, and the headlong pace of action moving from one surprise to the next—but they hold it against him that, instead of unraveling puzzles, he leaves the reader at the end on the battlefield, enveloped in an aura of mystery as grotesque as it is strange. Yet his bizarre blending of hallucinogenic and palingenetic techniques have not won him many admirers outside the ghetto walls, since outsiders are repelled by the shoddiness of the props he has adopted from the inventory of SF.

Carlo Pagetti

Dick and Meta-SF

Abstract.-- Acting within SF, accepting the popular element which has always constituted one of its foundations, Dick is nonetheless placing into jeopardy the conception of reality on which all SF was based. He is challenging the narrative and cultural values of SF not by denying them flatly, but by exploiting them to their extreme formal and ideological consequences. Dick is actually writing SF about SF. In other works, he is conducting a critical inquiry on the meanings of SF through the narrative devices that SF puts at its disposal, distorting and modifying them in a search which pushes him always closer to a meta-SF that does not exhaust itself in an intellectual game but is simultaneously a coherent interpretation of the crisis that troubles technological man and American society in the 20th century.

Darko Suvin

P.K. Dick's Opus: Artifice as Refuge and World View (Introductory Reflections)

Abstract.-- An overview can find a certain logic in Dick’s development, but not a mechanical or linear logic. Dick’s work, influenced by and participating in the great processes of the American collective or social psychology in these last 30 years, shares the hesitations, the often irrational though always understandable leaps backwards, forwards, and sideways of that psychology. It is perhaps most understandable as the work of a prose poet whose basic tools are not verse lines and poetic figures but (1) relationships within the narrative, (2) various alternate worlds, the specific political and ontological relationships in each of which are analogous to the USA (or simply California) in the 1950s and 1960s; and (3) the vivid characters on whom his narrations and his worlds finally repose. In this essay, I propose to deal with these three areas of Dick’s creativity. Some basic relationships in Dick’s storytelling—a notion richer than though connected with plotting—will be explored by analysis of narrative foci and power levels. Dick’s alternate worlds will be seen as illustrating his increasing shift from mostly political to mostly ontological horizons. Finally, Dick’s allegorically exaggerated characters will be explored in their own right as the foundation of the morality and cognition in his novels.

Ian Watson

Le Guin's Lathe of Heaven and the Role of Dick: The False Reality as Mediator

Abstract.-- Ursula K. Le Guin’s work to date has been remarkable for its overall thematic consistency—both in the "outer space" of the Hainish cycle and in the inner lands of the Earthsea trilogy. The Lathe of Heaven (1971) at first sight seems anomalous—a sport from the true stock—as though in this one instance she has been charmed by that master trickster of false reality states, Philip K. Dick. Not impelled to write a poor book, for Lathe is splendid—but let’s say a tour de force in the Dick mode, something out of key with the rest of her opus; perhaps even, the suspicion lurks, contradicting the general drift of earlier novels? It is as though while writing of those inner lands with her left hand, and of outer space with her right, a third hand mysteriously intruded on the scene, attached to Palmer Eldritch’s prosthetic arm, and it is this hand that has tapped out Lathe on the typewriter.

Roy Arthur Swanson

Nabokov's Ada as Science Fiction

Abstract.-- In Strong Opinions, Nabokov says "I hate science fiction, with its gals and goons, suspense and suspensories." Yet he also expresses "the deepest admiration" for H. G. Wells, naming as special favorites such works by Wells as The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon, and "The Country of the Blind." He speaks elsewhere of Aleksey Tolstoy as "a writer of some talent" who "has two or three science fiction stories or novels which are memorable." Ada, for all its attention to "Antiterra" and to anagrammatic satire (Osberg for Borges), is not an anti-novel, though it is anti-. It may be studied as being of the genre of SF (even though it does not resemble SF), if the study centers on that SF element which I term "eversion." The term denotes a double-reversal or a turning-inside-out, and Ada’s eversion of time, earth, and sexual gender are here discussed, respectively, as "transtemporality," "transterrestriality," and "transsexual."

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