PKD flashback: ‘The Unteleported Man’ (1966) (Book review)

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hilip K. Dick’s “The Unteleported Man” (written in 1964, published in 1966) is usually reviewed today in its expanded form as “Lies, Inc.” (1984). While it’s great that we have both versions available, this is a rare case where Dick’s expansion made the book worse, so I think the original version is deserving of a look on its own. It can be tracked down fairly easily; I found it as part of a 1972 Ace Double with “Dr. Futurity.” (Be careful, as some versions of what we now know as “Lies, Inc.” were initially published as “The Unteleported Man.” It’s unavoidably confusing.)

Although much more coherent than “Lies, Inc.,” the 107-page “The Unteleported Man” is still a clunky narrative read. Dick dives into his famous theory that “the empire never ended,” although he doesn’t use that phrase yet. Near-broke formerly successful businessman Rachmael ben Applebaum (the Jewish name will prove thematically purposeful) is suspicious that the United Nations’ one-way emigration portal to a colony planet called Whale’s Mouth actually leads people straight to their deaths.

We see that Dick’s psychological exhaustion with researching the Nazis is setting in. This exhaustion is part of why he never wrote a “Man in the High Castle” sequel, although he did write two chapters (published in “The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick”). And other books (for example, “The Ganymede Takeover”) began as “High Castle” sequels in their conceptual stages.

Nazism so dominates the author’s thinking here that the mystery of the colonists’ fate isn’t allowed to play as a mystery. It’s not outright stated for a while, but ben Applebaum clearly believes concentration camps and gas chambers await on the other side of the portal. Since a mystery’s answer rarely matches the first theory presented, I was thinking perhaps the portal simply disintegrates the traveler. This would neatly square with the overpopulation “solutions” of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” where extra people are eaten, and Dick’s own “The Crack in Space,” where extra people are frozen, to be thawed at a later date that never comes.

The writing is sometimes clunky, as if he’s working through THL’s schemes in his own mind in addition to communicating with the reader. He’s so involved in explaining things that he forgets the humor that elevates his best work.

I wonder if PKD’s dive into Nazism had him desperate to look on the bright side, because in this 2014-set yarn, the powerful Germans he suspects of Nazi practices turn out to be good. UN leader Horst Bertold reminds ben Applebaum that many Germans fought against the Nazis. I found this to be a nice tidbit among the confusing mess that is “Lies Inc.,” but in “The Unteleported Man,” it’s a central point.

Interestingly, by portraying the world leader as a good guy, Dick arguably contradicts his “empire never ended” theory. But a more generous reading is that he’s portraying corporatism, the process by which corporations use governments to gain more power. Bertold isn’t evil at heart, but his naiveté proves deadly to citizens.

This book talks about monopolies (which, in the purest sense of the word, can only exist with government backing) and a spy culture that goes beyond state surveillance. Indeed, the desperate ben Applebaum goes to LIES Inc. to seek help against the hounding of his creditor, Trails of Hoffman Ltd. (THL), it of the emigration-portal tech monopoly. A throwaway line notes that THL was a shareholder in the space-travel-based Applebaum Enterprises, which it then wiped out with THL’s own portal technology. THL’s schemes are convoluted beyond the telling of it.

But PKD tries to tell about it — with middling success. The writing is sometimes clunky, as if he’s working through THL’s schemes in his own mind in addition to communicating with the reader. He’s so involved in explaining things that he forgets the humor that elevates his best work.

But there’s a great passage where Freya Holm of LIES Inc. aims to pass a miniaturized component package to ben Applebaum at a restaurant. She explains that she’ll leave the table, he’ll ask for a menu, he’ll cover up her purse with the menu, etc. The end goal is that he’ll receive the component package without THL spies noticing. But amid this multi-step process, he’s bumped by a robot waiter and the package is gone; THL is better at this game.

That’s the micro part of the intrigue game; on the macro scale, LIES Inc. boss Matson Glazer-Holliday resolves to send himself and his best men to Whale’s Mouth to overthrow whoever’s in power. Again, we see the frustrating fact that the state (or those who hold a state-backed monopoly on power) is always a step ahead. But it’s neat how Matson works out codes to send back through the portal via what we now know as email; from Dick’s perspective in the Sixties, this idea was novel enough that Freya expresses frustration that she can’t receive “a real letter.”

“The Unteleported Man” includes a framing story of a couple who mulls emigrating; the man hates his assembly-line job where his work is overseen by a pigeon (something Dick would replay in “Nick and the Glimmung”). They decide to emigrate but are stopped at the station because the revelations of THL’s brutal military dictatorship on Whale’s Mouth have come back thanks to ben Applebaum and LIES Inc. This framing story ties the book’s theme into a bow.

But our heroes’ fight against THL’s human-rights violations on Whale’s Mouth is not chronicled. That, along with the shortness of this magazine-published work, prompted Dick’s editor to ask for a Part 2 so it could be novel length. Dick went his own way, and that became the posthumously published “Lies, Inc.”

Nonetheless, “The Unteleported Man,” although an awkward length for book publication, is PKD’s complete statement about corporatism and the fact that Germans and Nazis are not equivalents. PKD fans should read this version rather than “Lies, Inc.,” if they pick one.

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