Vintage Sci-Fi Month – Part 1 – The Simulacra

The first book I read as part of Vintage Science Fiction Month was The Simulacra, a novelette by Philip K. Dick.

Considering it was only a short book it took me until about half-way through it until I felt like I was “getting into it”. I don’t suppose I had really read what it was going to be about just prior to reading it, other than it shared a title with a book featured in The Matrix. So, it felt like Dick had dropped me into his concocted and weird Orwellian-like future, along with a variety of invented alien technologies. But, it had an element of time-travel, and some other elements I found intriguing mixed in with it so I persevered.

Set in the middle of the twenty-first century, after World War Three [likely a nuclear one], The Simulacra is the story of several protagonists within the United States of Europe and America (USEA), formed by the merger of (West) Germany and the United States, where the whole government is a fraud and the President (der Alte) is a “simulacrum”… – Wikipedia

There is the First Lady who at some point has been replaced by a young actress, or rather numerous ones over the years, yet everyone, through a form of mind control, don’t realise it. History books are banned for the general population.

There is quite a lot of mind control and the use of ‘telekinesis’, seemingly developed from alien creatures or technologies found on Mars, an idea that makes me think of the idea that some of our own technologies were developed from the crashed craft at Roswell and developed at Area 51 (a story used in the movie Independence Day). Some of this mind-control is used in advertising – with small devices that can physically fly into homes, or “Popoola” that roam the streets outside businesses – which give one cause to ponder how our advertising works, such as through our TVs and other screens – it’s all manipulation of a kind, there to sell us something we don’t actually want.

Dick like to go into some detail about some of the technologies and devices he thinks up, such as his “Ampek F-a2” recording device, the autonomous vehicles and the “Autobahn” they operate on, and the Lessinger equipment and effect employed in time travel. I like this attention to detail as it tends to frustrate me when authors, films or TV shows gloss over the details and reply on you simply believing what they say or portray is possible.

Dick has quite a mix of German in this novel and future and with his time travelling suggests some answers to questions such as “what would happen if we could go back in time to WWII and abduct a key Nazi figure?” In this instance he answers it with ‘Not much’ – the “ripple of alteration” being only slight; a handy thing to help avoid serious Time Travel Paradoxi.

I recognise in this novel various elements from films developed from worlds created by Dick, such as Minority Report and Blade Runner, even Blade Runner 2049, released over 30 years after Dick’s time, with the concept of being in love with an imaginary person.

As mentioned, I struggled with this book at the start, and rather than it having an overall gripping plot, and one that you get to see neatly developed and resolved, it rather appeared to me a means for Dick to deploy together a variety of imaginary pseudo-scientific and imaginary futures spun out from the time of Nazi Germany under one title. This is similar in a way to how ‘Rex Gordon’ spins out his imaginary future from Orwell’s 1984 in his book Utopia 239. Ultimately I think Simulacra would be worth me reading again as I’m sure the beginning would make more sense having already absorbed all of the stuff above; kind of like after I watched The Matrix for the first time; that was one of the few movies I felt like I needed to immediately watch again and has since been one of my favourites.

Next up, I read The Worlds of Eclos.

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