Cantata-140 by Philip K Dick. Book review

Cantata-140 by Philip K Dick. Gollancz ‘7.99

Reviewed by John Howard

Cantata-140 was first published in 1966 as The Crack in Space. This new reprint takes the title of the first half of the novel, published on its own as a magazine novella two years earlier. Both versions of the story come from the time when Philip K Dick was producing some of his finest and most memorable work, such as The Man in the High Castle, Martian Time-Slip, and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

The intriguing title is a reference to the cantata Wachet auf by Johann Sebastian Bach, whose compositions are often referred to by their catalogue numbers: in this case 140. Wachet auf ‘ ‘Sleepers awake’ ‘ turns out to be the deciding factor in the US presidential election campaign being fought along mainly racial lines in the vastly overpopulated world of 2080, where millions are kept warehoused in frozen sleep until a solution can be found. At the same time a faulty jiffy-scuttler seems to provide the answer: a hole in space leading through to an apparently idyllic and uninhabited planet. A freewheeling mixture of personal, commercial and political vested interests squabble over whether or not the bibs ‘ the sleepers ‘bottled in bond’ ‘ are to be woken up and sent through the rupture in the jiffy-scuttler’s tube-wall. But is this really such a simple solution after all? For a start, the new planet is found to be uncannily identical to Earth, but seemingly without any of the expected inhabitants’

Cantata-140 is a fine example of Dick’s fast-moving and oblique storytelling and world-building, with his characteristic challenging combination of invention, compassion, and attention to the concerns and realities of future society and the people who must live in it. Philip K Dick’s place as one of the few genuinely vital science fiction writers ‘ even now, thirty years after his death ‘ still seems certain.

Cantata-140 by Philip K Dick. Gollancz ‘7.99

Reviewed by John Howard

Cantata-140 was first published in 1966 as The Crack in Space. This new reprint takes the title of the first half of the novel, published on its own as a magazine novella two years earlier. Both versions of the story come from the time when Philip K Dick was producing some of his finest and most memorable work, such as The Man in the High Castle, Martian Time-Slip, and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

The intriguing title is a reference to the cantata Wachet auf by Johann Sebastian Bach, whose compositions are often referred to by their catalogue numbers: in this case 140. Wachet auf ‘ ‘Sleepers awake’ ‘ turns out to be the deciding factor in the US presidential election campaign being fought along mainly racial lines in the vastly overpopulated world of 2080, where millions are kept warehoused in frozen sleep until a solution can be found. At the same time a faulty jiffy-scuttler seems to provide the answer: a hole in space leading through to an apparently idyllic and uninhabited planet. A freewheeling mixture of personal, commercial and political vested interests squabble over whether or not the bibs ‘ the sleepers ‘bottled in bond’ ‘ are to be woken up and sent through the rupture in the jiffy-scuttler’s tube-wall. But is this really such a simple solution after all? For a start, the new planet is found to be uncannily identical to Earth, but seemingly without any of the expected inhabitants’

Cantata-140 is a fine example of Dick’s fast-moving and oblique storytelling and world-building, with his characteristic challenging combination of invention, compassion, and attention to the concerns and realities of future society and the people who must live in it. Philip K Dick’s place as one of the few genuinely vital science fiction writers ‘ even now, thirty years after his death ‘ still seems certain.