Our Friends from Frolix 8: Furious action, thought-provoking discourse

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsOur Friends from Frolix 8 by Philip K. DickOur Friends from Frolix 8 by Philip K. Dick

Unlike Philip K. Dick’s previous two novels, 1969’s Ubik and 1970’s A Maze of Death, his 27th full-length science fiction book, Our Friends From Frolix 8, was not released in a hardcover first edition. Rather, it first saw the light of day, later in 1970, as a 60-cent Ace paperback (no. 64400, for all you collectors out there). And whereas those two previous novels had showcased the author giving his favorite theme — the chimeralike nature of reality — a pretty thorough workout, Our Friends From Frolix 8 impresses the reader as a more “normal” piece of science fiction… although glints of Dickian strangeness do, of course, crop up.

Of all the Dick novels that I have read, Our Friends From Frolix 8 seems most reminiscent of 1964’s The Simulacra. Both books feature the downfall of entrenched, duplicitous governments and sport an extremely large cast of characters (56 named characters in the earlier book, 48 in the latter). In Our Friends From Frolix 8, the Earth of the 22nd century is ruled by an oligarchy of two ruling groups: the New Men, bubble-headed mutants with tremendous IQs, and the Unusuals, who command various telepathic, telekinetic and precognitive abilities. The overwhelming ruck of Earth’s billions, the Old Men, are precluded from any sort of government/civil service employment and must make do with their menial-labor positions. In the book, we meet Nick Appleton (“the name a character in a book would have,” he is told), a “tire regroover,” who is shaken out of his mundane existence when his young son “fails” a rigged civil service exam. Swiftly becoming politicized, he drinks illegal alcohol, buys anti-government tracts from a feisty 16-year-old tomboy, and is soon embroiled in the thick of things in this Big Brotherish dystopian world. A good thing, then, that Thors Provoni, a space wanderer who had left Earth a decade earlier to seek help for mankind’s lot, is about to return… with a “90-ton, gelatinous mass of protoplasmic slime”; the telepathic, titular friend from Frolix 8.

Swiftly moving and filled with humorous touches, simply written yet complexly plotted, alternating furious action sequences with thought-provoking discourse, Our Friends From Frolix 8 is yet another delightful Dick confection. It finds the author dealing with some of his pet topics, such as divorce (Appleton leaves his wife during the course of the book; Council Chairman Willis Gram plots to kill his), Carl Jung (A Maze of Death was replete with Jungian subtext; he is referred to by Provoni as “the greatest of the human thinkers”), drug use (drugbars are ubiquitous in the novel, and every citizen seems to possess the knowledge of a Walgreens pharmacist) and 20th century fighter planes (this pet subject of Dick’s had received special attention in previous works such as 1967’s The Ganymede Takeover and Ubik). Nick is an especially well-drawn everyman-type character, and the reader’s sympathy for him never wavers, not even when he strikes his wife, Kleo (named after Dick’s second wife out of five). No dummy, he recognizes the music of Victor Herbert and has a Yeats poem, “The Song of the Happy Shepherd,” committed to memory. Charley, the young tomboy “gutter rat” with whom Nick has a rather icky love affair, is also memorable; in one sweet scene, the two make love in the one acre left of Central Park, and she spins around in circles, arms out, when Nick tells her that he loves her.

The book, however, good as it is, has its share of problems. As in The Simulacra, several plot threads and characters simply peter out, never to be mentioned again. Worse, the author seems to be guilty here of a good deal of inconsistencies over the course of his story. For example, there is the matter of dates. We are told that the New Men have been in power for 50 years, since 2085. So the book takes place in 2135, right? But wait… Provoni later tells us that he was 18 years old in 2103, and now he’s 105. So it’s 2190, right? But hold on… his 10-year-old spaceship is a model from 2198. So it’s 2208, right? See what I mean? Elsewhere, Dick mentions that there are 10,000 New Men and Unusuals on Earth; later, that figure changes to 10 million! He mentions that the army commands 64 different types of missiles; that figure is later said to be 70! He says that the government maintains detention camps in southwest Utah; later, they are said to be in southeast Utah! Provoni lands on Earth 1 1/2 hours earlier than expected; later, he is said to have landed eight hours earlier than expected! And perhaps most surprising, history buff Dick mentions that the name “Ashurbanipal” was Egyptian, whereas it is fairly common knowledge that the dude was Assyrian! (Granted, that last COULD be a bit of ignorance on Provoni’s part.) Anyway, you get my point. Dick and his editors surely would have benefited from another rereading of their manuscript before publication. But despite all these many gaffs (very uncommon for this author, to my experience), Our Friends From Frolix 8 is still as fun as can be. And really, how can you dislike any book with a 90-ton mass of telepathic slime?


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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