Later promise shows in Dick's early work,
This review is from: Vulcan's Hammer (Vintage) (Paperback)
Vulcan 3 is the ultimate computer, set up to make all policy decisions for the entire world. It is maintained by the Unity organisation headed by Jason Dill, and his subordinate directors, responsible for the continental regions.
The world is at peace, but a rebel group, The Healers, led by Father Fields, is unhappy with Vulcan 3's dictatorial status and vows to destroy the machine. The novel begins with the murder of a Unity agent, Arthur Pitt, in his car, and grows progressively wieirder, as can be expected from most any Dick novel. This is a fairly early work, and although superficially it sits well with the mainstream SF of its time, it still displays many of the ideas and themes that dominated Dick's later work.
At one point, Jason Dill has Father Fields' daughter Marion removed from school and sequestered. Marion is a mature and perceptive child but it is unclear whether she is voicing her own views or has been indoctrinated by the dogmatic teachings of her father. The question is ironic, since the schools Unity are running, under the direction of Vulcan 3, do not encourage dissent or thinking which is contrary to government policy.
One assumes that Dick is using Vulcan 3 as a metaphor for the government machine, a dispassionate entity which is controlling the population, rather than the other way around. This idea is later taken to surreal lengths in `The Simulacra' in which the leader of the Western World is, in fact, a simulacrum, a machine to provide the face of government which others are manipulating behind the scenes.
Refreshingly, Dick doesn't follow many of his contemporaries into portraying an issue of oppressed populace versus evil dictator. There are shades of grey here. The world for once is a peaceful place under the machine's rule, and the violence in the text comes ironically from those who call themselves The Healers. Freedom here, therefore, comes at the price of peace.
Stylistically, it's a futuristic and fast-paced noir thriller, laced with paranoia and suspicion which packs a surprisingly large amount into an all too brief number of pages.