Philip K. Dick – Dr. Bloodmoney (1965) Review

7.5/10

Dr. Bloodmoney, Or How We Got Along After the Bomb is the full title of this novel. (Although the full title of my edition seems to be Dr Bloodmoney One of the Most Original Practitioners Writing Any Kind Of Fiction Sunday Times.) An obvious nod to Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Stopped Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), which came out in the year after which Dick wrote his novel. But the novel has nothing to do with Kubrick’s film, except for the fact that it has to do with bombs: it is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which the bombs have already fallen a few years previously. 1965 also gave us Dr. Zhivago, 1961 Dr. No and 1967 Dr. Doolittle, but the book didn’t have anything to do with them either. The title was a suggestion by Dick’s editor to boost sales. Dr. Bloodmoney is also not a comedy; it is in fact one of Dick’s more haunting books.

The story starts in the US in the 1970s with a bunch of characters just going about their lives, and we meet them on the day that an astronaut is about to fly off to Mars. Next thing we know, it’s seven years later and the bombs have dropped. The same cast of characters now lives totally different lives in a post-apocalyptic world, having a little barter economy going. Please take a moment, dear reader, to look at your coworkers and neighbours and try to imagine how you would all get along after the bomb. The astronaut is also still alive but for seven years his pod has been circling planet Earth, and he reads books over the radio for the surviving pockets of humanity on the ground. 

For Dick, it is not as if a normal world ever existed. Setting a story in a strange world like a post-apocalyptic one full of mutants, is just a way to bring out the absurdity in life that has actually always been present, even in normal times. Life is stranger than fiction and therefore Dick doesn’t always have his stories make complete sense. It’s more like looking at the normal world through a drug-addled haze. The characters see strange stuff around them and we follow their trains of thought down strange and funny roads. We see them come to badly-argumented, paranoid conclusions and losing their minds. The characters aren’t fundamentally different in the time before the bombs fell or after. His psychedelic futures just bring it to the surface. It also means that his SF isn’t meant to be prophetic.

Dr. Bloodmoney is an uncomfortable, distressing, slightly nauseating experience to read, and this is because our main characters are all troubled and live in a broken world. To wit, here are some main characters: an armless, legless invalid, Hoppy Harrington (yes he’s named Hoppy and he’s got no arms and legs, but he becomes a well fleshed-out character, sorry for the pun. This wouldn’t be possible in today’s climate.), who rides around in an electric cart and has psychic powers. A German atomic scientist, Dr. Bluthgeld (which is pseudo-German for blood money) who is a paranoid schizophrenic (because we can’t have a Dick book without at least one schizophrenic), and Edie, a mutated teenage girl with a twin brother Bill growing inside her chest. It’s speculated that Edie and Bill are an inverse representation of Philip K. Dick himself, since he had a twin sister who died at childbirth. The voice of Bill might be Dick. And we have the astronaut going crazy in his Earth orbit. What a horror show.

Dr. Bloodmoney has a larger cast of characters than usual for Dick’s books, and much of the story meanders from one character interaction to another, through scenes of people trying to get by in the post-bomb world, and talking about their activities and making comments about mutated animals. It all feels a bit aimless. It’s an approach to storytelling that Dick employed before, in The Man in the High Castle (1962) for example, which is a variation on this story where the reader is just following along with the characters as they go about their lives in a strange world. We could rename that one to How We Got Along After the Japanese Invasion. There is an important theme and that is about the relative power that people hold, and how the post-apocalyptic world upended the balance. Some characters start out small and weak before the bombs fell, and gain more and more power as the book progresses, while others get weaker and weaker.

It is one of Dick’s better novels, mainly because the ensemble cast is memorable and the world he builds up is nicely self-contained and fleshed out. These things help to leave an impression on your mind. At the same time, I missed some of the stranger ideas that we find in books like Ubik or The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. I like my PKD as crazy as possible. As far as sci-fi ideas go, it lacks some excitement. And because of its aimlessness I didn’t feel compelled reading it; I had to push through. But the cast and setting have something memorable about them, and I liked it more and more towards the end.

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13 Responses to Philip K. Dick – Dr. Bloodmoney (1965) Review

  1. From your review, I believe that “uncomfortable” would be quite an understatement in describing this book, and yet I find myself fascinated by the idea of this post-apocalyptic world. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Philip K Dick really wanted to focus on a little valley with a little village in a post-apocalyptic world, and it actually wouldn’t be such a bad place to live, the way he describes it. A sort of cozy post-apocalyptic farming community. What makes his story so uncomfortable is that there are mentally sick people who control the lives of others around them and it is hard to escape them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. piotrek says:

    I’ll keep this one in mind for when the time comes to read some Dick again… I can’t take him in large doses, but from time to time it’s great. My feelings towards him are best summed up by your recent comment on Bart’s blog post about “Flow, my Tears…” 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. bormgans says:

    Good review, you’ve piqued my interest, I’d even say atm this is the PKD novel I’d most like to read. It probably would be interesting to read something from the mid-6ies by him again, most PKD I’ve read is mid-70ies.

    Great cover as well – not the Masterworks edition obviously, that’s terrible like most of the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no what have I done 😄. I think this is the 12th PKD book for me. I’ve only a few more that I want to read and then I’ve sufficiently read his oeuvre.

      The red cover is also a much better representation of what the book feels like. But in this one as well, he pushes too much stuff into it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wakizashi33 says:

    I reviewed this back in 2016. Like you, I enjoyed it and felt like it stood out from some of the other PKD books I read. There’s a quote by PKD where he admits in a 1970-letter to Sandra Miesel how much he personally liked it:

    “It’s a long novel and very complex, and is a s-f version of a straight literary novel I long ago wrote. Do you want the truth? I like DOCTOR BLOODMONEY better than anything else I’ve written.” (Philip K. Dick)

    Here’s my review: https://biginjapangrayman.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/dr-bloodmoney-1965-by-phillip-k-dick/

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Paul Connelly says:

    This is one of a series of novels Dick wrote that focuses on the traditional Big Events that science fiction books often feature, especially politically charged ones–wars (and alternate outcomes for historical ones), government coups, the Big Lie–but shows them primarily from the standpoint of the little people who have no say about what is happening and who have to live with the aftermath. The Man in the High Castle, The Simulacra, The Penultimate Truth, and Dr. Bloodmoney all follow this approach. Even when a strand of the narrative is from the viewpoint of one of the power players (like Nicole Thobodeaux in The Simulacra or Joseph Adams in The Penultimate Truth), that person ends up on the outside looking in when the novel reaches its conclusion, no longer at the center of power. And there is no triumph of good over bad in the end, things are in a muddle, maybe a more violent muddle where some players have been eliminated, but it’s unclear whether anything will be better in the long run. So these books undercut the heroic treatment that science fiction books (and fantasy) usually give Big Event stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great comment. Interesting to hear about that series of books about Big Events in Dick’s oeuvre. I never looked at it like that. You are correct in that his stories undercut the heroic treatment that can be found in many other similar books.

      Like

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