Maze Of Death (Philip K Dick)

14 people end up in a settlement called Delmak-O. They don’t know why they are there, but the first arrivals are told to wait for the rest to appear before starting a tape that will contain the answers they so desperately desire. However, once everyone (save one member) has arrived, they find that the tape has been programmed to erase itself as it is played. So begins a tale of death, murder, and insanity. Slowly, surely, each member is murdered somehow…

This 1970 novel revolves around the theme of perception versus reality. For example, the table of contents describes events which never transpire. (This may have been a result of the author consulting the I Ching) Even at the end of the story, the reader is left not entirely sure of what is reality and what is illusion, and it doesn’t seem like any of the characters have any better idea. Depending on what information can be believed, the colony has been set up by God, ultra-intelligent aliens, Earth’s military forces or as a psychological experiment. With Philip K Dick I get the feeling he started writing on the fly, no future expectations as to how his story should unfold, so things get very unpredictable. He changed his mind about the fates of his protagonists frequently and so, most of his novels end up in a mess. But it is always such a lovely and exciting mess that you are not disturbed when you finish the book.

Dick’s mind was a very odd place, particularly because of the characters born there. It’s often hard to tell if Dick is actually creating characters who stand on their own with their attributes taken from himself and the people whom he knew, characters who could fit into any scenario because of how real they seem…or characters as functional tools, (similar to those in Greek Tragedy) who exist only in the universe of the novel. And could only exist in that universe, to serve the purpose of the story. I am positive that it is the latter in the case of A Maze of Death. Dick prefaced this one by saying he was attempting to create a scenario in which God exists as a logical system. The rationalising of this experiment seeps out into other aspects of the novel.

Everything is so meticulously functional: the characters and their actions always relate to a larger purpose and the setting, strange and alien, bleeds metaphorical meaning: a desolate “Godless” planet with an isolated settlement at which much of the action takes place, while flies buzz about emitting music which varies according to the preference of its listener. Then there’s the ominous Building looming near the settlement, begging to be explored and understood. All of this is typical PKD. It’s also totally absorbing and causes us to think and to keep guessing in a heightened awareness for the enigmatic nature of the world we inhabit.

Like wandering through a strange jungle whose mysteries need to be solved in order for it to be escaped, Philip K Dick’s is not an easy world to leap straight into. Sometimes, as in the case of this novel, it’s just too damn weird to feel comfortable in, and his prose is not pretty or poetic; it’s purposeful like everything else in his world. But its still wonderful. This book will toss your brain into a paranoid muck, where it can stew for a while in despair. Whether outlandish or eerily poignant, this author’s predictions of bleak futures were wholly original, and it’s a marvel to take in the breadth of his accomplishments throughout his career. To sum it all up then, in plain English, A Maze of Death is a quick-moving, compelling and fun novel.

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Comments

  1. Ranks among my favorite of his novels… along with the profoundly underrated Martian Time-Slip (1964).

    Liked by 1 person

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