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A Maze Of Death
Philip K. Dick
Voyager paperback £6.99

review by Mike Philbin

Yeah, I know it's an old book - from the 1970s in fact. I've had this book for 20 years (a Pan paperback, 60 pence when new, I bought it secondhand, or did I discover it in a newly rented apartment?) and never read it. The basic bog-standard science fiction story is this: Seth Morley and his wife arrive at the small scientific colony on Delmak-O. Supposedly an orbiting satellite station will beam down the mission objectives to the group when the 14th member of the colony arrives. Suffice to say, when it comes time to broadcast the message, the satellite breaks and no message is delivered, stranding the colony is both space and function. Soon, people start to die, or are killed, in suspicious circumstances - what is this a barrel shoot? Questions need answers and Morley is our man.

But I lied, or rather the publisher lied... it's not science fiction, I don't care what any editor adds to this comment. Saying Philip K. Dick writes science fiction is like saying George W. Bush's primary goal is a below-par round of golf. No, wait a minute... I digress.

Philip K. Dick writes the fiction of insanity; the fiction of reality denial; the fiction of (takes deep breath) the topographical lies of the psyche drug abuse can sponsor. But you don't have that sorta category on the bookshelves, at least you didn't last time I looked.

Sci-fi conventions are merely tools Dick uses to externalise the trauma of his rancid thoughts to his readers; to allow them to pseudo-understand. Sci-fi merely lends the canvas to Dick's artistic spattering.

This is the creativity of a 'psyche', a mind in book form. A snapshot of Dick's hidden life, his meandering, disbelieving, questioning, self-interrogation. His "Why am I here?" His "Why are we here?" ... "What is here?" Dick isn't anally exploring the world of his dreams either, don't misinterpret what I'm saying; he is writing imaginary alternate worlds, theoretical worlds formulised in over-active thyroid panic; he is writing the nightmare landscapes of philosophically hyper-stimulated thesis angst.

Is Dick the eternal college student forever searching for the truth of (his own) existence? Does Dick even believe he is alive, at the time of his writings?

Dick writes, and writes so eloquently, the fiction of the 'what is?', the evil interrogator of the haunting mechanism behind theories, the seemingly random neuronic activity that underpins thought itself. Dick should be offered a posthumous Nobel prize in philosophy for his vivid (self) exploration of what it means to be a thinking, scared, paranoid, schizophrenic and ultimately lost human being adrift in a sea of socio-religious apathy.

Hey, is this a PKD thesis? No, it's a review of a book. But only after having read maybe a dozen PKD books are his true motivations (IMHO) seeping through the multi-dimensional chaos of the quaternion vector of his narratives.

On a more comical note, I love the swearing bit, let me find it and quote from it. Remember, up until now, it's been a fairly tame and conventional sci-fi book totally dumbed down for the mass market, but this searing and personal outburst totally breaks the novel open to its true motivation and humanistic exorcism (as earlier expunged) and I'm gonna quote it here in full as a final admonition of Dick's literary greatness:

Seth Morley stared at him with violence flaring in his eyes, "You fool," he said, "You stupid bastard fool."

At the time of writing, I'm still 40 pages from the end, but that's not what's important to me as a reviewer. Dick could do or say anything at the end of a book that is so well constructed, so brave, so ultimately non sci-fi. Simply another five out of five book from the master of head f**kery - this is the author you all forgot to hail as a star.
Maze of Death

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