A while back I posted about Disch's death and his last novel which features Philip K Dick. I may have even thanked him for including PKD, I don't remember - it's all a blur. Anyway, I just finished the book and, well, woah...
First let me ask a question: Why in the hell is Disch so pissed at PKD? Oh yeah, right...
While Disch was always effusive in his praise of PKD's work, this book is anything but flattering.
Here's a description of the plot:
"After a short episode in which Jesus (one of Tom's Versions) goes down to earth to watch Mel Gibson in The Passion of the Christ, we segue back in time to Minneapolis in 1939, where a mysterious stranger, who turns out to be Thomas Mann in regal exile, decides he would like to sleep with a young woman who (as we learn) should be giving birth to Thomas M. Disch in about nine months. In hell, meanwhile, Philip K. Dick—whose belief that Thomas M. Disch was a Communist agent has been well documented, his 1974 letter to the FBI denouncing Tom now being a matter of public record—has been reverted into the body of a 12-year-old kid, and is given the task of manifesting himself on Earth and assassinating Mann before he can become Tom's father. Beyond stirring up the god-stakes, this event will cause FDR sufficient grief that he will miss beginning to win World War II for the good guys, and The Man in the High Castle (1962), which Dick is sufficiently demented to think describes a genuine Hitler Wins world, will come true.
Dick is thwarted by our god [who is, coincidentally, Disch himself]."
You're probably thinking, 'oh right, it's sort of like that; it can't be quite that weird' - but it is. Only when Disch fills out this summary, the details are even more disturbing:
PKD rotting hell:
"Lord knows he looked like he'd been dead that long. Despite Joceyln's [this fictitious PKD is married to one Joycelin Shrager - a subject of Disch's poems and at least one short story] best efforts with the scissors and some touching up with Just For Men, his beard and 'stache had gone all scrofulous, and there was some kind of fungoid growth under his right eye as hardy as a dandelion" (77).
What's more, Disch's PKD tries repeatedly to kill himself in hell (in a nice twist Disch connects these attempts to events Dick's 'real' life - classy Tom):
"Maybe there'd been others [suicide attempts] since he'd come out of more than one gray-out during the bad years with his .22 beside the bed and no memory how it had got there" (78).
Then there's Philip K Dick, in hell, as a nerdy and acne-riddled twelve-year-old boy, letting loose from the dais with a rallying speech that inspires Alger Hiss, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (among others) into a sort of nationalistic frenzy as he prepares to return to Earth in 1939 to prevent Disch's birth, and, ultimately, change history so that Germany and the Axis powers win WWII - ala Man in the High Castle.
Hey Disch, bitter much? His PKD (still in hell) says, "But I think the worst case of someone stealing my ideas was a book called Camp Concentration, which was completely my own idea, but this other writer, Disch, had the same agent I did, and the agent must have shown him my outline, which I'd forgot all about. That's how I am, I have so many great ideas that I just forget half of them. But when Disch took my idea, he turned it around, and he made it a Communist type of story. Talk about "Look What They've Done With My Song'!" (117).
The worst, most infuriating part of the book is the suggestion Disch makes implicitly: that Man in the High Castle is Dick's wish fulfillment, that Dick wanted the Nazis to win WWII. During a lecture in hell, 12-year-old PKD stands up and yells, "Deutschland uber alles! Hurrah!" To see MITHC as rooting for the Nazis is to fundamentally (and I believe, intentionally) misunderstand the novel, but it's not a wholly new charge; Rickman goes into some depth defending our Wagner-loving friend from similar charges.
Disch's book alternates between plot and a screed against religious dogmatism. I actually kind of like the scene where Jesus and Peter travel to Earth to see Gibson's "Passion of the Christ." The book is a wild ride, a quick read, and, while it's certainly inventive, it ultimately falls flat.
It isn't Philip K Dick that appears in Disch's book at all. The character Disch names Philip K Dick bears no resemblance to PKD; he is utterly without humor, or charm, or insight; he is blind ambition personified, and as a result he is a flat, uninteresting character that says more about Disch's bitterness and ennui than anything else. As Disch writes (and demonstrates), "Hatred can pre-exist its objects" (92).