Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Unteleported Man review

The Unteleported Man
Philip K Dick

Ok, so this is kind of a rare PKD book, mainly due to the fact it was rejigged, expanded and then re-released as Lies, Inc after his death. I’ve not read this later version, so can’t comment on whether this is better or a now superseded version of the tale.

            However, it is an interesting read from towards the start of Dick’s expansion into Science Fiction. It shares the fast-paced structure of something like Dr Futurity with a similar lack of interest in any form of deep characterisation. Thematically it shares ideas with the Nazism of The Man In The High Castle and, naturally, the unreality of the universe, though in this case it is something much more tangible.

            The story goes that mankind has attempted to solve over-population by setting up various off-world colonies, all of which failed for one reason or another. However, a seeming salvation arrived in the form of a distant planet, colloquially known as Whale’s Mouth. For an absolutely nominal fee, Earth’s inhabitants can be teleported to this utopia. The only draw back is that the trip is a one way journey.

            With all supposed communication from this far off planet completely controlled by the same company who runs the teleport service, suspicions of everything not being what it seems grow amongst our lead characters. It’s a simple but very well executed conceit that deals in ideas of faith and turning a blind eye, whilst the obligatory nefarious organisation sits behind it all.

The difference from later Dick novels is that answers are revealed; ones grounded in reality and some form of sense. So it’s more of a traditional science fiction tale in that sense, albeit a well structured one. Some notable elements are the odd use of grammar throughout and the brevity of the story. Dick is often criticised for his poor use of grammar and constructing sentences that just don’t scan properly. The book opens with “Over Rachmael ben Applebaum’s head floated a creditor jet-balloon, and from within it’s articulation-circuit a flat but handsome, masculine – artificial, however – voice, boomed, magnified so that not only Rachmael  but everyone else crowding the ped-runnels heard it.” Slightly messy. For me, his ideas are the most important factor, but I also rate him as a strong novelist. However, The Unteleported Man is the most obvious example of this confusion I have so far encountered. It feels as if he is trying to forge a new style with odd short, jarring sentences and unexplained references thrown in which sometimes work, sometimes don’t.

The briefness of the story perhaps gives reason for this; the story was unfinished – at least, the fact that he had additional notes and chapters that were later used for the extended version suggests this. As a fan, I found it very interesting, a document of his progression. It’s unlikely that you will find a new version of this story but if you can pick one up on Ebay or in a second hand shop, I recommend it. The story, once explanations are reached, is surprisingly relevant to our modern world and unexpectedly aligns it with other Cold War / Post WWII novels with its ideas and messages, akin to some of Vonnegut’s work. At 124 pages, don’t break the bank, but as a part of PKD back catalogue, I found it an easy, engaging and enjoyable read.

Dean Freeman

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