23 May 2008

Out of Gas: Good intro to peak oil science, but look elsewhere for solutions

Out of Gas
David Goodstein
W.W. Norton & Company, 2004

We can hope, if we are wise, to alter the laws of peoples. But we cannot change the laws of nature. The intent of this small book is to explain the relevant laws of nature. The idea is to sketch out, for those who are not specialists, both the opportunities and the limitations that nature has provided for us. Only if we understand both can we hope to proceed with wisdom. (p. 19)

To this end Dr. David Goodstein, professor of physics at Caltech, has written a very readable introduction to the imminent peak in oil production and subsequent "end of the age of oil." Alas the book's greatest strength, its relatively narrow focus on the science surrounding fuel and energy, is also its biggest weakness when it comes to proposing solutions. After all, the problem of peak oil has as much to do with "the laws of peoples," or at least their habits and expectations, as it does with the laws of nature and raw technoscientific know-how.

He begins by describing something which is now a standard phrase in our household, "peak oil." M. King Hubbert was a petroleum geologist who predicted that the rate of oil extraction for the lower-48 states would hit a maximum value in the early 1970s (i.e., it would peak) and that it would rapidly decline afterward. Although his ideas were roundly dismissed in the shiny-happy 1950s, he found a more receptive audience during the fuel-challenged '70s. His prediction was based on three basic methods: (1) noting that increasing rates of resource use equal increasing rates of resource depletion, (2) assuming that rates of oil production will follow a bell-shaped curve, and (3) recognizing that the curve in production paralleled the curve in discovery, which has already peaked.

Goodstein notes that not all geologists heed Hubbert's warning, discussing oil in terms of the ratio of reserves to production (the R/P ratio) and concluding that we have oil aplenty for at least 40 to 100 years. As well, there is little agreement about the total amount of oil reserves left in the earth, and so all calculations based upon this uncertain amount must also necessarily be uncertain. His response is to note that Hubbert's warning is not about running out of oil per se, but about reaching a critical point at which the demand for oil will outstrip production:
Given that worldwide demand will continue to increase, as it has for well over a century, Hubbert's followers expect the crisis to occur when the peak is reached, rather than when the last drop is pumped. In other words, we will be in trouble when we've used up half the oil that existed, not all of it.

He then gives a cursory overview of the other energy sources available to us at this point in time. There are the much-discussed heavy oils, tar sands, shale oils, etc. whose exploitation will be expensive, slow, energy-intensive, and even more environmentally disastrous than conventional oil has been, and those cons are relevant only if we grant that these substances will ever be feasible to produce in quantity to begin with. Natural gas is a possible substitute for the oil on which we depend, but that would require an enormous overhaul of our entire energy infrastructure for a substance whose production will peak in a few decades, based on current demand levels. In other words natural gas is not a long-term solution. Although we have centuries worth of coal in the ground, it is highly polluting, dangerous to mine, and contains only half the energy of an equivalent amount of oil; additionally, to extract the same amount of energy from coal that we currently get from oil, we'd need to mine ten times as much coal as we do today. (To those who think this is reasonable, all I can say is here's your lamp and your pick, start digging.) Barring some crazy advances in technology (oil-based technology, I should add) nuclear fusion is a nonstarter, and nuclear fission, with good reason, is politically unpopular. So what options are available to us? What are the limitations reality imposes on how we can respond to this looming crisis?

Before Goodstein answers these essential questions (and because he is, after all, a life-long teacher) he provides crash courses in several areas, beginning with basic terms used in the discussion around energy. Global warming and the greenhouse effect aren't all bad, he says, because if it weren't for those gases and their warming effects, the Earth would be a pretty cold ball of rock floating in space. On the other hand global warming understood as "human-induced catastrophic climate change" is a very bad thing. Nuclear energy isn't all bad either, especially since all the energy we use ultimately comes from nuclear reactions in the sun. He also notes that while around 100,000 men and boys died in English coal mines in the latter half of the 19th century, the total number of deaths attributable to Chernobyl is around 2,500. (It isn't the most compelling argument for nuclear power, but it certainly makes visible the normally unseen human cost of fossil fuels.) We cannot conserve energy, which conserves itself as a fundamental law of nature; rather, we can learn to conserve our fuel. As Goodstein himself notes on p. 48, to say that there can never be an energy crisis "doesn't mean we don't have a problem; it just means we haven't been describing the problem in the correct terms." Because many of the books critical of peak oil use terminological sleight of hand to mislead readers into thinking everything is A-OK, this information helps provide intellectual self-defense against these status quo apologists.

The bulk of the book is dedicated to chapters on the history of energy, which describes the various forms of energy (e.g., kinetic, potential, thermal, etc.), the history and characteristics of electricity (a form of energy that is central to contemporary life), and the absolute importance of the idea of entropy, in which a fraction of energy used to do any kind of work will instead become disorganized heat energy. He describes a very vivid demonstration that he uses in his introductory physics lecture courses to underscore the implications of entropy: suspended from a long cord directly in front of his face is a 16-lb. bowling ball. After he releases it, he explains to his class that his confidence in the laws of thermodynamics, and particularly in the inevitability of entropy, allows him to stand in place as the returning bowling ball hurtles toward him. Of course, as should be obvious to anyone whose watched a pendulum, each swing is a little shorter than the last as the energy of the swing is dissipated due to the resistance of the air (i.e., friction, i.e., heat, i.e., entropy). This material was all absolutely fascinating, particularly when explained by such an obviously gifted science teacher, but I still find myself scratching my head about how it all connects to the theme of the book, which is the end of the age of oil.

Finally, Goodstein looks at some of our options for fueling the future in his chapter called "Technological Fixes." We could place a giant umbrella in space between ourselves and the sun, which he describes as a foolish idea. Limiting the damage done by our consumption of fossil fuels and the resultant production of greenhouse gas through carbon sequestration is feasible, although it has a variety of serious drawbacks, including the sad fact that there is little economic incentive to do so. (Sad how maintaining human life on Earth does not count as an economic incentive.) Goodstein feels that we might need to reconsider nuclear fission as a primary fuel source, in spite of all the dangers and difficulties with which it is fraught. Yet, even if the world were forced to use nuclear fission in this fashion, it is estimated that there is only enough uranium fuel (U-235) to last five to twenty-five years. And even if we could find more nuclear fuel, the world would have to build one Gigawatt nuclear plant every day for 30 years to supply the amount of energy we currently consume in fossil fuels. The only other option, he argues, is solar power--whether as photoelectricity, solar heat power, or indirectly as wind-generated electricity--and in order to harvest the most solar power, we'd need to do so with solar collectors in geosynchronous orbit, another sizable task. His conclusion, though, does not seem to follow from these premises, which would seem to suggest that we don't have a replacement for the fossil fuels to which we are addicted. Instead he falls back on faith in the "future technological fix" to keep from succumbing to the hopelessness of our present situation:

As this brief survey suggest, there is no single magic bullet that will solve all our energy problems.There is no existing technology capable of replacing the oil we will soon be without, nor is there any on the horizon that we can depend on to replace the remaining fossil fuels when they are exhausted. And if we permit them to become exhausted before replacing them, we may place the climate of our planet in grave danger. The best hopes for our civilization lies in technologies that have not yet arisen--possibly based on scientific discoveries that have not yet been made. Most likely, progress will lie in incremental advances on many simultaneous fronts, based on principles we already understand: controlled nuclear fusion, safe breeder reactors, better materials for manipulating electricity, more efficient fuel cells, better means of generating hydrogen, and so on.

While I don't disagree with his assertion that we need to fund research into these various research programs, I'm hesitant to suggest that we can avert disaster through mere supply-side solutions. In other words, we are going to have to learn to be a lot less individualistic and more communal in orientation, exchange single driver vehicles for mass transit, eat less meat, have fewer children, and in general learn to replace our consumer culture with one that values relationships instead of retail.

Earlier in the book, Goodstein provides a best and worst case scenario based on Hubbert's prediction, and I feel this is an appropriate place to end my review of his book. In his best case scenario, we collectively wake up to the dilemma, develop a methane-based economy to bridge the gap to future fuels, and then use a combination of nuclear and solar power while we build an alternative energy infrastructure. In his worse case scenario, which really is worse case, we don't heed the warning, run out of oil, and end up burning lots of coal for energy, increasing the green house gases in the atmosphere, crossing a tipping point, and basically making the Earth unlivable.
No matter what else happens, this is the century in which we must learn to live without fossil fuels. Either we will be wise enough to do so before we have to, or we will be forced to do so when the stuff starts to run out. One way to accomplish that would be to return to life as it was lived in the eighteenth century, before we started to use much fossil fuel. That would require, among many other things, eliminating roughly 95 percent of the world's population. The other possibility is to devise a way of running a complex civilization approximating the one we have no which does not use fossil fuel. (pp. 37-8)

Thus Goodstein sets the stage for our near future. I don't agree with him that these two are the only possibilities, although they do seem to be good endpoints for a continuum of options. According to Jim Kunstler's The Long Emergency, our dreams of running a civilization that approximates our own, particularly our love of automobiles and the infrastructure that supports an automobile culture, are pipe dreams, and nothing more. On the other end of the continuum, while it might not be possible or even desirable to return to an 18th century existence, we can all certainly work on the demand side of the energy equation and learn to live much more simply and in a way that minimizes our energy consumption---using public transportation, eating less meat, walking through the park instead of the mall, etc.

In short, this is a great book for explaining the scientific basis for peak oil and the coming fuel/food/transportation crisis. With a lot of voices being well paid to write off "peakists" as whackos, this sort of book is invaluable for providing a solid, reasonable, scientific response. Unfortunately, the technoscientific fixes he provides aren't that compelling, as even he seems to suspect. All in all a good place to start, but not to finish, your peak oil reading.

17 May 2008

Dr. Futurity: Medical profession saves humanity, surfs temporal paradoxes

Dr. Futurity
Philip K. Dick

Jim Parsons, MD, 2012, born in 1980 wakes up in a world of foreign spires, colors, and nighttime skies. He has abruptly and involuntarily traveled through time to 2405 after some sort of radiant beam knocked his car off the guide beam and into the far future. There (or it is then) he saves a gravely injured woman's life, thereby discovering that doctors and the entire medical profession are viewed as criminal. In this future society the population has reached a steady state with zero-population growth and no natural births; new embryo formation is triggered only when someone dies.

Dick hints at an earlier nuclear war (the H-War) and a subsequent Age of Darkness. He also presents a future in which post-Columbian global white power has been supplanted by an interplanetary tribal culture and society. Future humans comprise one general ethnic type, a mix of African-American and Native American, and whites have been wiped out or racially integrated. The future's eugenicist culture views death as nature's way of improving the species and so poverty, disease, and other forms of "weakness" have been allowed to die off. In this future death is revered as the source of new, ever stronger life.

And so the head of the future government, Chancellor Al Stenog, exiles Dr. Parson to Mars.

His spaceship is intercepted en route (reminiscent of Purcell's kidnapping in The Man Who Japed). Parsons comes to a parched red plain devoid of water and life (except for a single fly!) and so he assumes he is on Mars. In a rather chilling scene, he discovers an extremely weather ed marker with his name on it and instructions on how to operate the time travel controls on the spaceship. Only when he sees the surface of the moon does he realize that this isn't Mars but the Earth and that he has traveled far, far into the future. (Shades of The Time Machine.)

The marker directs Parsons back to his future and to a tribal lodge whose inhabitants wrongly believed that it was one of their beacons which brought the surgeon. These tribal people, who obviously disagree with the dominant culture's views on death, request that Parsons perform surgery on their wounded leader Corith, who has been fatally injured by an arrow wound. Parsons, being a dedicated physician (and also attracted to Corith's exotic daughter), revives Corith after extracting the arrow, only to have it later rematerialize mysteriously in Corith's corpse.

Lifting her head, she gazed at him; her eyes seemed to have shrunk so that the pupils gleamed like tiny, burning points, no longer located in space but somehow hovering before him, blinding him almost. "Someone is working against us," she said. "They have it, too. Control of time. Thwarting us, enjoying it..." She laughed. "Yes, enjoying it. Mocking us." Abruptly, with a swing of her robes, she turned away from Parsons and disappeared past the ring of attendants. (p. 94)

To solve mystery of this second arrow, Parsons and Corith's relatives travel back to Corith's previous assignment. The year is 1579, the place is the Golden Gate, Northern California. Corith has come back in time to kill Sir Francis Drake in order to change history and protect the Americas from European colonization.

"My son Corith is responsible for the idea. Many years ago, when he was a young man like yourself. He was very brilliant. And so ambitious. He wanted to make everything right, erase the Terrible Five Hundred Years..."

Parsons recognized the term. The period of white supremacy. He found himself nodding....

"So my son went back. The the first New England. Not the famous one, but the other one. The real one. In California. Nobody remembers...but Corith read all the records, the old books." Again she chuckled. "He wanted to start there, in Nova Albion. But he didn't get very far." ...

That was their great plan. To change the past by going back centuries, before the time of the white empires. To find Drake encamped in California, helpless while his ship was being repaired. To kill him, the first Englishman to claim part of the New World for England....

One after another, he thought. Drake would have been the first, and then--Cortez? Pizarro? And so on, down the line. As they landed with their helmeted troops, they would be wiped out--the conquerors, the plunderers, and the pirates. Prepared to find a passive, helpless population, they would instead come face-to-face with the calculating, advanced descendants of that population. Grim and ready. Waiting. (pp. 101-2)

Parsons sees Corith's assassination attempt and realizes that Drake is in fact Chancellor Al Stenog who is in turn planning to ambush Corith. Parsons warns Corith, who hasn't met him yet and so doesn't know him, and who thinks he's bad guy (after all, he is white) who has come to attack him. Corith leaps at Parsons, they fight, and the doctor Parsons accidentally stabs Corith in heart with arrow one number.

Although they recognize the accidental and ironic nature of the time traveler's death, their sense of tribal justice still demands a punishment for the killing. Parsons is taken through time and stranded in 1597, after whites had departed for Europe, and is rescued after brief while (for him at least) by Corith's hottie daughter Loris, who is pregnant with Parson's child.

Parsons realizes that he must be responsible for the second arrow as well and conjectures that he will kill Corith the second time in order to protect himself from the reviving Corith, but being a doctor he cannot bring himself to harm his "patient." As he is prepares to flee, two young people appear from future and kill Corith with second arrow to heart. Parsons realizes that they the children are the children he had/will have with Loris, traveling back to 2405 from an even more distant future.

After they take him forward to meet Loris again, he decides to return to 2012. back to the same day from which he was swept, to his doting wife. The novel closes with him constructing the stone marker that will eventually save his life on that desolate future Earth.

It is an expansion of his earlier short story "Time Pawn", which first saw publication in the summer 1954 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. Thus far in my "PKD Project," this has been the most fun novel to read, in terms of the pacing, the plotting, and the deft usage of tangled timelines and temporal paradoxes. I'd never even heard of this novel before I'd begun my project, and now I would recommend it highly to anyone.

10 May 2008

Time Out of Joint: Some don't accept the reality of the world with which they are presented

Time Out of Joint
Philip K. Dick

Ragle Gumm lives with his sister Margo and brother-in-law Vic, doing little apart from flirting with his neighbor's wife and obsessively playing and winning a nationally syndicated puzzle called Where Will the Little Green Man be Next? Although he appears to be little more than a couch potato, Ragle's puzzle-solving manages to bring more money into the household than does his brother-in-law's honest work at the local grocery store. Little does he know that, in true PKD fashion, his simple life is not at all what it seems.

This revelation takes place gradually. Vic has a moment of deja vu when he reaches for the light cord in his bathroom only to remember that the bathroom lights have a wall switch and not a pull cord. Then in the midst of a bout of self-loathing, Ragle watches stunned as a soft drink stand dissolves into emptiness, leaving behind a slip of paper reading "Soft Drink Stand." (This reminded me of the Roddy Piper vehicle They Live, in which everyday objects are revealed to be alien artifacts imprinted with subliminal messages---like this fistful of dollars.)

Gumm keeps a small metal box in the pocket of his coat in the hall closet, and in this small box the strange slip of paper keeps company with its five predecessors. Thus far Gumm has seen a door, a factory building, a highway, a drinking fountain, and a bowl of flowers disappear in the same way as did the soft-drink stand. "The time is out of joint," he muses, quoting Hamlet as his world begins to fall apart around him. He then discovers that his nephew has also found several similar slips of paper in "the Ruins," a collection of abandoned lots, and on his subsequent journey there Gumm uncovers an odd phone book that references unfamiliar telephone exchanges. In the Ruins Gumm also finds a magazine featuring someone named Marilyn Monroe who is apparently quite famous although no one that Gumm knows has ever heard of her.

Of course, at this point Gumm thinks he is losing his mind. His neighbor Bill Black, who knows more about these goings-on than he reveals, suspects something different. He fears that Gumm is becoming sane.

This is indeed the case, as Gumm (and the reader) discovers after he and his brother-in-law manage to escape their small town via a stolen truck on the highway. It is not 1959, as Gumm, his family and (all but one) neighbors accept unquestioningly:
Anyhow, he thought, we've been out and we've seen that it is 1998, not 1959, and a war is in progress, and the kids now talk and dress like West African natives and the girls wear men's clothing and shave their heads. And money as we know it has dropped out somewhere along the line. Along with diesel trucks. But, he thought with sudden pessimism, we didn't learn what it's all about. Why they set up the old town, the old cars and streets, kidded us for years... (p. 217)

Then he figures it out. The war is being fought between the Earth--now under the control of the "One Happy World" government--and lunar colonists known as "loonies" or "lunatics."
A civil war.
I know what I do, now. I know what the contest is, and what I am. I'm the savior of this planet. When I solve a puzzle I solve the time and place the next missile will strike. I file one entry after another. And these people, whatever they call themselves, hustle an anti-missile unit to that square on the graph. To that place and at that time. And so everyone stays alive... (p. 222)

One more question remains to be answered, and one more surprise awaits Gumm. Why was the elaborate deception necessary to keep Gumm "playing the game" and saving the people of the Earth from lunar missiles? Because Gumm had actually planned to turn traitor and leave the Earth behind in order to migrate to the lunar colonies---after he got his first taste of zero gravity, he saw through the anti-space migration chauvinism. Luckily for all involved, his final defection to the "lunatics" is not accompanied by the extinction of the human race courtesy of the loonies space arsenal. In fact, the only thing preventing a cessation to all hostilities had been Gumm's continual playing of the game. His liberation into sanity is also the liberation of humanity.

This was Dick's sixth published novel, and the third that I have re-read for my "PKD project." As with Cosmic Puppets, I originally read much of this book whilst riding the BART trains between SF and the East Bay. I distinctly remember reading this book on a concrete bench outside the Dublin-Pleasanton station, biding time until my wife and mother-in-law arrived from Modesto to pick me up. I think that was Christmas vacation back in 2005 or so. My memories of the book are that it was so-so, and that the wild ending really came out of nowhere; on second reading, the novel holds together better than I remember, but the ending still doesn't seem to gel completely. What is initially a philosophical exploration of a man's awakening from the dream of his daily life turns into a classic SF genre story about war between the planets and a paean to space migration. It's definitely well worth a read, as are all of PKD's novels, though its premise won't be that much of a shock to folks familiar with The Truman Show (a film that is not based on this novel, from what I can tell and contrary to some online rumors).

02 May 2008

The Cosmic Puppets: Cosmic game in Virginia town

The Cosmic Puppets
Philip K. Dick

It begins in all innocence with some children molding clay into various shapes and a little boy named Peter watching them.

Ted and Peg Barton are traveling through Virginia on vacation. Ted wants to visit his home town of Millgate, which he hasn't seen in 18 years; they get there and he realizes that it isn't the same town in which he grew up. I'm not referring to the normal strangeness that comes over once familiar sites with the passage of time, either. In typical Dick fashion, an alien strangeness descends into an otherwise normal world and the world of appearances is revealed to be not quite what it seems.
Barton's face was waxen. 'I've never seen this town before,' he muttered huskily, almost inaudibly. 'It's completely different.' He turned to his wife, bewildered and scared. 'This isn't the Millgate I remember. This isn't the town I grew up in!' (p. 10)

The streets have different names. The landmarks are all gone, having been replaced with completely different houses, storefronts, etc. The house in which he grew up is gone and the street name is different. It is as if his entire past has been erased. The biggest shock comes when Barton visits the office of the local newspaper and reads about his own death at the age of 9:
The second child [to die of scarlet fever] was Ted Barton. He hadn't moved out of Millgate on 9 October 1935. He had died of scarlet fever. But it wasn't possible! He was alive. Sitting here in his Packard beside his grimy, perspiring wife. (p. 17)

Barton justly wonders who he is and where his store of memories have come from since Millgate is apparently not the town he remembered it to be. He begins to suspect that someone, or something, is behind this manipulation. As to who this someone may be, he has no idea.

We return to Peter Trilling, the little boy from the very beginning, and learn that he too is not what he seems. Somehow this small child has the power, like the juvenile Jesus in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, to bring clay to life. As soon as the reader is given this glimpse into something going on in Millgate, Ted Barton pulls up outside Peter's house; it turns out that his mother runs the town boarding house, where Ted plans to stay while he investigates the world turning upside down. Peter begins a conversation with Barton and inadvertently discloses his knowledge of the strangeness surrounding the town:
'How did you get through?' he demanded. 'Most people don't get through. There must be a reason.'

'Through?' Barton was puzzled. 'Through what?'

'Through the barrier.' Suddenly the boy withdrew; his eyes filmed over. Barton realizes the boy had let something slip, something he hadn't meant to tell. (p. 24)

Then Peter reveals an absolute humdinger. The town of Millgate, completely surrounded as it is by mountains is also encircled by two vast figures, each one of which overhangs and controls half of the bowl-like valley. Later in the novel Peter hands Barton "what looked like a cheap, nickel-plated magnifying glass" and instructs him to look to the haze overhanging the mountains; the scene resolves itself and Barton is able to see one of the two cosmic figures:
He had figured it out wrong. He had expected him to be part of the scene. He was the scene. He was the whole far side of the world, the edge of the valley, the mountains, the sky, everything. The whole distant rim of the universe swept up in a massive column, a cosmic tower of being, which gained shape and substance as he focused the filter-lens.

It was a man alright. His feet were planted on the floor of the valley; the valley became his feet at the farthest edge. His legs were the mountains--or the mountains were his legs; Barton couldn't tell which. Two columns, spread apart, wide and solid. Firmly planted and balanced. His body was the mass of blue-gray haze, or what he had thought was haze. Where the mountains joined the sky, the immense torso of the man came into being.

He had his arms out over the valley. Poised above it, above the distant half. His hands were held above it in an opaque curtain, which Barton had mistaken for a layer of dust and haze. The massive figure was bent slightly forward. As if leaning intently over his part, his half of the valley. He was gazing down; his face was obscured. He didn't move. He was utterly motionless.

Motionless, but he was alive. Not a stone image; a frozen statue. He was alive, but he was outside of time. There was no change, no motion for him. He was eternal. The averted head was the most striking part of him. It seemed to glow, a clearly radiant orb, pulsing with light and brilliance.

His head was the sun.

Likewise, Peter and Ted are sitting in the shadow of the other cosmic figure:
The figure rose around him. He couldn't exactly see it; he could sense it vaguely and no more. It flowed up on all sides of him. From the rocks, the fields, the tumbled heaps of shrubs and vines. This one, also, formed itself from the valley and mountains, the sky and haze. But it didn't glow. He couldn't see its head, its final dimensions. A cold chill moved through him. He had a distinct, sharp intuition. This one didn't culminate in the bright orb of the sun. This one culminated in something else.

In darkness?

Although Ted is loath to admit it (and who can blame him?), he has stumbled upon the secret of his missing hometown. Soon after he left it, this sleepy little Virginia mountain town became ground zero for the eternal struggle, first described by the Persian prophet Zoroaster, between Ohrmazd and Ahriman, the cosmic forces of order and chaos, of creation and decay. So of course, he tries to get the hell out of Dodge, only to discover that the road out of town has been rendered impassable, blocked by a jack-knifed logging truck.

He returns to town and meets up with the only other person left in Millgate who can see these looming figures and who remembers what life was like before they arrived--the town drunk, William Christopher. He reveals to Barton that soon after Barton's family left town, the Change came upon Millgate literally overnight. All of his fellow residents disappeared (they actually became these strangely luminous beings called Wanderers who nightly flit from one home to the next) and were replaced by a town full of strangers. No wonder Christopher, who was sober before the Change, has become the town drunk; it is his only means of staying sane.

Finally, after Barton and Christopher discover that they can literally "remember" the original town back into existence, and then ally with the Wanderers to do just that, all hell breaks lose. The little boy Peter is revealed to be none other than Ahriman himself, while Ohrmazd is the town doctor, Dr. Meade, who imposed forgetfulness on himself as one of the conditions of his contest with Ahriman. Once the charade has been exposed, the two forces expand their conflict out into the universe at large and the town of Millgate returns to normal. When we see Barton for the last time, he is leaving Millgate for a new life, his wife Peg having left him somewhere along the way.

Reading through this novel again, I was reminded of the places where I had read the story the first time. Images of the interior of BART trains and of my first apartment in the Richmond Annex came rushing into my mind unbidden; I'm guessing that I first read this book around a decade ago, soon after I had moved to California. At the time, the novel felt a little flat, but this time I really appreciated the nuances of the story. I also recognized this novel's relationship to Dick's later works dealing with various themes like maya and gnosis; these ideas obviously informed his writing long before his strange experiences of 2-3-74 brought them from his imagination into his waking life.