Monday, 22 April 2013

Galactic Pot-Healer

Philip K. Dick Galactic Pot-Healer (1968)

Like one of those rare concoctions thrown together from whatever you've found left in the fridge and which turns out to be delicious, this reads like an assemblage of material that Dick had laying around all crudely mashed together to form, against all probability, something wonderful. A few years earlier he'd written a children's book called Nick and the Glimmung - which was entertaining but you can see why it failed to find a publisher, being sort of a literary equivalent to the clown at a children's party undergoing a sudden and spectacular acid freak-out. Galactic Pot-Healer recycles a fair bit of Nick and the Glimmung, throwing in Dick's brief flirtation with pottery - which I'm almost certain I read about somewhere although I can't seem to find the reference at the moment - along with certain vaguely Gnostic ideas that had begun to emerge from his fiction in more overt form as precursor to novels like VALIS and The Divine Invasion.

Of all his novels, Galactic Pot-Healer seems unusually focussed considering all the layered symbolism of its conclusion, benefiting from following a single character for the duration of the narrative. This single character is Joe Fernwright who heals pots, restoring them to original form by means that owe more to dream imagery than science. Joe, one of Dick's archetypal blue collar heroes, is recruited by an oddly well-spoken Lovecraftian entity called the Glimmung who hopes to raise an ancient cathedral from the ocean depths of a distant planet. The conclusion - with the ocean representing a world in decay, the customary twin embodiments of good and evil, and the allusions to a mad God who has forsaken his creation - is about as clear as it ever was in any of Dick's later works, but it's nonetheless engrossing trying to figure it all out, and not least thanks to a well-developed sense of humour.

Dick doesn't exactly tell jokes, but his wit is as dry as you could possible require, and his sense of the absurd really makes this novel. Even during the climatic battle of the last chapters, the Godlike being at the heart of the struggle still communicates with polite notes sent from the ocean bed in bottles and signed cordially - Glimmung. Of all the Dick novels I've read, this one reminds me a little of Clifford D. Simak - or at least those elements which aren't conspicuously Dickian remind me of Simak in terms of pace and the wonderful reportage of the completely ridiculous as just something that happens from time to time. Not so ambitious as some, but still one of his best.

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