Thursday, 27 September 2012

Clans of the Alphane Moon

Philip K. Dick Clans of the Alphane Moon (1964)
I've probably said it before, but regardless of the general quality of my bedtime reading material, each time I return to Philip K. Dick, I'm struck anew by the strength of his prose, the seemingly effortless wit and economy of language - nothing elaborate or showy unless absolutely justified by the narrative: knowing what to exclude being that which elevates the greatest artist above those who merely do well. More and more, now that I'm on what I suppose you'd call the second lap of his oeuvre, I'm beginning to appreciate the literary prowess that allowed for such a prolific output; also how limited is the popular appreciation of his writing, an enthusiasm which seems to have focused on just one aspect, somehow identifying Blade Runner as the quintessential expression of Philip K. Dick's fiction, which it absolutely was not.

Here, for example, we have Chuck Rittersdorf's aborted suicide attempt from Clans of the Alphane Moon, a scene which I doubt could be mistaken for the work of anyone other than Dick:

He found a smaller side window that opened; raising it, he listened to the buzz of a jet-hopper as it landed on a rooftop on the far side of the street. Its sound died. He waited, and then he climbed part way over the edge of the window, dangling above the traffic which moved below....

From inside him a voice, but not his own, said, 'Please tell me your name. Regardless of whether you intend or do not intend to jump.'

Turning, Chuck saw a yellow Ganymedean slime mould that had silently flowed under the door of the conapt and was gathering itself into the heap of small globes which comprised its physical being.

'I rent the conapt across the hall,' the slime mould declared.

Chuck said, 'Among Terrans it's customary to knock.'

'I possess nothing to knock with. In any case I wished to enter before you - departed.'

'It's my personal business whether I jump or not.'

' "No Terran is an island," ' the slime mould more or less quoted. 'Welcome to the building which we who rent apts here have humorously dubbed "Discarded Arms Conapts." There are others here whom you should meet. Several Terrans - like yourself - plus a number of non-Ts of assorted physiognomy, some of which will repel you, some which will no doubt attract. I had planned to borrow a cup of yoghurt culture from you, but in view of your preoccupation it seems an insulting request.'

Quite aside from Blade Runner inverting Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - entirely revising its replicants from humanity without morality to childlike innocents - is there a single moment in the film as sad, absurd, funny or human as the above, or are viewers simply seduced by the wow factor of that which is not as it seems rendered with better special effects than Logan's Run?

Yes, I would say. Yes they are, the thick fuckers.

That argument settled, I return briefly to Clans of the Alphane Moon, not even one of his best efforts but still pretty great. The novel follows Chuck Rittersdorf and his inordinately complicated divorce to a distant moon colonised by psychiatric patients through the agency of a popular television entertainer. It's a bit of a mess in places, possibly therefore accurately descriptive of Dick's own personal life at the time, and comes slightly adrift towards the end, but it still poops big ones over even the finest efforts of other authors.

That is all you need to know.

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