Certainly none of this quartet risks turning off curious readers as do the previously published The Game-Players of Titan, We Can Build You, or the god-awful The World Jones Made. Among the novels still to come are several howlingly bad onesˇI'll single out Vulcan's Hammer, scheduled for spring 2003, for special opprobrium. When Dick potboiled, the results were usually characteristically odd, but not so Vulcan's Hammer. Throw any fifteen out-of-print SF novels from 1954 into a blenderˇmaybe you'd get Vulcan's Hammer, maybe something better.

When I was fifteen and sixteen I scoured Brooklyn's used-book stores and thrift shops for the hardest-to-find Dick titles, trying to complete a shelf of the thirty-seven-odd published works. This was 1979 and '80, before Dick published his last three novels and died, and before the posthumous publication of a dozen or so manuscripts. Locating Vulcan's Hammer was a notable triumph. I'll always remember dowsing it from a crate of moldering paperbacks that had been pushed beneath a shelf, dusting off its hideous cover (Dick's biographer Lawrence Sutin describes it as occupying a "deserved purgatory as half of a 1960 Ace Double"), and more or less pinching myself in disbelief: Vulcan's fucking Hammer! I'd found it! Of course, then I had to go and read the damn thing. The irony is that out-of-printness served the purposes of exploring the irv nicely: The easiest books to find and therefore the first I'd read were mostly masterpieces (Castle, Ubik, Stigmata, Androids), and they'd received many reprintings, whereas the dreck was always the rarest essence. Nowadays, Vintage's uniformly prestigious shelf of clean, authoritative editions disguises the natural hierarchy absolutely.

Would Dick have liked seeing Vulcan's Hammer rescued and seated like a homunculus among angels? Impossible to know. Late in life Dick saw peculiar virtues in his rottenest early works, partly because he tended to see all his previous novels and stories as precognitive glimpses of a religious revelation that overtook him in 1974ˇeverything seemed to prefigure his conversion. Dick was a strange and difficult man, if famously enchanting to meet, and as his posthumous career expanded through the '80sˇas the work became enshrined in academic and literary cultureˇit was hard not to speculate on how much the man's continued earthly existence might have screwed it up.

Of course, it's easy to oversimplify and imagine that Dick's career splits cleanly into the disreputable past and the reputable present. In fact, the possibility that Dick was of dire and awesome literary significance haunted his reputation, such as it was, in the old SF ghetto. The back cover of the dollar-fifty 1976 Ace reprint of Simulacra boasts: "The 21st Century. It was a shifting, shadowy and extraordinary world . . . and very dangerous. . . ." But it also bears a blurb that reads, "If there is such a thing as 'black science fiction,' Philip K. Dick is its Pirandello, its Becket and its Pinter. . . ." That's Becket [sic].

The opposite applies: Contemporary understanding of Dick's importance is still muddled by the appeal to mysticism his late work provides. There's some whiff of cultishness no number of Fredric Jameson citations can rub off.

 

 
     
     
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