Even Minor PKD Ain’t Bad: VULCAN’S HAMMER

Surprisingly accurate cover. No, they’re not killer flashlights.

Having read some of his earliest stories recently, I’m a little more open to Philip K. Dick’s journeyman stuff, the stories he expanded into novels so he could feed his family. The pleasant surprise for me has been in watching PKD rapidly develop from a sci-fi writer into the guy who wrote PKD science fiction novels.

VULCAN’S HAMMER is from 1960. It’s a post-war world rejuvenated by giving all power to Vulcan 3, a computer that can build extra levels for itself. A bureaucracy sustains Vulcan 3, led by Dill, the only man who actually “feeds” info to Vulcan 3. There is a barely-defined opposition that’s been killing some of the bureaucracy that sustains the world government, but Vulcan 3 hasn’t been getting this intelligence.

Soon after an agent is killed by a mob (in the opening scene), the predecessor to Vulcan 3, Vulcan 2, is blown up. How? Who…or what…could’ve done that–and why? Why not just blow up the controlling model?

The plot follows Dill and one of his subordinates, a regional director named Barris who is being set up as a traitor. The paranoia stuff is a little cursory–yeah, I don’t trust you, well I don’t trust YOU–but this is kind of a kiddie version of PKD. I could see the young me reading it and wanting to read more of this guy’s stuff. (One of the leaders of the opposition has a child who seems to be a major character at first, then disappears into the re-education wing of the government…)

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The best cover for this book. I like that it proudly pushes the tape reel-level tech.

I’ll level with you: this ain’t great. Other books have dealt with these ideas in much more fluent, informed ways. PKD’s is clearly an expanded SF story, more about plot than the ideas. That’s too bad; I’d have liked the PKD of fifteen years later to take on what is admittedly one of those ‘power chords’ of science fiction ala Rudy Rucker.

Two books that handled the all-powerful computer running everything idea:

(Also, COLOSSUS, but I’ve only seen the movie, not read the book.)

But if you want a PKD fix and you’ve read everything else with 4-5 stars, it’s a fun way to kill a few hours (it’s only @160 pages).

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Not a great cover for this, but a nice generic PKD visual