Wednesday, February 22, 2012
PHILIP K DICKATHON 20: THE CRACK IN SPACE
Regular of readers of Philip K Dick would not expect him to write a novel exploring social issues, but in this case that is what he seems to think he is doing. The result is a muddle of ideas that try to stay topical while medium level PKD weirdness circles around them.
The setting is the late 21st century, and overpopulation, combined with a shortage of jobs, has become the major problem facing the human race. The solution has been to warehouse those who request it in suspended animation with the promise of awakening them when social conditions change. This is also a racial issue. "Cols" are now the majority population, and also the least employable. "Caucs" maintain the systems of government while millions of Cols become "bibs," -- the name given to those warehoused sleepers. (I never quite figured out the "bib" allusion. Also in the book are "Jerries," the older generation that can still remember the way things used to be.)
It is a presidential election year, and the Republican Liberal Party candidate for the first time is a Col. Jim Briskin wants to be president and in his brilliant speeches is willing to say what he thinks the people, and the Col majority, want to hear. He promises to close the warehouses and find a way to resolve the bib situation. He proposes pursuing some outdated technology called planet wetting to create habitable colonies. He will also close down Thisbe Olt's pleasure satellite The Golden Door, an orbiting brothel with thousands of working women and a enormous clientele. Thisbe's operation has been legalized as a means of keeping the population down. (Question mark. Exlamation point. WTF) None of Briskin's ideas are really feasible.
Then there are the Jerry Scuttlers, devices that are intended to transport their owners anywhere they want to go. Unfortunately they have design flaws. One owner complains that his always delivers him to Portland, Oregon. A repairman, however, discovers that the machine has a rent in its fabric that delivers one to a verdant, apparently virgin land that could solve the immigration problem.
So PKD has his usual half dozen plots in play, but much centers on that flawed Jerry Scuttler and the fact that Briskin may be able to come through with his promise of closing the bib warehouses. But when the new land is discovered to be a version of Terra itself that has followed a different evolutionary path than our own planet, new racial problems arise with how to treat the inhabitants there. They are not homo sapiens but intellectually capable offspring of hominid strains removed from our history.
The Crack in Space has subplots that go nowhere and either resolve themselves almost as soon as they are introduced or need quick sentence summaries toward the end of the novel. Nothing about it addresses in any coherent way the social issues it raises. It is at its best when played as farce, with characters traveling the planet in their Jet Hoppers and scrambling to put together a winning presidential campaign, But it remains a muddle and, unusual for a PKD novel, manages to become somewhat dull. This despite that fact that one character is the unicephalic twin George Walt -- one head, two bodies, two personalities. He is the proprietor of the Golden Door and is briefly worshipped as a god by the inhabitants of the parallel universe opened by the defected Jerry Scuttler.