A short novel was commissioned from Philip K. Dick by Cele Goldsmith, editor for Amazing Stories and Fantastic, to go with an already completed cover painting. Dick quickly wrote a 40,000 word story, the largest Goldsmith would buy. So, “The Unteleported Man,” apparently Dick’s title, appeared as a cover feature in Fantastic in 1964. It was then resold to Don Wollheim for Ace Books. This part of the history is pretty typical of commercial SF publishing in the 60s. The story starts to get more complicated at this point, however. Wollheim requested 40,000 more words to make it long enough to publish as a stand alone novel, but then rejected the additional material. The original magazine story was re-published as half of an Ace Double in 1966. Clearly, Wollheim was managing a voracious publishing program, with a large appetite for short novels to fill his Ace Doubles, so the novelette had real value to him for that reason. But also the additional 40,000 words would have been considered controversial, and I think that Wollheim believed his readers wouldn’t accept the direction in which Dick had taken the story.
Goldsmith was a fine editor, and had a tremendously beneficial effect on the science fiction field during her long tenure as an SF magazine editor. When she married, her name changed to Cele Lalli, and eventually she became one of the top editors of women’s magazines in America. Wollheim’s profound influence on science fiction is so well recognized it hardly needs to be reiterated; in this instance he had shown great support for Dick’s work, having published all of his early novels.
In the additional material Dick wrote for The Unteleported Man, Dick’s protagonist is attacked by security guards who incapacitate him with a psychedelic drug. The narrative becomes a lengthy, detailed description of an acid trip. It can easily be guessed that this was based on Dick’s own experimentation. If Ace had published Dick’s fictionalized drug experience, it wouldn’t have set a precedent for the publisher. In 1953, Ace had published William Burroughs’s first book, titled Junkie, attributed to William Lee, perhaps not to embarrass Burroughs’ prominent family.
The Unteleported Man was to be published by Berkley in a complete version. Dick wrote brief revisions, and organized how the two texts were to be integrated — the additional material doesn’t simply follow the original novelette. Dick discovered that a few pages of the manuscript had been misplaced. Dick passed away in 1982 before the pages could be found or recreated, so in 1983 the Berkley edition of The Unteleported Man was published, but without Dick’s revisions or integration, and without the missing pages of text.
A British edition was published in 1984 by Gollancz which included Dick’s revisions, under Dick’s new title, Lies, Inc. With the permission of the estate, John Sladek wrote some bits to replace the lost pages.
The lost pages were eventually found mixed with another book’s manuscript, so this new Vintage edition is the first time Dick’s novel has been published as he intended.
While the expansion that Dick wrote for this book might have been avant garde in the sixties, the original short novel is hardly conventional. The story starts as the protagonist, Rachmael Ben Applebaum accidentally intercepts a data download about rats, in a dream. His life is in turmoil; the family business is on the skids. Rachmael’s father had built a successful career as an operator of spaceship freighters. A remarkable teleportation device has left the family’s technology obsolete. Teleportation provides the infrastructure for a remote colony, the only hope for a terribly overcrowded Earth. Teleportation only works in one direction, however, and Rachmael wants to take his remaining spaceship on an eighteen year trip, alone, to the colony on the off chance that someone might want to come back to Earth (thus, to become “The Unteleported Man”). Rachmael suspects that the large corporation which operates the colony may be deceiving Earth — actually, he smells a rat. Rachmael has trouble sorting out reality from the data about rats, and the hallucinations he experiences about rat society seem to provide insight into the situation on the colony.
What is actually happening on the colony is mysterious. The joyous, upbeat propaganda about a wonderful utopia that is beamed to Earth is obviously fake, and various factions, including Rachmael Ben Applebaum, begin to suspect grim realities such as “ovens” (the Nazi model) or work camps (the Soviet model). Dick’s expansion complicates the narrative not only with hallucinations (which open the doors of perception in ways that eventually help reveal what is actually going on in the colony) but with time travel.
This book is at once dense and complex, but also humorous and amusing. The media campaign for recruitment of colonists is a clear depiction of Dick’s skepticism about misleading advertising and public relations. Malfeasance of a large corporation to subvert and enslave humanity is a theme common in Dick’s novels and in science fiction in general. Dick’s creation of “Creditor Balloons” is hilarious — an AI device which floats about hunting down deadbeats so it can hector them with collection threats about overdue bills. It is easy to speculate that this is also an invention that was suggested by Dick’s real life. It would be a disservice to the book to reveal an important theme involved with climax of the novel, as it is intended to be something of a surprise.
Lies, Inc. is not an example of Philip K. Dick’s best work, not a classic. It is typical of some of his great work during the mid-sixties, a prolific period in his career, shows some remarkable characteristics, elaborates on some of Dick’s usual interests and reoccurring themes, and certainly has a fascinating publishing history. All in all, an essential treat for Philip K. Dick fans.
I’ve been a fan of Philip Dick’s writing since I read the then newly published The Man in the High Castle in 1963. I saw Dick at a 60s SF convention once, but despite my regard for his work I was too intimidated to even approach him, let alone try to speak with him. In 1971, I wrote a page about Dick’s work for a university class I was sitting in on, and then published it in a fanzine with a tiny circulation through an amateur press association. I must have thought it was good enough to show Dick, as I bravely mailed it, care of one of his publishers. Now, I never heard anything from him directly, but oddly enough, I received a letter from some European critic or scholar who had been in touch with Dick. This fellow wrote me that Dick had mentioned my little essay in a favorable way. I was very pleased. I’m going to reprint it here:
“Most of Philip Dick’s stories are concerned with perception of reality: various altered perceptions of reality, sometimes insanity, sometimes just the variation that occurs from individual to individual. Dick points out and examines the fact that man’s senses distort and censor reality, that man’s intellect twists and simplifies reality. During the early segments of most Dick stories, a ‘normal’ background is established — after that, the reality of the novel will alter as Dick approaches his theme.
“As Dick’s characters loose some of their touch with our conventions for understanding reality, Dick will allow them to glimpse the mechanisms of our lives, our world, the universe, grinding away chaotically all about them, forever beyond their control or understanding. Dick is mainly interested in examining the small but noble gestures of belief, faith and trust which is all that man can do to cope with a universe of chaos.”
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