Nick and the Glimmung by Philip K. Dick science fiction book reviews, childrenNick and the Glimmung by Philip K. Dick science fiction book reviews, childrenNick and the Glimmung by Philip K. Dick

In his 1969 novel Galactic Pot-Healer, cult author Philip K. Dick introduced his readers to a character named Glimmung: a semidivine being who calls ceramic repairman Joe Fernwright, among others, to Plowman’s Planet (aka Sirius 5) to help raise a sunken cathedral from the oceanic depths. Confusingly described by Dick as weighing 40,000 tons and, later, 80,000 tons, Glimmung was yet a truly fascinating creation. But as it turns out, this was not the first time that Dick had written about a character with that handle. Hence, in his posthumous 1988 novel Nick and the Glimmung, we find another alien entity who goes by that name, and one who is a much more intimidating proposition, to boot.

While Galactic Pot-Healer was published shortly after Phil had written it, from 1967 – ’68, Nick and the Glimmung had a much more difficult time seeing the light of day. As revealed in Lawrence Sutin’s 1989 biography Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick, after writing the book in 1966, Dick’s only novel created for children would be rejected by no fewer than 20 publishers. Six years after Phil’s passing in 1982, however, the book was finally released by the British publisher Gollancz; a hardcover edition with illustrations by Paul Demeyer. Another British publisher, Piper, would release a paperback edition in 1990 – the one that I was fortunate enough to acquire – that retained the 43 charming illustrations that Demeyer had provided for the original. The book would then go OOPs (out of prints) for almost 20 years, until Subterranean Press, a Michigan-based imprint, came out with its own version in 2009, with cover artwork and four full-color pieces of interior artwork by Phil Parks. This last edition, sadly enough, has been the book’s only American incarnation. Nick and the Glimmung is an outlier in Dick’s extensive oeuvre: not only his sole novel for children – say, perfect for ages 10 to 14 – but also one of the author’s few science fiction works that was not published during his lifetime. It is little discussed today, and the fact that it is the only novel of his 35 long-form sci-fi titles not to have been reviewed here on FanLit thus far might serve as an indication of its relative obscurity. And yet, it is a book that deserves to be remembered. I first read it when the Piper edition was released in 1990, and was charmed by it; a recent perusal has served to remind me of why. Dick wrote this short novel in the same year that he wrote two of his greatest adult works – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and Ubik (1969) – and he was clearly in the full flush of his creative powers at the time.

Nick and the Glimmung is at first set on the Earth of a far-future age. Overpopulation is the keynote problem facing the people of the planet, who are forced to live in crowded apartment buildings and contend with very serious food shortages. Because of this scarcity in consumer goods, pets have been outlawed; after all, who needs mere cats and dogs eating up Earth’s valuable commodities, right? Against this dystopian backdrop we meet young Nick Graham, who owns an illegal cat named Horace (an homage to Horace Gold, the famed editor of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, Sutin reveals). Big trouble comes when Horace escapes from the Grahams’ small apartment, is seen outdoors and reported, leading to the arrival of one of the dreaded anti-pet men, who has come to confiscate the animal. But rather than give up their beloved Horace, Nick’s parents, Pete and Helen, decide on a drastic alternative: becoming colonists on Plowman’s Planet, where there is ample space for living and pets are allowed to roam freely. And so, in just a few days, Nick’s dad quits his hated job and the entire family embarks on their new life.

The space voyage to Plowman’s Planet takes all of 10 days, and once arrived, the Grahams find the world to be in an unexpected turmoil. As a matter of fact, a war is currently in progress there, with four of the planet’s species contending on each side. On one side, thus, is the Glimmung, a life-destroying entity that had arrived millennia earlier, and that has allied itself with the werjes, the trobes and the father-things. Opposing those agents of evil are the human settlers from Earth, the nunks, the spiddles and the printers. (More on these disparate creatures in just a moment.) Upon exiting from their spaceship, the Grahams are given a lift to their new farmland by a dim-witted creature known as a wub. But they are soon set upon by the werjes (as depicted by Demeyer, these look like minipterodactyls, though they do speak perfect English). One of the werjes hands Nick a book that purports to give a detailed history of the war so far, but upon later examination, it turns out that the illiterate werj has accidentally given Nick another book altogether. As a matter of fact, it is Glimmung’s personal diary of sorts, with notes on each side’s various strengths and weaknesses. Oddly, it is a book that can also predict the future, and moreover, one that changes every time it is read! And, of course, it is a book that Glimmung will do anything to get back! Nick’s adventures with the various species that inhabit Plowman’s Planet, and his ultimate confrontation with the murderous Glimmung itself, are at the heart of this most enthralling book that Dick wrote for the younger set.

As I inferred above, the Glimmung that faces off against Nick Graham is a far different entity than the one who had summoned Joe Fernwright. Here, the entity, as opposed to being semidivine, is a force of antilife; a cloaked figure wearing a horned helmet who is capable of soaring through the air. And the Glimmung is hardly the only alien who differs from how Dick once presented it. In one of his earliest short stories, “Beyond Lies the Wub,” from the July 1952 issue of Planet Stories, the wub was a 400-pound, highly intelligent, talking pig creature from Mars; here, the wub is a roly-poly doofus who can communicate only with the simplest of written cards. In Dick’s short story “The Father-thing,” from the December 1954 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the titular enemies were podlike creatures who were replacing a young boy’s family members; a story that appeared in the same month as Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers. In Dick’s children’s novel, the father-things are similar, but their ultimate controller – a foot-long millipedelike alien – is never mentioned. Too, the father-things in Nick and the Glimmung do not eat their originals; that might have been just a bit too much for the kiddy set, right?

PKD’s only novel for children really is ideal fare for the kiddies, yet with a strong appeal for adults, as well, who should find it both charming and fascinating. Naturally, Dick’s pet concerns – divorce, the slippery nature of so-called reality, cigars, classical music, religion, mental illness – are not broached in this children’s novel, but Dick yet demonstrates what an imaginative writer he could be. The desperately overpopulated Earth is efficiently sketched in, as is Nick’s schoolroom, whose teacher is remotely educating nine other classes, by video screen, at the same time. Plowman’s Planet is an interesting one, with its silicon-based, orange grass and trees, as well as a remarkable roster of memorable indigenous species. Thus, those werjes, who can be easily repelled by something foul smelling, such as blue cheese; the trobes, which are short and skinny beings with an aversion to bright light; those awful father-things, one of which turns itself into a dangerous Nick-thing (!); the printers, a dying, bloblike species that can duplicate any object placed near it; the nunks, diminutive things with supposedly aggressive dispositions; and the hilarious spiddles, with a fondness for adding the word “city” to almost everything they say (“Poverty city!” “Bad luck city!” “Exhaustion city!” “Victory city!”). Nick and the Glimmung is a perfect book for parents to give to their kids as an introduction to science fiction; something on a par with, say, Victor Appleton II’s Tom Swift, Jr. books, or Robert Silverberg’s Revolt on Alpha C (1955), although not nearly as sophisticated as Robert A. Heinlein’s “juveniles.” The book will also probably introduce those kids to a few challenging words, such as “ignominious,” “functionary,” “dulcet” and “disparity,” as well as some typically bizarre Dick surprises, such as Glimmung’s constantly changing book. (Oddly enough, a book that can foretell the future was also featured in Galactic Pot-Healer, although in a completely different context.)

Surprisingly, though written for younger readers, Nick and the Glimmung yet contains several beautifully written bits that adults will appreciate. Thus, when Nick’s dad speaks of Horace finally being able to roam freely outside, he says “Think of the joy he’ll feel … when he shouts to the sky the greatness of his bold spirit.” Later, we are told that “Glimmung spread over all the planet, like a lake of hateful night.” Of the blasted hills where Glimmung first arrived on Plowman’s Planet, a spiddle says “Fatigue … is everywhere, here. As if gravity forages from these hills, searching for living things to infest with its weight.” And during Nick and the Glimmung’s climactic confrontation, the evil one is said to have “eyes like deranged stars.” Some poetic imagery for the youngsters there, wouldn’t you say? And of course, Dick supplies his readers with any number of well-drawn sequences, including that look at Nick’s futuristic classroom; the arrival of the dreaded anti-pet man; the touchdown on Plowman’s Planet; the initial meetings with the wub and the werjes; the discovery of the Nick-thing; the odyssey that Nick and some chattering spiddles undertake to locate a printer; that battle with the Glimmung; and the rescue of Horace from the Nick-thing. Shockingly, Dick’s story even features some murderous violence, as when one of the colonists is killed by Glimmung’s spear to the back; the selfsame spear that almost does in Nick toward the book’s end. Child readers should be enthralled!

All told, it is a pity that this book isn’t more well known. It could easily have served as the opening salvo of a series of children’s books featuring Nick’s adventures on Sirius 5. After all, by this novel’s conclusion, the Glimmung remains very much alive, albeit wounded, and the Nick-thing is still roaming the planet freely. But alas, unlike Appleton and Heinlein, for Dick, his foray into the realm of kiddy lit was a case of “one and done.” This is a book about which I only have one, extremely minor complaint. When Dick says of Horace, who is retreating slowly from the anti-pet man, “[He] moved further back into the kitchen,” shouldn’t that word instead be “farther”? But that is it; my only quibble here. The bottom line is that Nick and the Glimmung is a book of both considerable charm (there’s that unavoidable word again!) and surprising imagination, and perfect fare for both children and their adults. Likeable city!

Published in 1988. Nick and his family are forced to leave Earth in order for him to keep his cat, Horace – because all pets are now banned, as they use up badly needed resources. They settle on Plowman’s Planet, where they discover a variety of strange and wonderful alien lifeforms. But not all of these weird lifeforms are benevolent – and the family is involved in a series of increasingly dangerous mishaps. Can Horace and Nick manage to outwit the Wub, the Werjes, the Trobes – and the most dangerous of all, the Glimmung? Philip K. Dick’s only children’s book, first published after his death, brings together many of his most famous alien creations in one gently humorous tale.


  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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