I must admit that one of the reasons I picked up this novel is that it has my surname on it, the other being that it is of course Philip K Dick who still rates as one of my favourite authors.
Written back in 1956 The World Jones Made is one of the authors very early novels and tells the story of Floyd Jones, a man who has the unique ability to see exactly one year into the future. Starting his career as a disgruntled carnival fortune teller he quickly gain notoriety and rises to become the leader of a hugely popular religion.
As a messiah he plays on the fears of the populace and whips them into a frenzy against the threat of the alien "drifters" - macro-scaled single celled organisms who may be landing on the earth is vast quantities in the near future. This future isn't one so easily controlled though, full as it is of engineered mutants, hermaphrodite sex performers in drug-fueled nightclubs and a tightly controlled population.
Following from an almost apocalyptic war, the US has developed into a draconian and repressive society ruthlessly controlled by "Fed-Gov" where even voicing a subjective opinion is a crime. In this (relative) future you can be arrested for simply making a statement that couldn't possibly be proved true (a parallel of being arrested for twitter messages perhaps). Criminals are sent to forced labour camps rather than prisons, a state of existence that the majority of the population simply accept as a price of peace.
Knowing what will happen a full year after your own death doesn't prevent Floyd from making mistakes, he knows that the society must rise from repression and be free but it doesn't stop him from becoming a Dictator himself, brought on in part by the cult status he has encouraged within the people.
There are obvious parallels of Hitler and Stalin here, after all the book was written in 1956 during a time when the long shadow of World War 2 still left it's indelible mark. Reading such an early novel of PKD's proves very interesting if you have read any of his later works, all the hallmarks of his writing style are present but in a much rawer form while his voice is much subtler. As with most of the authors novels there is no real back-story, firmly focusing on the "here and now" and the actions / reactions of the characters placed into unusual situations.
The usual quirky characters are evident and none more so than Floyd himself who is quite far removed from the hero, being a fascist, xenophobe and not really a nice guy who just happens to have precognitive abilities that elevates him above others. This idea that it's not always square jawed, all American heroes who get superpowers - or at least a super-human that the reader can bond with and relate too - was way ahead of it's time and a mark of the authors talent to think outside the box, to do things others weren't doing.
The policeman Cussick could be be seen as the real protagonist, working for "FedGov" he is a dogged employee of the system, determined to stop Jones at all costs. This loyal but world-weary attitude is off-set by his cynical and sometimes estranged wife who despises his husbands career and the establishment he is committed to. The interplay between this husband and wife is the real highlight of the novel, genuinely touching in places.
There are some very interesting ideas here - not least the political system that arrests people for subjective opinion and yet allows drug filled dens of iniquity and public sex acts with little care. If all this wasn't enough there are a number of sub-plots going on too - a heck of a lot to cram into PKD's usual slim books. The chief of these is the mutants that have been specially engineered to survive the atmosphere of the planet Venus with a grand design of colonising that planet. There are actually two different type of mutants in the book, those that have been twisted by the cataclysmic war and those who are deliberately altered such as those designed to become Venusians. I loved these little fellas and the way PKD describes them is simply inspired.
The vision of the future is that different, combined with the fact that it is essentially post-apocalyptic that it doesn't feel that dated - despite being over 50 years old. I loved this window into the early life of PKD, the rawer and less formed writing style and yet with the same inventive intensity, the same everyday characters and unusual situations. It isn't perfect, there is too much crammed in to the 200ish pages and some threads are innevitably never explored fully and yet it's these imperfections that make the novel too. A moment in literary history, this should be a part of any PKD fans collection.
Written on Monday 21st January 2013 by Antony.
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