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.