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The Simulacra
Philip K. Dick
Gollancz, 220 pages

The Simulacra
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: Lies, Inc.
SF Site Review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
SF Site Review: Time Out Of Joint
SF Site Review: The Game-Players of Titan
SF Site Review: Minority Report
SF Site Review: Now Wait For Last Year
SF Site Review: Dr. Bloodmoney
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 Cindy Lynn Speer

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In the future (or what, to Philip K. Dick, was, at the time, the future -- it's actually the 1990s), the United States has become a matriarchal society. Nichol, the lovely and beloved First Lady and her husband, the der Alte (President) run government policy. Every four years, the people believe that they get to choose a new husband for Nichol, but in truth he is a Simulacra, an android figurehead that a group of men hide behind. Nichol will do anything to stay in power, and in truth, she is a huge force in people's lives. She dictates so much, including what they see on TV. Television is now strictly educational, save for the occasional speech, the only entertainment is what Nichol allows. There are no professional entertainers anymore, save for the few who have contracts with the White House, and when they perform for Nichol, everyone else often gets to see it. The majority of this entertainment comes from amateurs.

Two amateurs, who play classical jug (imagine Bach or Mozart played by blowing across the opening of a jug) are hoping to be one of the ones she picks. Ian Duncan and his friend Al think that playing for her will make their lives much better. Right now, it wouldn't take much to improve their lot. Al works for Looney Luke, who runs a moving used Jalopy Junkyard. Jalopies are one-shot space ships that have taken many people off planet to a freer life on Mars. Any day now, they're expecting the yard to be closed down, and Al's livelihood with it. Ian Duncan has just taken his political exam that will decide if he is allowed to stay in the Abraham Lincoln apartment building. To be allowed to stay in the apartment building, rather than being forced to share a grungy dorm and being part of a slave-like workforce, he has to give up all of his savings (which he'd get back if he was kicked out) and have a certain political aptitude. Ian's terrible at the abstract, re-written history and thickly laid on political ideology of this world, but he manages to pass because his neighbor fudges the numbers for him.

Another key character is Vince Strikelock, the sergeant of arms at the apartment building, whose wife has just left him, and is now living with his older brother, Chic. There's also Richard Kongrosian, a Soviet pianist who can play the instrument with his mind. The White House wants a recording of his music, but the reclusive pianist, living in the rain forest of Northern California, has some terrible issues including horrid body odor that no one notices but him. The final key character is Doctor Suburb, who thinks that he has seen his last patient thanks to a new law outlawing psychoanalysts, until a mysterious "interested party" insists that he can go one seeing his patients, as long as he takes on one special one.

Wow. That's a lot, isn't it, but it doesn't really tell us the main plot. The main premise is basically about a heavily Nazi-influenced movement trying to take over the present totalitarian government, and how all these people fit into that plot. In a lot of ways, this book is more about how each of these individuals is affected by the current regime. Each is, in his own way, a portrait about how bad this world is. People can get divorced in a matter of seconds, if you don't hold the right way of thinking you can lose your home. It is a desperate world, a dark one. Anyone who's different or can't bear children may soon become a target, if the right -- or should I say wrong -- people get into power.

There are a lot of interesting technical aspects to The Simulacra. A lot of the technology is actually alive. In the beginning of the book we meet a primitive form of life that, in exchange for some water and sunshine, becomes a recorder that can pick up an incredible range of sounds. Advertisements sprout like cockroaches, sneaking into the cracks of cars to attack the passengers with harangue on body odor and other things designed to make the person feel like they're less than they are. These things can be satisfactorily killed, and imagining placing some of the more annoying adverts that you see on TV under your heel and crushing them is a somewhat satisfactory experience.

Readers familiar with Dick will say this is his typical vision of the future -- dark, but fascinating. With ever-increasing loss of rights, drug companies making the laws, and the idea that everything is so corrupt that no matter what regimes you manage to topple, there is always one, just as bad, waiting in the wings, it doesn't feel all that far fetched.

Copyright © 2004 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at www.apenandfire.com.


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