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Dr. Bloodmoney
Philip K. Dick
Orion Millennium, 304 pages

Dr. Bloodmoney
Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago in 1928. While attending UC at Berkeley, he dropped out rather than take ROTC training. He went on to write some 36 novels and 5 short story collections. He won the 1962 Hugo for The Man in the High Castle and the 1974 John W. Campbell Award for Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. He died of heart failure caused by a stroke in 1982.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Beyond Lies the Wub and The Father-Thing
SF Site Review: Second Variety
SF Site Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Martian Time-Slip and A Scanner Darkly
SF Site Reading List: Philip K. Dick

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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When I was a kid, black and yellow posters that declared "Fallout Shelter" appeared at regular intervals along the hallways of my school. It was a favorite stupid joke to pretend to fall every time you went by one of those signs, a way to poke fun at grown-up solemnity. Even more ridiculous were the regular air raid drills, which required walking quietly in single file from your classroom to stand in the hall with your hands over your head. As if that could somehow or another ward off a nuclear explosion. So here was something that I was taught in school that wasn't on the formal curriculum -- my first lesson in absurdity.

These were the days when the United States was trying to close a missile gap with those pesky Ruskies (a gap which in fact never existed) with ever-increasing throw-weights that could blow up the world several times over. The emerging strategic doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD (who says the government doesn't have a sense of humor?), sought to achieve deterrence (though, arguably, it did) by threatening to respond to any nuclear launch by our enemies with overwhelming strikes guaranteed to wipe us both out.

Talk about your Pyrrhic victory.

Back then people were thinking a lot about what might happen next, assuming that there could even be a "next." The prospect and consequences of nuclear war permeated the zeitgeist -- ranging from the bleak black and white irony of Twilight Zone television episodes to awful, poorly dubbed Japanese horror films about nuclear mutants to the numerous science fiction books that obsessed with nuclear apocalypse. And perhaps no one obsessed better than Philip K. Dick.

A good example is Dr. Bloodmoney, originally published in 1965 with the subtitle "How We All Got Along After the Bomb," recently reissued as volume #32 in the acclaimed SF Masterworks series from the Millennium imprint of Orion Publishing. If you were alive at that time, it'll serve as a chilling reminder of the underlying and understandable paranoia of the time (one of Dick's personal obsessions, by the way, exacerbated by heavy drug usage, another fallout of the era). As Dick himself describes his state of mind in the novel's afterword, which seems to have been written in the late 70s, "Back in 1964 I was expecting [the end of the world] at any time; I kept checking my watch... such were the fears of the time."

If this is all ancient and perhaps unknown history to you, it's a good place to start a study of an emerging front of writers who, unlike the atomic ray gun wet dreams of the Golden Agers, sought to depict war, and particularly a nuclear war, as preposterous horror. Perhaps the most famous of these are Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Fail-Safe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, and Nevil Shute's On the Beach. Dr. Bloodmoney should certainly figure somewhere in there as well.

Dr. Bloodmoney is sometimes compared to Dr. Strangelove, director Stanley Kubrick's classic celluloid of nuclear misanthropy. Though the Germanic protagonists (inspired by the Nazi V-2 rocket scientists whose wartime crimes were overlooked by the U.S. in compensation for the loan of their ballistic talents) of both works share severe cases of megalomaniacal paranoia, and the film's subtitle of "How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb" echoes Dick's, they are really quite different. For one thing, as Dick himself notes, his novel is much more optimistic.

The title character, who is actually referred to by the Germanic "Bluthgeld," is a brilliant scientist who believes himself a godly incarnation of destruction, capable of bringing down atomic ruin simply by willing it. As is typical with Dick's handling of the issue of whether just because you're paranoid doesn't mean people aren't out to get you, you can't be quite sure how crazy Dr. Bluthgeld really is. Dick is masterful at "getting into the head" of the paranoid, depicting how coincidence and happenstance serve to solidify delusions of grandeur and suspicion of others. (Speaking of paranoid, there's a funny throw-away reference to Richard Nixon, who at the time was all but counted out as a major political figure, serving as the Director of the FBI. Though the prediction about Nixon's future in public service was a bit off-target, it took a Dick to point out another Dick's penchant for paranoia.) To quote Dick on this character, "It is not the Russians I fear: it is the Doctor Bluthgelds, the Doctor Bloodmoneys, in our own society, that terrify me."

Dr. Bluthgeld is not, however, the central character. Indeed, there really isn't one, but rather an array of characters whose multiple viewpoints often collide in mid-chapter, a distinguishing technique that has come to be known as "Dickian." These include, among others:
Hoppy Harrington, a "phocomelus" who lacks arms and legs (as was the case with babies whose mothers took the drug Thalidomide in the 60s)
Walt Dangerfield, stuck in permanent orbit around the earth, whose daily broadcasts inspire his devoted listeners to carry on in the war's aftermath
Doctor Stockstill, a psychiatrist who has treated Dr. Bluthgeld for paranoia who also attempts to treat Dangerfield's life threatening medical condition over the radio
Bonny Keller, who seeks solace for her troubles in the post-apocalyptic world with a series of unsatisfying affairs
Bonny's daughter Edie, conceived on the day of the nuclear holocaust, who talks to a twin brother of whom only she is aware
Stuart McConchie, an African-American salesman (and, as Dick points out, it was rather daring back then to have a black man as a prominent character in a white man's novel) who personifies the power of positive thinking and endurance.

Their intertwined fates unfold in, to again quote Dick, a world in which "society has reverted, but not to the brutal level that we might expect." Some of them are transformed, not necessarily for the good, by this society; some cause the society to be transformed, for better or worse. This is a novel about transformations, the creation of evil, and the sheer persistence of the human spirit to overcome it its most mundane manifestations. Still relevant today, even if we aren't expecting the bombs to fall on our heads any minute now -- because the bombs have taken other forms and they may still fall. Even without our knowing it.

Copyright © 2000 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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