Top positive review
A hyper-imaginative psychedelic cartoon
Reviewed in the United States on August 26, 2020
Despite featuring mental illness, murderous rage, and suicidal despair as major plot elements, this is a light, fast-paced, and highly amusing romp. The protagonist is Chuck Rittersdorf, who works for the CIA writing scripts for simulacra (androids) used to convey pro-U.S. propaganda around the world. His wife Mary, a psychologist who ironically works as a marriage counselor, is divorcing him.
The plot is outlandish. Mary is being sent to Alpha III M2 (the Alphane moon) to investigate the fate of the patients of a psychiatric hospital, Terrans who were abandoned decades ago behind enemy lines during the war between Terra and Alpha, and Chuck ends up there too through convoluted plot twists that include the CIA sending a simulacrum to the Aphane moon with Mary who is controlled remotely from Terra.
But before that, Chuck is befriended by his neighbor in his new bachelor "conapt" building, a telepathic Ganymedean slime mold named Lord Running Clam, a large yellow mound who can ooze under doors. LRC serves as both a comic element and a wise buddy for Chuck. Another major character is Bunny Hentman, a popular TV comedian who Mary attempts to persuade to hire Chuck as a scriptwriter to increase his income and who proves to be a sort of mobster.
Along the way, while not interacting with his wife at all, Chuck has encounters with three women of varying degrees of romance and lust, including an actress with enhanced mammaries who is the mistress of Hentman.
On the Alphane moon, the former patients have organized into clans according to their condition -- manics, depressives, obsessive-compulsives, and several different types of schizophrenics including paranoid and disorganized. They govern through a council with representatives of each clan. The strangest of them are several of the schizophrenics who have developed supernatural powers and are considered saintly by the others.
The ending involves both the fate of the clans and their new society, and the fate of Chuck and Mary. PKD suffered from mental illness himself, and the story conveys not only compassion for the former patients, but the belief that they should enjoy autonomy. It is the Rittersdorfs' relationship that is woefully undeveloped, and this is the major flaw in the novel. Other than that everything is pulled together quite nicely.
*** *** ***
This is not one of PKD's best novels -- it's not in the same category as The Man In the High Castle, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, or A Scanner Darkly. It's amusing, but not too ambitious or deep. PKD's mystical bent appears toward the end when Chuck makes reference to The Paraclete. "The Holy Spirit," Chuck said, [when asked what he is talking about], "It's in every man but hard to find." (194)
And this oblique reference serves as a deus ex machina for the way things turn out between Chuck and Mary, lacking any actual character development that would explain it. If you blink you could miss it, unlike Taoism in the High Castle, or Mercerism in Do Androids Dream (a central feature which was completely missing from Blade Runner!).