fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsscience fiction audiobook reviews Philip K. Dick The Crack in SpaceThe Crack in Space by Philip K. Dick

Although he displayed remarkable prescience in many of his books, cult author Philip K. Dick was a good 72 years off the mark in his 18th sci-fi novel, The Crack in Space. Originally released as a 40-cent Ace paperback in 1966 (F-377, for all you collectors out there), the novel takes place against the backdrop of the 2080 U.S. presidential election, in which a black man, Jim Briskin, of the Republican-Liberal party, is poised to become the country’s first black president. (Dick must have liked the name “Jim Briskin”; in his then-unpublished, non-sci-fi, mainstream novel from the mid-’50s, The Broken Bubble, Jim Briskin is the name of a DJ in San Francisco!) Unlike Barack Obama, whose campaigning centered around the issues of war, economic crisis and health care, Briskin’s talking points are a staggering overpopulation problem, the issue of what to do with the “bibs” (100 million frozen citizens awaiting their thaw in a better day), and the shutting down of the Golden Door Moments of Bliss satellite, an orbiting brothel housing no less than 5,000 women. When a door to a parallel Earth is discovered in the wall of a defective Jiffi-scuttler (a tubular device for instantaneous transportation from place to place), Briskin feels confident that he finally has a solution as to where to dump all those bibs. But problems loom, when an exploration team discovers that this parallel Earth is not vacant, but rather peopled by… well, perhaps I’d better not say.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsFilled with a typically large Dickian cast of characters (38 named characters are featured… 15 of them in just the first 10 pages!), The Crack in Space is a very swift-moving vision of the future. With the use of jetcabs, men and women in this book flit from city to city like you might commute to work; indeed, one potential assassin flies from Reno to Chicago while Briskin is delivering a speech! As in many other Dick novels, divorce is featured (Dick himself was married five times) and some truly outré characters are presented. Most memorable here is George Walt, the owner of the Golden Door satellite: a one-headed, two-bodied mutant who constantly bickers with himself. Dick presents a future here in which abortions are legal and paid for by the government (and this was written a good seven years before Roe v. Wade was settled); the only coffee that is consumed (except by the lowest classes) is the “nontoxic,” synthetic kind; and political parties, under the ruling of the Tompkins Act, are allowed to jam the transmissions of the opposing party. It is a typically nutty Dick world, for the most part, in which Briskin’s campaign manager voices some very PC words on Dick’s behalf. Thinking about the people found on the parallel Earth, Sal Heim ponders “the difference between say myself and the average Negro is so damn slight, by every truly meaningful criterion, that for all intents and purposes it doesn’t exist.” Again, a pretty right-on sentiment for 1966, and one which makes the book praiseworthy in its own right.

The Crack in Space is hardly a perfect work. Fast paced and entertaining as it is, and filled with colorful characters, bursts of humor and remarkable situations, there are some problems that crop up. Several main characters (such as Myra Sands, a renowned abortionist) just kinda disappear, and the exploration of the alternate Earth (for this reader, the most fascinating and exciting segment of the book) is a bit too brief. Still, these are mere quibbles. Though this book has been pooh-poohed by some (the Scottish critic David Pringle, in his Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction, inexplicably calls it “a clotted Dick narrative”), I really did enjoy it very much. Let’s just hope that President Obama, in his final year in office, has an easier time with his global crises, economic woes and health care reforms than Jim Briskin will have with his problem of the bibs!

~Sandy Ferber

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsscience fiction audiobook reviews Philip K. Dick The Crack in SpaceIn Philip K. Dick’s The Crack in Space (1966), American technology and civilization has advanced so far that citizens can easily take a spaceship to make daily visits to an orbiting satellite whorehouse, personal Jifi-scuttlers are used to warp space/time so that people can quickly travel from home to work in a distant city, and overpopulation is such a public concern that millions of dispossessed Americans have chosen to be put in cryogenic storage until a habitable planet is discovered.

Yet, America has not advanced so far in other respects. It’s 2080, racism is still rampant, and Jim Briskin is hoping to be elected as the first African-American President. He needs to convince both the “Caucs” and the “Cols” (oh, what horrible nicknames!) that he’s the best man for the job. This isn’t always easy to do for a principled man who isn’t willing to abandon his conservative ideals just to get the endorsement of the powerful mutant who controls the satellite broadcasts. It gets even harder when his white campaign manager defects to the other side and Briskin is now the target of assassination attempts.

But when a repairman discovers an alternate universe in his client’s broken Jifi-Scuttler, Jim Briskin sees a way that he can win the election — by promising to send all the frozen people to inhabit the alternate Earth. Sure enough, in pure PKD style, the Americans quickly and unthinkingly embrace Briskin’s crazy idea and off they go, heading for disaster!

The Crack in Space is related to one of my favorite PKD short stories: “Prominent Author,” in which we’re introduced to the Jifi-scuttler. Dick’s stories are always bizarrely entertaining. They’re usually fast-paced and full of weird people with weird ideas doing weird things. In The Crack in Space, which contains a more straight-forward plot than many of his novels, we have a famous organ transplant doctor who’s divorcing his wife (an “abort-consultant”) while hiding his mistress in a parallel universe. Where is Dr. Sands getting all the organs for his transplants? Then there’s George Walt, the man with two bodies (but only one head) who runs the orbiting whorehouse and wants to get rid of Jim Briskin because Briskin wants to shut him down. As usual, all the characters talk on vid phones, drink synthetic coffee, avoid the automatic reporters, get divorced, and worry about overpopulation.

The Crack in Space is fun, but not up to par with the best PKD offers. I don’t know if Dick really imagined that in 2080 American race relations wouldn’t have progressed beyond 1960s levels, but this really makes the novel feel more dated than his other works do. Also, the way that Americans dealt with the parallel universe was so simplistic and naïve that this was hard to swallow, but yet it’s so typical of PKD. Fans, who are used to his frenzied plots and other little writing quirks, are likely to just chuckle and let it go. In the end, though, there’s a beautiful ironic message. As Americans are dealing with race warfare, PKD shows us that, really, we’re all human after all.

Brilliance Audio, who is gradually producing all of Philip K. Dick’s novels in audio format, did another wonderful job with this one. Eric Dawe performs it superbly.

~Kat Hooper 

The Crack in Space — (1966) Publisher: When a repairman accidentally discovers a parallel universe, everyone sees it as an opportunity, whether as a way to ease Earth’s overcrowding, set up a personal kingdom, or hide an inconvenient mistress. But when a civilization is found already living there, the people on this side of the crack are sent scrambling to discover their motives. Will these parallel humans come in peace, or are they just as corrupt and ill-intentioned as the people of this world?


  • 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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  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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