The Ganymede Takeover does not seem to be one of the more well-known or commonly read novels by Philip K. Dick. It was not even reprinted by Vintage when they published most of his science fiction in that series with the nice covers. Written with Ray Nelson, a friend of PKD and most well-known for Blake’s Progress, it is not an uninteresting novel. After reading two more disjointed workers, We Can Build You and The Simulacra, The Ganymede Takeover is refreshing for its clarity and constant purpose. I want to discuss four themes: (1) technology and every-day life, (2) empire and resistance, and (3) religion and black nationalism. This is not a very ambiguous novel and can be very easily contextualized into the era of the Vietnam War. Indeed, I could read this novel as fairly obvious allegory for the American-Vietnamese War.
Plot and Setting
Ganymede has conquered Earth. The Ganymedians are worm-like and rely on human slaves to do most of their work. They also have a large population of collaborators in different areas, such as government, the medical profession, and the media. The resistance is centered in the U.S. South, primarily Tennessee and is led by black Muslims, the Neeg-part. One of the imperial officials from Ganymede, Mekkis, is capable of being brutal in his rule over Tennessee but, like many other occupiers, he has some sympathies for the local people. These sympathies – and the need to have human slaves – have hitherto kept the Ganymedians from killing all humans. The humans have a psychological weapon that puts people into a psychotic state and can liberate Earth but only at the cost of destroying humanity. A fragile peace is sustained by Mutually Assured Destruction. Mekkis, with many enemies on Ganymede, is able to use the help of the Neeg-parts to turn the weapon on Ganymede. The weapon turns the victim’s unconscious fears into reality. The novel ends hopefully with the end of the occupation and the flight to Ganymede of many of the collaborators. A transitional government is established.
I suspect we do not need to talk through the Vietnam War parallels. Dick and Nelso’s interesting turn is the idea that the occupation itself will destroy the home country. Much as the Vietnam War was tearing apart the U.S. by 1967. The collaborators and slaves remind us of the South Vietnamese government.
I have not written much on technology in this blog series on PKD. We do observe that Dick is a technophobe when it comes to most applications of technology by capitalism, the state, and the military. Of course, this is most areas that really matter. I imagine Dick could imagine technologies that could expand human freedom, but there are few examples of it in his work. In The Ganymede Takeover technology surrounds the characters. Hotel rooms and cars talk with artificial intelligence to their customers. They even haggle for greater income. These are everyday annoyances, but hardly providing substantial improvements in people’s lives. They are merely extensions of capitalist control over our minds. Looking at the internet age, he might have though he underwrote these worries.
In the hands of the state and powerful, technology is absolutely horrifying. The mental weapon that forms the heart of this novel, much like nuclear weapons, can destroy worlds and is only not used due to the likelihood of mutually assured destruction.
Empire and Resistance
Dick and Nelson wrote an anti-imperialist novel with The Ganymede Takeover. They do not necessarily praise all the acts of the resistance. They are not romantic revolutionaries by any means. The odious nature of the occupation, the manipulation of collaborators, the return of slavery, and the inevitability of resistance all come together to make the Ganymede regime horrific. Considerable time is spent in a description of the psychological torture of Joan Hiashi and Percy X, the former is a reformed collaborator and the later is the leader of the Neeg-part.
The character of Mekkis and the ultimate fate of Ganymede tell us that Dick thinks that empire is as back for the empire-builders as it is for the colonized victims. Mekkis ponders with disgust the horrible acts he must commit to succeed in his occupation. He also mourns his own lack of freedom. As a servant of empire he is without much power. His agency only comes through working with the Neeg-part.
The Role of Religion
Dick and Nelson carefully make the black Muslims the center of human resistance. The rise of the black Muslim movement coincided with the Civil Rights movement. But, it is rightfully connected to Black Nationalism, which was taking the lead in many of the leftist movements in the later 1960s. It also developed alongside the growth of religious fundamentalism in the United States. Black Muslims, religious fundamentalism, growing curiosity in Buddhism, hippies, New Ageism. These movements all experienced significant developments in the 1960s, PKD’s most prolific years. What these movements have in common is that they are all fundamentally irrational and leveled a critique at the Enlightenment that was devastating. The Enlightenment has yet to recover. One need not spend much time on YouTube how popular irraitonal and even anti-rational value systems are today. Here is a funny taste.
Some are harmless, others, however, are quite dangerous. Some can be harnessed for positive social change (the black nationalist had an undisputed role in the success of the Civil Rights Movement for instance), but it is impossible to build a just, reasonable, and free society on irrational foundations. Yet, I see little evidence that reason will win out. I recall an interview in a PKD documentary with Brian Aldiss. To paraphrase Aldiss said that he preferred the PKD who saw the bend coming, not the PKD who was already around the bend. I tend to agree. As long as he is looking objectively at the horrors of irrationality and used science fiction to document the world we live in, he has something to teach us. When he became seduced by those same irrational forces he lost the ability to speak to us about our world with the same power.