Sunday, 4 December 2016
The Man Who Japed - Philip K Dick
One of three early novels collected here, The Man Who Japed was written in 1956. It is set in the second decade of the 22nd century but it looks and sounds a lot like 1956. What Dick is doing is satirising the homely, apple-pie culture of the American Fifties and preserving its worst aspects - the sanctimonious self-righteousness, the fetish of the upwardly mobile, and above all the hysterical dread of infiltration by the unclean outsider.
Armageddon devastated the Western World in the 1970s. A hero arose from the ashes, Major Streiter. Unfortunately Streiter was a South African major at a time when the Boer state was not exactly known for its liberality. The society that Streiter created in his own image was called Morec - Moral Reclamation. Provided they remained moral, a family could aspire to rise over the generations, winning leases on one-bedroomed flats ever closer to the omphalos, the statue and spire honouring the New World Patriarch in Newer York.
Allen Purcell is one such high-flyer. In his late twenties, he has his own agency providing 'packages' for the state broadcaster Telemedia (TM). One morning Purcell is offered the ultimate promotion - director of TM. There's just one problem: earlier in the week Purcell spent the night in Hokkaido, drinking wine with two outsiders of his acquaintance; on the way home he passed through the park and 'japed' the statue of Major Streiter. That is to say he vandalised it. Big time. His unauthorised absence has been noted. A couple of days later he is seen with an attractive young woman who is not his wife.
The young woman is in fact the sister of Dr Malparto, a key figure in the flip side of Morec, the side polite society doesn't like to talk about - the Resort, where Morec sequesters the ne'er-do-wells, the artistic, the antisocial, the morally unreclaimable. The Malparto siblings kidnap Allen Purcell, try to psychoanalyse him, but Allen escapes, takes the job at TM, and ends up committing the ultimate jape.
Like so much of Dick's work this is satire but not as we generally think of it. Allen Purcell is by no means the archetypal Star Wars freedom fighter. His weapon of choice is not a laser gun but mockery. Yet he is a rebel, he has a cause, and in the end he turns his back on the easy solution. He is, unusually for a Dick hero, quite likeable. I liked him anyway.