True Review
Current Issue Number 74 Vol.19 No.3  February 2010
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

PUTTERING ABOUT IN A SMALL LAND:

PUTTERING ABOUT IN A SMALL LAND, by Philip K. Dick. TOR (www.tor-forge.com), 2009, 317 pp., $26.99. ISBN 978-0-7653-1694-3

Some critics of the work of Philip K. Dick mention several of his non-SF, unpublished-in-his-lifetime novels, such as PUTTERING ABOUT IN A SMALL LAND. Many consider PUTTERING to be Dick's best "mainstream" novel. Written in 1957 and published originally in 1985 by Academy Chicago Publishers, PUTTERING shows in many ways where Dick was coming from . . . and where he was going.

In PUTTERING, Roger Lindahl, divorced from his first wife, Teddy, meets and marries Virginia. Roger has spent years working in a factory but dreams of opening up a TV repair shop - with Virginia's family's money. Despite this early success, the marriage is not a good one, and both Roger and Virginia are feeling bored, listless, and terribly ALONE inside their own worlds.

Increasingly, Roger feels more alienated from the southern California lifestyle in the 1950s, the petty ambitions, the useless yearning for the American good life (consisting of 2.2 kids, a brand-new American car, dog, and the house in the suburbs). Where to turn? Where to go?

Roger and Virginia enroll their only son, Gregg, in a private school. In the process, they meet up with another couple, Chic and Liz Bonner. Roger begins a strange, rambling affair with Liz, and continues to question many things in his life.

In PUTTERING, we see inklings of Dick's forays into all sorts of thinking that will mold his novels to come: what exactly is happiness? What exactly is important? To Roger, happiness includes Liz - a spontaneous, happy-go-lucky, risk-taking woman who injects what little adventure Roger feels into his increasingly alienated-from-his family life. Roger believes there is an element of deadpan bliss in the way Liz thinks and behaves, growing increasingly fond of her devil-may-care attitude. She is simple, with plain needs and predictable desires - maybe that is the best way to be? Maybe Liz was a reflection of the times, as well, or times to come (a shade of the butterfly, park-your-head at the door era of the ‘60s inevitably waiting in the wings?)

Roger notices how the rest of the world, at least this world of southern California in the mid-1950s, seems to think: happiness in material possessions, simple expectations, reduced lifestyle limitations, and unchallenging work. In the mind of Virginia, thinking about Chic and Chic's ambitions, here is a passage from page 206:

What a little view, she thought to herself. Puttering about in a small land. Happy, she thought, at polishing one TV set in the morning, another in the afternoon. The ring of the phone . . . he dwelt in such a piddling kingdom.

Earlier on in the novel, Roger is sorting tags for the TVs. From page 162:

. . . What did anything mean? He wondered. And how did a person tell? We can never be certain. Not until our dying day. And maybe not even then. All of us, he thought, are down here fumbling around, guessing and calculating. Doing the best we can.

Puttering about. Making half-formed, or half-informed, decisions about our life, our relationships, our meanings, our souls.

I can see why the critics liked PUTTERING. The promises of the later Dick novels, about characters out of sync with reality, those guessing about what is really important to life, the meaning of existence . . . they blossom in this definitive novel.

Andrew M. Andrews


Black Hills - Dan Simmons Warriors - George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois Additional Reviews Diving Into The Wreck - Kristine Kathryn Rusch The Jewel Hinged Jaw - Samuel R. Delaney

Boilerplate - Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett Swords From The Desert - Howard Andrew Jones Shades of Gray - Jasper Fforde Muse and Reverie - Charles de Lint Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's - Charles A. Cerami

The Raindrop's Adventure - Kimberly Kerr An Irish Country Christmas - Patrick Taylor Twilight Zone - Carol Serling Home For Christmas - Andrew M. Greeley Amelia Earhart - Lori Van Pelt

A Simple Christams - Mike Huckabee Puttering About in a Small Land - Philip K. Dick   Are You There - Jack Skillingstead The Fantasy Writer's Assistant - Jeffrey Ford

RECOMMENDED

CYBERABAD DAYS, by Ian McDonald. Pyr/Prometheus (www.prometheusbooks.com), 2009, 279 pp., $15.00. ISBN 978-1-59102-699-0

Seven stories in CYBERABAD DAYS are set in the year 2047 in India, including a Hugo Award winner and nominee.

THE THIRD SIGN, by Gregory A. Wilson. Five Star/Gale Cengage Learning (www.gale.cengage.com), 2009, 351 pp., $25.95. ISBN 978-1-59414-765-4

Calen Gollnet, resident of the country of Klune, watches as his world goes to war, as the peace made by the king and the arlics has become tenuous at best. But the armies are the least of his concern, as the Soul Wall appears. Prophecies are coming true - and what will the latest portend?

BY BLOOD WE LIVE, ed. by John Joseph Adams. Night Shade Books (www.nightshadebooks.com), 2009, 485 pp., $15.95. ISBN 978-1-59780-156-0

There is a strange craving for these types of stories, felt by mostly teenage girls suddenly feeling the throngs of post-puberty. And there are plenty of authors to accommodate this strangeness, indeed.

TWO EXCELLENT TACHYON ANTHOLOGIES:

THE SECRET HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION, ed. by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel. Tachyon (www.tachyonpublications.com), 2009, 381 pp., $14.95. ISBN 978-1-892391-93-3

I remember reading most of these SF classics when they were first published, with seminal work by Thomas M. Disch, Ursula K. LeGuin, Lucius Shepard, Connie Willis, Gene Wolfe, James Patrick Kelly, and many others.

Also:

THE VERY BEST OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, 60th Anniversary Anthology, ed. by Gordon Van Gelder. Tachyon (www.tachyonpublications.com), 2009, 475 pp., $15.95. ISBN 978-1-892391-91-9

Many of these I read collected in other anthologies, and some I read in the magazine itself. (I have subscribed to F&SF regularly from 1977-2007, and off and on since 2008.) Included are works by Ray Bradbury, Alfred Bester, Theodore Sturgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, Harlan Ellison, Damon Knight, Ursula K. LeGuin, Neil Gaiman, Ted Chiang, and others).


Next Time In True Review

A Sample Of Our Upcoming Reviews...

GASLIGHT GROTESQUE Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes, ed. by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec. Edge (www.edgewebsite.com), 2009, 311 pp., $16.95. ISBN 978-1-894063-31-9

TESSERACTS THIRTEEN ed. by Nancy Kilpatrick and David Morrell. Edge (www.edgewebsite.com), 2009, 317 pp., $16.95. ISBN 978-1-894063-25-8

THE BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR Vol. 1, ed. by Ellen Datlow. Night Shade Books (www.nightshadebooks.com), 2009, 321 pp., $15.95. ISBN 978-1-59780-161-4