Ever since I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I’ve been on a huge Philip K. Dick kick. Every time I finish one of his books, I run out to the nearest Half Price Books and sift through the myriad of titles to pick up the most interesting sounding one. Most recently, I picked up A Maze of Death, one of his mid-later publications, and was immediately enthralled by it.
From the get go, I could tell this would be different from other works by PKD. For one, there’s actually an author’s note explaining the strange, weird world that you’re about to enter into. It’s less of an author’s note and more of a disclaimer, to be honest. He does, right off the bat, let the reader know that a small passage from the book is an exact experience he had while on LSD, for instance. He also talks about the religious aspect of the book and how it was, in fact, a construct that he and a friend came up with (I’m assuming over many nights of extreme drug use). And he explains that a large swath of the book, including the tenches (the creatures that are able to answer questions fed to them through tiny pieces of paper), was inspired by the I Ching, an ancient Chinese … Philosophy? Religion? Divination? I’m still not quite sure what it is, but I know it involves pickup sticks.
This ‘differentness’ didn’t stop with the author’s note. One of the best things about PKD is that you really have no idea what’s going on in the book until about the last three pages. Nothing makes sense, everything is just thrown at you all at once, and finally, finally when you get to the end, you’re rewarded with the slightest bit of sensibility in the plot.
But, with A Maze of Death, you’re actually given some sort of explanation from page one. There are characters. The characters have back stories. Seth Morley, for example, is a marine biologist on a planet with very little water. He wants a change in life and scenery. He needs a change in life and scenery.
PKD also takes the time to introduce the other colonists when the reader arrives on the planet Delmark-0. You may not learn about them right off the bat, but slowly but surely, a picture of their character, their past, their future, begins to form in your head. This was a huge change from books like Follow My Tears or Martian Time Slip where you really don’t get much about the characters aside from their situations as they relate to the plot of the story.
Almost as soon as it starts, the book goes into “’80s slasher movie” mode. It’s no secret. I mean, it’s in the title of the book, but there’s a lot of death in A Maze of Death. The deaths are random, scattered, and hardly have context, though. I’m still trying to decide who deserved to die. Which one of the characters deserved what they got and which ones were merely victims of the religious reality they lived in.
Possibly the greatest aspect of A Maze of Death is the world that PKD creates. The strange, uninhabited world of Delmark-0 is completely deserted except for tiny robotic camera-bugs, the tenches – tall, globular creatures that can duplicate any object set down next to them – and the tower that both stalks and hides from the colonists – playing games with them, almost.
That’s one of my favorite things about PKD. What we don’t get in character development, he more than makes up for in world building, and A Maze of Death has both of those. Every work of his feels like its an actual place – somewhere you could actually go and breathe the air, feel the wind, and hear the sounds of the world around you.
Now. As I was first reading this book, up to about page 170, I was thinking ‘Wow. This is my favorite PKD book so far.’ What happened in the last 20 pages of A Maze of Death to make me reconsider that decision? Well, you’ll just have to read it to find out.
Like I told Kelsey: ‘Leave it to PKD to make sense for 170 pages, and then totally mindfuck you in the last 20.’
Reed’s Review Corner
A Maze of Death
9.2 Nosers out of 10
Great character development and world building.
Something completely different from other PKD books.
‘How I Rose from the Dead in My Spare Time and So Can You’
… What just happened? Is anything real?