Clans of the Alphane Moon was one of six books that science fiction cult author Philip K. Dick saw published in the years 1964 and 1965. Released in 1964 as a 40-cent Ace paperback (F-309, for all you collectors out there), it was his 14th science fiction novel since 1955. This period in the mid-’60s was a time of near hyperactivity for the author. Under the influence of prescription uppers (like one of Clans of the Alphane Moon ‘s central characters, Chuck Rittersdorf, who takes extraterrestrial “thalamic stimulants of the hexo-amphetamine class” in order to work two jobs), his output during that time was both prodigious and wildly imaginative. Clans of the Alphane Moon, although it may be accused of being underdeveloped and shows signs of being hastily written, IS nevertheless as fun as can be, and a really wild ride.
In the book, we are introduced to some of the residents of the second moon of Alpha Centauri’s third planet: Alpha III M2. A mental hospital had existed there some 25 years before, its residents left to their own devices when Earth abandoned this world back when. Now, in the year 2055 or so, the former inmates have most certainly taken over the asylum, and the moon is ruled by the six titular clans, organized according to their members’ various mental imbalances. Thus, there are the Manses (manics), the Pares (paranoiacs), the Heebs (hebephrenics), the Skitzes (schizophrenics), the Ob-Coms (obsessive-compulsives) and the Polys (polymorphous schizophrenics). Some of these residents, mainly the Heebs and Skitzes, have even developed various “psionic” powers, such as the ability to foretell the future via visions and to levitate! To this literally crazy world comes a group of disparate characters, drawn there for various reasons revolving around the Alphans’ and Terrans’ annexation claims. Mary Rittersdorf is a psychiatrist, there to assess and analyze the population; Chuck, her husband, a CIA (Counter Intelligence Authority) agent, is there to kill his ex-wife, with whom he had recently split; and the famous TV comedian Bunny Hentman is present for political reasons of his own. And then there is Lord Running Clam, easily the most memorable and likable character in this book: a telepathic, self-locomoting, yellow slime mold from Ganymede (!) who befriends Chuck and helps him on his adventure.
As you may have inferred, there is some pretty zany sci-fi plotting involved here, with 36 named characters, and Dick mixes his stew with a good deal of zest and humor. The novel is one of the author’s more accessible ones, with none of his trademarked abnegations of reality to blow the reader’s mind. Still, not everything is as it seems, double agents abound, human-seeming “simulacra” are ubiquitous (“Person, shmerson,” one of them tellingly says at one point) and moral truths are slippery things (“Quid est veritas… what is truth?” one of the Pares asks). And Dick’s Earth of the mid-21st century almost seems as whacky as the Alphane moon (and perhaps that is the point). Nipple-dilation and extreme breast-augmentation surgeries for women are common (50-lb. breasts?!?!?!), lawyers use “potent-cameras” to take pictures of people’s future deeds, and the CIA uses programmed propaganda robots to spread the good word about the U.S.A.
I must say that as much as I enjoyed Clans of the Alphane Moon (and it IS an extremely enjoyable work), I was still left with the feeling that the book could have been so much more. As with some other Dick books that I have recently read, this one cries out to be 100 pages or so longer, or to have a sequel added on to it. Heck, I could’ve used another novel just featuring Lord Running Clam himself! Still, what the author HAS given us is a significant achievement, and yet another feather in his already crowded cap.