There are actually two nuclear apocalypses in this book, the first one was caused by an accident during a nuclear weapon test, millions of people died or affected by radiation. The second one takes place only a decade later with much more catastrophic results. Besides millions of death most modern technology is destroyed, electricity and motor vehicles are things of the past. Mutated humans and animals are common place. The human mutants often have “funny powers” and the animals have their intelligence greatly enhanced.
Most of Dr. Bloodmoney* is set in the rural town of West Marin which Dick has populated with some very colorful characters. The trouble starts with the eponymous Dr. Bloodmoney, real name Dr. Bruno Bluthgeld. He led the nuclear weapon project in 1971 and is responsible for the error that caused the first nuclear disaster. For most of the book he is living incognito in West Marin as Mr. Jack Tree. Other notable characters include “Hoppy Harrington” the phocomelus** handyman with telekinesis powers, a little girl with a brother embedded inside her body, a man stuck in a satellite orbiting around Earth who becomes the world’s last DJ, weatherman and news reporter, a talking dog etc. Dick’s depiction of a post apocalypse world is refreshingly different, it is not a grim radioactive wasteland setting you get in most books in this subgenre. There is a semi-functioning government, limited commerce, local newspapers and some primitive manufacturing.
The narrative structure of Dr. Bloodmoney is quite usual for PKD, there is no main protagonist, Dick uses the “third person omniscient” style switching points of view many times as he sees fit throughout the book. This helps with the world building though it does make the book a little slow to begin with as you are familiarizing yourself with the characters. Interestingly none of the characters are particularly likeable, this would be a weakness in books by other authors, but in this case I find the characters’ individual foibles kind of hilarious.
Dick’s often criticized simplistic prose style is always oddly appealing to me, as is his often stilted dialogue which suits the bizarreness of his worlds quite well. I don’t know why some literary critics presume to know better than Dick how he should have presented his stories. I love how the storyline is unpredictable form beginning to end with many surprises and bizarre happenings along the way. Given the scenario the book has a surprisingly uplifting, optimistic tone and the eccentric humor made me laugh several times.
It’s a (nuclear) blast, read it!
* The original title was Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along after the Bomb, a tribute to Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
** Armless/legless condition caused by Thalidomide.