The World Jones Made” (written in 1954, published in 1956) is among the least clunky of Philip K. Dick’s 1950s sci-fi novels. It blends the political rise and fall of the titular precog with single-celled alien drifters with quasi-human colonization of Venus. It’s wackiness quotient is lower than with most PKD books, and while Jones’ personal situation is fascinating, the political conflict is a little bland.
Philip K. Dick melds three ideas into one book in “We Can Build You” (written in 1962, published in 1972), but it flows better than overstuffed efforts such as “Dr. Futurity” and “The Game-Players of Titan.” While this is certainly a sci-fi novel, a lot of the sci-fi is silly and/or unnecessary, as if PKD is satisfying an editorial directive to add futuristic elements. An exception is the existence of simulacra of Edward M. Stanton and Abraham Lincoln, who aren’t treated as jokes.
Jonathan Maberry delivers an amazing Dana Scully story in “X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate” (2017) that not only shows what our favorite red-headed agent is like at age 15, but it’s also the best character piece about Scully, period. The author – who was previously the editor of the three short-story anthology books – builds from the conceit in episodes such as Season 1’s “Beyond the Sea” and Season 5’s “Emily” that Scully believes in God despite being the skeptic in the “believer-skeptic” dynamic with Mulder.
Gather Yourselves Together” (written about 1950, published in 1994) is a 373-page novel with no plot, and whether that’s a feature or a bug depends on the reader’s taste. But it’s certainly a fascinating entry in Philip K. Dick’s catalog from a historical perspective. Most PKD scholars believe it’s the first novel he wrote, and it definitely feels that way. It’s all about middle-aged Verne, mid-20s Barbara and slightly younger Carl dancing around each other at a shuttered American metal works operation in China in 1950. They are guarding the property in the week before the now-in-power Communists arrive to take possession.
Despite the fact that “The X-Files” lends itself to standalone mystery novels, the franchise went 18 years between “Skin” (1999) and “Origins: Agent of Chaos” (2017). Kami Garcia’s novel is a sequel to her short story “Black Hole Son” from one year earlier – my favorite from the “Truth is Out There” anthology — although it’s not necessary to read it to understand the novel.
Dan Simmons’ “The Terror” (2007) mixes horror and history, fiction and fear. If you’ve seen the 2018 TV miniseries, a lot of the book will be familiar, but it does offer additional details and some things that don’t translate to film. A good chunk of the novel’s 955 pages evoke an oppressive sense of misery and hopelessness, but in such a masterful way that I admired Simmons’ skill even as my mood became darker from reading the book.
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” (written in 1964, published in 1965) has been described as dark and brutal and haunting, but I think that’s more from the perspective of someone who is devoted to a single modern religion, particularly Christianity. To an atheist or a scholar of comparative religions, it’s a fascinating look at the way a higher being might enter humanity’s sphere, and what it might do once it got here.
Clans of the Alphane Moon” (1964) has everything I love about a Philip K. Dick novel. It grabbed me from the moment when Chuck Rittersdorf is standing on a ledge, having decided to kill himself, only to be talked down by his telepathic Ganymedean slime mold neighbor who has oozed under his conapt door. It’s debatable whether stuff like this is purposeful absurdist humor or PKD’s attempt to write SF when it’s not his natural inclination, but the end result is highly entertaining.
The Broken Bubble” (written in 1956, published in 1988) isn’t a science fiction novel, but it is a predictive novel from Philip K. Dick. Jim and Patricia, ex-spouses around age 30 who still like each other, and newlywed teenagers Art and Rachael, are drawn to each other as couples and as individuals. PKD’s later, safer story of an older couple wanting to befriend a younger couple, “Confessions of a Crap Artist,” would be the only one of his realist novels published in his lifetime.
The deliciously wild ideas outpace the narrative in “The Game-Players of Titan” (1963), a Philip K. Dick novel that has many loyal defenders. Although I love a lot of things about it, I have to admit that by the end I didn’t know what overarching point PKD is making nor did I grasp what happens in the final 25 percent of the novel.