The Crack in Space, by Philip K. Dick
We who love science fiction cherish Philip K. Dick (PKD) but there are things we don’t cherish him for. These would be his writing style, his prescience about technology, or his clarity about human institutions. Those things don’t really exist in his writing. The things he is cherished for are enough, however: his sense of a tenuous attachment to reality, insight into human longing, his willingness to run with near nonsensical ideas to play with them, and his always innovative perspectives on the universe.
The Crack in Space was published in 1966, taken from a magazine novella printed in 1964. It has some elements he used in other books including the Terran Development Company and the Jiffi-scuttler vehicle. It also includes oddities such as “homeopapes” which are a not-completely described way that news is distributed, compared to the television innovation of “news clowns” where newsreaders actually dress in orange wigs and makeup to present the news.
The year is 2080. Racism is still rampant in America with a stark division between the whites and the “cols”. Jim Briskin, a black man and former news clown, is running to become the first black president. The world has become so overcrowded that tens of millions of people have decided to be frozen until some sort of solution can be found for the population issues. These are called “bibs”.
A technician doing repairs in the basement of a Jiffi-scuttler dealership discovers that a malfunctioning scuttler has a growing crack in it that reveals a gateway to another world. At first it’s thought that this might be a new world to which people could migrate to eliminate overpopulation. But the first explorers learn that it’s an alternative universe in which Homo Sapiens failed and Peking Man is the dominant species. The discovery and subsequent problems become part of the turmoil in the presidential campaigns.
Like many other books by PKD this one has its share of bizarreness, including an alternate universe race of tiny people who write in Hebrew, and twins whose bodies share a single head. There is that sense of longing, here with a couple wanting to take a pregnancy to term despite reproduction laws and nearly mandated abortions. This says nothing of Peking Man population, which believes mining is evil so they build intricate machines from wood and have magical powers to cause satellites to explode.
The weakness of the book is the political race tying the story together. Dick’s sense of how governments and politics worked tended toward paranoia and it’s a rare government or political character that doesn’t feel plastic and unreal under his pen. Making them the leading characters in this book muddles the story quite a bit, from their odd motivations to unrealistic approaches to problems.
The Crack in Space is an interesting PKD artifact that came out with a few other books between better-loved Dr. Bloodmoney and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. It does push perspectives on population and race though he also wanders into some deep weeds here and there. But there are definitely enough odd characters and unique ideas to keep the book entertaining for any PKD fan.