Friday, 15 February 2013

Our Friends from Frolix-8

Philip K. Dick Our Friends from Frolix-8 (1969)

To briefly forestall commentary in order to make an entirely unoriginal observation, memory is a funny thing. I discovered Philip K. Dick - I'm a little embarrassed to admit - thanks to Throbbing Gristle. As an early eighties teenager following noisy atonal music with all the fervour of the newly converted, there was at least one year during which I took all my cultural cues from Genesis P. Orridge and his chums. With hindsight, I'm actually sort of surprised I don't have a huge collection of Abba records purchased on the grounds of Chris Carter being a fan, but to get to the point, Re/Search magazine interviewed the madcap industrial funsters, and that interview was embellished with a quote from A Scanner Darkly presumably on the grounds that it mentioned heroin and was therefore edgy and dangerous. I hadn't before heard of Philip K. Dick, but if it was good enough for Genesis P. Orridge, then it was good enough for me, and so that Christmas Santa came down our chimney with The Golden Man, The Simulacra, and The Man Who Japed.

Soon after, I noticed assorted Philip K. Dick novels on sale in WH Smiths, mostly the Granada editions with those lovely Jim Burns covers and titles in Roslyn font; and I bought every last one - although due to immense flakiness it actually took decades for me to get around to reading all of them. Still I can vividly remember the excitement of bringing a new one back from the shops in Leamington Spa when I went to stay with my grandparents in Kenilworth; except my grandfather died in 1979, and my grandmother moved into a tiny flat soon after, and my edition of Our Friends from Frolix-8 - definitely one of those purchased in Leamington Spa and drooled over in Kenilworth - wasn't published until 1984, so it's an impossible memory, something that could not have happened; which as you will probably appreciate is all very Dickian, or Dickesque, or whatever peculiar custom adjective you prefer.

Sadly, this anecdote is probably more interesting than Our Friends from Frolix-8 which does all the right things in the right order, but somehow fails to add up to much. The details are fine - notably the theme of aid coming to a divided Earth from the depths of space, a variation on The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and precursor to VALIS - but all I can now remember are endless droning conversations with little of consequence by way of punctuation, and what may as well have been a very short story dragged out to novel length. It feels oddly like Dr. Futurity or one of those other early Philip K. Dick novels that didn't quite survive the process of being written. That said, given that this author was pretty much incapable of dull prose, it's readable, and certainly not without value, but somehow just doesn't do what it should.

Finally and briefly going back to that other matter, I recall buying the Coronet Books edition of Dick's The Turning Wheel and Other Stories which stood out for its bizarre use of Comic Sans or some similar font on the cover, the Happy Shopper of the typeface world; and I definitely recall buying shitloads of those Coronet Charlie Brown paperbacks - titled in the same font - when I went to stay with my grandparents back in the late seventies, so clearly I've somehow conflated the two. The lesson of which is, I suppose, never to underestimate the power of Comic Sans.

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