1970 science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick. * * * 1/2 (explanation)
[Printed March 2003 by Vintage Books; ISBN 0-375-71934-2]
Not far in the future, technology has advanced to the point where people's brains can be engineered to vastly exceed the abilities of ordinary men. The 'New Men' hold themselves as a race apart -- superior to Old Men in mental ability. At the same time, another group of people with strong psionic abilities has arisen -- the 'Unusuals'. Between them, the New Men and Unusuals control all political power and all of the media. Although both groups are envious of each other's power and watchful to prevent each others' ascendancy, they both regard the 'Old Men' (i.e. everyone else) as an inferior race whose time has come and gone. Although Old Men can theoretically advance into jobs that require thought rather than soul-destroying tedium, the tests required are generally known to be rigged to exclude them. Further measures for their elimination are in the works.
Willis Gram is an Unusual, whose telepathic abilities let him know the thoughts of his rivals, and he has used his ability to propel himself to the highest office on Earth, Council Chairman for the Extraordinary Committe for Public Safety. He's a bit quirky, and somewhat distracted by his ongoing divorce from his wife. But his ability to read thoughts keeps him one step ahead of his rivals.
The only threat to this power structure is a renegade New Man named Thors Provoni. Ten years ago, he left Sol system in a space ship, promising to return when he found a place where Old Men could 'live, and govern themselves.' Bouyed by this hope, a group of Old Men have formed an underground movement dedicated to Provoni's return. The authorities have imprisoned the leader of the Under Men, Eric Cordon, but through a secret transmitter, Cordon is able to transmit his pronouncements to the rest of the Organization. The Under Men have the ability to print and distribute vast amounts of Cordon's sayings. Of course, possessing such literature is a felony, subjecting the offender to transportation to concentration camps on Luna. Nevertheless, Under Man tracts appear to be everywhere, you only ever have to find a dealer.
Nick Appleton is a mere Old Man, whose work as a tire regroover barely enables him to support his wife Kleo and son Bobby in a dingy apartment. The novel begins with Appleton taking Bobby in for his government tests, desperately hoping for a better life for his son. I don't have to tell you how that turns out. The hapless Appleton allows events to get himself involved with the Under Men, where he falls in love with Charlotte Boyer, the sixteen-year-old girlfriend of an alcoholic literature dealer.
Events begin to accelerate when, beyond all hope, messages from Provoni arrive, heralding the downfall of the power structure: He has encountered giant, powerful protoplasmic beings who are returning with him to overturn everything and restore a just society.
Our Friends From Frolix 8 is well worth reading. Its style preserves the best parts of Dick's earlier pulp magazine writing style while being completely coherent, unlike many of his other works. 1970 is very late in Dick's career, and the sinister betrayal state he depicts, while a bit more sinister than most, can be found in many of his other works from around this time. From here, it was on to Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and Valis.
I found some parts of the plot unsatisfying. Frolixian Morgo Rahn Wilc is a classic deus ex machina. Of course, most of the action arises from the characters' reactions to his heralded arrival. Although everyone voices fears about aliens taking over the Earth and exterminating humanity, Morgo's benevolence is complete. Its motivation seems to be only the fulfillment of Provoni's dream, something I find hard to believe from a million year-old being with the power to create his own reality. Morgo's part consists only of conversations with Provoni on the trip home, plus a little bit at the end; but you will have to read the book to find out what that is.