by Philip K. Dick
P hilip K. Dick has recently enjoyed a renewed respect in literature, with his smart, vicious brand of science fiction growing in both popular and critical renown since his death in 1982. Reading like a cross between Isaac Asimov and Hunter S. Thompson, Dick's work is always fascinating, always difficult, and always worth reading. Of course, there are also exceptions to every rule. Case in point: Lies, Inc.
Lies, Inc. has been published as a novel, but it's based off of a Dick novella, The Unteleported Man. Dick was revising/lengthening the novella at the time of his death, and now--in what Vintage practically proclaims as a public service, but what feels more like a cash cow--the novel-length Lies, Inc., with "gaps in the narrative É filled in by another writer," is being published for the first time in the U.S.
With all that in mind, it's hard to look at Lies, Inc. alongside Dick's other work--it feels illegitimate and forced. It's not that Lies, Inc. isn't good--in many parts, it is, and astonishingly so--but the book isn't cohesive, and it certainly isn't finished.
The story kicks off with one of Dick's trademark gripping premises. Disgraced businessman Rachmael ben Applebaum lives in a claustrophobic police state, with the only reprieve from the overcrowded Earth being a far-off planet, Whale's Mouth. Whale's Mouth is apparently a planetary utopia, with untouched land, clean cities, and plenty of space. Plus, one-way tickets there are dirt cheap, and Earth's inhabitants are emigrating like lemmings off of a cliff. And then ben Applebaum discovers that all the PR footage sent from Whale's Mouth is completely fake.
And there, somewhere around page 85, the gripping premise ends. Passages and plot turns twist into vague and contradictory developments, with individual aspects feeling patently Dick, but the novel as a whole like a rough draft. (Vintage's editors aren't kind enough to alert the reader what "gaps" were filled in, but nearly all of it past this point feels unfinished, so maybe it's a moot point.) Ultimately, the aftertaste of Lies, Inc. is bitter--thanks largely to the unavoidable, unanswerable question of how much better it could have been had Dick himself been able to finish it. ERIK HENRIKSEN