Thursday, June 20, 2013

Broken Bubble by Philip K Dick

In my head and on paper, I should love PKD. For some reason, though, I haven't been able to get into him. I don't know why-- he's everywhere. Not only are there umpteen movie adaptations of his works, but so much of today's SF and speculative fiction begs borrows and steals from his work.

But then I came across The Broken Bubble, one of his posthumously published "non-SF" novels of the 50's, and that's how I discovered the strength, wit, and verve of the 20th Century's most admired and known "unknown" authors.
A recent review I read about Hope Larson's comics adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time noted that the book has not fared well in its 50 years. The review argued that every SF midgrade and YA novel since has borrowed on its structure and tropes, such that new readers who encounter it today will see its story and characters as worn, maybe even cliched.

I thought this applies to Philip K Dick quite a bit as well. Science fiction today lives in the worn down, multi-tiered, technologically Kafka-esque apartment complex of narratives PKD created. In many ways, his futurism speaks more to the concerns of this century than those of his own. So of course he now reads like every SF author, good to mediocre, published in the last thirty years, from William Gibson to Neal Stephenson to comics series like Who is Jake Ellis? and movies like Looper.

But if you strip away what we think of when we think of Philip K Dick, is there still a novelist worth reading? Hell yeah. The Broken Bubble has its surreal moments (there's a remote-controlled refurbished Nazi car used to harass wealthy teens by-- well, I don't know if I can continue this description and still make any sense...), but at its heart it concerns the beating heart of all of PKD's fiction-- broken characters, searching for a sense of place and redemption.

Jim Briskin is a San Francisco DJ whose ex-wife works at the radio station with him. Art and Rachael are two teen newlyweds trying to figure out where their life is going. They all get mixed up together trying to figure out their place in the shifting cultural landscape of the 50's. Here, plumbing the depths of these characters and their interactions, PKD's punchy writing, wry humor, and uncanny ability to make dialog and descriptions fresh shine through in a riveting way.

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