Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Unrecorded Philip K. Dick Archive Surfaces

by Stephen J. Gertz

Once again, Phil, you've come up with some memorable descriptive lines in this book -- two stick in my mind: something that smelled badly "as if the skins of dead dogs were drying somewhere, on a line," and "gray and fragile, like wounded mice." Wonderful.  (Larry Ashmead).

An archive of Philip K. Dick's 1970 novel, A Maze of Death - arguably his darkest and most violent work, an exploration of the death instinct and the human capacity for murder, and, as in much of Philip K. Dick's world, inquires into the conflict between reality, perception, and identity - has come to market. It includes the final, holograph-corrected typescript. The asking price is $28,500.

Manuscript material by Dick of any sort is scarce in the marketplace. Most of the author's papers are housed at California State University where they were donated by him in 1972. A smaller cache rests at the Browne Popular Cultural Library at Bowling Green State University in Ohio (which includes a manuscript draft of Maze of Death). As a result, whenever any archival collections of the author appear for sale it's a major event. This archive seems to have been lost in an alternative reality until now.

First edition.

"His job, as always, bored him. So he had during the previous week gone to the ship's transmitter and attached conduits to the permanent electrodes extending from his pineal gland" (from A Maze of Death).

That's what I do when consumed by ennui.

In A Maze of Death, Ben Tallchief hates his inventory-control job so he prays, the conduits from his pineal gland transmitting his prayers to a relay network which sends his plea throughout the galaxy. He hoped it would reach one of the God-worlds. It, apparently, worked; he was transferred to Delmak-O, a harsh and strange off-world colony largely unexplored. There, he joins thirteen other colonists. Soon, six of the colonists either commit suicide or are murdered under mystifying circumstances.

Per usual with Philip K. Dick things are not what they seem. The survivors realize that they are each criminally insane, had murdered the others, and have been a part of a failed psychiatric experiment in rehabilitation. Oh, and that Delmak-O is actually Earth. Ultimately, their entire experience is discovered to be an exercise in virtual reality and hallucination; they are trapped within a program designed to help them endure their fate; their space ship is stranded in orbit around a dead star and they have no hope of rescue. Within the program a computer-generated religion and deity provides solace.

But Dick, who in this novel began to explore theological themes, doesn't let it go. The god of Delmak-O - the Intercessor - bleeds out of the virtual world and into the real to spirit away one survivor from the doomed ship, leaving the others to continue their hallucinatory existence until they die.

"A but of explanation on p. 13, clarifying the fact that nosers are strictly
one-way machines, would make p. 31 perfectly reasonable."

In addition to the corrected typescript, the archive includes letters from editors at Doubleday. Dick, evidently, ignored legendary editor Larry Ashmead's suggestions in a letter dated November 14, 1968 in which Ashmead declared the novel "one of your best to date." And so over a year later Doubleday editor Judith Glushanok wrote to the author on December 15, 1969 reiterating the suggestions.

To which Dick responded on December 28, 1969:

1. Explanation on p. 13. You seem to be under a misapprehension re the way fuel is used in interplanetary flight. Virtually all the fuel is used on takeoff; it is not like, say, a car which uses fuel continually. Thus, a space ship could, for example, handle a single-way flight of ten million miles but not a flight-and-return of five thousand miles each way. Do you see? But if you want to make changes on p. 13, please do so. But as far as I go, no changes are needed, so I will yield to you.

In the same letter, he declines to accept the suggestion that the sexually explicit material and graphic language on p. 131 be "toned down." Yet in the final, corrected typescript - part of this archive - he made changes to words and imagery.

Leaf from typescript, with holograph corrections.

Dick said that the idea for the novel came from an attempt "to develop an abstract, logical system of religious thought, based on the arbitrary postulate that God exists."

At this point in his career, Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) was transitioning from science-fiction themes to reconnaisance of religion and God.  He asserted that the idea for the novel came from an attempt "to develop an abstract, logical system of religious thought, based on the arbitrary postulate that God exists."

The Introduction to the third volume of the Library of America's collection of Dick's writing describes this phase as one where "religious revelation, always an element of his fiction, became a dominant and irresistible theme," and that A Maze of Death "foreshadows Dick's final novels."

This post was written on Ecstasis-9, a barren pebble located in the third quadrant of meta-cyberspace by someone who looks, acts and talks exactly as I do but may be a figment of my fecund imagination, "Stephen J. Gertz" the product of long-term use of Substance-D by someone who shares my DNA but has been known  since  birth  as Agent  Murray, a  defrocked  rabbi  with personality issues working undercover  to  investigate "Stephen J. Gertz" for  the  Department  of  Homeland  Security, Section 8.

Images courtesy of Royal Books, currently offering this archive, with our thanks. Click here for full details of archive content.


  1. This book must have been issued and gone out of print almost immediately. It doesn't seem to be amongst his published works?????

    1. It is... I have read it. One of my favorites actually. You can buy it at Amazon even.

    2. Not exactly sure if it currently in print, but in the 90's and 00's Vintage Books issued a good chunk of PKDs catalog, possibly all of his sci fi novels. Have it, love it, should be attainable without too much hassle.

  2. In germany you can buy that book without problems (a relatively new edition)

  3. Err, yes it is. Easily obtainable too - there's even a kindle version available from amazon.

  4. In Brazil was published in 1989...

  5. A first USA hardcover edition of Philip K. Dick's A MAZE OF DEATH is a rare collector's item! Check out our PKD Bibliography here:


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