An old book written by Philip K. Dick and newly finished by me The Simulacra continues Dick’s trend on taking an egg batter to my brain and firmly stirring. While there are several characters in this sprawling 230 page novel, it’s not about the characters. As in most of his stories, the subject matter is more the environment and how characters are paddle balled around until the reader is left flummoxed that it all somehow makes sense and manages to sit at the bottom of your soul for days, making you not only wonder how many drugs Dick took, but also very afraid of how close each of his books seems on the verge of happening in the real world. If not in a literal sense, certainly a figurative sense.
The Simulacra begins with too many characters to pinpoint a single main one. Though the first hook happens between these three: Richard Kongrosian, a pianist that has no hands but plays the piano with his psychic powers, Dr. Egon Superb, who is the only remaining psychotherapist left on the planet, due to the regime which I’ll get to explaining in the next paragraph, and Nicole, the center of it all. You see America has become a matriarch, and Nicole is the love of all who live within it’s boundaries. Very much like Princess Di.
The environment and the story is the cleanest mess I’ve ever seen in my life. Time travel technology has been created. Few have the right to use it, these few are known as the Ges, those also have access to all of the secrets and make all the rules (including the “no psychotherapy” policy); the majority who haven’t a clue are the Bes.
It is assumed that, because Germany has won World War II, someone used the time travel device to go back and help them win. The trickle down effect is that the world lives peacefully, but everything we believe in is a lie…and a lie on top of a lie…and a lie on top of a lie. How deep these lies go, I wont tell you. But by the end, everything unravels, even quite literally (in one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read), so too does Richard Kongrosian.
That Dick plays with satire which is still relevant today and perhaps only now becoming more relevant is astounding to me. It also makes for some absolutely hilarious moments, like automated flies that buzz into the cracks of your car only to announce, quite loudly, an advertisement! Oh how low marketing campaigns have become. And I will now never forget the moment a papoola became a part of my vocabulary, as “Everyone loves a papoola.”
But Dick is up to a lot more than just simple advertising, he’s talking about brainwashing through media. Our love and hatred for politicians, products, our government, our family aren’t decided by fact, but by what we’re shown on television and more importantly how we’re shown it. A s most of his books are, this is an important one.
The only thing that falls short is the threat of returning to the Barbaric Age. Living in this modern world, with terrorism running rampant, we perhaps see something worse than what Dick could have imagined. Though it’s still hard to beat the Nazis.
True it won’t be everyone’s book of choice and it certainly isn’t Dick’s best, but it definitely does please on many levels that only Dick can please at.
The question that I will try to answer with each of my book reviews, is will this make a good adaptation into a movie. Considering that most Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with Dick’s novels (excluding Bladerunner and Through a Scanner Darkly, including Paycheck, Minority Report, Next, etc etc etc), I say leave it alone. If the right person, like Terry Gilliam, someone who can shift tone at the drop of a hat, from humor to tragedy to the disturbing, then, yeah, give it a shot, but as I said there is better Philip K. Dick out there. Though sometimes the lesser works from writers sometimes makes the best movies…
To see more versions of the book cover from over the years, check out this link that takes you to philipkdick.com, though don’t read the plot summary…it gives away far too much. Just scroll to the bottom and start clicking on the list of covers!