Dr Bloodmoney  – ★★★1/2
Dr Bloodmoney is a wildly imaginative sci-fi book which is set in distant future after a nuclear disaster left the society with new adaptive technologies, shocking mutations, inverted priorities and the hatred for one person who is deemed responsible for bringing it all about: Dr Bluthgeld (Dr Bloodmoney), a deranged physicist who went into hiding. One person who knows his real identity and location is Bonny Keller, the beautiful wife of a successful school principal, and Stuart McConchie, an unfortunate salesman, may also be starting to guess correctly. Meanwhile, orbiting around Earth is the “voice of wisdom” – Walter Dangerfield, and previously marginalised and ridiculed disabled person Hoppy Harrington seems to see his fortunes turn with prospects to gain enviable influence in the community. Although this increasingly disturbing tale from Philip K. Dick is an unfocused one with a questionable ending, it is also an enjoyable literary ride into one of a kind “end-of-the-world” chaos filled with colourful characters and a through-provoking satire on the survival of a community in times of a crisis.
I can never stop being amazed at the sheer ease and confidence with which Philip K. Dick slides into his futuristic, psychedelic world and takes his readers along for a bumpy ride. In very few words, the author somehow manages to conjure up this rich and shockingly believable world and all because he always hits the ground running. Every detail of his world becomes convincing because everything is already there, whether scattered chaotically or placed meticulously, for us discover and marvel at. From Dr Bloodmoney’s first paragraph, we are already on this morning-busy Shattuck Avenue, introduced to a number of the main characters: psychiatrist Dr Stockstill, salesman Stuart McConchie, owner of TV Sales and Service Jim Fergesson, new disabled TV repairman Hoppy Harrington, and of course, Bruno Bluthgeld, the paranoid physicist who so disastrously miscalculated the event of 1972 which precipitated the nuclear fallout (the “E” Day). It is this catastrophe of 1972 which still looms over the lives of the characters, such as the successful couple George and Bonny Keller who run a school. This is also the time when humans have already attempted to send their kind to Mars to live – the Dangerfields, and one of them, Walter Dangerfield, hosts readings of classic books from his satellite orbiting Earth.
The “crux” of the story is rather slow in coming in Dr Bloodmoney, but Dick is a smooth operator in the sci-fi genre and one can hardly notices anything very extraordinary in the plot until one is already in the very midst of all things crazy and unbelievable. It is at this point that the reader is already in the grasp of Dick’s ideas, outrageous and unrelenting, maddening and refreshingly interesting. It is by slowly building up the “craziness” tolerance in a reader by Dick, that we are soon digesting stuff on page 223 that we will not be even thinking about reading on page 5. The focus of the book becomes the barely-perceivable satire on celebrity-worshipping, consumerism and the mentality of a group confronting a crisis. As the author says in the Afterword: the book is about “human nature and the power [it] wields…the abuses that stem from it”. The pre-war and after-war mentalities and environment become clearly demarcated in the story, and the difference is felt by every character. Businesses change to suit new demands, for example, animal trappers flourish, and liquor and cigarettes start to cost extraordinary sums. While some people struggle to survive, others are making millions out of everyone’s tragedy. Dick wants to showcase the type of madness in a crisis that only humans are capable of, and, in the post-apocalyptic world, social roles also reverse – those who were once at the top find themselves at the very bottom, and marginalised people like Hoppy find themselves in lucrative positions because of their special and useful skills. Even increasingly weak and isolated Dangerfield, a man orbiting Earth in a satellite, becomes a tragic satirised symbol standing for the irrational attachment of the populace to their pride and superiority.
Other elements driving this book forward are the characters who are, for the most part, ordinary or marginalised people caught in extraordinary situations. Most of the characters want their “problems to be automated out of existence” [Dick, 1965: 257], and to escape to a better world. Their existential crisis and apathy are evident in the new and frightening reality: “there was really no such thing as being cured; the “illness” was life itself, and a constant growth…had to continue, or psychic stagnation would result” [Dick, 1965: 27], thinks one character, while another says to himself: “there is nothing…which is “outside” nature; that is a logical impossibility…there are no…abnormalities, except in the statistical sense” [Dick, 1965: 162]. Philip K. Dick has never been a great writer, but he knows how to present the psychology of each character and weaves his ideas effectively into the story, juggling each character with ease. It is this multiple-characters’ following, in addition to one peculiar dystopian world, that makes reading Philip K. Dick books like reading no other science-fiction.
The major downside of the book is that, although the futuristic world is interesting, the reader is forced to read chapters and chapters without any prominent “hook” or main interest/focus in sight. On that basis alone, Dr Bloodmoney suffers narratively, especially since it introduces so many characters and minor plot lines, remaining the least focused of all Philip K. Dick creations I have read so far. The ending also feels abrupt, with some major loose ends left hanging and other issues unresolved.
As is the case with so many other books by Philip K. Dick, Dr Bloodmoney is like a crazy dystopian dream you can never quite shake off and which leaves deep impression days after it was dreamt. I cannot say I recommend it for people previously unacquainted with the work of the author, but hard-core fans of Philip K. Dick are certainly bound to find a lot to like here.