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Mary And The Giant
Philip K. Dick
Gollancz paperback £7.99
review by Mike Philbin
Mary Ann Reynolds is just emerging from her chrysalis of childhood to face the reality of 1950s' California. Her home is Pacific Park, a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere. Her new acquaintances, Joseph Schilling who owns the new record store, Paul Nitz who plays piano at the Lazy Wren Club, black blues singer Carleton Tweany, her loser fiancé Dave Gordon and a host of other kooky weirdoes and freaks are about to help Mary Anne Reynolds discover who she really is.
Had any other writer, treating the 1950s in such a mellow chilled out fashion, written Mary And The Giant, I'd have gone 'Yaaaaah', and given it an average score for the sort of storybook it is. Yes, the characters are rich and varied, and the narrative's interesting without being too formalised, and the writing has moments of brilliance. But there's no one great thing that really draws you in. Sure Mary Anne's a bit weird but there's been many a book about psychologically damaged characters over the last 200 years, right? It's an empty book in many ways and in others it just goes beyond the pale. Let me explain...
This is a mainstream book by the science fiction author Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner, Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly are a few movie adaptations of his writing). Dick was renowned for his numerous science fiction books and short stories. Over a period of 20 years he was a prolific writing machine. He also wrote a number of mainstream novels but only one, Confessions Of A Crap Artist was ever published in his lifetime. Now, I've said it before and I'll say it again. Philip K. Dick is not a science fiction writer. I don't care how much anger you put into your retort - it's just water off a duck's back. A better way to describe Dick may be to say that he is a 'temporal location manager for biographical anecdotes of social concern'. Well, what does that mean?
Take his handling of the racial tensions in 1950s' America. Take his handling of the effects of drugs on otherwise normal human beings. We all know, or at least we should be now, that Philip K. Dick had a drug problem. Was he schizophrenic, as some writers have speculated?
Let's look at his female central character, Mary Anne Reynolds. You read enough Dick fiction (I think I've read over half of published output) and you see this singular, strong female lead in all Dick fiction. She's wrong somehow, broken, damaged beyond repair. She's always beautifully young (maybe schoolgirl young) and she's always got pert breasts and she's always a delightful person on the surface but totally bonkers once you scratch down a little. There's always this impression that the girl just doesn't belong. She can't hold down a job and she is totally (terrifyingly) spontaneous in everything she does. Dick says it in summary, later in the book, "Someday, in a hundred years, her world might exist." And then it hit home like a freight train.
Mary Anne Reynolds (like most other Dick girls) is a replicant from the future. It's just the way she reacts to social situations with painful naiveté while at other times she's a domineering bitch. Obviously for the former she has no recorded memories on which to fall back for guidance and the latter she's shooting someone else's psychological bullets from her gun. Mary Anne Reynolds is indeed a jarring character that has slipped out of some alternative universe and is struggling to cope in our alien environment. But there's more. And this revelation happened within the first few paragraphs.
One of my all-time-favourite Dick books is an early one called The Game Players Of Titan, which is about a postwar world where the real estate poker/ monopoly game 'Bluff' is the latest global craze among those who survived the war with the Vugs, and key characters from that book are presented here without their sci-fi trappings. It's an odd realisation but it works. I kept waiting for the Earth stomping Vugs to arrive. And it added a surreal sense of unease as the cold-hearted narrative unfurls.
I wouldn't say I loved this book as much as, say, A Scanner Darkly which was the most mainstream Dick book I'd read up to this point, but I did enjoy it greatly for this alternative-universe frisson of shock and realisation.
Also of interest, new
edition of biography -
The Life Of
Philip K. Dick
by Lawrence Sutin
Carroll & Graf - $15.95
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