Friday, February 10, 2012

On "Dr. Bloodmoney" by Philip K. Dick ***

This was one really odd novel. "Dr. Bloodmoney" refers to a certain physicist who is either insane or had superpowers, such that he can rain down fire from heaven in the form of nuclear war. The book itself is a postapocalyptic one, with multiple characters and storylines. In this post-nuclear-war world, civilization is slowly recovering. Without oil refineries, horses once again are the main form of transportation. Most live without electricity. Water is a precious commodity. And meat is a rare treat for a meal. But in addition, radiation has set in motion evolutionary changes such that some animals can now talk or fly that before couldn't and some humans have gained extrasensory powers that allow them to perform magical deeds (or did they have these powers before the war and kept them secret, in an age when machines could perform our magic).

Most of the plot revolves around a Hoppy, a legless and armless handy whose dexterous use of his metal extenders allows him to work wonders on machines and other things that need fixing. But Hoppy has other powers. He can see into the future (in characteristic Dick style, during epileptic fits). And he can, as we learn later, also control things with his mind far beyond the reach of his physical body. And it is there, in this spirit world, that most of the story's plot unfolds, for Hoppy isn't the only one with such powers. A man by the alias Dr. Tree, for example, also has such powers, as does a little girl's brother, Bill. But like Hoppy, Bill lacks full use of his limbs--in fact, he lacks a body completely and lives as a growth inside his sister's body. But he can communicate with the dead, and with that power, is able to wield control over others in the living world, a power that proves useful once Dr. Tree decides to cause the world war to resume and Hoppy sets his site on world domination.

The most poignant part of the novel is played by Walter Dangerfield, an astronaut to Mars. It is during the trip to Mars that the world erupts in global war, and as a result, Dangerfield is stuck in space, his rocket having lost communication with the people who control it on Earth. He'll never get to Mars, but he'll never get back to Earth either. And so, he spends his years broadcasting pleasant messages back to Earth's survivors, reading to them literature and playing music for them. It is Dangerfield's indominatable spirit that keeps the world hopeful. And it is a spirit that is in danger of being snuffed out by illness and greed.

It is hard to say what Dick was aiming for with this book. Most of the characters, especially the women, come across as selfish hooligans. But it isn't that war pushes them toward that. Rather, they were that way to start, and the war simply gives them even more opportunity to exert their base instincts. It is only in believing in the power of someone above us (i.e., Dangerfield) that we can survive, and is only through the aid of psychoanalysts who can draw out the stories of that someone above us that we have any hope.

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