Sunday, 29 March 2009

The World Jones Made

The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick: A Review
Like John Buchan's "The Gap in the Curtain", this book is about foreknowledge of the future. However, Dick approaches this idea in quite a different manner, and for quite different purposes. Unlike Buchan, Dick has chosen to eschew a realist setting (in a fictional "present") in favour of a setting in a future society, which is slowly coming to terms with the aftermath of a nuclear war.
Dick develops his background with great care. Piece by piece, as the narrative unfolds, he portrays a society in which reconstruction is starting, trying to repair the devastation caused by war. Pivotal to the reconstruction programme is a new political philosophy, "Relativism", which is a direct reaction against the dogmatic thinking which led up to the war:
"The spectacle of demagogues sending millions of people to their deaths, wrecking the world with holy wars and bloodshed, tearing down nations to put over some religious or political  'truth' is obscene.. I suppose Relativism is cynical. It surely isn't idealistic. It's the result of being killed and injured and made poor and working hard for empty words. It's the outgrowth of generations of shouting slogans, marching with spades and guns, singing patriotic hymns, chanting, and saluting flags. "
The doctrine of relativism is that there is no absolute truth. People can believe in anything that they want, but they cannot peddle it to others as absolute truth. If they do, they are asked to prove what they are saying or shut up. And if evidence is not forthcoming, they are placed in the work camps, as reconstruction crews.
Dick carefully builds up a picture of a society in which such a doctrine holds sway. Against this background, he introduces us to Jones.
The war has brought about many mutations, both physical and mental, who are permitted to survive as such freaks of nature have often done, on the fringe of society, in carnival sideshows. It is here that Jones appears as a fortune teller. Jones is a mutant who can actually see his own future. As he explains, later in the story:
"To me, this is the past. Right now, here in this building, this is a year ago. It's not so much like I can see the future; it's more that I've got one foot stuck in the past. I can't shake it loose. I'm retarded; I'm reliving one year of my life forever. Over and over again. Everything I do, everything I say, hear, experience, I have to grind over twice... You think I've some kind of emancipation. Don't kid yourself - the less you know about the future, the better off you are. You've got a nice illusion; you think you have free will."
It is clear that Dick has chosen the futurist setting of his story to illustrate the clash of opposites arising between a relativist theory which holds that there can be no absolute truth, and. Jones, who predicts what is going to happen, and claims that he is telling the absolute truth.
Dick develops this conflict with great ingenuity as the story unfolds. But it should not be thought that it is simply a book about ideas, like the didactic novels of the later Wells. In my opinion, the book manages to succeed well on its own merits as an entertaining and unusual story.

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