You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Monday, December 12, 2011


PKD spent a great deal of time in and out of psychiatrists' offices. He had bouts of agoraphobia from the time he was a teenager and went through several spells of clinical depression. He knew the psychiatric lingo and at times used it as rigorously in his personal relationships as he did in his books.

Alpha III M2 is one of the purest creations of his experiences with mental health professionals. Alpha III M2 is a small moon in the Alpha Centauri system used by Earth as a global mental facility. The moon was one giant hospital treating all known forms of mental derangement. The fact that these break down to only a half dozen or so reflects the mid-sixties when the novel was written. The DSM had not yet expanded to include everything from psychosis to social anxiety disorder (shyness.) A minor war with the Alphanes has left Alpha III M2 to its on devices for over twenty years. Earth is finally sending ships to check up on how things are going.

Meanwhile back on earth, Chuck Rittersdorf has been tossed out by his wife, a successful marriage counselor, and now lives in a rundown conapt that sounds a little bit like the first apartment I had in college. He survives on the small salary he makes programming simulacra for CIA propaganda missions. His best new friend is a Ganymedean slime mold named Lord Running Clam. 

One reason I enjoy writing about PKD is that I can write Paragraph Two (above), follow it by Paragraph Three (above), and still be writing about the same novel. PKD said later in his career that he realized his writing technique involved starting multiple plots and then seeing how he could bring them together. I think this is usually referred to as "making it up as you go along." Chuck contemplates murdering his wife. .Bunny Hentzman, one of PKD's frequent world-renowned entertainers that exercise a bizarre control over Earth's culture, hires Chuck at a terrific salary, but counter-intelligence operations within the CIA and the Hentzman organization make Chuck a hunted man. As in a French farce of a Preston Sturges comedy, everyone ends in the same place, Alpha II M2, either shooting it out with laser pistols or making desperate diplomatic moves to keep Earth and Alpha out of a war and the main characters out of prison.

A strangely touching and revealing moment comes when Chuck, having agreed to another battery of psychological testing, has these thoughts which sound straight from the heart of PKD:

"Suppose the tests show no drift, no neurosis, no latent psychosis, no character deformation, no psychopathic tendencies, in other words, nothing. What do I do then?" ... he had an inkling that that was exactly what the tests would show. He did not belong in any of the settlements here on Alpha III M2; here he was a loner, an outcast, accompanied by no one even remotely resembling him."

Maybe not exactly a cri de coeur, but it seems one of the most personal statements PKD has made in his work to this time.

But then again, his is also improving his knack for toss away nuttiness. Here's the opening to Chapter 8:

When, late that night, Chuck Rittersdorf wearily returned to his rundown conapt in Marin County, California, he was stopped in the hall by the yellow Ganymedean slime mold. This, at three a.m. It was too much.

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