Fiction Reviews

A Maze of Death

(1970 / 2005) Philip K. Dick, Gollancz, 6.99, pbk, 190 pp, ISBN 0-575-07461-2


Another Dick reprint from Gollancz. They currently seem hell-bent on reprinting the entirety of Dick's work over a few short years. Good on them I say, as it not only keeps Dick's name alive (well perhaps the cinema does that) but his books available to a new generation, not to mention some of us old timers a chance to fill gaps in our collections. (I am constantly amazed at how many books I read over the years from libraries or borrowed from friends and which aren't on my shelves keeping the old domicile warm...) Meanwhile back at the review...

Fourteen people arrive all, aside from couples, from different parts of the galaxy to colonise the planet of Delmark-O. All seem slightly dysfunctional and escaping something from their lives: hence their decision to colonise this world. The trouble is that the uninhabited world does not appear to be uninhabited. For a start off there is a huge building which, frustratingly, never seems to be in exactly the same place each time it is encountered. Another thing, it soon transpires that someone is murdering the colonists one by one, and if it's not the colonists themselves then who is it? Just what exactly is going on?

Written over half way through his career A Maze of Death is one of his more zanier of books. It has an hallucinatory feel for it and not surprising because Dick acknowledges in the forward that part of his influence was drawn from a detailed recounting of his own acid trips. He also resorted to the I Ching for part of the dialogue. Such ephemeral and non-logical fluidity of the writing may jar with some hard SF readers, but trust me on this one, stick with it as there are onion layers to this book and it does end up all being very hard SF.

Gollancz has made this title part of their excellent SF Masterwork series. A series whose brilliance is only contrasted by its numbering system which I've long since given up trying to decipher: by my reckoning Niven's Ringworld is in the series twice with two different numbers. No matter, who cares about the number; anyway, it is tucked away on the back and not on the spine or cover. The important thing is that the series is an excellent showcase for SF and that is no bad thing. As for this particular title I just simply have to point something out to science fact and fiction Concateneers. Early on (p17 in this edition) reference is made to marmalade made from 'Seville oranges (group 3-B mutational subdivision).' Is this an early mention of a genetically modified crop from a pre-GM era?   The Dickian term 'kipple' also makes an appearance.   Anyway, enough of the trivia just add this to your shopping basket.

Jonathan Cowie

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