Read for the Science Fiction Masterworks Book Club.
In reading the SF Masterworks list, I have been exposed to a variety of amazing science fiction classics that I might not otherwise have read. But I’ve also read some stuff I wish I hadn’t.
Philip K. Dick is a loaded die for me. There’s a ridiculous number of PKD books on this list. I have really enjoyed a handful of his books; most have been kinda meh; and some have been complete garbage.
This one was in the “pretty decent” category. I wish there were a 3 and a half stars rating, because I’m going back and forth between 3 and 4 stars.
In this dystopia, there was a second American Civil War, and the US is now a police state run by the cops, who have totally replaced legitimate government. Our protagonist, Jason Taverner, is an aging, superfamous musician and TV star who has lived a life of privilege, and then he wakes up one day to discover he doesn’t exist. Never has existed. Maybe imagine if this happened to the Kardashians.
As an unperson in this world, he is a legitimate target for Forced Labour Camps and possibly summary execution. He goes to great effort to stay out of their hands. Most of his actions are morally defunct and illegal, and he never really suffers once in the entire story. One wonders if PKD was creating a legitimate wish-fulfillment fantasy in which a person who thought himself immune to the suffering of the mere little people around him, whose fate as a result of his actions concern him not at all, is brought low — but was afraid to bring him too low. It’s a bit like Franz Kafka‘s The Metamorphosis crossed with The Demolished Man this time. The worldbuilding is top-notch, the mystery is engaging, and this read through quite quickly and overall, I enjoyed it.
Now the down sides *sigh*.
Once again, we’re rehashing Alfred Bester.
Once again, (view spoiler)
Once again, the character is a raging misogynist who clearly hates women (I know that’s redundant by their dictionary definitions, but I think “misogyny” is often used as a synonym for “sexism” – and I mean to say that he actively hates women.) He thinks of every one he encounters in terms of how she can be used, and usually, he seduces them as part of the “use” and they just put up with it; maybe because of his “irresistible manly man masculine charisma” or some freakin’ thing. Granted, this character uses everyone, but this is a new low. If this were a female character, you’d see pages of nasty reviews decrying her as a shameless whore. Insert an eye-roll emoji here.
And this book is horribly racist too. A eugenics program imposed by the state sterilizes black people after they produce one child, so they can be eradicated over generations. This is just window-dressing to the plot for the most part. Two black people appear in the story. One is a setting prop and the other is a “magic negro” for another white male character. Insert another eye-roll emoji.
This stuff just gets old.
I’ve gone back and forth a couple of times, but I think my overall verdict is 3 stars. Strangely, this is some of my favourite worldbuilding that PKD has done. And the story isn’t bad. “Not bad” isn’t good, though, and the character is, as always, utterly unsympathetic. I’m not sure he learned the karmic lesson he was supposed to, and I’m not sure I care about whether or not he did, because he’s a jerk. Read it if you’re a PKD fan or you like dystopias, but don’t expect to invest a lot of emotion into it.