Friday, April 13, 2012

On "A Maze of Death" by Philip K. Dick **

This is not one of Dick's stronger books. More an allegory than a novel, the characters largely serve the plot and the themes. As such, many of their actions are pretty much nonsensical, as their personalities turn radically from page to page in order to aid in the novel's twists and surprises. This is something Dick has shown a tendency to do in other books I've read, but here it is at its full splendor, if one wishes to call it such.

The particular allegory here has to do with the life we lead and the religion we live by. Why are we here? is the big question of the book. It's posed by the fourteen people who end up alone on planet. They're there to start for a project--perhaps to forge a colony, perhaps to explore the planet, perhaps something else entirely--but none of them, it appears, have any particularly useful skill sets. One's an economist. One's a psychologist. In other words, these are a group of white-collar workers with no skills worthy the hands-on projects they'll need to complete to survive.

A problem arises soon after they arrive, however. The true mission of their trip to this planet is bound up in a satellite transmission that, midway through its message, goes bad. "Your purpose is" ends with three dots on the end that will never see a finale. To make matters worse, they've arrived on one-way transport vehicles, so they can't get off the planet. Without a means to communicate and without a means to leave, they now have to make do as a colony of misfits.

The "death" part of the title doesn't take long to arrive. The planet features various small, man-made creatures--bugs that take photos, forts that scrabble around like mice. Some of these might not have the colonists best interests at heart. Some of the colonists die, and it doesn't take long for the rest of them to turn on one another.

There's an interesting twist that comes later in the book that at least partially redeems it and partially explains the silliness of the characters, but that's not something I'll reveal here, even though I'm not sure I felt like the hundred-plus pages leading to it makes the reading worth it. Suffice to say, much is not as it seems.

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