This is definitely a PKD novel. It is so, pardon the pun, by the book, that it almost seems pastiche. It also seems like a novelization of an RPG set in a PKD-tribute world (hah, I mock myself). Dark hair shrew of a wife? Check. Drug abuse linked to slips in world perception? Check. Goverment figures delving into paranoia? Check. Aliens who are neither as bad or as good as they say they are? Check. An everyman, probably dressed in a gray suit and who smokes cigarettes? An underachiever? A man who probably should have killed himself except somehow his inate idea of right and wrong save the world? Check and check and what I think to be check. Oh, and does this man have brief contact with a nearly disfunctionally schizophrenic repair man? Yep.
As I said, by the book. But, what makes this book shine is that it is infused by a clarity of vision not apparent in all of Dick's myriad other novels. When Eric Sweetscent contemplates what is right and what is wrong, the moral questions before him become obvious, even if there is still the question of what to do about it. Bad guys are obviously bad. Good guys are obviously good. It is a little heavy handed in places, but in the way this story works out we are thankful for it. It gives us a place to stand.
Curiously enough, all the traditional mind-screws are in place--hallucinations, schizophrenic episodes, character switches, dopplegangers--but Dick, normally one to leave you dangling just a little, smooths over most of the edges. That was a hallucination, this is an alternate world, he is being fake, and so on. This rotates back around to the clarity I mentioned above. Sometimes it is just good to know what the mind-screw is and appreciate it from a distance, instead of being thrust into it.
Where this book really shines is you have the phildickian hero, beset upon by the iniquities of the wicked as per standard, who honestly examines himself as a character from the inside out. He stops and wonders about how he should react to things, and admits outloud his flaws and occasionally tries overcoming them. The ending of this book, rightly so, rotates more around Eric Sweetscent's question of what is moral than anything to do with drugs or time travel or space aliens. Much like Dick's alt-history classic Man in the High Castle the question isn't about action (there are some good action scenes, though) but about utlimate reaction, and the unavoidability of being human no matter how intense the situation.
My one complaint about the storyline is that one character, introduced early and followed in at least one later scene, who seems as though he was meant to be a bit stronger of a character, something closer to Androids' Jack Isoldore, is later dropped and some aspects of his story imply a little bit of sinister mind-screwage or a possible change in direction decided upon by Dick, but feels a little undermentioned.
If you like some of Dick's other novels, I recommend this one, because it seems to say just what he wanted to say.
Written by W Doug Bolden
For those wishing to get in touch, you can contact me in a number of ways
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
The longer, fuller version of this text can be found on my FAQ: "Can I Use Something I Found on the Site?".
"The hidden is greater than the seen."