Chapter Four: Controlling Worlds And Fictions
About the science fiction of Philip K. Dick.
by Aaron Barlow
In his 1953 short story "Small Town," Philip K. Dick forces two of his characters out of their own universe and into what was the fantasy of a third character. Verne Haskel, that third character, has built a tiny replica of the town where all three live as an addition to the model train set in his basement. Not surprisingly, he feels a proprietary attitude toward his construction: "He had built it; the town was his" (The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick 2: 343). He controls it.
One day, letting frustration at real-life lack-of-control overwhelm him, Haskel rips out the model of the building where he works:
His eyes gleamed. His lips twitched. His surging emotions swelled. He had got rid of it. In a brief flurry of action. In a second. The whole thing was simple—amazingly easy.
Odd he hadn't thought of it before. (Stories 2: 344)
This, at first, is simply an analogue for the punitive action he would take in the 'real' world, if he could. But Haskel soon goes beyond that, replacing his ‘erstwhile’ workplace with a new tiny building, a mortuary, his first fictional addition to the model world. Clearly, he is moving, in his analogous world, toward a perception of himself as the local "power"—almost, even, a creator. What had previously been merely a model, a reflection of a reality, now becomes a reflection of a man, of Verne Haskel himself.
In the world of his 'real' life, Haskel is a loser, a nothing. A local physician, Doctor Tyler, has even replaced him as his wife Madge's lover, has taken over Haskel's marriage. Tyler characterizes Haskel, as we might, too, given the way Dick presents him, as "A highly neurotic type. Withdrawal and introversion" (Stories 2: 345).
Sure of himself, beleiving he understands people and the world, Tyler is the antithesis of Haskel. On seeing the train setup, Tyler explains to his lover the attraction it holds for her husband:
Power…. That's why it appeals to boys. Trains are big things. Huge and noisy. Power-sex symbols. The boy sees the train rushing along the track. It's so huge and ruthless it scares him. Then he gets a toy train. A model, like these. He controls it. Makes it start, stop. Go slow. Fast. He runs it. It responds to him. (Stories 2: 345)
After all, as the doctor knows full well, Haskel has lost control of nearly every other aspect of his life. He needs something he can control.
Haskel, realizing he cannot continue to face a world in which he is an insignificant figure, even a cuckold, thinking of the change he has already made in his model world, finally retreats to his basement and alters the town completely, his fantasy becoming his life. As the doctor says, "'He's losing himself into it'" (Stories 2: 349). Tyler and Madge finally decide not to try to stop Verne—his obsession, they decide, may turn to their advantage.
Downstairs, Haskel works. And works. Finally:
"Finished!" Verne Haskel shouted.
He got unsteadily to his feet. He closed his eyes, held his arms out, and advanced toward the plywood table. Reaching, grasping, fingers extended, Haskel headed toward it, a look of radiant exaltation on his seamed, middle-aged face.
Upstairs, Tyler and Madge heard the shout. A distant booming that rolled through the house in waves. Madge winced in terror. "What was that?"
Tyler listened intently. He heard Haskel moving below them, in the basement. Abruptly, he stubbed out his cigarette. "I think it's happened. Sooner than I expected."
"It? You mean he's—"
Tyler got quickly to his feet. "He's gone, Madge. Into his other world. We're finally free." (Stories 2: 351-352)
They look downstairs—finding only an empty basement. Riding downtown to the police station soon after, to report Haskel missing, planning their future together, the couple notices that the town has changed. It now reflects the altered model Haskel had made, a model where the most important citizen, the mayor, is Verne Haskel. The story ends:
Tyler pulled the car to a halt. Then suddenly shrieked and started up again. But not soon enough.
The two shiny-black police cars came silently up around the Buick, one on each side. The four stern cops already had their hands on the door. Stepping out and coming toward him, grim and efficient. (Stories 2: 353)
Unfortunately for his wife and her lover, Haskel's fiction has come true. The others must now live in "his" world, in a fascist-like "reality" where their control of their own lives has completely disappeared as completely as Haskel had imagined his own had, in the older world.
Unable to stand his existence in the "real" world, Haskel changed it—through intense concentration on the world he was building. He took control of it, beginning to live in it much as does a reader or writer deeply involved in a work of fiction. Except that, in Haskel's case, the fantasy can encompass others. As in most cases of the downtrodden suddenly achieving control, the new world will be one of totalitarianism, harsh on others in it, likely even somewhat sadistic.
Control—Dick preferred the word "totalitarianism," but that word has too much of an overtly political connotation to be appropriate here—is, to Dick, that which denies an individual the possibility of decision-making. Its manifestations range from everyday small examples of emotional blackmail to the determinism implicit in some god/creator models of the universe. It is what many seek, for it makes them feel less buffeted, less at the mercy of a cruel world. It is often sought by the writer, the creator—and by the reader, whose emotions are manipulated by the writer, but who takes the world as his or her own.
Sparking the need for control is desire for fulfillment of expectation. For us to be comfortably in control (or to believe we are), what we think will happen must happen. As he feared control, finding in it fascistic overtones, Dick then stays away, in his writing, from predictable courses of events. The startling turn serves his purpose better than the comfortable progression. Neither the reading experience nor the world of the character necessarily leads to fulfillment of expectations. Sails on the horizon might, or might not, have ships under them, once the whole comes into view. Reading one of Dick's works for the first time can be 'dangerous': the reality presented might disappear; characters may switch roles; the author may suddenly become a character.
Dick attempts to convey the lesson that one's experience, one's sense of the future based on the past, cannot be trusted. Nor should it be, for trust can lead to power on the part of the one trusted, to control. Blind acceptance of any situation, even that sketched in a novel, is hazardous, for nothing is what it seems.
Dick's characters have no choice but to "live" through their situations. The reader, however, does have a choice denied those characters: he or she can, at least, put the book down. For the reader, the act of regaining control is an easy one. By refusing to offer easy reading, Dick makes his reader constantly face that choice of reading on or not, thereby removing himself from the charge of trying to control his readers.
The reader of Dick's fiction is "forced" to live, while reading, in a world as unstable as the world "out there." As, often, the very instability of the real world is what we are trying to avoid by reading, Dick disconcerts many readers. Novels most often reassure us; we can actually know something about the world, they say. When they don't make us feel control and knowledge is possible, we may feel betrayed.
Dick's novels do betray their readers. They never cater to the arrogance of belief—even belief in the integrity of "the novel."
No 'metafictionist,' not one who builds scenarios like that of "Small Town" to explore in fiction just what fiction means, Dick makes Verne's imaginary universe more than a game or an exploration of possibility. Dick questions the position and responsibilities of any creator over his or her world, be that creator a Verne Haskel, be it a god, a writer, or a political visionary molding a future. Dick, in this way, tries to force his readers into considering their perhaps compliant attitudes about their own worlds. He does so by himself taking seriously the consequences of the questions he raises.
Dick was ever aware of the problems and possibilities of creation of all types, even if only of fictional worlds. Haskel's entry into his fantasy by himself might be nothing more than Tyler explains it, an entry into mental illness. Or merely a metaphor for the reading experience. But, no. For the doctor and Haskel's wife, it becomes more, something terrifying. It becomes part of the "real" world of coercion and punitive action.
"Small Town," though an early story, is not nearly the first of Dick's investigations of the problems inherent in attempts at controlling people or situations. At least ten stories dealing with the same theme precede it. As time passed and Dick matured as a writer, his presentations of the implications of control grew more sophisticated and intricate. In fact, thirty-four additional stories and almost all of the novels consider the problems of control, often with those problems at the centers of the works. Sometimes these problems are presented within individual relationships, primarily marriages, where emotional ties and personal weaknesses are manipulated to the advantage of one partner, as in Confessions of a Crap Artist and the other "mainstream" novels. In other cases the questions of control are overtly political, as in Now Wait for Last Year and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. Dick examines the responsibilities of power, of the ability to control others. The Cosmic Puppets and The Divine Invasion, among others, bring the problems of the relationships between worlds and gods directly into their plots.
The early science fiction stories and novels generally present the problems of control within a context of rather complicated little person/big person dichotomies, with the little person, most often, succeeding in the end, bringing about the possibility of a better future, one more considerate of the needs of the individual. All of the novels published during the fifties, The Cosmic Puppets, Solar Lottery, The World Jones Made, Eye in the Sky, The Man Who Japed, and Time Out of Joint, along with Dr. Futurity and Vulcan's Hammer, both published in 1960, follow this pattern to some degree.
The non-science fiction novels of the same period bring control of worlds and world vision down to a smaller level, that of individuals within specific communities. People still struggle to force others into their own world views, to control them, but those others are not nations or worlds, but husbands, wives, and neighbors.
Beginning with The Man in the High Castle (1962), Dick manages to integrate his two discussions of the problems of power and the possibility of taking control. He now found he could present at once the struggles of common people within their immediate surroundings and with world-wide political conflicts. By doing so, he brought his great leaders into consideration as human beings, as people confronting the same types of problems as do the small men and women whose actions never shake worlds.
Nobusuke Tagomi, one of Dick's first well-characterized "important" people (though even he lacks the tremendous ability for control of his own world shown in some of Dick's earlier characters), shoots several German agents in The Man in the High Castle. Afterward, he faces a crisis, for he cannot find a way to come to terms with the dual moral considerations released by his action. One is an essentially Buddhist respect for all life, no matter what. The other is recognition that he may have staved off another war—by killing a few he may have saved many. The two cannot be reconciled.
Given a small charm, Tagomi takes it to a park, to sit for a time to try to understand it and, through it, perhaps to come to terms with his world and his place in it. He does not find the charm particularly interesting, but having been told it has "wu"—an authenticity implanted by the hands of the artificer he examines it anyway:
I must be scientific. Exhaust by logical analysis every entree. Systematically, in classic Aristotelian laboratory manner.
He put his finger in his right ear, to shut off traffic and all other distracting noise. Then he tightly held the silver triangle, shellwise, to his left ear.
No sound. No roar of simulated ocean, in actuality inferior to blood-motion noises—not even that. (219; ch. 14)
After a time, after a good deal of speculations, after even tasting it, Tagomi is interrupted by a policeman:
Mr. Tagomi thought, Spoiled. My chance at nirvana. Gone. Interrupted by that white barbarian Neanderthal yank. The subhuman supposing I worked a child's puerile toy. (221; ch. 14)
After unsteadily standing, he walks to find a pedicab at the edge of the park. "No pedicabs" (221; ch. 14).
God, what is that? He stopped, gaped a hideous misshapen thing on skyline. Like nightmare of roller coaster suspended, blotting out view. Enormous construction of metal and cement in air.
Mr. Tagomi turned to a passer-by, a thin man in a rumpled suit. "What is that?" he demanded, pointing.
THe man grinned. "Awful, ain't it? That's the Embarcadero Freeway. A lot of people think it stinks up the view." (221-222; ch. 14)
And it is not part of San Francisco he knows. Instead, he faces a vision of the San Francisco of Dick's own world—complete with the Embarcadaro Freeway.
Mad dream, Mr. Tagomi thought. Must wake up. Where are the pedicabs today? He began to walk faster. Whole vista has dull, smoky, tomb-like cast. Smell of burning. Dim grey buildings, sidewalk, peculiar harsh tempo in people. (222; ch. 14)
Realizing that the world has changed—"Where am I? Out of my world, my space and time" (223; ch. 14)—Tagomi hurriedly turns around, searches out the bench he had sat upon, finds the charm he had dropped, examines it again, and, after some concentration upon it, ends back in his native reality.
Just what did he see? A "reality" of some sort? Not the one he must live in, certainly, and not one that can be useful to him. Not "ours," though the vision conforms closely to the "real" world of 1962—one of Dick's red herrings. No, Tagomi saw only that "seeing is not believing," that his agony might be useless. He has learned that he cannot operate on the solid rocks of his beliefs. They are contradictory, as his actions showed him, and might well be meaningless—as his experience of this other world demonstrates.
On some other world, possibly it is different. Better. There are clear good and evil alternatives. Not these obscure admixtures, these blends, with no proper tool by which to untangle the components.
We do not have the ideal world, such as we would like, where morality is easy because cognition is easy. Where one can do right with no effort because he can detect the obvious. (235-236; ch. 15)
Strangely, the speaker here is not Tagomi, but a German named Rudolph Wegener who has just been arrested for his part in averting a German/Japanese war. But it might as well have been Tagomi—and the lines come soon after depiction of Tagomi's "mystical" experience. Both characters have learned, as does Julianna Frink just a few pages later, that we all have to live solely within the situations we perceive. And must make the best of it, even when that means making contradictory and unpleasant decisions. They have also learned to give up the idea that they can really be in control, either of their lives or the political situations in which they find themselves.
Unlike Verne Haskel, few of us ever manage our worlds. As Madge Haskel and Doctor Tyler discover, we are going to have to make do with the world we find ourselves in—even if it is a horrifying world. Somehow, we have to learn to deal humanely with the powers we find over us. With, also, the people around us, and below us. We might as well for, as Tagomi discovers, the world we know, at least, is preferable to that we do not. Hardly a surprising conclusion, but one Dick saw too few reaching.
When no singularity of perception is possible, Dick says, when too many people can see things in too many different ways—and too many of them have the power to force others into line with their own world views—logic and belief become irrelevant, their shifting or contradictory base assumptions worse than useless. Human beings had best give up their presumptions of control. Once we realize, at least, that we, as individuals, have no monopoly on "truth," that those disagreeing with us may be as right as we, we are forced to give up our presumptions of control and to take the world as it is, as a relational place.
The problem with this, for Dick, lay in transferring it into his fiction. Not so much into the story line, but into the way he approached writing and the way readers would approach what he has written. The author of a work of fiction has greater control of the world he or she creates than is possible anywhere in the outside, experiential world—for it includes all methods for gaining control over, or dealing with, others, though those others are now of the fictional sort.
How, then, does a writer who finds any control, let alone such great power, to be an anathema, write?
Dick's solution was to keep the question squarely before his reader. He does this in two ways. First, he presents situations in which an individual struggles to free himself (almost always, it is a "him") from the clutches of someone more powerful. Second, he often destroys the worlds he is creating as soon as he "writes" them, removing their underpinnings, exposing them even to his characters as fictions. By demonstrating his authorial power, he hopes to keep readers aware of it and, through that knowledge, free from its influence. A hint of this appears in The Man in the High Castle, with the idea, presented at the end, that the world of the novel is not "real." Both The Cosmic Puppets and Time Out of Joint present "illusory" worlds presented in great detail. Later novels, including Lies, Inc. and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, do much the same thing.
Jason Taverner, in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974), initially seems as successful as one can possibly be. That is, everything he has ever done has turned to his own good. A fantastically successful television personality, he is also a "six," a member of a small group whose genes have been crafted so as to make them superior to other humans. But something strange happens. Taverner finds himself in a world exactly like the one he had known—except for one thing: in this world there is no record that he has ever existed. He calls various associates, to get help:
"Do you know who I am?" Jason said. "Do you know who Jason Taverner is? Do you watch TV?" His voice almost got away from him at that point; he heard it break and rise. With great effort he regained control over it, but he could not stop his hands from shaking; his whole body, in fact, shook. (20; ch. 2)
Taverner's struggle to survive, to discover what has happened to him, and to return to the "reality" he "knew" before, brings him into contact with a number of other people, changing all but one of their lives significantly and changing him, as well. He learns that he no longer has the control he thought was his. No one any longer does what he tells them. His identity now provides no entry into the world of the powerful.
Two of the other central characters also exhibit something of the arrogance shown by Taverner. They are brother and sister, man and wife, Alys and Felix Buckman. Alys, a hedonistic drug addict, manages to change the world she lives in through the drugs she uses. Her hallucinations become "real." It is she, through her drungs, who removes Taverner's success and, very nearly, existence from the world. Unfortunately for her, however, the drugs eventually destroy her—and Taverner's prior position begins to reappear as part of the world they inhabit. Felix is a police general who, faced with the anomaly, a man with no past, pursues it, trying to discover the ‘why’ of Taverner the unknown.
In his last lines, Taverner, calling to turn himself in for the murder of Alys (Buckman, emotionally distraught over the loss of his sister, has laid the blame on Taverner), asks a telephone operator to connect him with the police:
"You can dial that direct, sir."
"I want you do it," Jason said.
"Please," he said. (186; ch. 26)
Though he has come back to his own world (or, more accurately, it has filtered back to him), Taverner no longer has the self-confident attitude of a "six" who can do anything and everything for himself. Now, given the experiences he has gone through, he understands the limits of what he thought had been his own domination of the world, and has learned the importance of the assistance of others. He now sees himself within the world. He now recognizes that his new world is made up of individuals of varying perceptions and talents whose cooperation makes possible successes. He cannot exist alone.
The logical brain of a "six" has proved insufficient. Jason has learned there is more to the world than his own viewpoint. And that his world is more than he. His egocentric world view has proved inadequate.
In In His Own Words Dick says:
My faculty, the faculty I use, is that I can look at the same thing five different ways. I can look at the same cluster of things and see five different ways they can link together. They can add up to five different wholes. (51)
Like William Faulkner and Wallace Stevens, Dick can find "thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird." And he cannot stick with just one, having no surface standard himself. Verne Haskel imagines things? Yet he changes the world into one he controls. Tagomi, however, can see another world, too, but that leads him to learn to accept the one he inhabits—not to change it. Taverner, forced into an alien world, can learn that his success in any world, no matter how talented he may be, depends on others as well as his talent. Time after time Dick presents differing viewpoints on worlds, control, and fiction. Always returning, however, to that underlying thesis: it is not what we perceive that is so important, but how we relate to other perceivers.
Haskel cannot relate at all. Even his wife has alienated herself from him. The lesson, then, is hers to learn. Tagomi comes back to his world and saves the life of a man he does not even know. Taverner learns that, though he has advantages over others, he is still human, and must act in concert with other humans.
Dick was not like so many of us, those who see our own view of the world as the only "true" one. Even his Germans, in The Man in the High Castle and elsewhere—not "real" Germans but hideous representatives of the Nazi mentality—are accepted as people with a world-view as "respectable" as any other, in Dick's final analysis. Though fascism scared Dick, he understood the mentality behind it. He understood it because he could identify with it, while hating it.
One of the most enigmatic of all of Dick's characters is Felix Buckman, that police general of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and Taverner's opposite number. Though the symbol of and a participant in the ruling order of Earth society, Buckman proves to be something of a humanitarian. He resists the ruling order even while supporting it, tempering its excesses, making sure, for example, that food gets in to student revolutionaries blocked into small enclaves.
Finally torn by the possibilities of power—he wants someone punished for his sister's death and can make sure someone is, but he realizes that doing so is unworthy of his vision of himself—he flies in his "quibble," trying to figure out what to do with himself. Agitated, he stops for fuel, and sees a black man also waiting for service:
Into his coat pocket Felix Buckman reached with cold-shaken fingers; he found his ballpoint pen, plucked it out, groped in his pockets for a square of paper, any paper, a sheet from a memo pad. Finding it, he placed it one the hood of the black man's quibble. In the white, stark light of the service station Buckman drew on the paper a heart pierced by an arrow. Trembling with cold he turned toward the black man pacing and extended the piece of drawn-on paper to him.
His eyes igniting briefly, in surprise, the black man grunted, accepted the piece of paper, held it by the light, examining it. Buckman waited. The black man turned the paper over, saw nothing on the back, once again scrutinized the heart with the arrow piercing it. He frowned, shrugged, then handed the paper back to Buckman and wandered on, his arms once again folded, his large back to the police general. The slip of paper fluttered away, lost. (198; ch. 27)
Buckman cries, tries to leave, returns to the black man, hugs him, and turns away.
"Wait," the black man said.
Buckman revolved to face him.
"Do you know how to get to Ventura? Up on air route thirty?" (199; ch. 27)
The mundane, as so often in Dick, again intrudes into the sublime. The two men talk a bit, the black man asking who Buckman is. "I'm an individual. Like you" (199; ch. 27).
Often, by the end of a Dick novel, the initial adversary has turned into an ally, as happens in Now Wait for Last Year. Or repressive authority figures become something more than cut-out villains, as does Buckman. And former allies turn out to be as bad, if not worse, than the original villains.
Divisions between white hats and black hats disappear. Only the individual remains, and he or she proves unable to be judged by abstractions. The individual makes tremendous mistakes, for singular vision is always blurred. Characters act on assumptions that soon prove to have been incorrect. They trust people who soon prove untrustworthy and justify actions conclusively even in the face of conclusive evidence that their judgements are faulty. But something, even the veracity of that thesis of Dick's, can still be learned.
At the end of Ubik (1969), one of Dick's more problematic novels, Glen Runciter believes he has been assisting his dead employees, led by Joe Chip, in their attempt to take control of the "half-life" which remains to them for a time after death. His messages have appeared to the "half-lifers" on matchbooks, on product wrappers, even on coins—some of which appeared to show Runciter's face.
In the last short chapter of the book, Runciter offers some coins as a tip to a man who has done a small favor:
"Thank you, Mr. Runciter," the attendant said. He glanced at the coins, then frowned. "What kind of money is this?" he said.
Runciter took a good long look at the fifty-cent pieces. He saw at once what the attendant meant; very definitely, the coins were not as they should be. Whose profile is this? Not the right person at all. And yet he's familiar. I know him.
And then he recognized the profile. I wonder what this means, he asked himself. Strangest thing I've ever seen. Most things in life eventually can be explained. But—Joe Chip on a fifty-cent piece?
It was the first Joe Chip money he had ever seen.
He had an intuition, chillingly, that if he searched his pockets, and his billfold, he would find more.
This was just the beginning. (190-191; ch. 16)
This most surprising ending turns the whole book on its head. Only two things appear "solid" to the characters caught in "half-life." One is the idea that Runciter, once they have established that it is they, not he, who are dead (they initially believe they remain in the "real" world and that the messages from Runciter come from his own "half-life"), remains in the "real" world and is trying to help them. The other, also discovered only after some time, is that the product Ubik can help them stave off the control of their perceived reality by a manic half-lifer named Jory. And this Ubik is tied up with Runciter.
If Runciter's world proves no more stable than that of the half-lifers', where is he? In half-life himself—like them? How, then, could he actually have helped the others? Given that Runciter was trying to communicate with Joe Chip when his own picture appeared on Chip's coins, could not the converse be true as well? If so, what might Chip, who has survived Jory's attacks, be trying to tell Runciter?
At the end of the penultimate chapter, Joe Chip has received a message through the label of a can of Ubik:
"Thanks," joe said to the spray can. We are served by organic ghosts, he thought, who, speaking and writing, pass through this our new environment. Watching, wise, physical ghosts from the full-time world, elements of which have become for us invading but agreeable splinters of a substance that pulsates like a former heart. And all of them, he thought, thanks to Glen Runciter. In particular. The writer of instructions, labels and notes. Valuable notes. (200; ch.16)
Thanks? Is that what Chip is trying to tell Runciter (if it is he who is responsible for the coins at all)? What a thanks—telling one his world lacks the solidity one always believed in. Passing new, valuable notes back to the "real" world.
In Dick's view, that might be the best thanks that could be given.
The importance of an understanding of the weaknesses and relativity of individual perception is evident in the structure of a number of Dick's novels, where interconnectedness also plays a role. Speaking of The Man in the High Castle, though she might have been considering any of a number of other Dick novels, N.K. Hayles says:
The narrative switches between various characters, revealing each consciousness it probes as partial, biased, confused, and often simply wrong. With no single focusing consciousness at the novel's center, the stress falls on the interconnections that tie all the fragments to each other. (58)
In many ways, narration of this sort contributes to the discussions of Dick's themes, allowing him to avoid the writing traps analogous to the human trap of belief in any sort of fixed structure. When each character is presented as though the world he or she perceives is the real one, the clashes between their perceptions keep the question of "What is real?" always before both writer and reader.
An early story, "The Minority Report," shows the importance of interconnections at the expense of what many of Dick's characters at first believe is "solid truth." No one commits murder, for the police have developed a way of telling who is going to commit murders, and of stopping them. They use three idiots-savants, each of whom has the ability to see the future, or, rather, a most likely one. When two of these agree, a computer system hooked to them produces a card containing the name of the potential murderer, who is quickly hustled off to a detainment center.
When a card pops out with the name on it of the head of the service running the system, that man pockets it, and disappears. Knowing he would commit no murder, suspecting a set-up by his new second-in-command and thinking it is the second-in-command he is expected to want to kill, Anderton sets out to expose the plot.
It is not, however, his second-in-command whose name appears on the card as potential victim. When he finally examines the card, Anderton finds the other name to be one he has never heard—that of a military general of no significance to him.
After a confusing series of events, Anderton gets back into his offices where he discovers the truth of the matter: a military plot afoot may lead to the destruction of the power of the police by destroying the credibility of the police system for detecting murder.
Anderton examines the reports of all three of the "seers," for he cannot believe the "majority report." Though all are different, two come to the conclusion that Anderton will in fact kill the general.
Why the difference? The third "seer," he already knows, is "phased" a few seconds after the other two, so takes into account their reports. In this future, Anderton is aware that he will commit a murder, so does not—so the majority report appears to be superceded.
The first two reports, however, when examined separately, present radically different pictures. One, it turns out, really is superceded by the third. The other supercedes them both, though presenting the same conclusion as the first. That one, it seems, "sees" even a bit further into the future than do the other two.
In the first of the three scenarios, Anderton will kill the general to suppress an attempted coup. In the second, as has been said, he has been discovered, so decides against it. In the third, he realizes that he must kill the general, if the system (which has been quite effective) is to remain in place. And so he does. Had he not, the coup would have been successful.
What Dick attempts here, even so early on in his career, is demonstration that no system can be completely and consistently effective. Loop-holes remain. Total control of systems proves impossible. By arguing for this point of view, Dick, though he may not have known it, was following lines of thought sparked by Kurt Godël, whose "proof" shows that any axiomatic system has either one axiom whose negation is also an axiom or does not cover all possibilities raised by the system.
Anderton, though he relies on his system and believes in its efficacy even at the end, never sees the weakness of his belief. Like most humans, he manages to find other scape-goats when his beliefs are threatened. Much of the story deals with his mistaken distrust of his wife and his second-in-command. He blames them for his situation, and not the system. They, he thinks, are the ones plotting against him. Yet they, like him, are only acting on the mistaken belief that the system is foolproof. None of them, the story shows, ever should have put the system above human relationships.
Dick was beginning to see that we can put faith in nothing beyond ourselves. But he is also suggesting that we should take our relationships with others seriously, something not found, but implied, in "Small Town."
Though he does not do so in "The Minority Report," Dick often considers betrayal, and bemoans it. But, ultimately, he discovers, even betrayal does not matter. It is not belief in others that makes one deal with them, but belief that the interconnections with others are all, in fact, that we can actually act upon.
The fact of this belief solidifies in The Man in the High Castle when Tagomi, after his "mystical" experience, refuses to sign papers authorizing the deportation of Frank Frink—the man who had, unbeknownst to Tagomi, made the charm that has helped him.
Controlling the Fictions
Since perfection and control do not exist outside of the novel—any novel—Dick might ask, why look for it inside? Lou Stathis says of Time Out of Joint (1959), the "two sections of the novel just don't fit together" (Time Out of Joint 259). To recognize what is wrong with this and others of Dick's "flawed" novels is, often, to shrug one's shoulders. So what? Or to ask if the book does something else instead. If the "flaw" might be not a mistake, but an attempt at something else entirely.
At the opening of the Time Out of Joint, Dick focuses on a character named Vic, and the reader settles into the idea of following him through the novel. Soon, however, focus shifts to Vic's wife Margo. Through Margo we get our first glimpse of her brother Ragle Gumm. Afterwards, the narrative moves toward more and more of a closer focus on Ragle, until, by the second half of the book, it almost seems as though Dick has admitted deceiving his audience, and, in repentance, is only presenting his main character's point of view—with a few exceptions, of course (as is always true in Dick).
According to Dick, Time Out of Joint, the first of his novels in which the problems of belief versus reality (the eidos kosmos versus the koinos kosmos, as he puts it) are really tackled in terms of the individual's perception, was not sold as science fiction, but was "bought by Lippincott as a 'novel of menace'" (In His Own Words 138). Through the novel, Dick says, he was:
dealing with fake reality. I was just fascinated with the idea. So that's a pivotal book in terms of my career. It was my first hardcover sale, and it was the first novel I wrote in which the entire world is fake. You find yourself in it when you pick up the book and turn to page one. The world you are reading about does not exist. And this was essentially the premise of my entire corpus of writing, really. This was my underlying premise. And this is that the world we experience is not the real world. It is as simple as that. The phenomenal world is no the real world, it's something other than the real world. It's either semi-real, or some kind of forgery. (In His Own Words 138)
By the time Dick said this his idea of what the "real" world might have changed considerably from that of the time of Time Out of Joint. Still, the idea that, though each of us (as individual perceivers—as the individual perceiver) may be real (if even the concept of that "reality" has any validity), there is no reason to suppose from there that the world we live in must be real as well. According to Dick, it probably is not.
In Time Out of Joint, however, Dick has not progressed to the point of saying that, whatever the world is, we must live in it as best we can. Nor has he come to his concept of belief as something divorced from reality, something that cannot be judged by the standards of a "consensus" reality.
Time Out of Joint ends with a resolution just too pat for the situation presented. Perhaps, at this early date, Dick was much too cautious. He may have felt he had to find some resolution his readers would find understandable. Perhaps he realized that, had he extended his initial discussion, no one at that time would have published his book. No one would have read it.
Given Dick's continuing conversation in his fiction, Time Out of Joint deserves a great deal of attention, for it presents only his second vision of an artificial "reality."
Ragle initially appears as something of a bum—in the eyes of his neighbors, at least. He drinks warm beer all day long, tries to seduce his next-door neighbor's wife (but only haphazardly), and makes his living only by constantly winning a contest run daily in the local newspaper. The time is 1959, supposedly, a 1959 just a year or so in the future at the time of the book's composition.
The book's 1959 seems quite real, at first. But incongruities soon begin to appear. In the first chapter, two characters discuss Uncle Tom's Cabin as though it were a contemporary novel and a Book-of-the-Month-Club selection. And the car of one's dreams is a Tucker, not a Cadillac or a Jaguar. But most of the rest of the world, down to the last, carefully-detailed incidental, seems to be that of 1959.
The world of the first pages of the novel contains all the detail expected of a standard "realistic" novel:
From the cold-storage locker at the rear of the store, Victor Nielson wheeled a cart of winter potatoes to the vegetable section of the produce department. In the almost empty bin he began dropping the new spuds, inspecting every tenth one for split skin and rot. One big spud dropped to the floor and he bent to pick it up; as he did so he saw past the check-out stands, the registers and the displays of cigars and candy bars, through the wide glass doors and on to the street. (1; ch. 1)
Everything is concrete: the American reader can easily identify the scene from his or her own experience.
Not until Vic pulls out his books-club notice does any hint that something is wrong, in terms of what we view as "normal" reality, appear. And even this hint hardly warrants notice. The book club, after all, is a standard feature of modern America. Only the selection seems peculiar, and that could be explained. It could easily be that Vic and his companion of the moment are unaware of literary history and Harriet Beecher Stowe. They are, after all, uneducated. A reissue of Stowe's most famous novel could conceivably strike them as only another new book.
That strange car, the Tucker, appears briefly at the end of the chapter, though only as a car seen passing by. In no way does it present a clear signal that the world of the book is not that we know of as 1959 either. Models and styles, after all, change quickly. And this, though a Tucker did exist for a time, could be no more than a fictional model presented for reasons similar to those of the writers of realism who introduce fictional corporations and the like, so that no "real" corporation will be offended, so that the writer will have the liberty to construct a situation fitting his or her outline. This conventional device has appeared in fiction so frequently that it now gets little notice.
Neither of these two early signals takes the reader away from the idea that he or she is reading about a "real," and not a constructed semblance of 1959.
Through attention to detail, Dick tries to insure that his readers will not begin to suspect too early the "reality" of the world he is presenting. He wants his readers to accept it as much as his characters do. He wants them to doubt it only as his characters begin to do so, and to share their surprise at what they find. He succeeds at this, and through that, manages to set the tone of suspense that dominates the middle portion of the novel, that carries the reader on even to the anti-climactic end.
Not until the end of chapter three does Dick allow the reader to see that something is seriously wrong with the world the author has created for his characters. Ragle has taken Junie Black, the neighbor he is trying to seduce, to the park, for swimming, conversation, and, perhaps, love-making. Thirsty and frustrated by her refusals, Ragle walks over to a soft-drink stand, hoping to find some beer. Once there:
The soft-drink stand fell into bits. Molecules.... He saw the soft-drink stand go out of existence....
In its place was a slip of paper. He reached out his hand and took hold of the slip of paper. On it was printing, block letters.
(55; ch. 3)
We find that something like this has happened to Ragle six times. Something is wrong with his world. But, now caught up in it as much as Ragle, like him, we have no idea what this something might be.
Later, Ragle contemplates what has happened, what he has seen:
Words, he thought.
Central problem in philosophy. Relation of word to object... what is a word? Arbitrary sign. But we live in word. Or reality, among words, not things. No such thing as a thing anyhow; a gestalt in the mind. Thingness... sense of substance. An illusion. Word is more real than the object it represents.
Word doesn't represent reality. Word is reality. (59-60; ch. 4)
Even though this discussion of word is a red herring (as we finally learn) Dick will return to this idea later in his career. Something of a joke in Time Out of Joint, the question of the veracity and place of words in negotiating the world was very, well, real to Dick.
Dick could not see the humor in this conception of words in the way that Barth does in The Floating Opera where the setting sun provides too perfect a metaphor, embarrassing the narrator. Barth's character never "knows" he is only a character, a victim of another's words, as Dick sometimes suspects we all are. Barth's joke is for the reader, comfortably assured that she or he lives in a "real" world. Dick, on the other hand, forces his reader to consider that he or she may be a victim of a joke just such as that Barth perpetrates.
A rather disturbing proposition.
In Time Out of Joint, Gumm eventually discovers that he is not alone in his possible discovery of delusion, that Vic has some of the same doubts he has, and has had some similar disturbing experiences. The two decide to escape, to test the limits of their reality. They succeed, discovering along the way that their world has been constructed because of, of all things, Gumm's considerable importance to Earth's defense establishment.
Crucial to understanding this novel is recognition of the manner in which the fictional world about Gumm has been constructed. Before deciding (on moral grounds) that he could no longer perform his military task in the "real" world, Gumm had occasional "fits" during which he withdrew into the world of his childhood. He romanticized the world of the fifties, for he had no serious and ambiguous moral questions facing him there. From his current life in the 1990's, he remembered it as a perfect time.
Important to his memory was Uncle Tom's Cabin, which he had read as a child, as was the Tucker, a car he had once seen, but that had never made it on the marketplace.
During the years intervening, Gumm ballooned his memories of the Tucker and Stowe's novel until they seemed, to him, to have been important parts of that bygone age. At the same time other things lost significance. Marilyn Monroe, for example, a major star but something less than an interest to a pre-pubescent child, was left out.
So, the world of the fifties constructed for Ragle did not include Monroe, but it did contain the Tucker as a major nameplate and Uncle Tom's Cabin as a major new literary work. For the attempt was to create something close to Gumm's memory, not simply a bygone world.
Through this ballooning and deflating, Dick provides a commentary on the memories of all of us in much the same way as Gabriel Garcia Marquez does in One Hundred Years of Solitude. We think we know what happened in our pasts, but we dream of older days, and change them, as we dream. Our dreams are no more real than are Gumm's, than are the memories presented by the narrator of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Late in Time Out of Joint, when Gumm is trying to convince Vic to join him in his escape, Ragle continues his thoughts on words:
"The word. Maybe it's the word of God. The logos. `In the beginning was the word.' I can't figure it out. All I know is what I see and what is happening to me. I think we're living in some other world than what we see...." (188; ch. 11)
That Gumm's conclusion is correct though the reasoning is not probably strikes the reader of only this one Dick novel as rather peculiar. Still, Gumm's line of reasoning, though not appropriate for this novel, is appropriate for many other Dick novels and important to the works as a whole.
At this point in his career, obviously, Dick was not yet ready to posit seriously that words can be worlds—though he may have already toyed with the idea in his own life.
When he does finally seriously consider the idea of the word as the "real," Dick finds he must reject it as merely another smokescreen, another aspect of chaos. Even the "fact" of fictionality becomes unimportant when, in The Man in the High Castle, the characters realize that relationships, and not reality, are the core of their world. Julianna Frink, having been told by the I-Ching that her world is not real, is asked what she will do now:
"I don't know." The problem did not bother her.... "maybe I'll go back to my husband Frank. I tried to phone him tonight; I might try again. I'll see how I feel later on." (248; ch. 15)
The easy way out, finding a "reality" behind what seems real, as in Time Out of Joint, gives way, by the time of The Man in the High Castle, to considerations of how one must act in a world where the question of "real" knowledge remains moot. Can there be moral action, Dick then asks, in a world where, as Dick liked to quote from Gilbert and Sullivan, "nothing is what it seems/Skim milk masquerades as cream."
At the end of Time Out of Joint Dick sidesteps the questions he has raised during Gumm's procession toward regained knowledge. For perhaps the last time in his considerations in fiction of "reality," he incorporates a facile explanation into the novel and posits a "real" world behind the illusion. Later, evidently, he found this device too pat, too much the easy way out. For the same questions that can be asked about the illusory world can be asked of any that appear to be real.
Still, even in Time Out of Joint, even in his youth, Dick demonstrates that he had already developed a complete awareness of the vagaries of perception and memory. What was is tainted by what we want it to have been. What is is tainted by those tainted memories, and by the limitations of our perceptions as human beings.
The cover of the 1983 Berkley Books edition of The Cosmic Puppets says "the ultimate struggle for the universe begins at home." In an odd way, this fits the novel, strange though that may seem to readers of science fiction book covers. Dick's protagonist, Peter Trilling, has returned to his home town—only to discover it far different than his memory says it should be.
He returns only to find he had died, according to newspaper records, when he was nine years old.
In this novel, first titled A Glass of Darkness, Trilling:
discovers that the whole valley is a battle ground on which two demiurges (named Ormazd and Ahirman, after the opposed deities of Zorastrian mythology) fight to impose their formative will. (Stableford)
Demiurges? They are more than that, as anyone who looks either at Zorastrianism or the novel will see. They are the forces behind perception, the things, one representing creation the other destruction, that make our worlds real. And they have the power to change that reality, almost at will.
As in Time Out of Joint, which follows The Cosmic Puppets by five years, those who create the "unreal" worlds are untrustworthy, at best. The best interests of those who must inhabit the created worlds are not considered by the creators. Gumm finds himself in a fantasy world where he will, unknowingly, continue to use his odd talent to predict where missiles from rebels on the moon will enter Earth's atmosphere, working for a cause he had come to conclude is wrong. He thinks, in the world created for him, that he merely successfully plays a newspaper's daily game. Trilling finds his entire early life "obliterated" because of a contest between two beings to whom Earth is of little immediate importance.
Dick understood, even at the time he wrote these novels, that the deceiver need not necessarily act through evil or unsympathetic intent. His 1953 short story "The Defenders," later to be used in The Penultimate Truth (1964), concerns the aftermath of a nuclear war during which the population of the world was moved underground, the war continuing through use of "leadies," robots that can survive on the surface. The people underground continue to watch films of the destruction and to produce war goods that, supposedly, are shipped up for the war effort.
When a group of humans manage to get up to the surface, they discover that no war has continued, that the leadies have instead reconstructed the surface world in preparation for a time when humans could live in peace. In this case, the deception takes place for mankind's good.
"The Mold of Yancy," also used in The Penultimate Truth, again ends with a positive deception, an antidote to an earlier, dangerous deception. The population of Ganymede has been led toward war-hysteria by a television commentator named Yancy, a simple, homespun type of man who turns out not to be a man at all, but a robot carefully programmed to lead the population toward certain ideas. When control of the robot is taken over by opponents to the war movement, they, in turn, decide to use the persuasive robot, but only to bring the population back to its senses.
Later, of course, Dick would realize that even such seemingly benign deceivers can be dangerous. Little positive comes out of the situations of the stories when they are transferred to The Penultimate Truth.
Stanislav Lem, himself one of the most respected writers of science fiction, sees Dick as a "visionary among charlatans." But Lem's term falls short as a description of Dick. Dick was no visionary. He did not see a world beyond our own; he had no vision, not in that sense. Instead, he had questions. And it was his questions he wanted his readers to consider, not any visions he might have.
Don’t get me wrong: Dick certainly did have visions, but these were not as central to his fiction as were the questions he posed before them, through them, and after them. Dick, like the wubs of two of his stories, wanted to talk, wanted discussion. Unlike a true visionary or prophet, Dick had nothing to tell people, merely some questions to ask them. He offered no "truth," just doubts.
In Dr. Bloodmoney or How We Got Along After the Bomb (1965), Dick depicts a post-holocaust time in the western part of Marin County in California tied closely to his memories of it from the late fifties. Though doubts are not central to the novel, Dr. Bloodmoney does show Dick's growing concern with belief, with its impact on the real world. In this case, he presents a number of characters who attempt to gain control of the world as a way of verifying their own beliefs about it.
In the main, Dr. Bloodmoney focuses on power and its abuses, starting from the level of employer/employee relationships and moving up to world-shattering abilities.
The plot centers on two places in two times. Berkeley and the western part of Marin County in "future" 1981 and 1988. The great event is a nuclear war in 1981. It dominates all of the lives and smaller events shown—even an aborted encore in 1988.
The questions of control and perception of the world that Dick raises revolve around four characters, two of whom are world famous, each having an impact on all humanity. The other two are claimants for such roles. The first famous person is Dr. Bruno Bluthgeld, the man who has been held responsible for a nuclear accident some years before the war that nearly destroyed the world. The second, Walt Dangerfield, has been stranded in Earth orbit, along with an incredible tape library, by the war. Bluthgeld believes he caused the war, by willing it. Dangerfield believes in nothing more than his responsibility to provide what entertainment and communications he can for the people trying to survive below, helping them build, perhaps, something more than isolated, paranoid communities like the one at Point Reyes Station. One is hated, of course (though he is not suspected of starting the war), the other loved.
The two pretenders are Hoppy Harrington, a legless, armless, a ‘phocomelus’ with extraordinary mental powers, and Bill Keller, the "unborn" brother of Edie Keller, who appears, to a doctor's touch, merely as a benign growth in her belly.
As might be expected, the fates of all four characters finally become intertwined. Harrington destroys Bluthgeld and nearly manages to kill and usurp Dangerfield. Bill, recently removed from his sister's body, engages Harrington in a psychic battle. He wins, taking Harrington's body as his prize (his own small body cannot survive in the world on its own).
Bruno Bluthgeld believes so strongly that he caused the earlier war merely by willing it that he actually becomes able, for a time, to create another war. Like Verne Haskel, he manages to involve others in his fantasy, to make them live in the world he believes in.
Walt Dangerfield, thrust into his role as the glue for human civilization, lives completely alone, stranded in a spaceship turned satellite. Had he ambitions for power, he could not fulfill them, for a return to Earth is impossible and he lacks the kinds of powers exhibited by Bluthgeld, Harrington, and Keller. Though he presents an idealistic concern for his fellow man, Dangerfield represents the past. He does transfer information from group to group, information that can help people on the Earth below him, information primarily meant for a rebuilding, not for a movement into something new, not for serious consideration of the new reality he has never experienced, where animals have mutated, some becoming extremely intelligent, where human beings, too, are becoming something other than what they were. That one book he reads to the populations below is W. Somerset Maughan's Of Human Bondage shows his nostalgia for a reality long gone.
Harrington, born 1964, was a thalidomide baby. Though a product of the excesses of the modern world, he, too, represents something of the past. His psyche has been warped by the attitudes shown toward him before the war. Afterwards, now willing to show and use his mental abilities, becoming, through them, a first-class repairman, he becomes a prized member of the community. No longer can things be easily replaced, making those who, like Harrington, can fix them, extremely valuable.
But Harrington still sees himself as an outcast—and his attitude toward others helps maintain that vision (though attitudes towards phoces has changed, vestiges of the old attitudes remain—and Hoppy acts so as to keep them in place). To prove himself to himself Hoppy wishes to accrue power, to make others respect him.
Keller's world consists of communications with his sister and with the dead who he can imitate and talk to. His sole desire is to be able to experience the world beyond first-hand. Conceived, along with his sister, the day the bombs fell, Bill Keller represents the new world, the post-war world, in a way that none of the others can.
Though the perceptions or abilities of all four relate specifically to two of the other three, each presents a world-view totally at odds with the others. Dangerfield, the only human (aside from those like Bill, who were born after it) never to have directly experienced the war, believes in the possibility of a return to a modified and idealist vision of the past.
Bluthgeld, a player in nuclear politics by the nature of his scientific activities, becomes emotionally involved with the event itself and lives with the idea that humanity hates him as instigator. The world he lives in centers on destruction and an egocentric view of his own role in it.
Like Bluthgeld, Harrington sees the world from a narrow, egocentric point of view. To him, the war was a watershed, separating him from what he sees as an ignoble past, vaunting him into a brave new future. In a way, he is the antithesis of Dangerfield, who he can imitate amazingly well, for Dangerfield was the selected best of pre-war humanity who, with his wife (who died in orbit), was to establish a new human existence on Mars. Because of the war, Dangerfield's life has become limited to the radio, a mechanical device. Harrington, on the other hand, now has expanded horizons. Once perceived as dependent on mechanical limbs, he now has the freedom to use his mental abilities.
Harrington's view of the world can no more survive with Bluthgeld's than it can with Dangerfield's. Bluthgeld desires constant destruction as much as Dangerfield looks to the past for solace. Harrington wants the new world to remain, for he believes he can control it.
Bill Keller, born because of the war (his and Edie's mother had a sexual encounter during the daze of the day of the war), never experienced the time before the war, and never experiences the world after it until the end of the novel. His world, like that of the reader of a novel in relation to the world of that novel, comes through the perceptions of others—of Edie and (again like a reader) of the dead.
At the climax of the novel, Harrington must destroy Bluthgeld, for the new destruction Bluthgeld brings could make the scenario Harrington desires to create for himself impossible. Harrington has also been, through his powers, in the process of attempting to destroy Dangerfield, who he also sees as a rival, whose influence over the human race Harrington, through his ability to imitate Dangerfield, would replace. Keller, however, intervenes. Now having a chance at a life not filtered through those of others, he cannot live within the world-view of a Harrington.
Keller has no idea of what he has done. His purpose is to make himself free of the opinions—for him, all he had—of others. By changing places with Harrington, he accomplishes his task.
Immediately after doing so, however, he begins to try to learn how to use the electronic equipment Harrington has built. Now an independent actor, he wants to insure his independence remains—and he perhaps sees Dangerfield as one defender of that independence. So, he wants to save him. He wants to cooperate with those who accept the integrity of others.
Dr. Stockstill, the first to reach Keller in his new position, also wants to save Dangerfield and speaks to him through Harrington's equipment:
"Walter, the one who usurped your authority in the satellite—he's dead, now, so you don't have to worry regarding him....
The phoce, rolling about the room on his 'mobile, like a great trapped beetle, said, "Can I go to school now that I'm out?"
Yes," Stockstill murmured. (287; ch. 16)
Keller wants to enter the world as it exists after the bomb, to learn, to come into it as it is. Naive, he sees school as a way of learning about the, to him, new world. Naive, he has also saved Dangerfield, the representative of sanity to Edie, who heard his broadcasts with the rest of the community.
Dangerfield and Keller, however, have many reasons for supporting each other, though they are the most removed of the four power characters of the novel. The past and the future have a great deal in common, more, perhaps, than the present with either.
At worst, the past and the future war with each other, ignoring the present. In Dr. Bloodmoney, however, the vision of the past and the possibility for the future combine to circumvent a decrepit version of the present. Having defeated Harrington, who has destroyed Bluthgeld, Keller, the future, tries to help Dangerfield and asks if he can go to school—school, of course, being the means for bringing the past into the present.
Dr. Bloodmoney presents four "realities" but allows only one to eventually control the future of humanity. The people of the novel, however, other than the four who control the situations, have to work within the framework given them. They try to get on, accepting, as Stuart McConchie does, such things as the devouring of a horse, a precious item in days post destruction, with equanimity. They will continue on, no matter who controls their world.
McConchie continues to try to make money, though his position as a salesman at a television shop has disappeared because of the bombs. His view of the world changes not at all through dramatic world changes. Just so, the attitudes of the inhabitants of Point Reyes Station remain what they were.
The average human cannot be shaken out of the world view they have accepted as "truth." Though Bluthgeld, Dangerfield, Harrington and Keller have the power to change everything the small person perceives as the "real" world, not much of what these "world changers" or putative "world changers" might do changes their world.
Six of the now-published novels lacking publishers in the fifties follow a single pattern, one of movement toward what might be called fantasy, away, at least, from a commonly understood "reality." The majority of each book is concerned with depiction of actions and characters in a world made as "real" as possible—in large part through the "inessential" details Dick uses to bring about "verisimilitude."
At or near the end of each book, for one reason or another, the "reality" built is abandoned for some sort of fantasy on the part of one or another of the characters.
In Confessions of a Crap Artist, Jack Isidore tries to re-create his sister and dead brother-in-law's destroyed home. In The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982), Angel Archer begins to fantasize that the schizophrenic Bill really is, as he claims, in contact with the dead Timothy Archer. Walt Dombrosio, in The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, imagines the time five years in the future, when his yet-unborn child is a five-year-old boy with a Neanderthal-like jaw, and is about to be enrolled in a special school. Bruce Stevens, in In Milton Lumky Territory has a fantasy that goes at once back to his childhood and into his future. Mary and the Giant shows the young Mary finally in a situation she wants to have around her—though Dick's prior characterization of her shows this would be impossible. And Puttering About in a Small Land's Roger Lindahl leaves his wife and her realized fantasy, hoping to create one of his own.
Only Mary's and Lindahl's situations can be easily accepted by the reader lulled into acceptance of the realism earlier presented in these novels, though perhaps Isidore's could be, as well, by a bit of stretching. In the others, Dick steps outside of the accepted norms of the form and destroys the illusion that what is depicted as real could be real.
This is what Dick would have his reader's do: accept. He does not hold to traditional causal ideas of proof, or even to the concept that experiencing something is proof. He also knows that people experience things in different ways, and that all of us, in one way or another, are living in a fantasy. So why not incorporate that into a book? The fantasies are real to those who hold them, so why make them shams by presenting them as unreal? This may have been Dick's thinking.
In all of his longer works, and in many of his short stories, Dick had one over-riding purpose. As Kim Stanley Robinson says, "what Dick most wanted to accomplish was the depiction of contemporary society, to create in fiction a critique so all-encompassing as to be an indictment" (The Novels of Philip K. Dick 6). As fantasy is an important part of that world, Dick could hardly ignore it.
Like much of Confessions of a Crap Artist, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is a first-person narration. Its narrator, though, is the antithesis of Jack Isidore. Angel Archer, daughter-in-law to the title character, an intelligent, compassionate woman at the height of her perceptive powers, quickly proves herself to be a narrator the reader can trust, can respect. What she says must be taken seriously; she demonstrates her acumen, her unwillingness to accept what she sees and hears at face value. At the same time, however, she never appears as a particularly likable person. She can be callous and satiric. In all, she strikes the reader as a "real" character, though she will never be a favorite one.
The story told in The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is, in part, a fictionalized version of the last years of Bishop James K. Pike, the Anglican bishop who, during the later part of his life, began to believe he could communicate with his dead son. Pike later died wandering in an Israeli desert, looking for additional Dead Sea Scrolls—having provided himself with no supplies before setting out.
Dick certainly sets up the book so that it looks like the tale of Timothy Archer, told by his daughter-in-law Angel. What the book turns out to have been from the beginning, however, is the story of Angel, a pragmatic woman with a strong enough sense of her own "reality" to deal intelligently with people on the fringes of "normal" belief. These include her father-in-law, her suicide husband, her father-in-law's mistress, and the mistress's son, Bill Lundborg. She is the center around which they rotate.
Tim Archer has always been interested in odd-ball beliefs and pursues them as far as he can. At one point in the book he and his mistress become convinced they can communicate with Archer's dead son through a medium. The medium has given messages that could only come from the dead man, or from someone who knows a great deal about the lives of the members of his family. Angel witnesses all this, but is not convinced. To her, there are too many possible causes, too many unanswered questions. Still, she:
cannot condemn the idea without losing their friendship, and valuing the relationship more than her intellectual beliefs, she withholds her scathing opinions and does what she can to help. (Robinson, The Novels of Philip K. Dick 122)
Like all of Dick's best characters Angel Archer sees that human relationships are at the center of life, that they are more important than belief of any type. Acceptance of people takes priority over belief. Timothy Archer and his mistress do not know this—the bishop turns to books, not people, to help him out of problems, even personal problems—but Angel cannot deny her in-law or his mistress because of their faults. She controls only herself, so must accept others, even though the others would not accept her, were she to express her belief. Finally, Angel becomes what Dick would have liked all his protagonists to be, a caring, understanding person who can separate western rationalism from emotions, yet who never denigrates the importance of emotions, who can abandon rationalism, when emotions make it necessary. The center of Angel's world is her relationships with the people around her—not a system of belief or an acceptance of perception.
Though she is an egotistical, headstrong woman who, knowing she is bright, jumps too easily to conculsions, Angel is of the class of characters Dick approved of most. He had specific and political considerations in mind when he created her, reacting in part of criticism of the women in his other works. But she also follows in the footsteps of earlier characters, most of whom can be seen as Dick's "little protagonists."