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Cantata-140
Philip K. Dick
Gollancz paperback £6.99

review by Mike Philbin

Looking over the list of Dick novels on the inside cover, I see that Cantata-140 was written the year of my birth, 1966. I realise also that I have actually read (and enjoyed) a lot of this prolific author's output - but I am always left with a slightly sour taste in my mouth. I suspected it was the strange names Dick insists on using for his main characters that gives the whole book a surreal, otherworldly quality, a pseudo-culture-shock if you will...
   But tonight I discovered the true cause of this distaste - dialogue.
   Remember that Stanley Kubrick film about the rebellious ape, 2001? Well, reading Cantata-140, I can hear that slightly metallic voice of HAL 9000 carved through every creaking line of Dick dialogue, "I don't think you want to do that, Dave..." it says in comforting but naive tones. The dialogue in Dick books reads like it would if multiple HAL 9000 machines discoursed. It's not as harsh a dialogue as that between those metal mouthed Cadbury's Smash aliens from the 1970s' TV adverts but there is still a cold sensation given off from the staccato lines of speech.
   Here's the simplistic version of the narrative from the back of the Gollancz version reviewed:
It's the year 2080, and Earth's seemingly insurmountable overpopulation problem has been alleviated temporarily by placing millions of people in voluntary deep freeze. But in the election year, the pressure is on to find a solution which will enable them to resume their lives. For Jim Briskin, presidential candidate, it seems an insoluble problem - until the flaw in the new instantaneous travel system opens up the possibility of finding whole new worlds to colonise.
Philip K. Dick is a novelist of ideas, certainly not character or dialogue. His ideas glow with a brilliant light a simple pr�cis like this does no justice to. To fully understand Cantata-140 we need to go back and fully explore the odd mix of science, race and religious issue that form the central core of all Dick's great works.
   But that can never tell the whole story of Cantata-140, and without wanting to give the game away, let me expand upon things a little. The novel is split into two distinct halves: the first half is a close, personal study of human interaction in the work area. The second half projects those human subjects into a larger narrative of parallel worlds and alien discoveries, two of Dick's favourite topics.
   Okay, it's a book about a presidential election and it's a book about racism. An odd linear extrapolation of 2080 but you have to do the best you can in the climate the novel was written in. There is a prophetic nod (as there usually is in every Dick novel) this time to the prevalence of porn in today's society, (barring the simplistic jet-hopping to and from) the Golden Door Moments of Bliss satellite. The real lovely touch, and Dick is sometimes wonderfully perverse, is the owner of the naked-woman-shaped entertainment satellite George Walt, the Siamese twins conjoined at the base of their shared skull.
   The true innovation though, and the focal point of the whole narrative, is a faulty piece of machinery called a Scuttler that rips a hole in the fabric of spacetime and offers the potential to explore the universe. But as always in Dick's work, it's neither that simple nor that clear cut.
   A book to enjoy and read in wonderment.
Cantata-140

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