Saturday, July 10, 2010
Novella by Philip K. Dick
Originally titled "The Man with the Broken Match", changed to "What the Dead Men Say" by Dick's editor, I'm not sure I really like either title.
Johnny Barefoot is a PR man for recently deceased tycoon Louis Sarapis. The plan is to bring Sarapis back to life by preserving his brain and allowing it to issue public statements and oversee the company for brief intervals every year. This is common procedure in 2075, but Sarapis wants to draw it out as long as possible.
When they're unable to revive Sarapis, his heir and next-of-kin is sent for to take over the company. Kathy has overcome drug addiction, is still a bit crazy, but Johnny finds himself falling in love with her (as predicted by his wife). Johnny must help Kathy run the company, defend it from corporate takeover by St. Cyr (their former attorney, now working for a rival company), come up with press releases for the dead businessman, help failed presidential candidate Alfonse Gam get elected on his second try, and deal with the mysterious transmissions from space that seem to be coming from the brain of Louis Sarapis... despite Sarapis' body being right here on Earth.
And then Johnny's life gets even more weird and complicated. The mystery of Sarapis' voice from space is the driving force of the story, and it's increasing desire to interfere with the election. Eventually we end up with paranoid conspiracies and a section of pretty effective horror writing.
The overall mystery could have been wrapped up a little better, and a few minor plot holes exist, but the story pushes ahead fast enough you hardly notice. Some things I thought were going to be plot holes were actually explained in a surprisingly logically obvious manner, but the ending remains open and I'm unsure whether to assume the lesser or greater evil resolution. Either way, this ends darkly, but I like it.
Not Dick's best work, but pretty good, and I definitely like this more than the only other review I could find did. Johnny has a few different theories through the story, and the best thing about Dick's writing is that I believe each one of them, and then discard them, right along with Johnny. This is his most useful, recurring talent as a writer. 4 out of 5 matchsticks aren't broken; 4 out of 5 PR men have it easier than Johnny Barefoot.