Publisher: Ace Books
First Ace Edition, 1960
Cover Art: Ed Valigursky
Plot Synopsis (of cover): It’s opening night at the Emery Theatre, and Karl Eckstrom is feeling sick to his stomach. It would be his first time playing the leading man in a musical production, his opportunity to break into the big time. The script is a complicated affair: Eckstrom’s character, Dr. Van Horn, is a physician shrunk down microscopic using experimental technology to give medical care to a colony of sentient bacteria (with a penchant for breaking out into vaudevillian song-and-dance numbers), all the while observed from above by the attending physicians. A fish out of water being played by a fish out of water, as Eckstrom saw it, and he had thought he could channel his nervousness into his portrayal. However, as a river to a garden hose, there existed far too much fear in the young man for it to be channeled into any useful function. In spite of this, and to his own disbelief, Eckstrom managed to work his way through the first act without incident. Going into the second act, Eckstrom felt emboldened with the confidence one enjoys after the first heady draught of success. The orchestra shifts and Eckstrom is faced with his first solo tune. But something is wrong—he is frozen! The orchestra sustains its note, the cue for Eckstrom to begin singing, but all that projects from his mouth is silent horror. Susurrations issue from both the audience and the crew backstage, wondering if their lead has forgotten his lines. The truth of it, however, known only to Eckstrom himself, is far more grisly. A combination of early nerves and the free Indian lunch buffet (of which he had enthusiastically taken part) had spent the earlier jaunty dance numbers working subtle treachery upon his bowels. Frozen in the spotlight, the reality of his situation trickles down his leg—Eckstrom, in view of thousands, has mightily and wetly shat himself.
Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: If you haven’t been keeping up with the pbbpb Twitter feed (@pbbpbt), you’re a terrible person who doesn’t know about the Dickathalon. This is the first of three classic Philip K. Dick books I’ll be doing in a row, because I love Dick. Dick makes me happy, though this particular Dick isn’t the greatest Dick I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong—it’s still great Dick, just a little less rock-solid as other Dicks I’ve enjoyed over the years (expect a lot more of this, kids). That said, PKD is my favorite science fiction writer for a reason. Even when he isn’t writing things of Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said caliber, he’s scribbling out love notes to my heart. This is one of his time travel stories, and I love how Dick plays with causality. At its best, this book is a temporal mystery, causing you to try to put the pieces together to form a coherent narrative in the face of fourth-dimensional weirdness. Dick is an expert when it comes to this kind of thing, and he does not fail here. Insofar as the setting is concerned, this isn’t Dick’s most Dystopian version of the future by far, though those who desire frightening political landscapes will enjoy it. Hell, anyone who enjoys things will enjoy it. You like things, don’t you?
Rating: 9.7 Racially Pure Eunuchs
Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:
- Of all of the movements in modern and classical architecture, why did the future have to go with an homage to the Wiffle Ball?
- Do his ears normally stick out like that, or did his master just pour some food into his bowl?
- When Iron Man called, did he ask for his yoga pants back?