In the early 21st century, Earth has become overcrowded and has begun to look toward space as a potential new home. Only one habitable planet has been found — Whale’s Mouth — and it’s said to be a paradise. Rachmael ben Applebaum’s company has developed a spaceship that will take settlers there, but the trip takes 18 years. Just as business is about to begin, it’s undercut by Trails of Hoffman, Inc., a company who has developed a new teleporting technology that will get settlers to Whale’s Mouth in only 15 minutes. The only catch is that it’s a one-way trip — once you leave, you can’t come back. Ben Applebaum, whose company has been financially devastated by this new technology, discovers that the videos of happy settlers have been faked and thinks there’s something nefarious going on at Whale’s Mouth. After all, Trails of Hoffman is run by Germans, and their eugenic ideas have not been forgotten. Ben Applebaum also believes that the United Nations, also led by Germans, might be in league with Trails of Hoffman. With the help of a company called Lies, Inc., ben Applebaum sets out on the 36-year round-trip to investigate and inform the world about what’s happening in Whale’s Mouth.
Lies, Inc. is the most inaccessible PKD work I’ve ever read. It actually starts off well — I loved the premise and couldn’t wait to find out what was going on at Whale’s Mouth. (Except that I still have no idea what was up with the rat in ben Applebaum’s head.) But just as ben Applebaum sets out, things get really weird. Too weird. In the middle of the novel, ben Applebaum gets hit by an LSD-coated dart and most of the rest of the story is one big time-warped acid trip for him and for the reader. There’s talk about paraworlds, hypnagogic experiences, paranoia, bad psychotherapy, and the illusion of reality. None of this is new for a PKD story, but this time the reader has no idea where or when the characters are. The plot jumps around in time and space and is so disorienting that the reader doesn’t know what’s going on. I think perhaps that if I read it a few more times, I could make more sense of it, but I really don’t want to.
Suddenly at nearly the end of Lies, Inc., things get back on track. At that point, I said to myself, “This feels like someone dropped a huge acid sequence into the middle of a novella.” After a few minutes of investigation on the internet, I found an afterword by PKD’s literary executor, Paul Williams, explaining that that’s exactly what happened. Lies, Inc. is an expansion of Philip K. Dick’s novella The Unteleported Man. The huge awful chunk in the middle (you can tell exactly where it begins and ends) is an addition to the novel that was originally rejected (with very good reason) by Don Wollheim at Ace. It gets complicated after that, but basically it was added back in after Dick’s death and patched up a bit by SF author John Sladek. The result is that a really cool novella was turned into something quite unreadable. I can recommend it only to PKD completists who want to know how weird it can get. To others, I suggest reading The Unteleported Man instead.
I listened to Lies, Inc. on audio. Brilliance Audio has just produced several old PKD works, and I’m excited about that! This one was read by Luke Daniels, who is fast becoming one of my favorite readers. His narration actually made the acid trip bearable — it’s probably the only reason I didn’t quit Lies, Inc.