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The Ganymede Takeover Hardcover – December 1, 1988
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From Publishers Weekly
First published, in paperback, in 1967, this is one of two novels Dick wrote in collaboration. Stylistically, it is typical Dick, but it lacks the gravity and conviction of most of his other novels. It's set in the 21st century when the Earth has been conquered by a race of alien, telepathic, wormlike creatures, one of whom, Mekkis, is attracted to the theories of the psychologist Rudolph Balkani. Although ostensibly a "wik" or worm-kisser (i.e., one who freely serves the Ganymedians), Balkani is a complex man whose allegiances and motives are not easily discerned; indeed, Mekkis's attraction to his ideas leads to the worms' undoing. Other characters include the musicologist Joan Hiashi, whom Balkani unsuccessfully pursues, and Percy X, the black revolutionary who represents the ony overt resistance to the worms. Characterizations are unusually weak for Dick, and the ultimate instrument of the alien downfall--Dr. Balkani's "hell-machine," which distorts reality--cannot summon up in the reader the ontological confusion and terror that drives Dick's best work.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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No kidding, in science fiction terms, that's prehistoric. However, when it comes to "The Ganymede Takeover", let me remind you that this is Philip K. Dick, not to mention Ray Nelson, another wild man. This particular alien invasion story covers politics and professional jealousy, race relations, battles fought by illusions that can kill, the philosophy of non-attachment, and one or two other little surprises.
Don't get me wrong, it is indeed the story of an alien invasion. In this case, as the title implies, the invasion has successfully placed the Ganymedeans, a race of telepathic worms, in control of the Earth. As you might suspect, some humans curry favor with the conquerors and some resist. What you might not expect, especially from a telepathic race that periodically joins into a single mind, is that the Ganymedeans don't get along with each other any too well, either.
And neither do the humans, of course. Dick and Nelson were not the first to notice that sf could make some interesting comments on racial tensions by including alien characters; they may, however, have been the first to set an alien invasion in the American South. On top of that, someone on the Earth of this story seems to have revoked civil rights, so the black resistance movement up the Tennessee hills finds itself fighting the Ganymedeans and the local good-old-boy ruler at the same time. It's anyone's guess which enemy they hate more. Messy.
Things get messier. The Ganymedeans send civil administrators to take over from the military commanders, and the worm who gets Tennessee sees a way to turn the black resistance struggle to his advantage. Unfortunately, the worm he's replacing has his own plans for the resistance leader - wants to skin him and hang him on his trophy wall, if you can believe it. Political, social, and psychological machinations ensue.
Messier yet. An international television personality comes to Tennessee, supposedly to record folk songs for her show, but really to betray the resistance to the worms. A UN psychiatrist (yes, UN psychiatrist - don't argue with me, I didn't write this) follows her there for reasons of his own. And then someone digs up a cache of old UN psychic weapons, guaranteed to drive the entire planet crazy, and the resistance gets hold of them. At which point everyone freaks out, because if you were a resistance movement and your back was to the wall, wouldn't you be tempted to destroy the world rather than lose?
Throw in a couple of human telepaths, a psychotic psychologist who practices something called Oblivion Therapy, and a servant of the worms loudly screeching that the apocalypse is coming. Bring to a slow boil and stir vigorously. Then sit back and watch the big final battle - under the influence of that psychic weapon, it involves murderous Boy and Girl Scouts, kosher butchers, inch-high lesbians and a host of others. What else would you get in a stew like that?
Actually, that battle scene is a lot of fun to read. We're talking about two of the most imaginative minds in sf, so "The Ganymede Takeover" makes a pretty good adventure story. Don't be fooled; that's not what it really is. For openers, did I say that cockamamie assortment of weirdos is the final battle? Not even close - the real final battle is a whole lot stranger. And no, I wouldn't dream of spoiling the surprise for you, so stop asking.
Unfortunately, that doesn't leave me an enormous amount to talk about. Most PKD stories provide acres of ideas and characters and details to get lost in; "The Ganymede Takeover" is pretty simple by comparison. That may be the influence of Ray Nelson, who is a sort of more disciplined version of Philip K. Dick. (That's not an insult, by the way - a disciplined PKD would be a very good idea, and I can only wish that Ray Nelson had more books out.) Whatever the reason, this novel is, indeed, an alien invasion story with a twist or two, or four, and can easily be read as such.
At the close, on the other hand, the most generous and virtuous character looks at his former enemy, then at his colleagues, and acknowledges to himself that with the war over, he may not know just who to trust anymore. It's a little ironic that "The Ganymede Takeover" ends that way. As I said, this is an alien invasion story asking a question that most such stories leave out - what if the invaders are no better than the invaded, and vice versa? At the end, it asks a different question that most such stories leave out - what happens after the occupation is thrown off and the forces of right and righteousness victorious? - but the story is over. A whole new novel could begin right there. It's a pity that neither PKD nor Ray Nelson wrote it.
And that's the end of Philip K. Dick's first of only two collaborations - a pretty minor-key affair, though enjoyable. Maybe he was too idiosyncratic to write a truly great collaborative novel. Or maybe he just wanted to have a good time for a change - this is one of a very few PKD novels with no dissolving marriage in it, and all the violence takes place offstage, rare for a war story. Maybe that's why he and Nelson set this one in rural Tennessee, whereas most of his other novels take place in California or on other planets; could be he simply wanted a vacation from his usual concerns. How about we just read it for fun and let it go at that.
Benshlomo says, Everyone needs to get away from time to time.
If you're on a mission to read the entire Phillip K. Dick catalog I'd put this a long way down on the list, there are better PKD books out there to be read.
PS: some of this is a bit un-PC, but sophisticated readers will have no problem with the racial stereotypes.