Sunday, May 18, 2008

PKD and Politics: The Simulacra

In The Simulacra, PKD takes on politics. The setting is the future political entity of The United States of Europe and America (USEA). In this future, the true leader is not the President, but the First Lady. Of course, she's a robot (or as PKD would have it, a simulacra). Every four years, the people of the USEA vote in a new husband for her, who becomes the President.

The Simulacra, once again, displays PKD's preternatural gift for describing the future accurately, especially the effect of television on the powers that be. However, in The Simulacra, the people can literally somewhat control what politicians will do or say by turning the knobs on their television sets. If enough of the people press certain buttons on their TVs then the politician will do what they command. 

The Simulacra is a wonderful metaphor for what is actually going on these days, and a nice prism through which to look at the current political situation.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Cleaners From Venus

Recently loyal Boxer Apedog tuned me into Martin Newell. I was digging his pop manoeuvres and decided to do a little digging. I came across Martin's 80s band, The Cleaners From Venus. These dudes were super rad. They produced all their music themselves on cassette and they would send it out to all their fans; just like my heroes: My Friend George, Oceano Da Cruz and Price Pearlman.

Quite obviously, the coolest thing about The Cleaners is that they chose a totally PKD'd out band name, which is why they get to be our guests today on Dick in a Box. 

Click the title of this post for some fine grade cleaning action.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Younger Than Yesterday

I really regret having to leave A Maze of Death as it is one of my favorites. But all things must pass, or must they? The PKD work that I think is most linked with A Maze of Death in PKD's oeuvre is Counter Clock World, as it too deals with the themes of mortality and theology. I also link it with A Maze of Death because it is one of my favorites in the PKD realm.

I've been reading my beat up 1974 Berkley edition of the book. The pages are falling out, but it held together for one more read. I thought I'd share the back cover blurb with you because it neatly encapsulates the oddball nature of the book.


Now that the Hobart Phase was in effect, Officer Joseph Tinbane wasn't surprised when he heard a voice speaking to him from beneath the ground.

It wasn't that he was going out of his mind. Not at all. It was just one of the 'old-born,' giving notification that it was ready to be dug up.

You see, the year is 1998 and things have changed quite a bit. Time has reversed its flow: the dead come back to life, and people grow younger instead of older."

Neat premise, and PKD pulls it off to grand effect. The book is completely hilarious. When people light up their smokes, they light "butts" and start "blowing smoke into" them. The cig reforms and they put it back into its pack. When people greet each other they say "goodbye" and when they part, they say "hello." And when people get back to the time of birth, they jump back into a host womb. The mother has to carry the regressing baby for nine months and then has to copulate with a man to return the seed to him. The book never really tells us why the Hobart Phase came about, but who cares about that.

One unique feature of the novel is that there is never a moment where the reader questions what is real, and in this way it is quite distinct among PKD's works because it never has that "what the hell is going on" moment. 

Also, in Counter Clock, we find a moment where PKD may have been influenced by pop culture rather than the other way around. The book was written in 1967, the year of the Byrds seminal classic Younger Than Yesterday, which has a cover of Dylan's 1964 classic, "My Back Pages." The Byrds version of "My Back Pages" is bar none my favorite song of all time. I have listened to it my whole life, from the coasts of California to the rooftops of New York City. 

"I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."  

The Byrds were rocking all over California at this time, and I'd wager PKD was influenced by this classic version, just check out the cover of the LP, totally PKD'd out.

You can enter the Hobart Phase yourself by clicking on the title of this post.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Mandolin Player

Maze of Death deals with the vagaries of getting old, and in that sense it's quite appealing to us nostalgic types.

One of my favorite scenes occurs near the beginning of the book where Ben Tallchief contemplates getting old... 

"Forty-two. His age had astounded him for years, and each time he had sat so astounded, trying to figure out what had become of the young, slim man in his twenties, a whole additional year slipped by and had to be recorded, a continually growing sum which he could not reconcile with his self-image. He still saw himself, in his mind's eye, as youthful, and when he caught sight of himself in photographs he usually collapsed. For example, he shaved now with an electric razor, unwilling to gaze at himself in his bathroom mirror."

There is a sadness that is captured in this passage, that I think .knowdice captures in his famous early-2001 photograph, The Mandolin Player. Thanks again .knowdice, for letting us display your work here in the Box.

Anyway, I think I may get an electric razor myself one of these days.