The Crack in Space: Fun, but not up to par with the best PKD

science fiction audiobook reviews Philip K. Dick The Crack in Spacescience fiction audiobook reviews Philip K. Dick The Crack in SpaceThe Crack in Space by Philip K. Dick

In Philip K. Dick’s The Crack in Space (1966), American technology and civilization has advanced so far that citizens can easily take a spaceship to make daily visits to an orbiting satellite whorehouse, personal Jifi-scuttlers are used to warp space/time so that people can quickly travel from home to work in a distant city, and overpopulation is such a public concern that millions of dispossessed Americans have chosen to be put in cryogenic storage until a habitable planet is discovered.

Yet, America has not advanced so far in other respects. It’s 2080, racism is still rampant, and Jim Briskin is hoping to be elected as the first African-American President. He needs to convince both the “Caucs” and the “Cols” (oh, what horrible nicknames!) that he’s the best man for the job. This isn’t always easy to do for a principled man who isn’t willing to abandon his conservative ideals just to get the endorsement of the powerful mutant who controls the satellite broadcasts. It gets even harder when his white campaign manager defects to the other side and Briskin is now the target of assassination attempts.

But when a repairman discovers an alternate universe in his client’s broken Jifi-Scuttler, Jim Briskin sees a way that he can win the election — by promising to send all the frozen people to inhabit the alternate Earth. Sure enough, in pure PKD style, the Americans quickly and unthinkingly embrace Briskin’s crazy idea and off they go, heading for disaster!

The Crack in Space is related to one of my favorite PKD short stories: “Prominent Author,” in which we’re introduced to the Jifi-scuttler. Dick’s stories are always bizarrely entertaining. They’re usually fast-paced and full of weird people with weird ideas doing weird things. In The Crack in Space, which contains a more straight-forward plot than many of his novels, we have a famous organ transplant doctor who’s divorcing his wife (an “abort-consultant”) while hiding his mistress in a parallel universe. Where is Dr. Sands getting all the organs for his transplants? Then there’s George Walt, the man with two bodies (but only one head) who runs the orbiting whorehouse and wants to get rid of Jim Briskin because Briskin wants to shut him down. As usual, all the characters talk on vid phones, drink synthetic coffee, avoid the automatic reporters, get divorced, and worry about overpopulation.

The Crack in Space is fun, but not up to par with the best PKD offers. I don’t know if Dick really imagined that in 2080 American race relations wouldn’t have progressed beyond 1960s levels, but this really makes the novel feel more dated than his other works do. Also, the way that Americans dealt with the parallel universe was so simplistic and naïve that this was hard to swallow, but yet it’s so typical of PKD. Fans, who are used to his frenzied plots and other little writing quirks, are likely to just chuckle and let it go. In the end, though, there’s a beautiful ironic message. As Americans are dealing with race warfare, PKD shows us that, really, we’re all human after all.

Brilliance Audio, who is gradually producing all of Philip K. Dick’s novels in audio format, did another wonderful job with this one. Eric Dawe performs it superbly.

The Crack in Space — (1966) Publisher: When a repairman accidentally discovers a parallel universe, everyone sees it as an opportunity, whether as a way to ease Earth’s overcrowding, set up a personal kingdom, or hide an inconvenient mistress. But when a civilization is found already living there, the people on this side of the crack are sent scrambling to discover their motives. Will these parallel humans come in peace, or are they just as corrupt and ill-intentioned as the people of this world?

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. “Also, the way that Americans dealt with the parallel universe was so simplistic and naïve that this was hard to swallow”
    I always find it odd in PKD books the way people tend to take weird sci-fi happenings in their stride and pretty much every character is capable of deep philisophical discussions. But then I like reading about characters like that so I don’t let a little thing like lack of realism spoil my enjoyment!

    I haven’t read this one or any new PKD in a while. Think I need to delve back in!

  2. I feel the same way, Kieran. If we know it’s what to expect from PKD, we excuse it. New readers may not be so forgiving. Personally, I enjoy the bizarreness, or else I wouldn’t read him.

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