The Crack in Space Paperback – 1972
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Filled 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 outre 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 British 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 has an easier time with his wars, economic woes and health care reforms than Jim Briskin will have with his problem of the bibs!
I was pleasantly surprised to find that he didn't go that way with this one, and instead gives us a story with a reasonable beginning, middle, and end. The book starts as many do- Dick presents us with the usual large cast of amusing and seemingly independent characters, that eventually become completely interwoven with each other. The plot- a hole in a "Jifi-Scuttler" turns out to be a door to a parallel Earth (of course we never learn just what a "Jifi-Scuttler" is supposed to do normally), long after our Earth has been crowded past maximum capacity.
I don't need to tell you any more than that. Dick gives us a wonderful, entertaining premise for a science fiction story, and then tells us that story from beginning to end, complete with the usual hilarious Dick ideas and character dialogue.
I recommend this one 110% for any Dick fan. The only reason The Crack in Space gets 4 stars is because it's just a shade below his obvious 5-star classics that every Dick fan is already aware of. 4.5 - 4.75 stars would be more appropriate, if Amazon allowed such ratings.
In this world, people are able to zap across continents and off planet in record time using "scuttler" tubes, until a lowly maintenance worker discovers a malfunctioning scuttler tube that has a hole leading to an alternate world. He enters this new parallel dimension and is soon killed. As news of this other world spreads, Jim Briskin, who could become the first black president, sees a big opportunity. There are millions of people (mostly non-white) who are in cryopreservation known as "bibs," looking to be revived when a solution is found to the world's overpopulation problems. Briskin hopes to use the promise of setting all these bibs free in the new world to help his presidency.
The only problem is that there are some beings on the other side that seem to be a form of our ancestors, Homo erectus, known as Peking Man, who beat out the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons on this world to become the dominant species, and they aren't about to let Homo sapiens walk all over them. For a book that is barely two hundred pages long, Dick manages to do an incredible job of revealing a complex world with plenty of unusual and unforgettable characters that will keep any scifi fan hooked until the very last page.
Originally written on February 13, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.
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Everyone's got a different opinion of how President Obama answered that question, but one thing's for sure; during the elections of 2008, neither Barack Obama nor John McCain had to consider what to do with several million proletarian workers in suspended animation, preserved thus for lack of any work or other means of survival for them. Nor did the real-life presidential candidates have to consider how to relate to a highly public and popular house of prostitution on an orbiting satellite. Most importantly, although overpopulation continues to be a concern in the modern world, Obama and McCain did not have to face an apparently underpopulated alternate Earth, reached through the titular crack in space, and inhabited by a small but possibly dangerous civilization of Peking Man. Black presidential hopeful Jim Briskin and incumbent Bill Schwarz, the fictional candidates in "The Crack in Space", must consider all of this.
That's a lot of stuff for a short novel - probably should have been a good two or three times as long. It's still worth reading, though, if only because it's one of the comparatively few science fiction novels of the time (or any time, for that matter) to consider the political implications of scientific discovery, especially during an election year. That setting allowed Philip K. Dick to get around one of his real weaknesses - his tendency to throw all kinds of unconnected plot points into his work and let the reader sort them out. By contrast, the candidates in this novel draw the connections for you.
Look at it this way - frozen workers, orbiting bawdy houses and alternate Earths don't have much to do with each other unless you're running for President. In that case, you might consider defrosting the workers and sending them to colonize the alternate Earth if doing so prevented the powerful bawdy-house owner from coming down on your opponent's side, and scored a number of other political points for you. See how it works? Of course you do. Unfortunately for Briskin and Schwarz, this is a PKD novel, and so the plan does not, in fact, work as designed.
Whatever happens next, you would think that this would be more than enough plot. Not for PKD. He also decided to include an explanation of how this crack in space turns up - it has to do with a famous transplant surgeon's urgent need to hide his mistress from his equally famous counselor wife as she looks for something unsavory she can use in their divorce proceeding. In addition to that, PKD decided to make that bawdy-house owner a set of conjoined twins, joined not at the hip or chest, but at the head - two bodies with one cranium and a shared brain. And, as implied above, there's the implicit conflict going on between the races, about to boil over in the rumble-tumble of a presidential election.
Then the Peking Man culture shows up and all of this detail vanishes in a puff of smoke - the surgeon, his wife and his mistress disappear around page 80, the double-bodied being loses all its impact on the story a few chapters after that, and as for the racial issue, that fizzles out in the face of an alien threat, as clichéd a science-fictional theme as ever emerged from the civil rights movement. Kind of disappointing, really.
PKD might have produced better work here if he had cut all the extraneous stuff and concentrated on the political back-and-forth over the scientific breakthroughs. But then, that wouldn't be much like PKD. I'm kind of torn, to be perfectly honest. Trying to tame a wild man like this author is rarely advisable - you end up with either a run-of-the-mill tamed beast or a really irritated wild one.
Come to think of it, that may be what "The Crack in Space" is really about. The story takes a while to rev up, but eventually it turns into a pretty intense examination of what we can do when confronted with the craziness of our deeper nature, represented here by the earlier evolutionary form of humankind. After all, even the morally courageous Jim Briskin has to move in a rather unorthodox fashion if he's to win the election, and no other characters in the book have even that much hesitation about using incomplete, possibly dangerous knowledge to their own ends.
The extraneous detail, crammed into the minimal space, distracts from the book's emotional power. When you consider that PKD wrote "The Crack in Space" in 1963 along with four other novels, this isn't terribly surprising - that much production leaves room for a lot of junk to get past the authorial filter. The surprise is that he turned out any good work at all that year. Actually, he did more than that - 1963 produced "Dr. Bloodmoney," an acknowledged classic, and "Now Wait for Last Year," an unacknowledged one. What's more, PKD wrote that last title immediately after "The Crack in Space", so it's not like he had lost it or anything. He was just playing his usual game - he wrote what came to mind and didn't bother with any rules of structure, for better or worse.
With PKD as with his character Jim Briskin, that kind of personal dedication looks positively heroic from a distance; from close up it can be mighty damaging.
Benshlomo says, A little chaos never hurt anyone, but a lot of chaos is another story.
This book would be five star just for the wild action and concepts if written by any other writer of the day, but since I do think you should read the true classics like "The Man in the High Castle" first, I'll rate it at four stars. Not as a knock on the book but just to help out people who have limited time and might want to read only a few of PKD's books, instead of trying to tackle them all.
Also, be aware that the book was written in the 1960s, so it uses the language of that day. Negro, Col (colored), etcetera. If you're really offended by old-fashioned language, then avoid this book. But I think if you read with an open mind and an awareness of when it was written, you'll see the compassion in these pages.