Review: The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick

When one mentions totalitarianism, it is usually the autocratic dictatorship that comes to mind. However, totalitarianism also functions on the complicity of the masses, and it is this mass complicity that is the target of Dick's ironic humor in The Man Who Japed.

Allen Purcell is on his way to a promotion from his position as head of major media organization directly into the Morec ("moral reclamation") government as overseer of cultural propaganda. One of the most sensitive positions, it requires the utmost adherence to morality, which Purcell has indeed upheld his whole life.

There's just one problem. Purcell has recently decapitated the statue of General Streiter, founder of Morec, and he has the head hidden in his apartment. Even worse, he doesn't know how or why he did it. Just that the statue head is there, so surely he must be to blame.

Even the least successful efforts from Dick bring an important theme to the table, and the targets here are spot on. Dick blends America's puritanical streak with a totalitarianism reminiscent of the 1930's and 40's Europe and the result is the Moral Reclamation government, complete with ridiculous toadies willing to repeat whatever propaganda is fed to them, as well as judgmental committee law, in which accusers can have their voices modulated so that the accusee will not know who they are.

And while these efforts provide a solid foundation, the rest of the novel feels rather slapdash. As Purcell attempts to discover what made him decapitate the statue, he is drawn into the resistance to the Morec government, and these sequences don't quite hit their mark. They feel injected to move a plot (any plot) along, rather than integrated into the central theme of the work.

All in all, there are some memorable scenes. One poignant moment involves the reminiscence of one of Purcell's friends, who sells him out to the committee in order to get a better living space. The scene of Purcell's "trial" was also well rendered. I recommend it as a window in the political mental space occupied by intelligent, discerning individuals of half a century prior, and a adept takedown of totalitarianism, though that argument feels quite thoroughly fought and won.