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The Cosmic Puppets Paperback – November 16, 1998
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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'The greatest American novelist of the second half of the 20th century' Norman Spinrad 'A great philosophical writer' Independent 'The most brilliant sci-fi mind on any planet' Rolling Stone
From the Publisher
'The most brilliant Sci-Fi mind on any planet' - Rolling Stone
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But it has a genuinely eerie tone & intensity to it, as if the contents of his troubled & brilliant psyche are unmediated by the more rational structure of science-fiction. The imagery verges on the Bosch-like in places, and the reader can feel the overwhelming power of the unconscious ready to erupt in full force at any moment. PKD's fascination with Jung is clear to see in these pages. No wonder he stepped back a bit & took a more controlled approach to such material in his prolific science-fiction work!
Yes -- it's short, its basic themes are more roughly hewn than in his later novels, and there's a definite sense of a writer still not entirely sure of himself. But there's also a glimpse of something so powerful that it almost blinds the conscious, logical eye, leaving an afterimage that lingers for a long while. Most of his work provides much food for thought; this slim work goes directly to the core of the Collective Unconscious. Most highly recommended!
In the story he presents only one or two human characters, Ted Barton and William Christopher, neither very convincingly. Most of the story is revealed from behind smoke and mirrors. The two gods, Good and Evil, have decided to play a game using the town of Millgate Virginia, to see who could maintain their version of the streets, parks and buildings. There is, of course, no such town outside of Dick's imagination.
Did it make any difference whether the real, older town of Millgate or the fake town won the game? Besides being entertainment for the gods, was there any point to the transformation or to returning the town to its original shape and form? Did this story matter to anyone reading it? Yes, it mattered to establish the real identity of two of its characters, but the reader couldn't readily relate to either of them. The whole story could have reminded one of ghost busters, searching an old house for a ghost who wasn't there.
_The Bible_, I Corinthians, 13: 12-13, Revised Standard Version
Philip K. Dick's _The Cosmic Puppets_ (1957) was originally a one-shot novella in _Satellite_ under the tiitle, "A Glass of Darkness" back in 1956. The magazine title refers to the verse in the Bible quoted above. I will not elaborate more on that topic. The novel is an early novel, and it is the most fantastic and least science fictional of all of Dick's novels that I am familiar with (and I have read a great many). It relies more on magic and myth than on science to explain the multitude of mysteries surrounding Millgate, Virginia.
The initial set-up reads like an anticipation of a _Twilight Zone_ episode, though where Dick eventually takes the reader is on a more wild and wooly excursion than most _TZ_ scripts. Ted Barton takes his reluctant wife with him to visit the small Virginia town of his boyhood. But when he arrives, he finds that it has all totally changed. None of the buildings are the same, the streetnames have totally changed, the old park is gone, and none of the people are the same. Nobody remembers him. A check of the courthouse records reveals that Ted Barton died of scarlet fever when he was nine years old.
Ted drops his wife off at a neighboring town, but returns to investigate. He soon learns of other anomalies in the town. There is a "barrier" that ordinarily keeps insiders in and outsiders out-- but which was lifted for some reason to allow Ted to enter the town. Who lifted it and why? There are ghostly "wanderers" who pass through buildings and people at odd times of the day. The townspeople accept them as "normal"-- but who are they, and what do they want? There is an elaborate game played by the children of the village with golems, insects, and animals. There seems to be a greater and greater struggle for power in this game, and the stakes are becoming more and more deadly. What is the real purpose of the game?
Ted begins to realize that while he is nominally powerless in many ways, he is something of a "wild card," capable of changing the game. His sharp memories of the Old Town lead to its resurfacing and finally to a climactic battle of Zoroastrian gods, with the universe at stake.
_The Cosmic Puppets_ (probably first written around 1953) is fairly minor fare compared with novels like _Solar Lottery_ (1955), _The World Jones Made_ (1956), _The Man in the High Castle_ (1962), _The Game Players of Titan_ (1963), _The Martian Time-Slip_ (1964), or others you could name. It's not as complex or subtle. But it is passable entertainment, crisply presented. And you can see the seeds of some of Dick's later fictional ideas.
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