The Man Who Japed
|The Man Who Japed|
Cover of first edition (paperback)
|Author||Philip K. Dick|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
The Man Who Japed is a science fiction novel written by Philip K. Dick, first published in 1956. Although one of Dick's lesser-known novels, it features several of the ideas and themes that recur throughout his later works. The "jape[s]" or practical jokes of the novel begin with a statue's unconventional decapitation.
The Man Who Japed is set in the year 2114. After a devastating twentieth century limited nuclear war, a South African ("Afrikaans Empire") military survivor named General Streiter launched a global revolution in 1985 that ushered in a totalitarian government. In providing one example of the carnage Dick has his protagonist Allen Purcell visit Japan's northern island, Hokkaidō. The location is still a desolate wasteland that has not recovered from nuclear bombardment in 1972, the last year of the global war referred to within this book.
This regime - Moral Reclamation ("Morec") - rules a post-apocalyptic world under its strict ideology. One of Streiter's lineal descendants, Ida Pease Hoyt, is in charge. Morec has created an ultra-conservative and puritanical society that is oppressive and judgmental of its fellow citizens. Four examples of the innumerable punishable offenses include: mild public cursing, kissing a non-spouse, absenteeism from community meetings and, of all things, the commercial display of neon signs. A thriving black market exists, however, where one can purchase the Decameron, James Joyce's Ulysses, chablis wine and pulp fiction detective novels from the twentieth century, albeit at vastly inflated prices.
Earth people also occupy several alien planetary systems. There are human colonies on Belletrix (Gamma Orionis), Sirius 8 and 9, and "Orionus." On these worlds, intensive labour is required to provide agricultural and industrial products for survival. One of the planets is used as a "Refuge" for the rehabilitation of social misfits or "nooses".
The "japery" alluded to in the title is Allen Purcell's wanton destruction of a statue of General Streiter. But Purcell has only vague, distorted and disjointed memories of the act and can't even understand his own motivation for doing it. The real irony lies in the fact that he is up for an appointment to a high-level position as a guardian of public ethics.
But Purcell's act of social treachery is insignificant in comparison to what comes next. And he does it in full consciousness with deliberation and complicity. He concocts a false history of General Streiter for a live televised broadcast that is matter-of-factly and even approvingly discussed by a small panel of co-conspirators. This bogus aspect of the military hero's life is his alleged policy of having all of his enemies butchered and served up to him and his family as delectable gourmet meals. Ida Pease Hoyt is also included among those living descendants who practice the same brand of cannibalism as the opportunity arises.
Purcell and his wife are just about to escape Morec justice when he has a change of heart and decides to remain on Earth and face the consequences of this unspeakably ghastly accusation. He promises his wife a trip to friend Myron Mavis's planet when they both make it through to "the other side" of their punishment.
- "Recommended Reading," F&SF, July 1957, p.93.
- A Summary of The Man Who Japed, at the official Philip K. Dick website.
- The Man Who Japed cover art gallery