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The World Jones Made

by Philip K Dick

(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; cover scanCussick 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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