Saturday, August 20, 2011

100 Books 43 - Philip K. Dick's CLANS OF THE ALPHANE MOON

There aren't a lot of books of Philip K. Dick's that I not only haven't read, but haven't read multiple times. What's left as new for me is the stuff that is generally rated as "not masterworks" -- his hackier stuff, his less visionary, his less polished. And Clans of the Alphane Moon pretty much fits into this category, except in that it definitely stands apart as perhaps one of Dick's most uncomfortably personal books.

It's all Emmanuel Carrere's fault that I was interested in this one at all - Carrere drew on it somewhat heavily for his odd biography of Dick, I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick (which I do recommend for any fan of Dick's; it's as much a companion volume to Michel Houellebecq's literary mash-note to H.P. Lovecraft, H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life as it is a biography of the strange man himself). Having read it now, I can absolutely see why he did, for all of the major PKD tropes are there: a boob-hero that makes Vonnegut's avatars of same seem positively Titans of capability, a wife that is not so much shrewish as actively bent on the boob's utter destruction, a paranoid police state in need of constant propagandizing to function, human-like androids (simulacra, in Dick's favorite term), aliens who with strange powers and possibly unknowable motives who are nonetheless mostly integrated into human populations, employers with too much power and too little ethical sense.

Which is to say that in some ways, Clans of the Alphane Moon reads like a perfect pastiche of Philip K. Dick that just happens to have been written by the man himself. But this isn't what makes it an uncomfortably personal read.

The titular Alphane Moon was originally the site of an Earth colony in the form of a giant mental hospital, one that was left to its own devices when Earth and the Alphane system went to war. The hospital went to pot, the patients escaped, and in the 25 years since the demise of the institution and the beginning of our story, those patients have gone on to found their own society; each clan is a category of mental disorder, mostly different flavors of schizophrenia. Pares are paranoid schizophrenics, Hebes are hebephrenic (disorganized) schizophrenia, Manes are manic, Deps are depressives, etc. As we watch Dick describe this uncontrolled laboratory experiment gone amok, it's kind of like watching him struggling to diagnose himself, like watching him try out each flavor to see if it suits him -- all while spinning out a psychodrama of a marriage gone to pieces, its battles ultimately literalized in the boob and his wife firing laser guns at each other on this distant moon. It's a sad and creepy read; one I'd say is for PKD fans only.

And even they might sigh and wish they hadn't bothered. Might.

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