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.