Chloe's Reviews > Vulcan's Hammer

Vulcan's Hammer by Philip K. Dick
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Jan 21, 2010

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bookshelves: dystopian-fiction, scifi-fantasy

There are few things better for me during the gloomy overcast months of winter than a good genre fiction bender. On those days when the sky seems especially oppressive, there is nothing I like more than tucking into a bit of escapist reading and forgetting that the world at large even exists outside the page. As such, I’ve been on a rather satisfying science fiction binge lately, running the gamut from urban fantasy to a classic approach to that most-satisfying of dystopias, the War Against the Machines.

This has been a tried and true trope of sci-fi long before James Cameron brought the wrath of Arnold reigning down on Sarah Connor. No, even that great god of the Golden Age of science fiction, Asimov, was concerned with the coming conflict while crafting his three laws of robotics and between H.A.L. and his Rama robots Clarke made deft work of the AI question. Familiar ground though this may be, there are few authors able to evoke the sheer terror of confronting a coldly logical machine horde than the prince of paranoia, Philip K. Dick.

In Dick’s budding dystopia, humans have outsourced all decision making to Vulcan, a supercomputer that is two parts SkyNet to one part Mycroft Holmes (the genial AI that assisted the miner’s rebellion in Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) that is fed endless streams of information in order to better facilitate its decision-making. By approaching all policy-making from a purely emotionless and logical position, Vulcan’s reign is an era of unquestioning peace. Humans are endlessly fickle though and, while many happily line up to serve as Vulcan’s agents at large, a faction comprised of mystics and luddites arises that seeks to destroy Vulcan and the new serfdom that it has inadvertently created. Inevitably, after realizing that it can never fully compensate for humanity’s inherent madness, Vulcan realizes that humans are too irrational and prone to chaos to be left to their own devices and the subjugation must commence! The only thing standing in the way of its success is a bureaucrat who is starting to doubt the wisdom of not thinking for oneself.

This is classic Dick, before he went completely off the rails and began spouting off about meeting angels and spotting federal agents lurking in every shadow. No, here he keeps his paranoia in check, sprinkling in only enough so that the reader can realize not only the dread that Dick felt at the abdication of human free will to binary monsters but also the personal disgust that he held for any who would willingly serve such a machine. You could probably stretch the analogy to encapsulate Dick’s distrust of large institutions in general and governments in particular, but that would just be forcing too much meaning into what is, at its core, an entertaining romp through a future that is both insufferably dull and existentially horrific. Aficionados of Dick’s more psychedelic writings such as Ubik or A Scanner Darkly may be dissatisfied by this story’s more traditional science fiction approach, but it is still an entertaining yarn that has withstood the passing of time without becoming too outdated in its descriptions.
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Reading Progress

January 21, 2010 – Started Reading
January 21, 2010 – Shelved
January 21, 2010 – Shelved as: dystopian-fiction
January 21, 2010 – Shelved as: scifi-fantasy
February 21, 2010 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by James (new) - added it

James Well said.

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