“Little Victories”

Review: “Little Victories: The Heartfelt Fiction of Philip K. Dick”, Brian Stableford, 1982, 1985.

Stableford sees Dick as intensely self-pitying. 

The novels after The Man in the High Castle conclude usually with an essentially, if sometimes ironically, depressing ending. 

Stableford rightly points out that Dick novels often end with loose ends and are sometimes hastily and sloppily plotted. 

Stableford spends some time talking about Dick’s realistic novels which, in his mind (I’ve read none of them), have contrived happy endings, and he thinks their techniques were used in Dick’s science fiction starting with The Man in the High Castle

Stableford does talk about the usual Dick things: the drugs, the divorces, and the theme of fake vs. real. He regards it as ironic that the only mainstream novel Dick was commissioned to write, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, was not realistic. He justly regards A Scanner Darkly as a masterpiece. 

Dick’s virtue, to Stableford, is his imaginative fervor, his excitement at ideas few others explored, and the ability to involve the reader in the lives of characters in strange situations. Dick, he says, was a man who was deeply maladjusted to life but that, by itself, doesn’t account for his virtues. Plenty of people who are maladjusted couldn’t have given us the work Dick did.

 As an aside, Stableford says The Man in the High Castle has a “gnomic ending”. I read this essay in January and, for reasons totally unrelated to it, I re-read Dick’s novel last month.

Strictly speaking, Stableford has a point. The definition of “gnomic” is enigmatic, ambiguous”. The plot of Dick’s novel does end ambiguously. Will world war break out? Has Tagomi died of a heart attack?

But Dick’s novel isn’t about the survival of the world or the downfall of Nazis or even the fate of any particular character. It’s about how to live in the “tomb world” we all, even if we don’t live in the world of the novel, inhabit. Tagomi has to wait for an Inner Truth to appear to him. Novelist Abendsen and his wife are not going to live in fear of assassination. They will live regular lives. Fink, even without his wife, will find meaning in craft and art. Perhaps Julianna will even return to Fink.

Plot threads may dangle enigmatically, but a clear admonition of pursuing life, art, and wisdom despite the circumstances of the world is the conclusion of the novel.   

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