Philip K. Dick is one of those authors who I often enjoy reading for his peculiar ideas, cool technologies, bizarre plots, and neurotic characters. But every time I read one of his stories, I need a break from him — there’s a feeling of frantic paranoia permeating his work that makes me feel like I just need to chill out for a while. If you’ve seen the movie The Adjustment Bureau, which was based on one of his stories, you’ll know what I mean. In that story, the main character discovers that the reality he thought he knew was totally wrong. Instead, there is something big going on behind the scenes and his life is being manipulated by The Unseen People Who Are Really In Charge (TUPWARIC).
This theme is common in PKD’s stories, and The Simulacra is another example. The government of the United States of Europe and America, which appears to be a matriarchy, is a sham — the President is really a simulacrum. When TUPWARIC gives the contract for building the next simulacrum to a different simulacrum company, and Hermann Goering is fetched from the past with a time-travel device, problems ensue and the USEA government is in danger of being taken over by fascists.
Quirky characters include the First Lady who never seems to age, the telekinetic piano player who thinks that a commercial has given him phobic body odor and that he’s becoming invisible, the psychotherapist who has lost his job because a pharmaceutical cartel has managed to have the practice of psychotherapy banned, a couple of brothers who work for simulacra companies and are fighting over an ex-wife, and a couple of guys in a jug band who want to play for the First Lady. Then there’s the reclusive group of Neanderthals, descendents of radiation-exposed humans, who live in Northern California and seem to be waiting for something important to happen…
The Simulacra juggles a huge set of characters and several subplots which at first seem unrelated but which Dick successfully brings together into a coherent whole by the end of the novel, which is not necessarily a guarantee with PKD. The whole thing is chaotic, zany, creative, funny, and contains Dick’s usual undercurrent of frenzied paranoia. With so much weird stuff going on, I thought that a plot disaster was imminent, but Dick pulls it off. The Simulacra ends at the climax, though, and a sequel would probably have been well-received.
I listened to Brilliance Audio’s version of The Simulacra, which was read by “Golden Voice” and “Voice of the Century” Dick Hill. Mr. Hill, who is always superb, handled all of those characters and that madcap plot with ease. And you should hear him play a jug.