Chapter Six: Success And Failure
Philip K. Dick's Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (1974) and
Galactic Pot-healer (1969)
by Aaron Barlow
When success leads consistently to failure or, at best, stasis; when plans, for man's progress or for evil, become irrelevant; when the motion of time means nothing; when these mask situations antagonistic to the individual, how does that individual find motivation for survival? To Dick, who presents just such situations, this question was as important as the political considerations that led him to deal with it in his fiction.
Surprisingly, Dick decided that such motivation can still be found—even when nothing, not even the situation of that successful character, can possibly change for the better. For success lies in attitude, not in worldly gain. The worlds Dick saw are too often illusory for any good fortune in them to have substance.
Success in the life of a Phil Dick character stems partially from refusal to let others dominate, partly through paying attention to craft, to the thing one does, and partly through consideration for the needs of others—by acting and reacting in an humane manner.
Mary Anne Dominic, a minor character in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, but one of Dick's few absolutely exemplary characters, succeeds in life by turning down an offer of immediate financial gain that would also have made her in debt to another—by caring more about the pots she makes than about financial reward for making them. And she succeeds because she has assisted another person, without asking for gain for herself.
When Jason Taverner, a famous and powerful TV performer, offers to spotlight her pots on his network show, she turns him down:
"Leave me alone, please. I'm very happy. I know I'm a good potter; I know that the stores, the good ones, like what I do. Does everything have to be on a great scale with a cast of thousands? Can't I lead my little life the way I want to?" (166; ch. 23)
Dominic's questions are those all of Dick's characters should be asking. Her attention to them signals Dick's affection for her.
Dick may admire characters such as Felix Buckman, the police general in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, who try as hard as they can to stem the tides of horror that Dick sees on the revolving modern world, but Buckman, like many, can ultimately do little more than hold it back a short while. What Mary Anne Dominic does has greater lasting power. She has brought beauty into the world. Buckman believes he is better able to make decisions than are others and eventually abuses the power of his position in grief over his sister/wife's death. Dominic would never allow herself to get into a situation where such would be possible.
Dick, an artist himself, had his own dreams for his work and an admiration for those artists who could let the work be what it may. He understood from hard personal experience what the two phrases "art for art" and "art for money" really mean. Though, in his own life, money became (often) more important than art, it is art, he shows he believed, where salvation lies.
Art, after all, rarely leads the artist toward activities forcing others into certain pathways. Generally an individual activity, it forces artisans and artists to look to themselves for solutions, and not to others, thereby, Dick may have believed, removing some of the temptations to control others.
In the Epilogue to Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, Dick, perhaps in a maudlin mood, "rewards" Dominic for being the character he has made her, writing that Dominic later "won a major international prize for her ceramic kitchenware" (206; Epilogue) and led a "long and successful life" (208; Epilogue)—not successes Dick allows many of his characters.
The last paragraph of the novel, in fact, concerns one of Dominic's creations. It gives her an importance not readily apparent in the main body of the text:
The blue vase made by Mary Anne Dominic and purchased by Jason Taverner as a gift for Heather Hart wound up in a private collection of modern pottery. It remains there to this day, and is much treasured. And, in fact, by a number of people who know ceramics, openly and genuinely cherished. And loved. (208; Epilogue)
Dominic becomes a part of the novel through the assistance she provides Taverner while he attempts to elude the police—who want him for various reasons, including suspicion of the murder of Buckman's sister/wife. He is innocent—Buckman even knows he is after Taverner only because he needs a scapegoat, something to lash out against in his grief—and in need of aid. Though hesitant, Dominic does help him and, by refusing his offer to showcase her pots, confirms that she acted because he was another human being, not to get something for it.
A relationship positive on both sides always involves explicit understanding of the nature of the return, the transaction, the trade involved in the relationship. When a return does not enter into the picture until after the initial transaction, it changes the nature of the event. Something has been hidden, in a sense, and the balance becomes unequal. By accepting Taverner's offer, Dominic would, to some degree, come into his control, something she shows she recognizes by refusing the offer. She wants her life to continue on its small plane while Taverner, even if he is not conscious of it, would move her into a paternalistic relationship, with him in the controlling position.
Still, Taverner honestly—or so he believes—wants to reward Dominic. He does not recognize that she has already been rewarded. Her transaction, of what Dick would see as the highest type, is with herself, and is fulfilled by her action. Taverner, the lucky recipient, has no role in that. Any attempt to involve himself, if successful, will only cheapen a previously completed transaction.
Emily Hnatt, another ceramicist and the ex-wife of Barney Mayerson, in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, has no such success. Ambitious for her work, unlike Dominic, Hnatt propels her second husband into a deal that leads him to sign the two of them up for E-Therapy, a process that allows a person to "evolve" to the next step in human development. For Hnatt, who had not really wanted the therapy in the first place (just everything else), it backfires, and she "devolves" slightly. She does become rich and famous, but she ends up only making pots like those she made before. No longer can she go forward. No longer can she produce anything genuinely new. She's "just a little more shallow, a shade sillier" (244; ch. 12). Her ambition—coming back to her through her husband—has ruined her creativity. And she does not even know it. All creative artists fear her fate; Dick himself was accused of falling victim to it.
"Selling out" for money does not alone cause Hnatt's downfall. Lack of forcefulness and lack of proportion are also part of her problem. She should have stood her ground when her husband suggested E-Therapy. And she never should have expected so much from her pots. They were selling well enough; she was no starving artist. She should have seen that her art was doing all that could be asked of it. She ought to have accepted that, as Dominic did, as Dick, perhaps, hoped he had.
She was also rather egocentric. Her concern was always for her own well-being, never for that of others.
Like both Dominic and Hnatt, Joe Fernwright, of Galactic Pot-Healer (1969), is also, by the end of the book, a potter. At the beginning, and throughout most of the book, however, he thinks of himself as merely a pot-healer, one who repairs old and damaged pots.
If Dominic is the artisan at idealistic best, Fernwright is the artisan at frustrated worst. Faced with a world as regimented and ridiculous as any totalitarian nightmare (he can't even walk without being threatened with death by police for doing so, or give away money without being arrested), Fernwright throws his lot with a strange character from someplace he has never heard of, someplace called "Plowman's Planet." The Glimmung, a god-like being, wants to raise a sunken cathedral for purposes not readily apparent.
Fernwright, when the task is finally complete, rejects the Glimmung and decides to try to make a pot on his own—a revolutionary idea, for him. After all, no one on Earth had bothered to make a pot since an earlier great war that had nearly destroyed the planet.
When Fernwright and the one other being, a gastropod, who has also refused to remain in community with the Glimmung, walk away after the successful attempt to raise the cathedral, Fernwright finds himself chastised and given some advice:
"You know what your problem is?" the gastropod said. "I think you ought to create a new pot, rather than merely patching up old ones."
"But," Joe said, "my father was a pot-healer before me."
"Observe the success of Glimmung's aspirations. Emulate him, who in his Undertaking fought and destroyed... the tyrannic rule of fate itself. Be creative. Work against fate. Try." (189; ch. 16)
Fernwright had been caught up in someone else's battle. In his case, that battle saved him from an increasingly useless existence. But to what purpose? The battle of the Glimmung is the Glimmung's own. It helps no other, yet involves and endangers many others. The lesson seems to be, by analogy, that the smaller battle against fate should also be fought—but it only seems to be that, as the last chapters of the novel show.
Fernwright takes the gastropod's advice and tries to deny fate, decides to do something on his own, to make his own pot:
His first pot. Taking it to a table, under direct light, he set it down and took a good look at it. He professionally appraised its artistic worth. He appraised what he had done, and, within it, what he would do, what his later pots would be like, the future of them lying before him. And his justification, in a sense, for leaving Glimmung and all the others. Mali, the most of all. Mali whom he loved.
The pot was awful. (190-191; ch. 16)
The Glimmung has risked his own life, Fernwright's, Mali's, and those of all of the others he had recruited to assist him. For his own purposes—though he does reward his helpers by incorporating them into a positive community of beings. But the reward he finally offers has made no sense to Fernwright, for neither it nor the task were consistent with what had been contracted for. Fernwright is a short-sighted man, concerned only with the immediate.
Though he had felt cheated, once he learned the task he was to perform and the purpose of the Glimmung, Fernwright went through with it. He could not, however, accept the reward. He chose the integrity of the individual, though that had already been violated, though that might mean unhappiness, where staying with the Glimmung meant happiness, fairly surely.
Unlike most of Dick's world-shakers, the Glimmung succeeds concretely and immediately, and does have some concern for those who have helped it. And, unlike most of Dick's little protagonists, Fernwright fails absolutely.
Why does Dick allow the Glimmung to succeed and Fernwright to fail here, something the reverse of the situations in his other novels? Again, we must remind ourselves that, to Dick, result alone has no importance. Only the attempt does. The Glimmung, unlike so many of Dick's characters who attempt to control the actions or lives of others, has never expected to succeed. Fernwright (perhaps) expects to, and fails. Not that it matters in either case: what is important is that both try. Success does not validate attempt. Only attempt itself can do that.
Plus, Fernwright has evaded all of Dick's prefaces to success. He sells himself to the Glimmung; he is too ambitious: a good pot repairman, he wants to abandon that for the greater glory of a pot maker; and, he turns away from participation in a close community of beings—one that even includes the woman he loved.
The most striking aspect of Fernwright's failure is that it is the one incident in all of Dick's novels where the protagonist finally fails so completely. Perhaps the lack of this failure elsewhere results from Dick's obvious "like" for his characters. While writing, he became extremely involved with their worlds, to the extent that, in the case of The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, he says "I felt a loss as real as I have ever felt" (In His own Words 218) upon finishing the writing of the novel. The loss was of Angel Archer, the narrator:
I began to realize that I would never be in the mind of Angel Archer, or put another way, Angel Archer's mind would never be in mine. Our minds would never be one mind again. (In His Own Words 218)
Dick felt strong sympathy with all of his characters, so it is not really surprising that few of them end in disaster—even though Dick's political point, if successfully made, could allow them little success.
Dick did not want to overly reward his characters, for that might make them move overtly into roles as exemplars rather than individual "beings." The important thing, for all of them, is that they follow through on their choices and beliefs. Thus real reward, like real destruction, rarely is encountered by the central characters.
Only in Dr. Futurity and Vulcan's Hammer, both early novels, do the central characters really seem to have much of a chance at happy futures.
Dr. Futurity (1960), a time-travel book, presents physician Jim Parsons as he, at first, explores the future world he has been thrown into—a world where physicians are looked upon as obscene, death a positive thing leading, literally, to new birth and the improvement of the race. He has been brought into the future by a group claiming descent from American Indians who want to change the past by murdering the early explorers who paved the way for eventual destruction of the American Indians. This group needs a physician in order to save the life of their own leader—who has been fatally injured during his own trip to try to change the past.
Parsons joins in with the group on discovery that agents for the dominant portion of the future society are also meddling with the past—to make sure that the smaller group fails. Upon returning to the time of the death of the man he was meant to save, however, Parsons finds himself the unwitting murderer.
Exiled, thereafter, to the Pacific coast long before any European arrived by those he has sought to help, Parsons is soon rescued by a woman from the future who has fallen in love with him. She sends him back to his own wife, but with the hint that he will return to her at a later time. Though he does not know the future, she does.
In a way, Parson's luck results from his position as, for the most part, unwitting player in a game whose rules he does not comprehend. Like Thomas Cole in "The Variable Man," he operates within a milieu beyond his understanding by standing dog-fast by the rules he knows from his own time. To punish him or make what he accomplishes ambiguous would do nothing to serve Dick's purposes.
William Barris, though, in Vulcan's Hammer, has as good a view of events on Earth as anyone but one—Jason Dill, the only man with direct access to the Vulcan computers that control Earth. Barris is an unusual figure amongst Dick's creations for he is a man of power who proves more competent even than his superiors and rivals—including the self-perpetuating and protecting Vulcan III. He not only discovers that Dill has been using the out-dated Vulcan II against the growing powers of Vulcan III, but he manages to form an alliance with a rebel group against Vulcan III—once it has been clearly proven that the group of which he had been a leader has become only a puppet of the super-computer. And the alliance, thanks to Barris, wins. As a final result, Barris gains the love of one of the female characters.
In most cases, however, only peripheral characters, such as Dominic, can find such rewards. While other somewhat minor characters, to balance the books, perhaps, like Gino Molinari in Now Wait for Last Year (1966), find something closer to a living (or dying) hell.
Molinari has made a fatal alliance—this time in an interstellar conflict. He has chosen to side Earth with aliens who look like Earthmen against those who do not, considering only a surface affinity, not real purposes. Molinari quite literally dies, constantly, because of his mistake, dies in order to keep Earth from being over-run by his "allies," who postpone a series of vital negotiations whenever he becomes sick. Each time he dies, the one defense he has discovered, the one atonement he has found for his error, a replacement Molinari from another time-stream, appears. A healthy one, surprising the "allies" with his appearance. Each Molinari suffers the presumption of one long gone. Christ-like, quite clearly, in his dying for mankind, he ultimately only becomes another sufferer for mistakes. In his egoism, he had over-stepped his bounds. And he pays the price—even for each other version of himself.
Eric Sweetscent, on the other hand, though he finds himself drawn into the heroic struggle of Molinari through his skill as an artiforg (artificial organ) surgeon, finally realizes that he cannot remain involved with Molinari's fight. He, too, risks finding himself out of his bounds.
To keep the alien "allies" at bay, Molinari must appear near death each time they attempt to meet with him. Sweetscent's job is to step in and try to save that particular Molinari—each of whom can contact the diseases of others through empathy—in order to keep alien physicians away from the ruler. Should he die in the hands of the "allies," of course, any appearing replacement would constitute a verifiable fraud.
Sweetscent has to appear to be working as hard as he can to save his leader—so he, too, is kept in the dark as to the actual situation. Like Thomas Cole in "The Variable Man," at this point, he is merely a tool used for a certain expertise.
Eventually, however, Sweetscent finds himself drawn into the complete horror and possible hopelessness of the situation, discovering, of course, the Molinaris' ruse. For a time, he even attempts to rectify it, for use of the same drug that allows Molinari to bring in replacements from different "time-streams" allows Sweetscent to travel back and forth into the future.
At the end of the book, as the result of a discussion with a taxi—of all things—Sweetscent realizes he cannot escape his own smaller fate, any more than he can change the greater situation:
"If you were me, and your wife were sick, desperately so, with no hope of recovery, would you leave her? Or would you stay with her, even if you had traveled ten years into the future and knew for an absolute certainty that the damage to her brain could never be reversed? And staying with her would mean—"
"I can see what you mean, sir," the cab broke in. "It would mean no other life for you beyond caring for her."
"That's right," Eric said.
"I'd stay with her," the cab decided.
"Because," the cab said, "life is composed of reality configurations so constituted. To abandon her would be to say, I can't endure reality as such. I have to have uniquely special conditions."
"I think I agree," Eric said after a time. "I think I will stay with her." (224; ch. 14)
The comparison between this passage from the end of Now Wait for Last Year, and the ending of Galactic Pot-Healer is particularly interesting. Fernwright has taken the advice to fight fate. And has failed. Sweetscent has decided to accept fate. Yet he, too, loses the heights his craft and political involvement could have taken him to. He opts out of his own life to support one for whom he had little care in the first place (he and his wife had been considering divorce before her illness). Like Molinari, Sweetscent must pay for his past actions. He accepts this necessity, this responsibility to other beings. Fernwright, who abandons the community with the Glimmung and the Mali, does not.
Furthermore, Sweetscent, though he knows the future can be changed, that reality has no more permanence than vague memory, recognizes that he must accept the reality of his own being, including the situations such a being places him in. That there may be other realities (and there are, in Now Wait For Last Year) makes no difference.
Though it becomes increasingly difficult to simplify the plots and themes of a Dick novel as his career goes on—or to provide a diagram that will show how relationships work in a number of them, it is worth looking at one diagram of them, for Dick used something akin to this model to set up expectations in his readers. As he became a more sophisticated writer, he also used it to destroy expectations. The relationship between Sweetscent and Molinari exemplifies this model.
Kim Stanley Robinson, in The Novels of Philip K. Dick, provides a basic diagram of the relationships between what he calls, after Dick, "little protagonists" and "big protagonists" (17). Though Robinson presents his diagram primarily in relation to the novels of the sixties, the seeds of this system appear in the earlier novels, and there are remnants of it in the later novels. Simply put, the novels fitting this diagram center on the relationship between the "little protagonist" (a Sweetscent) and a "big protagonist" (a Molinari) involved directly with world-shaking events, and between these two and the big protagonist's opposition. There are also intervening individuals, particularly the women Dick's little protagonists are involved with (who often also have some sort of relationship with the big protagonist). The novels revolve around the changing and relative strengths and weaknesses of these characters.
The successes, or lack thereof, of Dick's characters are often caught up in the changing natures of these relationships.
The "little protagonists," those not quite so powerful or ambitious, concern Dick most, for, among other things, they often are the monkey-wrenches thrown into the machinery, the plans of the "big protagonists." They are his tools, as well, his means for making his political points.
In his early novels, Dick presents his concern for the little protagonists by, strangely, flinging them directly into the middle of world-shaking conflicts where their comfortable lives face destruction. Ted Benteley, a mid-level bureaucrat and focus of the narrative in Solar Lottery, finds himself embroiled, because of his own much smaller ambitions, in machinations toward control of Earth. Allen Purcell, head of a small media production house, is flung into a similar struggle in The Man Who Japed. And Doug Cussick, the secret policeman at the center of The World Jones Made, becomes the instrument for changing the world. By their actions, they send Dick's own message to all who would control worlds: count lightly on those you would use, for what they will do might surprise you.
The three novels mentioned above are the first science fiction novels Dick wrote after finding he could tap into the Ace Doubles system of original science fiction paperback publications (each book bound with another) and make more money than he could through his stories. They all show that Dick was already formulating the types of characters and situations that would become standard in his work, though he had not yet come to grips with the implications of those very scenarios. All three concentrate on conflict between individuality and community—a type of conflict that would remain present in Dick's novels up through his last.
Yet none of them exhibit anything of the sophisticated considerations of totalitarianism that would later become the benchmark of a Dick novel. Instead, they present a consistent and rather simplistic view of power, one that Dick did utilize in the later novels, though there it becomes a relatively minor part of a greater discussion, just as Robinson's model would be consumed by the greater and more sophisticated discussions of the later novels.
In them, too, the model is something that can be overcome. Success results from its destruction. Later, the model remains in place, and success is achieved only by those who can ignore it, who can turn from it to consideration of craft or immediate task and interpersonal relationships. Even Barney Mayerson's decision, in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, to attend to his garden fits this formula. He has given up his ambitions for a task within his capabilities, recognizing, at the same time, that his concern should be for that and for the people who surround him, even though they, like him, inhabit "hovels" on a destitute Mars.
The problem with the "big protagonists," including even the best of dictators, for Dick, is their belief in the future, with parallel rejection of the present—along with rejection of the possibility of surprise, of the possibility of being wrong. They forget that people exist now, and not twenty years from now. Planning, or expectation, has become what they see as their great strength. And, though they do not see this, the cause of their downfall. They forget that the unexpected is always just around the corner, that the people they count on are as likely as anyone to act on a basis not in line with the leader. They forget what is, to Dick, the central aspect of human life: the situations of those immediately around them. They forget it in favor of a vision for all of those they consider their people—even at the expense of the individual. They are totalitarian. And so, in Dick's view, they never can succeed in what they try to do.
From this come the limits to Dick's admiration for dictators. He loathed Hitler, whose plans, really, had little good for the people at their heart. But Mussolini, to Dick, was merely an idealist who had lost sight of his surroundings. Hitler, on the other hand, was a meglomaniac to whom belief was only a tool.
Dick had no fondness for the Russian Soviet system, either, or for its leaders, for, through accent on planning, their system has become caught up in a rigid ideology where even idealism has been forgotten and where the present often has no place. As he says:
My real stance was opposing authority. And I opposed the Communist authorities as much as I opposed the American authorities. I had a girlfriend in Berkeley who was a member of the Communist Party. And I caused her such trouble that they forbade her to see me anymore. She took me to one meeting and I got up and informed them their analysis of fascism was completely wrong, they had no understanding of fascism. I explained what fascism was. They told me. . . to sit down and shut up, and they told her never to see me again. (In His Own Words 131)
Finally, they told him he "sounded like a fascist" (In His Own Words 131). But Dick, certainly, was no fascist, though he, just as certainly, could, as mentioned, think well of a fascist leader:
In some ways I was quite an admirer of Mussolini.... I think Mussolini was a very, very great man. But the tragedy for Mussolini was he fell under Hitler's spell. But then so did many others. In a way you can't blame Mussolini for that. (In His Own Words 153)
Dick saw Mussolini as an idealist gone wrong, forced into questionable—and worse—action by a course of events even beyond his supposed dictatorial control. He expected one thing and got another—through too much confidence in his own virtue. And that, to Dick, is the tragedy always befalling the "good" dictator, one common both to the "real" world and his to fiction.
Anti-elitism always appears in the totalitarian leaders Dick admired, even when that leader, in turn, establishes a new elite, blindered by his new position. Dick surely appreciated the irony of that, but it did not hinder his admiration. He understood intentions, even when the results of their implementation were disastrous—as Dick certainly could have predicted they would be. The well-meaning persons may be wrong in looking to the future at the expense of the present, but they cannot be completely condemned for it. In Dick's novels they always fail, but some sympathy is given to them in that failure.
Perhaps the premier example of the well-meaning totalitarian in Dick's fiction is Molinari, drawn, in fact, in part, from Mussolini. But there are others, many others, not the least being Felix Buckman, the police general of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. The pre-cog Jones, in The World Jones Made is another. Both Nobusuke Tagomi and Rudolf Wegener in The Man in the High Castle exhibit some of the characteristics of this character type. As do Arnie Kott, in Martian Time-Slip (1964), Leo Bulero and Palmer Eldritch, in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, and even the Glimmung, in Galactic Pot-Healer. Of these, only Tagomi and Bulero are drawn with complete sympathy, though a great deal of compassion shows for Buckman—and even the Glimmung—as well. Not a one of these leaders is condemned out of hand. They are fools consumed by unfortunate and destructive political visions, but still well-meaning, to a degree.
The problem for these leaders is that they think what they have drawn in their imaginations is the "real" human situation. In other words, they have become believers in the masks they have created for themselves and in those they have placed on others. So sure their views are right, they try to force the world into compliance. Something rather too dangerous, for a mere human. And, so too, they fail.
Dick's "big protagonists," for all their power, are not the supermen we expect from an Edgar Rice Burroughs, a Robert Heinlein or even an Ayn Rand. They struggle in the webs, so to speak, of industrial, military, and governmental structures, and are losing their battles. At least partially responsible for spinning the webs that trap them, they have almost no chance at all for escape. Less, even, than those they have trapped.
Though their actions of acceptance of their situations provide what moral points Dick makes, none of his little men acts with complete forethought or independence. What each does stems from care for individuals, from gut reaction, not from reasoning. Yet what each does turns on and influences great world events—even when their first concerns are the little events of their own lives. The "little protagonists" deal with the people directly around them, wives or girl-friends, children, associates. They never pretend to such knowledge as to make them world movers—even when they become so by what they do.
The little people, of course, have small chance for escape either, but their chance is at least a little better than their leaders'. Dick's artisans can find some salvation through their craft. And other little ones find comfort, if not success, in the attention they pay to those whose lives intersect with their own.
Though the greater structure lies beyond even the leader, that leader still personifies it. Neither he nor it can be avoided without struggle, and this is the reason for his failure. He is too interested in control. Another structure—call it fate, though in the later books it becomes more directly some idea of a god—works from behind these, also involving itself in the situation at hand. It proves to be the force behind the destruction of the leaders.
Even if successful in freeing themselves from the big protagonists and the structures they represent, the little people still find they cannot free themselves from their responsibilities, their fates, their gods. They are just as trapped as the big protagonists who, though with fewer (though larger) obstacles, find the snare rather tight.
In Martian Time-Slip, Jack Bohlen, a repairman, takes the responsibilities of job, family and other quite seriously, even if that other is the autistic child of a neighbor who has killed himself. His sense of responsibility extends even to the things he fixes. Though he finds the 'Public School' on Mars troubling—the teachers are all complex automatons representing certain character types: the Angry Janitor, Abe Lincoln, Kindly Dad—Bohlen fixes one of the automatons, and does it well.
To do so is particularly repulsive to him, because of a schizophrenic episode in his own past in which he saw people as machines.
Still, Bohlen knows, somehow, that people are more important than machines or craftsmanship. He is competent, but that brings him little pleasure. Not that his interactions with people brings him much more. Yet he deals with them. He befriends Manfred, the autistic boy, though the friendship seems one-way. He brings water to the Martian Bleekmen (native sentient beings) dying of dehydration—not so much because he has to (it is the law), but because he would think of taking no other action. At the end of the book, he searches for Manfred's mother, who, now lost and wandering, is yet another who has never given him regard.
Bohlen's skill does not over-power his commitment to others or make him overly ambitious. That he is a craftsman—an artisan, though a repairman—in no way raises his expectations of society. And his personal problems do not interrupt his skill or concern about others not directly involved. No specific rewards come to him, but he is a winner—because of his attitude.
Unlike Joe Fernwright, Jack Bohlen recognizes that he must respond to the lives around him. Not doing so would send him back into the schizophrenia of believing all around him is nothing but machines.
Bohlen's opposite number in Martian Time-Slip, Arnie Kott, heads the Plumbers Union, the most powerful force on Mars. Kott wants most of all to control his own life, to best fate, much as the Glimmung has done. But Kott cannot, and he dies as a result.
Much as Fernwright finds himself under control of the Glimmung, Sweetscent of Molinari, Bohlen must often do what Kott wants. Like the others, he tries to get out from under that control, yet he always respects it. All three characters understand that the power that is cannot be ignored. One cannot live as though there were no greater force. Whatever it may be, it must be recognized, and many of the compromises it demands must be accepted—to a point. In this, they all fit Robinson's diagram.
But the similarity is limited. Sweetscent and Bohlen have legitimate reasons for leaving their big protagonists. Fernwright's only excuse for his action is his egoism. Thus, he fails, while the other two have some, though limited, success. The others, at least, have made their own choices.
Even more complicated, the situation in The Man in the High Castle presents Frank Frink, who uses deceit to establish himself as an independent jewelry maker, and then finds himself saved from deportation as a Jew to the Nazi—held east coast through a minor action by one of the officials of the Japanese occupation of the west coast, a deportation sparked, ironically, by that initial deceit.
Like Fernwright, Frink has spends most of his career dealing with things of the past. Fernwright repairs them; Frink makes copies that are sold as originals. Both, also, eventually strike out for themselves. Fernwright, as we have seen, fails. And so does Frink. Initially, at least. His jewelry cannot sell within a milieu of fascination with the past of America and degradation of its present. Yet his creations, in a way, save his life—but only after his desire for making them puts him in jeopardy.
Frink, like most of Dick's artisans, makes things to make money. But he makes them as well as he can, and is aware of their value (to him, at least) in themselves. Thus, his survival.
Unlike Fernwright, who sees that his work is bad, Frink knows he has makes excellent jewelry; he knows the value of what he has made. As does Robert Childan, who finally decides to sell the pieces.
Childan, a shopkeeper, agrees to attempt to retail the jewelry on consignment. Though a confirmed imitator of Japanese style and fad, he eventually rises above his normal, pandering self and rejects an idea for mass-producing Frink's products for export to less developed countries. He cannot see the jewelry as exquisite art, but he does find some pride, finally, in the fact of this attempt at art by his countryman and contemporary.
The recipient of one of Frink's pieces doesn't see the true value of the piece any more than Childan does. But, unlike Childan, he experiences its value. That, though, only after a time.
Initially, the only person who understands the pieces does not appreciate their artistic value. He is a young Japanese man, Paul Kasoura:
"It does not have wabi," Paul said, "nor could it ever. But—" He touched the pin with his nail. "Robert, this object has wu."
"I believe you are right," Childan said, trying to recall what wu was; it was not a Japanese word—it was Chinese. Wisdom, he decided. Or comprehension. Anyhow, it was highly good.
"The hands of the artificer," Paul said, "had wu, and allowed that wu to flow into this piece. Possibly he himself knows only that this piece satisfies. It is complete, Robert. By contemplating it, we gain more wu ourselves. We experience the tranquility associated not with art but with holy things...." (168; ch. 11)
When Frink and his partner create the jewelry, they are, like Mary Anne Dominic, trying to make money, enough, at least, to live comfortably. But their primary concern lies with what they do. Like Dominic, and like Joe Fernwright, they are also very much concerned with their craft. Unlike Fernwright, however, the other three all care about other people as well as the craft they have accepted as their own, and they act on that concern.
Fernwright's failure to make a good pot is emblematic of his attempt to reject his place within a community of beings. Unlike the Glimmung, who comes to realize the importance of community, Fernwright does not learn the lesson, and so starts out on his own Glimmung-like quest, having taken the bad advice of the gastropod.
In Vulcan's Hammer, Barris, though he is one of the dozen or so most powerful men on Earth, expresses one of what would eventually become Dick's theses on the position of the small person:
A job, Barris decided, isn't that important. You have to be able to trust the organization you're a part of; you have to believe in your superiors. If you think they're up to something, you have to get up from your chair and do something, even if it's nothing more than to confront them face-to-face and demand an explanation. (56; ch. 6)
Barris does so, insuring his final place as one of the only Dick protagonists who achieve an unequivocal happy end.
In In His Own Words, Dick says:
I've always had a great regard for men who worked with their hands. Craftsmen as it were.... I identified with the TV repairmen that I knew. Guys with no degrees, humane, intelligent and warm.... A very powerful trait in me is an anti-elitism.... (146-147)
These people seek no power or fame. Instead, they show care and consideration for those around them. Never interested in "using" people, they attempt only to get along with them. Though, of the characters in his novels, only Jack Isidore in Confessions of a Crap Artist and, perhaps, Jack Bohlen in Martian Time-Slip manage to reach the ideal Dick sets for these people, many of Dick's other little protagonists do eventually manage to throw off the yokes keeping them from recognizing the necessity of looking to others. These become his heroes, even though they rarely achieve the success of a Mary Anne Dominic—a success rarely possible in the worlds Dick builds.
Yet, as we have seen, Dick admired certain totalitarian leaders as well, even though the actions of those leaders, as portrayed in his books, often destroy the very type of "little man" Dick found so important. These leaders, often little men gone wrong, rise above their small places, trying to do something great. Unfortunately, they turn out to be too limited for success, unable to see, among other things, what the results of their actions might be and, therefore, unable to adequately plan for the future. After acting, they become trapped by the results of what they have earlier done, suffering the consequences more clearly than anyone else involved. And they trap many they claim to have led, or have used, with them.
One of the marks of Dick's care for the "common" man is the extent to which he "allows" characters of this type to subvert the plans of the "great" leaders—even though they often do so unwittingly.
Perhaps the clearest early example of the trapped "common" man in Dick occurs in "The Variable Man," a long and very early short story. A handyman from the early twentieth century is "scooped" into the future—by accident or by fate. He becomes an unknown variable in a forthcoming war between Earth and Centaurus, messing up computations on the outcome of the war, computations the Earthmen are using to decide when, and how, to start the war.
Thomas Cole, the artisan/repairman, has an affinity for objects, for machines. His hands can "feel" how things in a machine should be for correct operation. And they have the ability to make them so.
His talent discovered, Cole is whisked off to help complete a missle that will destroy the Centarus home world, a missile whose creator has died while working on it. Cole, like so many, becomes a tool used for completion of other people's tasks.
A true artisan, in Dick's sense, Cole considers his task, not its consequences. Those who have put him to his task think of the future, of war victory. Cole thinks only of the immediate problem of finishing the guidance control for the missile, though he has no understanding of what it is or what it will be used for.
In a way, Cole resembles those scientists who worked on atomic and hydrogen bomb projects, and then justified their actions by claiming some importance for the task, not the consequences. That, they laid at the feet of others.
Unlike those scientists, however, Cole has been given no chance to learn of the possible consequences of his actions. Or to react against them, as do many of Dick's later artisans and little protagonists. So, Cole ends up with positive results to what he does.
But, given the events of the story, the distinction between Cole and the atomic scientists becomes trivial: each deals with what immediately concerns him, not with what may follow down the road. Avidity, even in this instance, cannot replace consideration.
Dick can forgive such people, anyway. Though they should have considered what they were doing, they were not the ones with the malicious intent. They are not the planners, the ones who want to use what others can do for destruction, for some elusive "victory." So he forgives Cole, too: his design does not work as expected, does not provide a bomb that will destroy the Centauran system. Instead, his hands have seen the initial intention of the missile, which was for it to be a faster-than-light drive. And his hands have fulfilled that intention, finally making the war irrelevant by superseding its necessity.
Through his innocence, Cole becomes something other than the tool he was expected to be. He never turns to the will of the men who wish to use him; his actions are not meant for the completion of their tasks but for completion of the objects he deals with. In this sense, he is unlike many of Dick's later artisans, who can see the intent of their tasks, even though Cole thwarts the intent of his as effectively as any of the others do: what he repairs turns out not to be a bomb, but a new type of space drive that will make the war with Centaurus meaningless.
At the center of "The Variable Man" is a duality best presented through a little man/big man dichotomy where differing purposes and expectations lead to unexpected results when combined. At first, Cole seems to be a victim, a tool only. What he is expected to do and what he does instead surprises his manipulators, to say the least. Imagine someone pounding on the side of an automobile engine with a wrench. Imagine, then, the wrench escaping the hand and making a few adjustments. Imagine that, afterwards, the automobile flies above the road, rather than riding on it. The surprise at that would be akin to that felt at Cole's achievement.
The little man often becomes something of a victim on the plain of the "world-class" player, but the smaller actions, in the worlds Dick presents, do, as we have seen, have an impact similar to that of the big players. The size of the action, we are shown, matters little, while awareness of just who is involved and of consequence, both immediate and long-term, matter much. Perhaps the big difference between the two is the arrogance shown by those involved in world-shaking events.
The dangers of this arrogance appear both in what happens to the powerful as a result and in what happens to the little man. The best of those little protagonists, Dominic, Sweetscent, and the like, have, or develop, humility. The worst, like Fernwright and, perhaps, Hoppy Harrington in Dr. Bloodmoney, do not. So, Fernwright fails to make a good pot and Harrington, whose actions have much graver implications for the larger community, dies.
Perhaps the most horrifying and graphic vision of acceptance of responsibility for one's actions appears in A Scanner Darkly, through the fate of Bob Arctor. He does not even know it as he acts to accept his responsibility to his drug-addict friends and to the greater, anti-drug legal structure. Yet he acts on it, anyway, unknowingly and horribly triumphing through his own destruction.
Obviously, Dick found the creations of his artisans an important part of their existence, and these creations are somehow tied up in their actions in regard to the larger world. Bohlen, Sweetscent, and Harrington, of course, do not create per se, but they do have crafts that add something the future would lack, without their efforts. Still, it is easier to understand the role Dick presents for craft through the potters and jewelry-makers.
What Frink has accomplished, as has Dominic, what Hnatt and Fernwright fail to do, is to transfer the care they have for those around them into their creations. Hnatt and Fernwright lack that empathy, perhaps, that would allow them to become good artists. Skill, of course, is a part of any art, but it is not the whole.
Dick has said he loved his characters, all of them. That comes through in his own craft. Obviously, then, craft is a vehicle toward positive action within a community, for it brings individuals into closer contact with themselves, and with each other. Books, pots, jewelry, and anything else we make or even repair are more than merely devices for pleasure or for comfort. They have an impact on the others who come into contact with them. These are the corollaries to the political actions taken by the big protagonists. Either action, making a pot or deciding the destinies of millions, must be taken with care, with love, success or failure notwithstanding.
Making things, unfortunately, does not alway bring people together, in Dick's work, or make the masks more visible, less threatening. Somethimes the things made turn out to be masks themselves—as fiction has shown to have been. But the situation gets more complicated, for sometimes the creations begin to at least seem to change places with the things them imitate.