In the early 21st century, Earth has become overcrowded and has begun to look toward space as a potential new home. Only one habitable planet has been found — Whale’s Mouth — and it’s said to be a paradise. Rachmael ben Applebaum’s company has developed a spaceship that will take settlers there, but the trip takes 18 years. Just as business is about to begin, it’s undercut by Trails of Hoffman, Inc., a company who has developed a new teleporting technology that will get settlers to Whale’s Mouth in only 15 minutes. The only catch is that it’s a one-way trip — once you leave, you can’t come back. Ben Applebaum, whose company has been financially devastated by this new technology, discovers that the videos of happy settlers have been faked and thinks there’s something nefarious going on at Whale’s Mouth. After all, Trails of Hoffman is run by Germans, and their eugenic ideas have not been forgotten. Ben Applebaum also believes that the United Nations, also led by Germans, might be in league with Trails of Hoffman. With the help of a company called Lies, Inc., ben Applebaum sets out on the 36-year round-trip to investigate and inform the world about what’s happening in Whale’s Mouth.
Lies, Inc. is the most inaccessible PKD work I’ve ever read. It actually starts off well — I loved the premise and couldn’t wait to find out what was going on at Whale’s Mouth. (Except that I still have no idea what was up with the rat in ben Applebaum’s head.) But just as ben Applebaum sets out, things get really weird. Too weird. In the middle of the novel, ben Applebaum gets hit by an LSD-coated dart and most of the rest of the story is one big time-warped acid trip for him and for the reader. There’s talk about paraworlds, hypnagogic experiences, paranoia, bad psychotherapy, and the illusion of reality. None of this is new for a PKD story, but this time the reader has no idea where or when the characters are. The plot jumps around in time and space and is so disorienting that the reader doesn’t know what’s going on. I think perhaps that if I read it a few more times, I could make more sense of it, but I really don’t want to.
Suddenly at nearly the end of Lies, Inc., things get back on track. At that point, I said to myself, “This feels like someone dropped a huge acid sequence into the middle of a novella.” After a few minutes of investigation on the internet, I found an afterword by PKD’s literary executor, Paul Williams, explaining that that’s exactly what happened. Lies, Inc. is an expansion of Philip K. Dick’s novella The Unteleported Man. The huge awful chunk in the middle (you can tell exactly where it begins and ends) is an addition to the novel that was originally rejected (with very good reason) by Don Wollheim at Ace. It gets complicated after that, but basically it was added back in after Dick’s death and patched up a bit by SF author John Sladek. The result is that a really cool novella was turned into something quite unreadable. I can recommend it only to PKD completists who want to know how weird it can get. To others, I suggest reading The Unteleported Man instead.
I listened to Lies, Inc. on audio. Brilliance Audio has just produced several old PKD works, and I’m excited about that! This one was read by Luke Daniels, who is fast becoming one of my favorite readers. His narration actually made the acid trip bearable — it’s probably the only reason I didn’t quit Lies, Inc.
Of all the sci-fi novels by cult author Philip K. Dick, The Unteleported Man — in its later, expanded version known as Lies, Inc. — has the most complicated publishing history. Those who are interested in the minutiae of this nearly 40-year saga are advised to seek out Paul Williams’ afterword in the currently available Vintage edition. In a nutshell, let’s just say that The Unteleported Man first saw the light of day in the December ’64 issue of Fantastic magazine and then in one of those cute little “Ace doubles” in 1966. It wasn’t until 1983 that the expanded edition appeared, incorporating 100 pages (around 30,000 words) of Dick’s manuscript that had been previously rejected by Ace editor Don Wollheim, but with some missing sections still. The Vintage edition now in print reinstates Dick’s original vision of the book… or, at least, as much as he could arrange before his untimely death in 1982. The result is one of Dick’s most challenging books, with those extra 100 pages (pages 73 – 173 in the Vintage edition) having served as a bone of contention among Dick’s fans for years now.
In the novel, we meet a young man with the unusual name of Rachmael ben Applebaum. His family’s interplanetary shipping business has recently been made obsolete by the one-way teleportation device of the outfit whimsically known as Trails of Hoffman, Ltd. With this new device, colonists can make the 18-year journey to the distant planet of Whale’s Mouth in a mere 15 seconds. The only catch: They can’t return the same way. Rachmael, suspicious of just what might be going on on Whale’s Mouth, decides to venture there the old-fashioned way, proposing to make the 18-year trip by himself. But what he finds when he ultimately DOES reach the colony world certainly pulls the interstellar rug out from under him… and the reader! Those 100 pages of Whale’s Mouth material, absent from the original novella, comprise some of Dick’s most way-out speculations on the nature of objective reality; as brilliant as they are hopelessly frustrating, they represent Dick at his most extreme.
Incorporating a very hallucinogenic LSD trip, hypnotically induced “para worlds” AND a time-warping device, this section is somewhat difficult (to put it mildly!) to get a handle on, and can almost be seen as one big psychedelic red herring. Skipping those 100 pages (in other words, jumping from page 73 to 173) and reading just the original short novel may be more satisfying for many readers, but even read this way, some mind-warping dilemmas spring up as regards time paradoxes. I have read Lies, Inc. twice now and continue to be baffled by it. The Byzantine plottings of the two warring factions and the significance of the initial computer snafu on page 3 remain elusive to this reader. I can almost barely put the darn thing together in my head, but please don’t ask me to explain it out loud. Let’s just say that Dick fans who thought the plottings of The Simulacra and The Penultimate Truth to be complex, and those who thought the drug-induced reality bending of The Game-Players of Titan and, especially, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch to be a bit headache inducing, are really going to be in for some tough sledding here!
But perhaps I am being a bit too harsh. Although I do agree with British critic David Pringle when he calls the novel one of Dick’s “least satisfactory books,” and with Dick biographer Lawrence Sutin when he says that the novel is “damn weird,” I still maintain that even a failure of a novel from P.K. Dick is more fascinating and readable than a “success” by many others. Lies, Inc., though ultimately largely incomprehensible, remains eminently readable and entertaining. It exhibits the influence of the then hugely popular spy craze, features an excellent acid trip depiction, contains what might be the first use of the word “psychotronic” (sorry, Michael Weldon!) and foresees the unification of Germany a good 25 years before the actual event. (If only Dick’s prediction of a Federation of Semitic Peoples could come to pass!) And yet… is it a mistake on Dick’s part that on page 85, the “white-oak blonde” is referred to as Gretch (Borbman), and then on page 92, she becomes Sheila Quam? Or is this just another cerebrum-twisting aspect of the acid trip in the para world undergoing a time warp? Take two Excedrin, read the novel and get back to me…