Monday, 24 July 2000

Philip K. Dick: Lies Inc. (1964, published 1984)

Edition: Granada
Review number: 547

Lies Inc. has a rather complicated history. Originally a magazine story (The Unteleported Man), an expansion was written for novel publication but not used. Then major revisions were considered by Dick late in his life, but not completed, and the original expansion was discovered in his papers after his death (minus a couple of pages). This version was then published in 1984, with the missing passages completed by John Sladek.

In the form taken by the novel today, it exemplifies Dick's greatest strengths and weaknesses. The quality of the ideas is extremely high, and any of the major themes introduced at the beginning (an off-planet colonisation by matter transmission which seems to be a fake hiding something sinister; psychedelic dream inducing machines feeding lies to the population) could provide the basis for novels of their own. Think of the different possibilities for what might motivate the first deception - Dick mentions concentration camps, labour camps and alien subversion as possibilities - and that will give an idea of how rich these ideas could be. (Ideas common to many of Dick's novels come in here - how can we tell who is human and who isn't, how can we trust what we think we see.)

However, after the middle of the novel, the coherence of Lies Inc dissipates, as confusing drug induced visions replace any idea of the plot. Much of this is quite interesting (especially the passages in which characters are given a book - a copy of the novel - in which they read misleading accounts of what will happen to them next, which undermines the reader's confidence in the narrative), but it proves too easy to be self-indulgent.

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