This page contains an anthology of the short reviews that I
occasionally write and post to mailing lists and newsgroups.
I hope you find them informative. Dates refer to time of writing.
Feel free to e-mail me with your own thoughts.

The Cosmic Puppets (1953)
The World Jones Made (1954)
Mary and The Giant (1955)
The Man Who Japed (1955)
Dr Futurity (1959)
Confessions of a Crap Artist (1959)
The Penultimate Truth (1964)
The Unteleported Man (1965)
Nick and The Glimmung (1966)
The Ganymede Takeover (w/Ray Nelson 1967)
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? (1966)
Galactic Pot Healer (1968)

The VALIS trilogy...

Valis (1978)
The Divine Invasion (1980)
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1981)

The Cosmic Puppets

The story concerns the trials of Ted Barton who visits his childhood home on a whim
during a vacation and discovers it to have mysteriously changed. None of the
townsfolk remember him or the places he inquires about, at first at least. As the
story unfolds we are shown how the transformation of the town, a 'new' reality
laid over the original reality, is part of a much much larger conflict being fought
by unimaginably huge and powerful beings. Two children with magical powers
fight on our level on behalf of these gods in the town.

This is one of the really early ones (the second novel he ever wrote according to
the list I have to hand) and it shows it sometimes but the idea of an underlying
'true' reality overlaid by a false reality is there fully formed. Typical of the earlier
'chase-based' stories it is a real page turner. It also contains some quite horrific
passages and some gore that call to mind the short story 'Expendable'. The
metaphysical content is explored more towards to the end as we find out the
sources of the children's magical powers and the scale of the battle being fought in
miniature. This isn't done too convincingly I have to say. It also slows the pace
right down in the last twenty pages or so. Still, interesting to see many
preoccupations so fully fleshed out so early on.

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The World Jones Made

An early exploration of free will and failure. The Jones of the title has limited
precognitive powers which allow him to see the following year perfectly. The
nuclear war which gave him his powers also led to the enforcing of 'relativism', a
philosophy based on the equality of all points of view, in order to avoid such a
catastrophe happening again. Paradoxically, this form of government is ensured
by the classic tool of the fascist state: a secret police force with unlimited power.
Jones uses his powers, and the arrival of suspicious looking spores from space, to
whip up fervour against the status quo. Whilst this is going on another new start
for humanity has been developed: a small society of deliberately created mutants
capable of living on Venus has been created and sent on their way.

This book has lots of interest in it, particularly in Dick's deliberate blurring of the
distinction between good guys and bad guys. The main protagonist is one of the
secret policeman whilst the grotesque Jones yearns for the freedom of humankind.
The need to believe in something further is explored pretty thoroughly. However,
the whole thing is let down by the various elements not being sufficiently tightly
woven together. For example, the disillusioned wife who switches sides
disappears for a large chunk of the book turning up again towards the end when
convenient to the plot. Also the sub-plot of the Venusians doesn't really go
anywhere interesting either. Still, the atmosphere and occasional set pieces make
it well worth reading.

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Mary and The Giant

This book is one of Phil's very early mainstream novels that did not find a publisher
until 1987. It follows the life of the young Mary Anne Reynolds as she struggles
to come to terms with the world as an essentially tragic, wrong, desperate and
depressing place. In particular it follows two doomed relationships that she has.
The first with Carelton Tweany, a black club singer, and secondly with Joseph
Schilling, who moves to her small town to open a record shop. It is the latter, I
presume, that is the 'giant' of the title.

My gut feeling is that this is an unsatisfying book. Not everything about it is bad,
on the contrary, the characters of Mary and Schilling are beautifully conceived
and fleshed out to be frighteningly real. It is also quite compelling, I finished it in
an afternoon. Unfortunately though, it has a looseness that lets it down. Time is
wasted watching a large cast of supporting players come and ago. These include
a tantalizing cameo from the fascinating grotesque Sid Hethel who then
disappears and Joe's sidekick Max who disappears for almost the whole book
before returning at the end to say 'I told you so'. Also the ending chapter is so
unconvincing that it is the most obviously tacked on 'happy' ending I've read since
'Crime and Punishment'. Unlike, say 'Crap Artist', the fact that this was written
early in Phil's career shows.

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The Man Who Japed

Allen Purcell is the head of a company that produces multimedia packages of propaganda
used by the authorities in imposing a system of prudish morality. He himself rebels
against the oppressive and claustrophobic society created by Morec (Moral Reclamation)
by rebelling against Morec itself. Via a labyrinthine plot, typical of the early Phil,
Purcell uses the inertia of the system against itself and threatens to topple it with
a collosal jape.

This is one of Phil's minor works but, despite being relatively unsophisticated, it bubbles
along with real pace. There are lots of nice touches in the evocation of the post-apocalyptic world.
For example, I laughed out loud at the revelation that the propaganda packets were so thorough
that they contained plans for woven baskets carrying the correct message. The paranoia of
Phil's later work surfaces in a sequence where Purcell wakes up on another planet with
another identity but this is not handled well, he just realises, gets on a spaceship,
and leaves. This is typical of several loose ends and ideas left to hang as the chase
continues. The jape itself is amusing if anti-climactic. A Saturday afternoon read.

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Dr Futurity

The doctor of the title is Jim Parsons, an unfortunate who is snatched from his journey to
work and dragged several hundred years into the future. This future society is revealed
as made up of technologically advanced, frighteningly young, death obssessed tribes who
compete to be allowed to contribute to an actual gene pool (or 'soul cube' as it is called).
After some pretty serious mishaps he is rescued by one of these tribes that wishes to use
him to serve their own agenda. This involves further time travel and unravelling the
resultant problems and paradoxes.

This is a poor book. It reads like a vastly overextended short story, or like a couple of short
story ideas cobbled together (which is, apparently, what it is). The set up is intriguing
enough but very soon the characterisation and politics become clunky and a bit embarrasing.
The time travel section jumps through lots of familiar hoops and the 'surprise' paradoxes
can be spotted pages away. Seek out and read 'Paycheck' instead, one of my favourites of
Phil's short stories, which is a much more thrilling, amusing and thought-provoking time-
travel story in a fraction of the space.

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Confessions of a Crap Artist

The crap-artist of the title (note to UK readers: that is not an artist who is crap but
more like a bullshitter) is Jack Isodore, a gently mad character very
sympathetically portrayed by Dick. The book begins and ends with Jack and his
'scientific' observations of the goings on of the other main characters provide the
structure of the novel. Jack is moved to Marin County to live with his sister, the
manipulative shrew Fay and her husband the simple but sincere Charlie, who is
alienated and exhausted by his wife. When Charlie is driven to a heart attack Fay
begins an affair with the new-to-the-area Nat Anteil thus helping to break up his
marriage to wife Gwen. Whilst this is all going on Jack becomes involved with
Claudia Hambro, a classic Dickian mysterious-dark-haired-girl, and her group of
UFO/Apocalypse nuts. He is called on to reveal the date of the end of the world.

This is the first of Dick's 'mainstream' novels that I've read. As such I approached it a
little warily but I have to admit to being gripped throughout. I can't believe it
took so long to get published. O.K., Maybe I can. I could see how it could be
interpreted as relentlessly depressing because, well, it is (Charlie's final scene is
one of the most unsettling and shocking set-pieces that I can remember reading).
It is not plot-led like most of the SF but rather is a study of a small group of
characters and their relationships. The characters are beautifully portrayed, my
only complaint being that their soul searching internal monologues were too similar.
That said though, Dick's multiple point of view technique is very, very accomplished here.
The relationships between the characters are deep and believable. A very moving novel.

(P.S. If Pris Sears, who sent me this book, is reading this
could you get in touch as I've lost your e-mail address!)

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The Penultimate Truth

The story concerns a future where the vast majority of the
human population have been living in subterranean 'ant-tanks' for the past
fifteen years. They believe that during this time a nuclear war has been raging on the
surface. Guess what? It turns out that the war only lasted two years and for the
remaining time they have been spun an ultra-sophisticated line of bullshit from the
ruling, but lonely and infertile, surface-dwelling elite. Good stuff.

To begin with I was having a little difficulty suspending my disbelief, partly due to the
set-up being a little perfunctory and partly due to the slow pace of the opening
sections. However, for the remaining two-thirds of the book I was gripped by an
interesting group of characters and an ever more convoluted plot. The book
contains one of the best set-pieces I've read recently: an account of a thoroughly
efficient German-built assassin machine at work and one of the most truly
grotesque characters *ever*: Brose. This monster of rolling flesh and artiforgs is
truly repulsive, in fact I was reminded of my reaction to the Baron in Dune (which
I read as a teenager). Despite some important points left unexplained (like, even
with time travel, how does Yancy live 600 years?) I felt that this book had a real
seriousness and momentum to it that caused me to be moved by the ending.

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The Unteleported Man

This book has a peculiar and tortured publishing history. In 1964 Phil published a
novelette in 'Fantastic' called 'The Unteleported Man'. The then editor at Ace,
Wollheim, expressed an interest in an expanded version. Phil wrote a further
30,000 words of acid-trip meanderings which, whilst sometimes interesting, were
mainly incomprehensible. Wollheim, quite rightly in my opinion, rejected this and
published the first part as half of an Ace double. In 1983 Berkeley published both
parts together under the same title. In 1984, after Phil's further revisions of 1979
were discovered, Gollancz published a third version as 'Lies Inc.' Two gaps in the
original manuscript, as published in the Berkeley edition, were filled by John
Sladek for 'Lies Inc.' The missing portions were eventually found and published in
a copy of the PKDS newsletter. Got all that?!

Well, I hate to say it but they needn't have bothered. I think the original story,
dismissed by Phil himself as 'space opera', is cruelly underrated and that the 'new'
ending pretty much ruins it.

The main protagonist is Rachmael ben Applebaum, hounded heir to a bankrupted
space transport company. The cause of the bankruptcy, and his father's suicide,
was the invention of a mysterious one-way-only teleportation device which can
send an emigrating family to the colony of Whale's Mouth in fifteen minutes. A
journey that would take eighteen years by spaceship. Rachmael discovers that a
tape sent back from this supposed colonists' paradise has been faked and driven by
unbearable curiosity, anger and doomed altruism (he has ideas of rescue) he
decides to use his remaining asset, a top of range spaceship, to do the thirty-six
year round trip. He is the unteleported man. As usual in Dick's books larger
powers get involved both helping and hindering the little guy in his quest.
Everything gets very nasty and tense before the awful truth is revealed. At this
point the 'new' stuff starts. Hmmm...

The original first part is a classic of paranoia and frustration. The tension preceding
the unveiling of the truth about Whale's Mouth is superbly maintained. The
characters are nicely drawn and the background details are richly evocative. At
one point we cut from the action to a man considering emigration because his
supervisor is a trained pigeon. The UN is German run and the analogy between
the teleporters and the ovens of the concentration camps is explicitly made, to
terrifying effect.

The second half, which takes place on Whale's Mouth, begins with Rachmael being hit
with a LSD-dart. Not a great deal makes sense after this, as you might expect. In
this section Dick introduces the book in which you can look up your life, an
interesting idea that he goes on to use again in 'Nick and the Glimmung' and
'Galactic Pot Healer' but otherwise I think we should draw a veil over this. I
recommend searching out the Ace edition. Cooler cover too.

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Nick and the Glimmung

This is Dick's only book intended for children. As such it is an easy read, easily
completable with an hour or two. That said though, it does contain the majority
of his adult obsessions.

The story concerns a nuclear family emigrating from an overcrowded Earth to save
their cat from the anti-pet man. They move to a world populated by wonderful
Dickian aliens and unwittingly become key players in what appears to be a battle
between good and evil. The Glimmung of the title being the personification of
evil. The tale is strangely affecting, especially the opening on Earth which for
some reason I found unbearably sad (much to the amusement of my girlfriend who
caught me sniffing at a 'kid's book'). I really was relieved at the happyish ending.
I suspect that underneath the story there is a very complicated piece of
metaphysical allegory which is just escaping me. The aliens are really great too:
recommendation city!

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The Ganymede Takeover

Earth has been conquered and is now being ruled by an elite of worm-like creatures from
Ganymede. The action takes place mostly in the state of Tenessee where a running
battle between plantation owner Gus Swenesgard and a group of black militants led by
the charismatic telepath Percy X gathers a planet-wide significance. Various power
struggles amongst a large cast of both humans and ganymedeans lead to the use of some
devastating psychedelic weapons which in turn leads to a new beginning for society.

Considering the majority of this book is about power it has a surprisingly light touch. It
romps along involving a large and disparate collection of adequately drawn characters
in the action without losing its focus. The sections on the psychotherapy techniques
of Dr. Balkini are interesting and certainly, in application, provide for the wildest
and funniest battle I can remember reading. Psychedelic weapons allow anything imaginable
to be called up and used in the fight. If there is a problem with this book it is that
it is let down by its very Sixties naivete. The race/sex politics is over simple, the
metaphors obvious and the utopian ending grating. Still, a fun read.

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Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?

Dick's existential masterpiece of despair and an awe-inspiring book by any standard.
The story follows a terrible day in the life of a police sanctioned bounty hunter
called Rick Deckard as he attempts to 'retire' (i.e. kill) six escaped androids. On
this very simple plot is hung a series of metaphysical musings, sub-plots, and
sickeningly terrifying violence. The cast of supporting characters is exceptional.
Each in turn reveals to us another angle on the human condition. My particular
favourite is the ruthless and android-like bounty hunter Phil Resch through whom
we find out that Deckard is potentially too human to do his job properly. The
invented religion of Mercerism (borrowed from his earlier short story 'The Little
Black Box') provides a way of giving the theme of empathy a universal context.
As a result of a film and now a computer game this book is one of Dick's most
popular. This pleases me because it is one of his very best.

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Galactic Pot Healer

A cracking novel. Unhinged, irresistible and deeply moving, it explodes with ideas.
Dick himself didn't like this, apparently, but in my opinion it is great. A
mysterious leviathan-like being called the Glimmung on Plowman's Planet (yes,
this is the adult novel from which a lot of 'Nick and the Glimmung' is derived)
gathers together a large pan-species group of artisans to help him in his quest to
raise the ruins of a once great Cathedral from the Ocean. These include Joe
Fernwright, one of Dick's most likable protagonists, who is the ceramics specialist
of the title.

The ensuing events provide Dick with an opportunity to mull over topics in the
philosophy of language and religion. He treats us to lots of religious and literary
allegory both hidden in the text and explicitly commented upon in the dialogue of
the characters. The possibility of communication is also examined through puns,
jokes and translation games. The overarching theme though, seems to me to be
the point or otherwise of (human) endeavor. The question is asked 'why should
we continuing striving to do the things we do?'. The answer is left pleasingly
vague right up to the wonderful (in context) final line.

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I have to admit to having trouble engaging with this novel at first. This is
partly due to the well-researched but home-spun metaphysics that the first half of
the book discusses. Firstly, I felt I had already read a lot of this stuff
in the Sutin biography which I finished recently. Secondly as someone who has been studying
philosophy in academia for the last seven years I found the 'randomness' of presentation
excrutiating. Still, by about half way through (maybe two thirds) I feel that the religious
philosophy and the events enfolding the characters had combined enough to hook me
completely. The section from Kevin and Fat/Phil going to see the film 'Valis' until
the meeting with the Lamptons, Mini and Sophia is absolutey electrifying and amongst the best
writing of Dick's that I have read. The remainder of the book, concerning the heartbreaking
return of Phil's madness in the form of Fat and his quest to find the fifth
saviour, consolidates what has come before in a human and dignified way.

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The Divine Invasion

This book is the second of the three novels known as the VALIS trilogy, although one
has to do some serious stretching to see it as a sequel to the first novel in
terms of the events portrayed. What links these books is the themes of sanity and
insanity, conflict and hope, Christianity and The Last Days. The story concerns
nothing less than the return of Christ and Dick's take on the resulting battle with
evil, personified as Belial, or Satan. The main protagonist is Herb Asher, a
Joseph character, whose personal battle becomes the universal. Most of the
action of the novel takes place in his dreaming unconscious as he is cryogenically
suspended awaiting a transplant operation.

I think that this book is wonderful. In turns it is thrilling, profound and unsetlling.
Unfortunately it suffers from the same problems as its predecessor: it can, on rare
occasion, be boring and impenetrable, profundity of understanding giving way to
the speed-freak auto-didact. That said though, no other writer could combine
action and musings on the history and pre-history of Christianity in such an
absorbing narrative. There was no trouble in suspending my disbelief, I could
imagine that such unimaginable beings and forces would fight in such a way.

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The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

This is the final part of the VALIS trilogy and the last book that Phil completed and
published before his death. It is easily the most straightforward and accessible of
the three, so much so that it is almost a shock to glide through it so easily, yet it
lacks none of the sophistication of its predecessors. There is no point in a plot
precis as this book is mainly character-led. It details the relationships between the
small group of protagonists who surround the narrator, Angel Archer, in
particular a core of three: her freind Kirsten, her husband Jeff Archer and his
father, the Bishop Timothy Archer of the title. Also important is the character of
Bill, Kirsten's schizophrenic son, who acts as a kind of Jack Isidore: the wise fool
who is allowed to see the truth.

The novel is a beautiful evocation of the games we play with belief in order to make
sense of our purpose and give meaning to our lives. It is set in Berkeley,
California and amongst University educated intellectuals and it captures the
irresistable urge such people have to play with words whilst partially (or fully)
aware of the futility of so doing. Timothy Archer, as a lawyer and a bishop,
represents the contradictions between faith and belief on one hand and learned
rationality on the other. Angel Archer is perfectly constructed and as a smart-
arse, over-educated, professional student of seven years standing myself I feel a
great deal of empathy for her. I've felt the yearning to believe defeated by
overbearing and unwarranted cynicism many times. As you can see this all
touched a nerve for me. I particularly enjoyed the cameo from Berkeley mystic
Edgar Barefoot preceding the unexpected ending: remember, the wise eat the sandwich.

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