Treasured Stories: “Life’s Illusion” (1988)

« Reality is a powerful solvent. » — Tony Judt

I was all set to write about a certain topic… but one hurdle stopped me cold: having recently moved, we are (mostly me, I confess) still somewhat living in boxes. So… where’s that other book? In any one of a hundred or more boxes. Fortunately, I try to always have a backup plan.

This isn’t the first time I draw attention to an offering from DC’s ambitious but ill-fated Wasteland (1987-88) under the Treasured Stories rubric. See also Foo Goo and American Squalor for more details and to (beware!) suffer a case of thematic whiplash. Whatever warts and blemishes Del Close and John Ostrander‘s Wasteland creations may have borne, they weren’t interchangeable.

Today’s yarn is a spot-on homage to author Philip K. Dick (1928-82), down to the name and occupation. The ‘real’ PKD may have been fond of meat loaf as well, for all I know.

Possibly a reference to PKD’s 1966 novel The Crack in Space?
Another cute detail: « From 1948 to 1952, he worked at Art Music Company, a record store on Telegraph Avenue » (in Oakland, CA). Oh, and Robin Williams was a Del Close fan… and vice versa.
Life’s Illusion appeared in the final semi-decent issue of Wasteland, no. 10 (Sept. 1988, DC)… beyond that point, it was a painful slide into the abyss. Anyway, I love how this story is able to deftly juggle its elements of comedy, tragedy and Dickian metaphysics without dropping the ball. Poor Mary.

PKD had been on my mind lately. Last fall, while rambling around town, I came upon a Little Library housing one of his books, a French-language edition of 1964’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. I’d read the original paperback edition in 1992, but wasn’t sure I quite grasped its dénouement, and had no-one to compare notes with.

Somewhere, eons ago, I’d read that Dick’s manuscripts for his 1960s paperback originals were abridged (i.e. gutted) to fit the publishers’ format and predetermined page count. But this might be apocryphal. As it stands, I can find no trace of such a claim. The story went on to say that publishers in Belgium and France, where the author was more of a draw than in North America, based their renditions upon Dick’s unexpurgated manuscripts, leading to, unusually for translations, results hewing closer to the writer’s intent. It helps that Dick, not given to extravagant stylistic flourishes, is relatively easy to translate.

« This is an illusion ». Here’s the tome in question, published in 1977 by Belgium’s Éditions Marabout, using Guy Abadia’s 1969 translation. Despite the fact that the book’s been retranslated since, I’ve no quibble with this version, save for the lack of credit for the cover illustrator.

I’m currently halfway through, and so far all is clear; I may have to confer with my younger self to explain the plot to him, poor thing.

-RG

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