One of these days, nurse I really need to read a ‘real’ book by PKD. I’ve read his screen treatment of one of his novels (reviewed here) and then this book, medicine and the works of some of his friends, and of course I’ve seen Blade Runner and Minority Report, but I’ve never actually read any of his standard novels. Considering that he was a powerhouse of hard and futuristic (and just plain weird) sf for two decades, and even after his death he’s still got a huge influence on the spec-fic field (see: The Android’s Dream, by John Scalzi, the cover at least), I really should do better. Subterranean Press is publishing an edition of this novel, to be released in December of this year.
Anyway, in this book, his only “YA” (middle readers, really) novel, we have a future world with colonies on other planets and such an overloaded earth that pets are illegal (they eat too much food) and no one works more than 22 hours a week (and that’s an extreme case). Nick Graham’s father is lucky enough to work fifteen hours a week, and they own a cat, Horace. Unfortunately, one morning the cat gets out and someone sees him, and the anti-pet man comes after them. Instead of giving up the cat, Nick’s father (who is unhappy on earth anyway) decides to move the entire family (including the cat) off-world, to Plowman’s Planet. Plowman’s Planet comes with several of its own interesting life forms, like werjes, wubs, spiddles, and the Glimmung — some of whom are at war. How will Nick’s family (and Horace) deal with this?
I loved this book. When I finished it (after only an hour or so, since it’s about 125 pages long), I was inexplicably happy. It’s inexplicable because I get the idea that not very many of PKD’s books make people happy. Ubik (the screenplay) didn’t, in particular, although I did like it as well. Part of the reason I loved the book was certainly that Horace looks similar to the cat that owns me, but that was a small part. I thought Nick and his father were particularly sympathetic characters; the rest of the humans in the book, including the newspaper reporter and the scheming water man, were also well-described in just a few words.
Another element that made this book remarkable was the different species on Plowman’s Planet. The species we interact with the most is probably the spiddles; their idiosyncratic way of speaking is quite amusing, and I wish we had them on earth. The werjes are awfully disturbing, as is the father-thing (a kind of plant that turns into a doppelganger of a human being and then eats the human, taking his/her place) and, of course, the Glimmung. I’m not entirely sure what the Glimmung is, other than a creature that moved to Plowman’s Planet to take it over, but it was a bit frightening.
I suspect this isn’t really representative of PKD’s work, but I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who likes children’s SF. It’s surprisingly not dated, for all that it was written in 1966 (other than a brief reference to pets becoming illegal in 1992); certainly less dated than Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Colors of Space. I’d love to hear this book read out loud; I think younger readers would enjoy hearing it, too. Since it’s coming out in December, I’d think that it would make a fantastic Christmas present for PKD fans as well as those who just like delightful children’s spec fic. 4.5/5 stars.