Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Maze's Entrance


I finished the first five chapters of Maze of Death yesterday and am enjoying the book. I think I either read it a really long time ago, or this is my first read, since it doesn't seem at all familiar to me. Maze was written in 1968, the same year PKD wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and I think the two books are quite similar, right down to the poop sheets and the kipple.

In Maze, Dick creates some amazing tension immediately by creating a science fictional world with a religious element - more specifically, a reality where matters of faith are 'technological,' where prayers are transmitted not on faith but by technological means (by connecting your pineal gland to the ship's transmitter). The disjunctive nature of this reality, where opposites like religion and technology overlap, works immediately to confound the expectations of the science fiction reader. Personally, it makes me suspicious. Dick later revisited this teleological juxtaposition brilliantly in Divine Invasion.

There have already been some very astute comments on the book in the last post. I agree with Joshua about the value of work, more specifically, doing something satisfying and creative as a vocation, rather than just working as a bureaucrat somewhere. I also think Nick made a good comment about each of the characters using a particular problem-solving mindset related to their career. This certainly seems to be a component in many mysteries (and of course Maze is most often compared to a kind of space age Agatha Christie murder mystery) and I remember this trope on repeats of 'Fantasy Island.'

Here are a few other things I noticed:

Interesting literary allusion to the Lord of the Rings in chapter one: Ben appears to be watching a 3-dimensional cinematic adaptation. Anyone know the books well enough to tell us if 'unsaying' is significant to Gandalf's character or the story in general? Here's a link to the passage quoted from The Two Towers. I think this allusion is relevant, but perhaps Dick just picked up the book closest as hand.

Ubikcan, in the comments of the last post, noted that the theological overtones of the book appeared relatively simple. Could be, I honestly don't know know where Dick is going with this, but I associate the term 'Destroyer of Forms' with Dick's novel The Cosmic Puppets. Rickman, in his intro to In His Own Words, writes:

"...Dick is fundamentally a moralistic writer, with a strong belief in Good and Evil literally battling for men's souls, battling on the shifting, untrustworthy fields of an ever shifting "reality." On the one hand, generally dominant, is Evil -- entropy, the Form Destroyer, the gubble god, the tomb world[...]"(26)

We'll simply have to wait and see where Dick takes us, but this reminds me of the bi-theistic cosmology Dick borrowed from Zoroastrianism, and used in novels throughout his career. I'll have more to say on this if it develops as a core theme of the book.

Did the repeated bits of dialog throw anybody else for a loop? For instance the bit about Color Theory prior to 1800, or the bit about the bugs that squeak at night. It's not the same conversation being heard by two different people, because it happens twice. Near the beginning of Chapter 3 the group discussion starts with the topic of cucumbers on Betelguese 4. Then the same conversation is repeated after Morley (the last colonist) arrives, this time at the beginning of Chapter 4. I'm hooked!

It was interesting to see the reference to, "Specktowsky's theory of God entering history and starting time into motion again" - as this is a central preoccupation in the Exegesis, from what I gather. I think it's worth noting that this idea appeared at least once in Dick's fiction years before 2-3-74.

Finally, from a character perspective, Morley is a fascinating protagonist, and Dick does some very economic characterization, during which we learn that, while likable and sympathetic, Morely has some issues. If I were teaching this book in a class I'd point my students to this quote:

"What have we in fact accumulated in eight years of work here? he asked himself. Nothing of any worth. And in addition, he could not get it all into the noser. Much would have to be thrown away or left for someone else to use. Better to destroy it, he thought gloomily. The idea of someone else gaining use of his possessions had to be sternly rejected. I'll burn every last bit of it, he told himself. Including all the nebbish clothes that Mary's collected in her jaybird manner. Selecting whatever's bright and gaudy" (pg 14).

Like Deckard in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Morley has a way to go, but the beautiful bit about Morely loving his mean old tomcat just the way it was, shows us he's capable of moral transformation - though in Dick's books these evolutions are often overwhelming, stirred by grave misfortune, and tend to last only as long as the protagonist remains in mortal danger. On a personal note, I have a very cranky cat, whom I love very much, so I figure I'm pretty well set.

Let's put the following quote in the file, so that when these 'writers' come along and proclaim Dick couldn't string a sentence together we have exhibit A:

"The Walker said, "Once years ago you had a tomcat whom you loved. He was greedy and mendacious and yet you loved him. One day he died from bone fragments lodged in his stomach, the result of filching the remains of a dead Martian root-buzzard from a garbage pail. You were sad, but you still loved him. His essence, his appetite--all that made him up had driven him to his death. You would have paid a great deal to have him alive again, but you would have wanted him as he was, greedy and pushy, himself as you loved him, unchanged. Do you understand?" (17).

What do you think about the first 5 chapters? (NO SPOILERS PLEASE) Keep those fantastic observations and discussion questions in the comments section.

9 comments:

Pantomime Horse said...

Haven't had a chance to start re-reading yet but gonna toss in a bit of comment now anyway.

I was recently reminded of the prayer transmission in MAZE when I saw an ad on TV for some cell phone or such gadget (I'm very ignorant about cell phones, PDAs, Blackberries, iPods;so ignorant I mostly don't know what they do but think they are all small and wireless data transceivers). Whatever the gadget was its selling point in the ad was using it to text messages to God. I don't recall if this was on a religious channel but it was a real ad, not a spoof.

BTW, wasn't "Faith Of Our Fathers about a year before MAZE and DADOES? God routinely used TV to communicate with people in that story. And "Little Black Box" had to pre-date DADOES.

"disjunctive nature of this reality, where opposites like religion and technology overlap". Are you saying they are opposites within the genre or is that a general statement? Most of my life I haven't felt they were opposites, per se, and certainly not since 1969. OTOH, I think most of the major religious belief systems in the US and a scientific
belief system don't integrate easily and people tend to compartmentalize the two if they have both. I do realize scientific and technological aren't interchangeable and the previous sentences may not even be relevant to what you are saying -- I think you're referring to tension between scientific beliefs and beliefs in interventionist deities plus a strong SF convention of not having dieties intervene. A convention that's stronger in the Mystery field.

Erhm, MAZE isn't compared to Agatha Christie mysteries in general. It's specifically compared to Ten Little Niggers which is much better known as Ten Little Indians or And Then There Were None.


Regarding religious element, I think its widely overlooked how much of his SF has religious elements from 1952 to 1982. Not saying there's a consistency of the particular elements, themes, sources or treatments though I think there are a lot of common themes and elements.

There was a lot of Mystery genre element crossover in his writing also though that's not very remarkable for SF or Mainstream.

"The theology in this novel is not an analog of any known religion. It stems from an attempt made by William Sarill and myself to develop an abstract, logical system of religious thought, based on the arbitrary postulate that God exists." has never been convincing to me. The theology has always seemed primarily derived from Trinitarian Christianity with some esoteric and non-Christian influences liberally infused with some of Phil's "common" themes.

I thought psychedelic experiences were more influential for about a decade than I did after reading Phil's descriptions and comments about his experiences. Statements which raise minor questions about what he thought he had taken and what he had taken.

I'll be very interested if anyone can explain the 16 chapter titles or descriptions from Contents. I've never been able to relate each to the corresponding chapter meaningfully or decide whether there is such a correspondence for all of them.

thefatherthing said...

I always struggle with the opening chapters of PKD novels, for the most part its painful until i get to the point (close to halfway) when it all comes together. The big aha! moment that makes it worth it.

I wonder how many people experience this or maybe i'm just thick and a bit slow.

Ragle Gumm said...

Pantomime Horse:

You make some good points. I was referring to faith and technology as opposites within the genre. Even the characters in Maze seem to get this. Check out this quote:

"Seth Morley said, "I've never met an atheist before." In actuality he had met one, but it had been years ago. "It seems very strange in this era, when we have proof of the Deity's existence. I can understand there being widespread atheism in previous eras, when religion was based on faith in things unseen . . . but now it's not unseen, as Specktowsky indicated." (80).

Yes, the chapter headings are strange.

thefatherthing: I can see what you mean, but as I read so many student papers for my job, I absolutely devour any reading I can do for pleasure.

Walker Morrow said...

Regarding Bi-theism in PKD's books: didn't PKD sort of move away from that kind of Zoroastrian bi-theism later on in his career?

The only reason that I bring this up is that the question occurs to me: if he did move away from that form of bi-theism, did he do it before he wrote Scanner Darkly and Maze of Death? Could his references in Maze of Death have been some kind of a throwback to earlier beliefs?

Just a thought - I could be woefully uninformed.

Ragle Gumm said...

Walker,
Here is what PKD told Gregg Rickman on bitheism in an interview in the early 1980s:

"...although I researched Zoroastrianism simply to write a novel, I found that once I had studied a dualistic, bitheistic religion, it was very hard for me to go back to monotheism after that. I think once I got the hang of bitheism it was hard to drop it after I finished reading it. So it influenced me spiritually, theologically, religiously, whatever the word is, the amount of research that I did..." (116).

Walker Morrow said...

Ohh... - ok. Was that from Rickman's 'Philip K. Dick: In His Own Words'?

I seem to remember reading that - I had remembered reading about PKD talking about bi-theism, anyway - but I obviously must have confused it with something else.

Thanks for digging that up!

majorhoople said...

Just a few comments here:

Maze of Death looks carefully crafted. Up until Scanner Darkly I think a serious editor could have helped most(not all)of his novels.

Doesn't Deckard reflect on "identity betrayal in the workplace" somewhere late in DADOES? And the main character's frustration in creating an original work in Galactic Pot-Healer (he's long on technique but short on imagination, a reversal of what I used to think of PKD, but that's changing) may reflect his frustration with his mainstream novels not being taken seriously.

The repeated dialog here reminds me of the repeated scene with variations in Martian Time-Slip, but the effect (for me) is different here.

I got some ideas about the chapter titles when I finished the book, but I'll hold off on that for now....

ct-scan said...

This is my first read through Maze, and just finally found some time yesterday to knock out the first 5 chapters...which was a nice smooth/quick read. I love the book so far!

I find it interesting that Seth is constantly lying to everyone. He certainly fits the "flawed protagonist" type of character. I also am wondering if he is also lying to himself. Was the Walker real? Did he have a cat? As I said, this is my first time reading, so at this point, much is still a mystery to me.

And speaking of flaws, just about every character has one...of course this is pointed out by Wade. Tallchief seemed to be the most level headed, and of course, he's killed.

I can't wait to read more tonight!

Johan said...

Hello! Big PKD fan here, read almost all novels and the majority of the shorts.

A Maze of Death is one of the best PKD books I know of.

I just wondered if you figured what the table of content in A Maze of Death means?