After being accosted for his wife's supposedly communist leanings, Hamilton (this novel's Dickian everyman) is left with a bitter taste in his mouth. Which soon gets worse after an industrial accident plows him, and those with him, into another world.
Suddenly the wrath of God means something, the divine has dominion over the earth, and there seems to no good way to predict the outcome of anything (horrors to our hero scientist, of course). The members of the party react in different ways, but soon find themselves being swept up into the logic of the world. Hamilton rebels out and seeks to find a truth.
But let's just say that one of the tag lines of the book should be "Out of the frying pan and into the fire."
The theme of personal universes is near ubiquitous in the Philip K Dick body of work. Even in those novels and short stories where it is not a main theme, it will flavor the theme. And, in this novel, it is a main theme. This book is all about how we react to things, how we perceive things, and how we feel things should be solved. Besides Hamilton, you have his wife, a young black scientist, a dour old man, a staunch precursor to Cheers' Lilith, an extremely suburbian mom, her intelligent kid, and a security chief for the defense firm that Hamilton works for.
Another one of those tag lines should have been "Eight people think of strange things in different ways."
Don't get me wrong, though, marketing did a wonderful job with this one. The back description, announcing a trip through a world of Old Testament divinity gone awry, immediately caught my attention and made me want to read it. In some ways, it is played off (in the description) as far more of a comedy than it is. Dick didn't so much write comedies as tragedies that you occasionaly laugh at.
The description also paints the main character as knowing more about what he is doing than he every manages. No, Dick makes his heroes unbelievably average joes. This guy is smart but not the smartist, a scrapper but not by nature, dedicated but doubting. Hamilton is just like any other neighbor you might have: a man who goes when he has to but might not want to.
Here we have all the basic charming elements to the Dick puzzle. A world in which things are not quite like they seem. People fail to trust one another. The situation get progressively worse, no matter what. The average joe character finds more heroism in him than he thought. Women are cast in a somewhat shadowy light. Though the events are kind of down, you find yourself laughing. Its all good stuff, really.
This one didn't quite sit with me as well as others do, though. The characters, though interesting, do not react quite with the same life that Dick has imparted to some of his other characters. They are almost too fatalistic. Dick wrote them to follow in the path he imparted, but did not give them enough room that it seems a coincidence that they did so. His phrasing seems a little more limited, here, than in others. Though is descriptions of things work well, it just does not quite flow as it should.
This is a personal aside, but it started to get on my nerves in the way that he referred to Bill Laws (the young, black scientist) as the Negro (or, "young Negro") every time the man walked into the room for the first half the book (later he seems to drop the habit completely). I know it was of a different time, but when he describes most of the characters with details and Laws "young Negro", it just shorts the character considerably. Of course, Dick makes him the second most valuable character (in my opinion), so maybe he was trying to make THAT point.
What is fun about this novel, and that is probably not the best word for it, is the fact that at times the description gets fuzzier or finer depending on what is going on. In at least one scene, the description jumps around, forcing the reader to be right in the eyes of the characters.
Not his best work, but worth reading if you want to get some of his works under your belt.
My score: 65.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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