After re-reading The Man in the High Castle a few months back, I realized there was an early Dick science fiction novel I hadn’t read. (I have not girded my loins enough to read the VALIS books yet.)
The only excuse I can give you for giving you a spoiler filled Raw Feed post on this novel instead of a proper review is that I’m tired and busy.
Raw Feed: The World Jones Made, Philip K. Dick, 1956.
It’s about many things, and I liked it more than expected.
It also turns out to be one of Dick’s police stories with protagonist Cussick and his political instructor, Kaminski, in the SeePol being the policemen as well as the head of the organization, Pearson. (Besides SeePol –secret police, another of Dick’s odd portmanteau neologisms, we also have the “weapons-police”, presumably uniformed.) Their allegiance to the world government established after a nuclear war and its governing philosophy, Relativism, varies after the disruptions of Jones, a precognitive.
Until the end, Cussick is dedicated to Relativism. Kaminski wishes it were more authoritarian though. It shouldn’t allow things like the sex and drugs club he, Tyler Fleming — his short-term girlfriend and a research worker at SeePol, Cussick, and Cussick’s wife Nina visit. (This, incidentally, is the first Dick novel to have drugs.)
Eventually Kaminski defects to the rebels lead by Jones. Pearson is a true believer until the very end.
It is in Kaminski we see a theme prevalent in Dick stories with policeman – characters sworn to uphold a law whose legitimacy and validity they no longer believe in.
But Cussick is like Pearson. At novel’s end, when he is re-united with his ex-wife Nina, they discuss where to flee to in the wake of Jones upcoming purge (not something he truly intends, the info is fed to Nina to bait Cussick into killing Jones), Nina tells Cussick that
“There’s no such thing as legal, any more. Don’t you know that. It’s what we want – it’s what the organization orders.”
Cussick compares being a policeman to being a tax collector, dog catcher, and dentist – necessary jobs nobody respects.
Relativism is the ultimate liberal-libertarian version of non-judgementalism. No activity or speech is forbidden, says Cussick – unless it makes claims that can be objectively disproven. (Actually, as Kaminski points out, they, like actual policemen, let a lot of violations go to concentrate on more important violations.) Cussick believes this is a good idea, that World War Three occurred because of ideologies that made false claims.
Nina, from a rich family involved in the media, espouses a more 1950s liberal view: “Goodness, Truth, and Beauty”. As Cussick tells Nina, Relativism is a cynical philosophy. Nina knows the SeePol police aren’t about Truth and Beauty, and she wonders if they’re Good. Nina can’t accept the existence of “fanatical absolutist cults”.
Since Dick makes Jones a rather Hitlerian figure (he’s compared to Hitler explicitly by the SeePol who make an unsuccessful assassination attempt on him in Germany, this novel has a minor theme about the difficulty liberal societies have in preserving themselves from illiberal ideologies.
On the surface, there are three very 1950s sf themes. Besides nuclear war and mutants, there are psychic powers. Specifically, Jones is a mutant with clairvoyant powers. He can successfully predict anything that happens in the next year — if he gains knowledge of it within the next year.
Dick does his usual skillful playing with readers’ sympathies. As in his “The Golden Man”, we start out feeling sorry for poor persecuted Jones. Even when his Patriots United group takes off and he’s regarded as a prophet, we think the government is being unreasonable in looking askance at his calls for massive space exploration and burning the “drifters” (spacefaring protozoans) that fall to Earth. Jones predicts the drifters and what will be learned of them and the discovery of aliens.
It’s a little unclear why the government is so upset with Jones’ followers killing the drifters that come to Earth given that they are not intelligent. However, at the end of the novel when he takes over, Jones wants to use, like a Russian revolutionary, the secret police for his own ends. He won’t be getting rid of SeePol’s labor camps either. However, this statement of his intentions may be misinformation that Jones feeds Nina so, disgusted, she will quit his organization and warn Cussick so he will assassinate Jones.
Jones manipulates the timing of his death to be right before Earth’s spacefleet returns to Earth after aliens have barricaded it into a small area containing our solar system and six neighboring ones. As Cussick notes, it may be Jones’ policies provoked the alien barricade but “cause precedes effect” in the public mind, and the public will blame it on Cussick and not Jones’ actions.
Another Nazi like element (not really commented on but inherent, whether intended or not, is Rafferty mutating 14 of his own children in his wife’s womb to create a version of humanity that can live on Venus. Jones threatening Pearson with Dr. Manion with conducting an experiment on him to see the effects of an alien parasite is a more clear Nazi doctor parallel.
This being Dick, there is a troubled marriage. Nina, in an act of rebellion against Relativism as embodied by Cussick, commits minor theft and secretly joins Jones’ organization and rises to a high level. The night they all go to that club, Cussick, who knows of Nina’s petty thefts, comments that women seem to him to be “totally passive receptors”, that women pick up the social zeitgeist by “a sort of psychic osmosis”. This seems credible to me given, especially in an age of social media, the mobs of women in our current Year Zero crowd. Women are more religious, and Jones’ movement is quasi-religious with a real prophet.
Like The Man in the High Castle, this is a novel (though not as successful) in how to live in the tomb world. We don’t know how things work out after Jones’ death on Earth. We do know that Cussick and Nina and the mutants, in the final chapter, are making a new life on Venus. Births are celebrated, and this plays into the theme of fecundity when paired with the revelation of what the drifters are when they complete their matings.