Retro review–Philip K. Dick’s second novel, The World Jones Made

Review by C.J. Bunce

The World Jones Made is the year 2002 envisioned by a writer in a world still recovering from World War II.  Philip K. Dick’s second novel packs so many ideas into its four separate plot threads that you may not keep up with him, but ideas touched on here will later end up fleshed out fully in short stories or later novels.  Heavy religious, political, philosophical and ethical themes are dealt with like a social science project.  What if we cross a charismatic nobody with a laissez-faire government in need of a new vision?  How do we deal with new visitors to our environment?  Will the masses ever stand up and think for themselves?

The story starts with a group of mutants–a handful of individuals presumably mutated resulting from a devastating nuclear war in the 1970s.  A scientist is keeping them trapped in an artificial closed system.  They can theoretically leave when they want, but nearly die each time they try.

The next thread, and major plot line follows the discovery of a fortune-teller at a local carnival at a time when purporting to know the future is punishable as a crime.  But this fortune-teller is a cross between P.T. Barnum’s best act and a messiah.  On the one hand, Dick himself drew upon the rise of Hitler for his character Floyd Jones.  Yet the parallels to the rise and death of Jesus Christ are also unmistakable.  If Jones can prove he knows the future, should we make him our leader?  Jones serves as a seed for what would become the precogs of later Dick works.

The man who discovers Jones is Doug Cussick, a secret service officer for the federal world government or Fedgov.  Like most of Dick’s protagonists, he clashes with his wife almost endlessly, but at least here it helps to move along the story of his wife, Nina, a professional and artist who is eager to do and be something different.  Doug is anti-Jones, pro-government, and his wife is against everything he is about as a matter of principle.

To add the pulp sci-fi element thread, giant one-celled organisms are arriving to our planet from some other galaxy. Called drifters, they are seemingly benign, and serve to become the exterminated race of the World War II themes of the book.

These various threads whip along, interwoven with characters arguing smartly over their place in the world and the role of philosophy in their daily lives.  Look for themes of determinism, destiny, free will, social engineering, futility, fascism, and even manifest destiny.

Like many of Dick’s works, The World Jones Made is full of great sci-fi ideas, but also just as many real world philosophical and hypothetical questions, which unfortunately tend to bog down the story.

Some scenes feel like they are straight out of Kubrick film, a hermaphroditic sex stage act at a drug bar seems almost out-of-place, yet serves to illustrate the hopeless world state that allows blind followers and the kind of environment that would allow a Hitler to come to power.  Interestingly, Jones is not really a villain–the real antagonist is society and its increasingly poor decisions.

One well done account describes Jones’s life as a prophet from birth (and even before) who can see a year into the future, all the way through his own end, and Dick describes beautifully the loneliness of watching his family as war begins.  A war that he could never stop, and the futility of this seemingly great and useful power.  Minor characters are well used, too, like Pearson, who works with Cussick, and a random fellow Jones thumbs a ride with along his journey that changes the course of his life.

Like other Dick novels, Dick was not prophetic as dates were concerned, and that would not have mattered for the contemporary reader.  His themes of women as unable to be understood by men are unfortunate and repeated in his works, as are the role of drugs as an outlet and 1950s smoking.  Minor quirks include a reader grabbing a copy of the Saturday Evening Post in a waiting room in 2002.  Still there is more to like than not in this great sophomore novel.

The World Jones Made is still in print and available everywhere.

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