In Milton Lumky Territory by Philip K. Dick is not what the author’s readers have come to expect. Not exactly. Known for his paranoid science fiction dealing with alternate realities, Philip K. Dick began his career writing stories about ordinary workers trying to make a go of it in 1950’s and 60’s America. His early, realistic novels were not published during his lifetime, but have recently become available. There seems to be a growing interest in Philip K. Dick these days.
In Milton Lumky Territory is free of science fiction elements and largely free of paranoia as well, but the characters should be familiar to long-time fans of Philip K. Dick. The hero, Bruce Stevens, is a small time businessman looking for a good deal on wholesale typewriters so he can make a go of it selling them in his new wife’s shop in Idaho. Along the way he hooks up with Milton Lumky, a paper salesman and long time friend of his new wife. Bruce does not have an easy time finding a good deal on the typewriters and also has trouble convincing his wife that he is capable of running her shop. She was once his fifth grade teacher which does not make their marriage any easier.
This plot sounds remarkable close to that of The Man in the High Castle but there won’t be any alternate reality surfacing to explain why Bruce Stevens can’t get a break. Instead, the story stays firmly rooted in reality, but this is not a bad thing. The story is a portrayal of work which we don’t get very often in contemporary fiction. How a businessman goes about his business without a murder, or a kidnapping, or an alien, coming along to spice up the storyline can actually make for an interesting tale as it does in In Milton Lumky Territory.
If you’re a fan of Philip K. Dick, as I am, then reading these early novels offers several rewards. We can see the development of the archetypal Dick hero, the more-or-less ordinary Joe in over his head with the deck stacked against him. We can also see the beginnings of Dick’s paranoid outlook on society. While there are no “forces” in In Milton Lumky Territory, forces do seem to be aligned against the hero. Milton Lumky knows where Bruce can get a great deal on electric Japanese typewriters. (Remember when those were new.) But on the way to the warehouse in San Francisco, Lumky becomes ill and has to stay behind in a motel. Bruce can’t get as good a deal without Lumky; in fact, he can barely get any deal at all he has so little money. Additional obstacles appear as Bruce keeps on trying to open his typewriter shop, so many that the novel begins to take on the paranoid tone of Dick’s later science fiction novels.
I suspect that these early novels will laregly appeal to longtime fans of Philip K. Dick. One has to wonder what would have happened if he had been able to publish any of them. Would he have gone on to write the science fiction classics he did? I like to think that there is an alternate reality out there somewhere, one where Philip K. Dick went on to become a sort of Philip Roth, writing realistic stories about everyday people. Of course, one may ask if that reality is the real one or the alternate one?
This review first ran on my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B., back in 2009. I’ve been moving all of my old reviews over to this new blog. I expect I’ll be running quite a few the next couple of weeks since school is starting tomorrow and I’m in the midst of reading Richard House’s book The Kills which is over 1000 pages long.