Exegesis of “A Maze of Death”

I’m going to make this quick statement, I am in love with Philip K. Dick right now. There is something about a science fiction writer into big religious questions that fascinates me. I am on a more or less steady diet of Philip K. Dick right now and I figured that I should work this into the blog. As such, I am going to work this into my new blog, mostly because it gives me something to talk about. What we have here is a continuing feature, which I will be calling an Exegesis in honor of Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis, written to explain the visions he experienced during the early 70s. THERE WILL  BE SPOILERS.

If I where to sum up “A Maze of Death” in one sentence then I’d say “It’s Lost in space and on really bad crack.” Yeah, not a good way of describing it, but it gets better. Basically, all these people who are sent to the mysterious planet of Delmak-O, with no explanation why they are all sent there and not really any hint. Since they all have different careers (marine biologist, linguist, theologian, etc) they have no idea what it is they are supposed to do. When they finally get to play the tape (Yes, it’s a tape. It was published in 1970), it has been busted and won’t work. So basically nobody knows what the hell they are supposed to be doing on this planet.

And then people start being killed.

Which is where the Lost thing comes in, more specifically, theories concerning Lost. It is stated that everyone on this research colony is in some way a jerk. Pretty much everything from general jerkery to bestiality is covered for in this group. This relates to the Lost theory that the characters are all in purgatory, which will relate to the book. In this case, the reaserch colony believes that they are part of a really sketchy government experiment, at least initially though because this is a Philip K. Dick novel. Lost my track of thought there. Anyways, the vast majority of “A Maze of Death”s cast is made up of jerks, addicts, madmen and various combinations. A couple are all right, but I didn;t really find the characters that interesting compared to the issue of the whole ontological mystery of the situation.

Another interesting feature would be the Religion that everyone in the book follows. It was basically developed by Philip K. Dick with his friend William Sarrill (whoever that is) with various inspirations from Dick’s conversations with Bishop James Pike. Basically, the religion of this book has an existent God that is seperated into three aspects. The Mentefactor, who is never given much detail but I think is supposed to be God the Father, The Intercessor, who is sort of like Jesus, and The Walker-on-Earth, who is basically this random do-gooder who wanders the earth doing good deads much like Kane from Kung Fu. These gods can appear to you at various times and do whatever it is they do. You can even pray to them via electronics. That’s basically how the book starts, one of the characters wants a change of job since his current one isn’t challenging. So he prays for a new job and gets one that leads into our story. There’s also a holy text that has some sort of inane self-help title that I think was How I Came Back From the Dead and So Can You. That is probably meant as a joke. Oh, and there is a fourth being, an evil figure called the Form Destroyer, which is basically the forces of entropy that will consume everyone and was created when the Mentefactor made the Universe as a side affect. Hope that covers everything.

Anyways, people trapped on a mysterious planet, everyone’s a jerk ass, people are dieing. I’m not going to go and explain all the weird stuff that happens, but a lot of weird stuff happens. There’s a weird prison thing that may anticipate the Black Iron Prison of the Exegesis and VALIS. There is also a Tench, which is a sort of jell thing that works kind of like the I Ching. The vast majority of these things are left unexplained because of the twist ending. The twist ending, which is important for this is that the events of the novel aren’t really happening. All the characters are in fact going through a computer generated simulation to relieve stress because they are stuck on a space ship with no hope of rescue. Everyone was being killed of by everyone else because they are so sick of each other that they can’t stand to look at each other. It’s supposed to be cathartic.

So, we know come to what it is that Philip K. Dick is trying to get at. A lot of this is about Dick’s beliefs on human sympathy. Simply, everyone should just be nice to each other. The characters in “A Maze of Death” are unable to do this in any meaningful way. They are basically unfit human beings by Dick’s standards. What is more, they are trapped on a star-ship with no hope of rescue and placing themselves in what pretty much amounts to maya, the Hindu concept of the vale that we perceive as reality, though in this case the reality they have to face is worse then the illusions they have to live in.

Or is it? At the end of the novel, one of the characters, overcome with depression concerning his situation is greated by the Intercessor. This is a surprise to him and the reader as the Intercessor has already been stated to have been a product of the simulation, something that the cast made up for the simulation. The Intercessor takes the character away to be reincarnated as a cactus, but the rest of the characters are sent to live out the simulation once again.

FINAL ANSWER: Dick’s ultimate philosophical goal is to show humanity at it’s worse, but also to offer hope in finding salvation through religion. There is also an open ended question regarding the existence of God. “Did we make up God and does that mean salvation is not possible?” Dick does not really address this question in full in “A Maze of Death,” and I have yet to find any works that really look at this. This is a pretty hard question though, largely because this isn’t really asked and it is not also very logical. Salvation can only be found through God, therefore if God doesn’t exist Salvation is not possible. However, in Dick’s story, God does in fact exist, but has appeared in the guise of a form that is created. By this, Dick is implying that God exists and appears to mankind via images created by man for God. This makes sense if looked at with the idea that God is not a being that is comprehended by human senses. The creation of various masks can help in the communication with humanity.

Alright, this is as far as I can go. I’ll be trying my hand at VALIS next, wish me luck.

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