I recently read a story by Philip K. Dick, a scifi author from the Golden Age. Buck Rogers it ain’t!
Dick explored philosophical, social, and political themes, with stories dominated by monopolistic corporations, alternative universes, authoritarian governments, and altered states of consciousness. wikipedia
I read every word, all the way through, but “fun” is not the right description. Mild spoilers follow.
The book comes from 1964. I think the right approach today is to view the story as the alternative history of a Mars colony in 1950s. Mars is barely habitable in shirt sleeves, with sparse plants and animals and a nearly-extinct race of Martians. Colonists use mimeograph machines and secretaries take dictation with a pad and pencil. Fascinating robotic teachers indoctrinate children in proper earthly culture.
Less adorably, one of the main characters makes remarks that are homophobic, misogynistic, and racist. He’s the villain, and casually cruel to everyone, but this can be off-putting. He uses the n-word to describe Martians who apparently look very much like African Saan people (another term for these people, Bushmen, is sometimes considered derogatory, depending on the usage.) There’s a brief suggestion that Martians and Humans were both seeded by some alien intelligence and so are related.
Despite the Martian setting, the story is about schizophrenia, which has become much more common on Mars than it is in real-life today. That term and “autism” are both used, and Dick presents his scifi interpretation of them – those effected experience multiple times in the past and future, which prevents them from relating to “normal” people. The visions these people experience (and we get to see through their eyes) are gruesome and apocalyptic, even for people with mundane lives. Dick gives a striking feel for such disconnects with repeated scenes, sometimes out of sequence, from different characters in the scene. The story shows sympathy for it’s characters, even the unsavory ones.
While it’s not an action-packed tale, terrible things happen in this story. There is guilt and shame from the father of an autistic boy. There is infidelity. There is suicide, and given Dick’s own dark life experiences, I wonder if this comes from something more real than imagination. That will keep me thinking about the book for a long time.
I know a lot has changed in American culture since Dick wrote his story. I suspect a lot has changed in our understanding of schizophrenia and autism too, but I have no idea how readers familiar with these conditions will feel about the story. Please leave a comment and let me know.
The book, republished in 2012, is popular on Amazon and has 4 stars, where several reviewers find it’s look at mental illness to be kindly and sympathetic.
BTW, you know Dick’s work. The movies Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report are based on his writings.