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The usual faults, the usual strengths.
on 29 September 2009
Readers of PKD who come to his books via the film adaptations of his work must often be disapponted. Technically, he's one of the worst authors ever to have been printed, with his clumsy, jerry built futures and colander plots.
'OFF8' is typical of his second tier work. The next stage of human evolution has been reached, and the 10'000 or so 'New Men' rule over the 6 billion unevolved in a ruthless '1984' style surveillance dictatorship. The only way to escape poverty is to pass Government Civil Service entrance tests, which are in fact an elaborate con - no-one ever passes them. Ranged against the Government are the Undermen, an underground organisation who are relying on the return of Thors Provoni, who left Earth decades earlier to find help from extraterrestrial races.
But where to start? It's never explained how 10000 people could keep 6 billion in subugation, or more importantly why they should want to: The apparatus of government seems completely devoted to putting millions of people in concentration camps for trivial reasons, but the motivation for doing so is never made clear: Same with the Civil Service tests. If you already have the stick, why bother inventing a false carrot?
More minor cavils: The undermen are supposedly kept in poverty, but all own flying cars, elaborately fashionable clothes and high-tech apartments. Alcohol is illegal, but bootlegging is so well developed that beer has brand names and sophisticated packaging. Anyone caught drunk is supposedly immiediately sent to a camp for ten years, but the undermen are constantly knocking a few back and then going outdoors. One can get into the equivalent of the White House to speak to the President simply by going up to the front door and asking nicely. For an evil fascist dictatorship, it's surprisngly easy going.
So why is Dick so highly regarded in the SF field? Simply because every one of his books, including
'OFF8' has at least one or two ideas that are so strange and profound that they stay in your head for years afterwards: No other writer of popular culture has presented philosophical notions with anything near the depth and resonance of Dick. So while it's perfectly understandable that some of the the critics posting here have found him wanting, I would recommend you stick with him.