The World Jones Made
(Gollancz, £6.99, 199 pages, paperback, first published 1956,
this edition published 9 October 2003.)
When Cussick first meets him, Floyd Jones is eking out an existence
as a carnival fortune teller. This is enough to get him arrested;
is an undercover agent of FedGov, who have decreed through Hoff's Relativism
that no one may assert a belief as though it were a fact. In an effort
to end wars and prevent the rise of ideologues, FedGov have made it
illegal to be certain of anything that is not a quantifiable fact. But
Hoff's Relativism doesn't allow for Jones; endowed with genuine precognitive
abilities, Jones can be certain where everyone else has to guess. FedGov
has to let him go, and before you can blink he's become an ideologue
and started a war.
The World Jones Made is one of Philip K Dick's earliest novels,
dating from 1956, and although it's a little rough at the edges, it's
a fairly potent statement about absolute power and the charismatic individuals
who seize it. Jones, of course, takes control of America as much because
he knows he's fated to do so as for any personal motive, but he is also
a clear leader amid a sheep-like populace. Given the freedom to state
with certainty what will happen a year from now, Jones gives a sense
of direction back to an aimless people, but it's his direction, not
theirs. Is he a Christ, or a Hitler?
It's not clear whether we're meant to side with Jones or FedGov during
the novel's early chapters, but by the halfway mark, Jones has quite
clearly become a Hitler. On a platform of xenophobia (the focus of his
-- and the people's -- hatred is a swarm of alien "drifters") he marshals
the people into uniformed cells, then incites them to depose FedGov
and appoint him their supreme political leader. However, Jones is not
infallible: he can only see one year into the future (an effect which
is psychologically well realised from Jones' viewpoint), and as a result,
it seems he cannot foresee the fall that will follow his rise. It's
obvious that Dick didn't entirely know how to dispose of a character
who can predict his own death -- but then how do you convincingly kill
off a clairvoyant? The World Jones Made ends on something of
a cop-out, but there is one final small twist ...
The World Jones Made shows a great author finding his feet.
He's still playing here with some of the themes that will form the backbone
of later novels, and although the plot is a bit too straightforward,
the characters are uniformly well depicted, and the familiar themes
of powerlessness and paranoia are already evident. It's gritty, but
it's not utterly bleak; it's outré, but not completely nuts.
All in all, a very accessible Dick novel.
Review by John Toon.
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