“At seven A.M., Allen Purcell, the forward-looking young president of the newest and most creative of the Research Agencies, lost a bedroom,” and so begins The Man Who Japed.
This novel, published in 1956 (a product of the very early period of Philip K. Dick’s career) is an immense step forward from his inferior, disjointed, and amateurish novel, The World Jones Made (also 1956). The uncanny feeling, which one associates with PKD when reading his later and more famous works (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Martian Time-Slip, etc) is apparent from the very first line. For example, Purcell’s apartment randomly changes shape – his oven is a table that is a sink that is a food cupboard – his intelligent, caring, and somewhat bewildered wife constantly sedates herself with a vast array of drugs – and mankind emigrates to other planets and moons.
The most surprising element is Allen Purcell himself, a remarkably well-rounded character (albeit some reviewers note, the secondary characters are flat as ironed cardboard).
Also, the society of The Man Who Japed is remarkably vivid. The reader must remember that this book was written in the late 50s so concepts and societies that we might consider cliché were fresh off the oven (the dystopian masterpiece 1984 had only been around for 7 years!).
The Man Who Japed takes place in 2114 after a nuclear war in a society founded upon Puritanical ideals (no extra marital sex or classic books). Allen Purcell simultaneously creates propaganda ‘brochures’ and debases symbols of the regime without understanding his own motivations. He eventually must decide if he is to change society.
All in all, this is a very good effort. It is well written and contains the embryonic manifestations of PKD’s most compelling and poignant themes.