Voices from the Street” (written in 1952, published in 2007) was Philip K. Dick’s last published novel — finally hitting shelves a quarter-century after his death. One might therefore assume it’s a middling curiosity, but it’s actually an outstanding achievement, all the more amazing because Dick wrote it when he was 24, about the same age as his protagonist and stand-in Stuart Hadley. The sprawling character piece is like a more muscular answer to J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” (1951) — raising the question of why publishers considered it to have no audience at the time — and it also calls to mind modern movies such as “Office Space” (1999) and “The Good Girl” (2002).
In Milton Lumky Territory” (written in 1958, published in 1985) is at first glance one of Philip K. Dick’s lesser novels. It’s among his rare non-science fiction works, but it’s mundane even by that standard, lacking exceedingly weird people and crazy schemes. (A wholesale typewriter quest is a rare topic, but not a crazy one.) Yet it’s one of his most thorough and thoughtful portrayals of a marriage, and ultimately its workaday nature is more of a feature than a bug, resulting in pleasant, non-stressful reading.
Humpty Dumpty in Oakland” (written in 1960, published in 1986) – the last-written of Philip K. Dick’s nine non-science fiction novels – is perhaps his most consistently darkly comedic novel. But it’s not a book that had me laughing as much as some others. The author tones down the absurdism — instead favoring long stretches describing traffic and construction in the growing, crowded Bay Area – and we’re left with two people who are troubled in traditional and relatable (if slightly extreme) ways.
From 1997’s “Halloween Rain” through 2008’s “One Thing or Your Mother” — and with the bonus of Kiersten White’s “Slayer” duology in recent years — the Buffyverse tie-in novels gave us a way to escape into the world of Slayers and vampires between WB New Tuesdays and after the shows went off the air. But with nearly 100 original “Buffy” and “Angel” novels out there (more if you count novelizations of episodes), it can be intimidating to figure out where to start.
The Cosmic Puppets” (written in 1953, published in 1957) is a short but exceedingly weird battle between Good and Evil that plays out in the small town of Millgate, Virginia. There are plenty of subtexts a reader can bring to the table, but Philip K. Dick’s writing is unusually overblown here, none of his characters stick, and ultimately the book as a whole doesn’t stay in a reader’s mind despite the grand themes.
Paul Williams’ afterword in the Vintage edition of “Lies, Inc.” (1984) is almost a better read than the novel itself. The literary executor of Philip K. Dick’s estate chronicles the many permutations of the novel – which began as the magazine-published “The Unteleported Man” in 1966 – into the definitive version. In over-simplified terms, the original “Unteleported Man” tells a straightforward (by PKD standards) adventure in chapters 1-8 and 15-17, and the expansion material is a drug trip that takes up chapters 9-14.
The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike” (written in 1960, published in 1984) is about a lot of different things, and the theme doesn’t coalesce until the final pages. Despite being hard to pin down at first, this Bay Area-set novel is a page-turner about people who behave one way toward their spouse, think another way, present themselves to the community in a third way, and ultimately show their true colors in a fourth way.
After three TV seasons and 10 previous books, the “Roswell” saga arrives at its country-spanning conclusion, “Turnabout” (November 2003). Andy Mangels’ and Michael A. Martin’s novel, the wrap-up of the many threads laid down in “Pursuit,” finds different groups of heroes fighting little battles and doing little missions until it all comes together in a huge showdown. I enjoyed reading it, and the authors serve all the main characters well.
In Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s co-authored debut “Relic” (1995), Agent Pendergast is already established in his career. The same goes for Lt. D’Agosta and other staples of their quarter century of novels. What’s particularly neat about “Old Bones” (August, hardcover) is we see the very first case of FBI Agent Corrie Swanson, whom we first met as a punkish Kansas teen in “Still Life with Crows” (2003).
One of the paradoxes of Philip K. Dick’s career is that he wrote his most robust and mature observations about human behavior at the sputtering start of his career, with none of those nine books from 1950-60 being immediately published. Then he tried his hand at pulp SF and got good at it. But writing about the human condition in 1950s California under American societal morals of the time was arguably his natural calling.