Lies, Inc: PKD’s most inaccessible novel?

Philip K. Dick The Adjustment Bureau The Adjustment Team audiobook reviewscience fiction book reviews Philip K. Dick Lies, IncLies, Inc by Philip K. Dick

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.

Lies, Inc — (1984) Publisher: When catastrophic overpopulation threatens Earth, one company offers to teleport citizens to Whale’s Mouth, an allegedly pristine new home for happy and industrious émigrés. But there is one problem: the teleportation machine works in only one direction. When Rachmael ben Applebaum discovers that some of the footage of happy settlers may have been faked, he sets out on an eighteen-year journey to see if anyone wants to come back. Lies, Inc. is one of Philip K. Dick’s final novels, which he expanded from his novella The Unteleported Man shortly before his death. In its examination of totalitarianism, reality, and hallucination, it encompasses everything that Dick’s fans love about his oeuvre.

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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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13 comments

  1. Your description of an acid trip plopped into the middle of the novel is great — I feel like I know exactly what to expect if I were to ever read this!

  2. AAAAGHHH!!! .. oh sorry.. I thought that red cover design was bleeding off my screen.. but I’m just having a bad trip. ;)

  3. Flashback, Greg?

  4. Kat-Yeah,, they say some of that stuff never leaves your system. ;)

  5. But you know what? You made me kinda want to read this just to see where the LSD kicks-in. ;)

  6. sandy ferber /

    All copies of this book should come with two Excedrin….

  7. Jason /

    I picked this book up (Lies Inc version) from the local library on CD. As luck would have it, the 1st 2 discs were pretty scratched up. Still, I’ve really been liking his works, so I decided to trudge through it. The scratches clear up as the LSD scene comes in, so I spent the next 2 discs very confused. Now that I’m toward the end, I’m piecing it back together, though I doubt I’ll attempt it again.

    • I haven’t read all of PKD’s novels, but of those I have read, this is the worst, which is really disappointing because it seemed so promising at the beginning.

  8. Richard K. /

    Book started OK, but it fell apart.
    Instead of riding in his ship he suddenly opts for the teleporter, and for reasons that were not in the plot. Then he gets drugged and the whole thing just falls about. In a nutshell, the reader has to hold all of the second half of the book in separate pieces until the end… and then guess at how to put the pieces together. And they don’t fit.
    BTW, whatever happened to Abba the rat?
    There is too much excellent, good, and passable science fiction in the world to waste your time with this book.

  9. Yep, I’ve found it to be very confusing. I got to your review because before page 100 I’m totally lost. I’ve read close to a dozen PKD novels and I’d agree that this one is the least accessible, although there’s a few where I’ve been confused.

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