When I read Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore‘s 1946 novella Chessboard Planet some years back, the thought occurred to me that this story is a must-read for all fans of cult author Philip K. Dick. In the story, the United States is in the midst of a decades-long war with the European union and is in big trouble, because scientists working for the enemy have come up with a formula employing “variable constants” that can completely preempt reality. In the story’s memorable opening, a doorknob opens a blue eye and watches one of the protagonists, and ultimately, the tale becomes hallucinatory in the extreme, as equations and counterequations for abrogating reality are bounced back and forth by the two sides. Anyway, somehow I wasn’t surprised to read, just recently, in an article written by Dick in 1968 called “Notes Made Late at Night by a Weary SF Writer,” that that image of the blue-eyed doorknob was one of his favorite in all of science fiction. And his 22nd sci-fi novel, The Ganymede Takeover, seems to me one of his books that is most indebted to this great Kuttner & Moore work.
The Ganymede Takeover is in many ways the oddball of Dick’s sci-fi oeuvre. Originally released in 1966 as a 50-cent Ace paperback (G-637, for all you collectors out there), it is the only science fiction novel by Dick not currently in print by Vintage Books and one of only two books that Dick coauthored. I suppose that part of the fun in reading this novel is trying to discern where Dick’s input leaves off and Ray Nelson’s (his first novel) begins. In the story, the people of Earth have been conquered by the snakelike, telepathic inhabitants of Ganymede. In the year 2047, a Ganymedean named Mekkis comes to Earth to act as administrator of the district of Tennessee, where “Neeg-parts” (Negro partisans), under the command of freedom fighter Percy X (read: Malcolm), have been stirring up trouble. To this area also converges Joan Hiashi, a TV hostess looking to record some of the Neeg-parts’ hymns (just as Nat Flieger, in Dick’s 1964 novel The Simulacra, traveled into the wilds of radiation-mutated northern California to record the music of the inhabitants there), and Paul Rivers, of the World Psychiatric Association.
When Percy X gets his hands on some cached government weapons that have been created with the assistance of Dr. Rudolph Balkani, of the Bureau of Psychedelic Research (!), things really start to get hairy, however. In a battle royale between Percy’s men and those of Gus Swenesgard — a “wik” (worm kisser), or what might today be called a quisling — machines that cause severe illusions are utilized; thus, vampires, orange unicorns, transvestites, inch-high lesbians, carnivorous vacuum cleaners, Frankenstein, Godzilla, King Kong, the Wolfman, man-eating plants, et al. contend in a free-for-all that Kuttner & Moore might well have gaped at in approbation. In a direct nod to that winking doorknob, Dick has a Tennessee mountain suddenly grow an eyeball on its flank! And then things get even stranger, when Percy X decides to utilize the fearsome Hell Weapon!
As you can probably tell, this really is some pretty way-out stuff here; certainly a product of ’60s California, and a clear reflection of Dick’s changing taste in drugs, progressing from prescription amphetamines to LSD. As in many other Dick novels, amphetamines ARE mentioned (Balkani stays awake on uppers for days, writing his final thesis on “Oblivion Therapy”), pot is given a passing reference (filter-tip marijuana cigarettes called Berkeley Boo are popular), and the author’s love of music is shown (folk and blues, for a change, as opposed to classical).
In retrospect, it seems to me that Nelson may have been responsible here for the alien takeover plot, with Dick supplying all the drug references and mind-blowing psychedelic pyrotechnics, but this guessing game is as futile as figuring out the respective contributions in Kuttner & Moore’s stories. Suffice it to say that this melding of talents is a very happy one; The Ganymede Takeover is remarkably fast moving and fun, despite The Science Fiction Encyclopedia‘s claim that its furious action is “rather implausibly emphasized.” And really, how can you dislike any book with a Bureau of Psychedelic Research, and one in which one of the Ganymedean conquerors lists as his prize souvenir from Earth nothing less than the complete collection of the original Three Stooges shorts? Even Kuttner & Moore would never have thought of that!