The World Jones Made is the sixth novel authored by Philip K. Dick that I have read. It is an early work by PKD, written in 1954 and published in 1956. I read the 1993 Vintage Books edition (in which there were two typos). It is a short novel, 199 pages total, but it took me two weeks to read it. Not, really, because I am a bad reader – but because it just was not very interesting and/or gripping.
Usually, I can read a PKD novel in about two days. I usually stay up far too late clutching the book and burning my eyes out. Not so with this novel. It does contain all of the usual PKD items such as characters’ worlds falling apart, political turmoil, weird “science,” and shocking moralities. Nevertheless, it does lack the fun and potency that I have found in PKD’s other works. Even a bad PKD novel is worth reading, though. I will only grant this novel two stars, but will still tell people that this is worth reading. And that statement, though seemingly contradictory, is why PKD remains a major author. His “bad” novels are still worth reading. There are not that many authors who can say the same.
So, the novel takes place in 2002, though that is not quite relevant. The story is a somewhat dystopian one because it does touch on the fall of governments and societal paradigms. FedGov is the international governing organization. They were formed after a major world war which saw the release of a multitude of nuclear weapons. Obviously, (this was written in 1954) Russia and China are hinted at as culprits. However Dick does suggest that there is a higher cause other than squabbling nations, viz. the dogmatism of non-relativism. Thus, the major thrust behind the governmental agenda of FedGov is: to promote and protect the now official paradigm of relativism.
Without lengthy diatribes or didactic harping, PKD forces the reader to consider a world in which the dominant ethical schema is relativism. Of course, PKD does not get involved in the picayune aspects of how this all works and he leaves the details up to the reader to puzzle out. This is good: it was a “challenge” for me because I am absolutely not a relativist whatsoever. But imagining relativism – not merely as a possible option – but as a norm for society was vaguely interesting. Sort of like a “flip” of things. I say that, but relativism has really caught on in the contemporary era under the guise of “freedom,” so I cannot say the “flip” is as opposite as it was for PKD in the 1950s.
In the most poignant scene in the book (chapters 9 & 10), the main characters go to a bar which presents forms of entertainment to which the characters react in a variety of ways. Some call it outright depravity and perversity, others recognize some aesthetic value, while others seem ambivalent and disinterested. On page 82, the main character (Cussick) asks (in a general rhetorical sense): “Did we go too far?” and ten pages later the same character calls the entertainment “depravity.”
Meanwhile, this same character is shown a manuscript to a text called The Moral Struggle in which the anti-FedGov leader’s plans and ideas are presented. Cussick’s job is working in Security for FedGov. His experiencing this sort of environment and being introduced to a variety of anti-FedGov items causes him to really evaluate the situation. Especially since he really struggles with the anti-FedGov opposition leader, Jones.
Jones is a “precog” and therefore is forced to take a position on free-will/determinism that also informs his position against relativism. How can be he a relativist when he can see the future and he is correct about what will happen? Further, how trustworthy is Jones? Everyone wants to know – and those he impresses with his foresight become loyal followers, moving beyond trusting to fanatical. He is a hero to many and is the invaluable key to the opposition to FedGov. The “precog” and mutant elements of the novel seem very much like the PKD ideas found in Minority Report.
One idea really struck me. In chapter 12 a character is explaining the efforts to colonize in space, off-planet. He says:
Because, in the final analysis, we don’t want to adapt to other planets: we want them to conform to us. Even if we found one second Earth it wouldn’t be enough.
I found that quote practically precog on the part of PKD because I read it in light of all the recent news and hullabaloo about finding “habitable planets like Earth” that has been in all of the NASA and Science journals and news services lately. Cp. Gliese
Overall, PKD is working a lot of tough concepts and sometimes the storyline gets lost. None of the characters are terribly likeable and the main character Cussick seems especially benign and flat. This really is not a great novel. But it does provide lots of food for thought outside of the covers of the book – so if you are a reader that just wants to play with ideas on your own, but need a little kickstart – this novel is good for you. It’s a worthy read: because reading any PKD is like getting kicked in the head. Other than that, if you do not read this novel, you probably are not missing out on anything amazing. And there are plenty of better PKD options.