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The 1950s Science Fiction Podcast: S2 E3

Book review: The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick.

By Edward GermanPublished 3 years ago 16 min read


Hi, and welcome back to the 1950s Science Fiction Podcast. Today's presentation is a book review. This time I will discuss a short sci-fi novel by Philp K. Dick, The Man Who Japped. The Man Who Japed was one of the author's earliest works and is his second novel. The story, published by Ace Books in December 1956 and is 160 pages long. The story was part of an Ace double paperback that included a second novel in the back printed in a dos-à-dos binding. This type of printing consisted of two books bound together with the same spine but, each one was upside down from the other. The second novel was The Space Born by E.C. Tubb; I am not reviewing this novel right now.

The cover of both novels.

I am familiar with the works of PKD via the movies based on his short stories and novels. However, I have never read any of his stories until now. I didn't know anything about this novel until I saw the title on a free download website. I observed on the cover a man with a severed head running away from somewhere, and the object had a red substance on top. Yikes! The title and cover art made me curious about the novel, and I downloaded a copy to read. Japed is the very first story I have read from Philip K. Dick. Now on to the review.

Meet Allen Purcell.

A man named Allen Purell is the novel's protagonist. Purcell lives in the far future in a rebuilt New York City after an atomic war had decimated most of the world. Out of the ashes came a new form of government called Morec; this form of government is totalitarian by design. Morec is short for Moral Reclamation, a political movement founded by a war hero Major Streiter who has a statue in his honor. The movement stresses a strong work ethic and is very puritanical in personal behavior. Morec discourages the following behaviors, no public cursing, no sex outside of marriage, no public intoxication, etc. Morec can enforce its codes by various means; block committees located in every neighborhood, supervised by block wardens, small robots with cameras called Juveniles, and propaganda. Block committees have the power to call one of their citizens to a meeting to answer to charges and, if found guilty, can be publicly shamed or have their lease terminated and subject to relocation. Relocation involves eviction from their home, and a person must move away from the city center. There are also places called heath resorts where Morec can send persons deemed moral unfit; the resorts are in realty mental health facilities.

Now, who is Alen Purcell? Purcell is what we would call an advertising executive who runs is on business. However, the only client he works for is the government, and what he produces is propaganda. Purcell lives with his wife Janet in a small apartment; they have had no children since their marriage. Janet takes a lot of prescription medications to help her sleep at night and for anxiety.

One morning he wakes up and realizes he had done something unthinkable. He remembers what he had done but doesn't understand why. Purcell had japed the statue of Major Stiner, which resides in a nearby park. What Alen had done was to vandalize the statue by decapitating the head. He then placed it on one of the statute's feet, making it look like he was kicking its head. To jape means to play a practical joke on someone or something, hence the title. Janet Purcell reads about it in the morning paper and asks Allen about it. Allen says he was the one responsible, but he can't explain why he desecrated the statue. The newspaper report (yes, there are still newspapers in the future) states there hasn't been any arrest made. The police have concealed the statue from public view via building a wooden box to cover it completely.

Block Committees and Telemedia.

On the way to work, Allen is stopped and questioned by Mrs. Burmingham, the head warden on Allen's block. She asked why he appeared to be intoxicated last night. Allen explains that he was away on a business trip, and he consumed three glasses of wine. Mrs. Burmingham takes note of it, and Allen continues toward his office. Once there, Sue Frost from Telemedia is waiting to speak with him. She explains that TM is impressed with his work and wants to offer a position to work at TM. Not just any post, but the directorship of the agency. She explains the current director will resign soon, and they want someone who can bring a fresh perspective to the job. He accepts the offer and plans to start working there shortly. Telemedia is a government agency that functions like the Ministry of Propaganda in totalitarian societies.

Mrs. Buringham keeps a watchful eye on everything that occurs on her block. She had noticed that Allen had arrived home the previous night and that he appeared to be intoxicated. She takes note of his late-night arrival, and as already mentioned, she questions him about it the following day. This minor incident will come back to haunt Allen later on. Mrs. Buringham is a strong proponent of Moral Reclamation; she also has ancestor lineage with Major Stiner.

The Park, The Statue, and a Young Lady.

a latter edition of the novel.

The next day Allen visits the public park where the statue of Major Stiner resides. He notices various citizens looking at the coved statute and discussing who might be behind the vandalism. The accusations range from juvenile gangs to groups that want to dispose of Morec. Before the police coved the statue, red paint had been visible on the sculpture, and it ran to the ground. The red liquid had symbolized blood and the disturbing look of the statue made the government conceal the artwork from the public.

Allen notices a dark-haired young woman looking at the statue. He approaches her and starts a conversation. She states that she is glad to see the artwork of Major Stiner vandalized. While they walk around in the area, they discuss the nature of the crime and who may be responsible. The young lady asks if he needs help from anyone, and Allens says that he does; his mental health has been a concern of his since the japing. Before she leaves, the young lady gives Allen a card. The card has the name Gretchen Malparto and Health Resort printed on it. The fact she is associated with a Health Resort concerns Allen. Health Resorts is where Morec sends its non-conforming citizens, and they are usually off-world. After leaving, Allen subsects that she sent there to find him.

The Block Meeting.

That evening, Allen and Janet go to the weekly block meeting in their area. The gathering, moderated by Mrs. Birmingham, deals with various offenses. The offense is trivial by today's standards but is treated seriously under morec. Such as using vulgar language, intoxication, and pre-marital sex. The proceedings involve the warden calling out the initials of the offender. That person comes forward before the community and confesses or defends their actions. Mrs. Birmingham summons Allen to the front, and she charges him with public intoxication, falling asleep outside his residence, and using foul language. Allen sternly defends himself against the charges; however, the judge throws out the case. The judge, a citizen on the same block, conceals himself behind a wall and only uses his voice. He states that Allen is too important to the community, and his offenses are excusable. Afterward, Allen and Janet go home.


Allen decides to seek mental health treatment before he goes to work for TM. So he pays a visit to the health resort listed on the card the young lady at the park gave him. Allen checks in under the assumed name of Mr. Cottes but discovers the doctor already knows about him. Doctor Malparto is the older brother of the young lady he meets at the park. Allen explains to the Dr. that he was the person who japed the statue of Maj. Steiner. Doctor Malparto becomes interested in probing Allen's memory and learning more about him. Allen agrees to allow the doctor to examine his memory. The doctor injects Allen with drugs and attaches a mind-reading apparatus to him. Allen's mind thinks back to the business trip from a few days ago. He had traveled out of the city to an uninhabited part of the world still scarred by the Atomic war. While there, he meets with some partners who try to sell him contraband items. The items include detective novels, pornographic material, and liquor. Allen receives offers these items but is only interested in a copy of Ulysses by James Joyce. The book costs too much for him to buy, so he walks away empty-handed. After the examination, the doctor explains that more testing needs to be performed and makes a future appointment.

A visit to a Museum.

Later during the evening and after dinner, Allen and Janet visit a museum with their two nephews. There is an exhibit entitled the Age of Waste. A late-twentieth-century home depicts what life was like until the atomic war. Then it shows the house destroyed after an attack via the clever use of lighting effects. The scene even shows the demise of the family living in the house. Allen's nephew Ned enjoys the show and is why he wanted to go to the museum. While there, Allen tells Janet that he has decided to accept the position at Telemedia. He had been hesitant since the offer, but Sue Frost gave him time to think about it.

A Dream and the Doctor.

Back at home, while the couple sleeps at night, Allen experiences a strange dream. In the vision, Allen is hacking his way thru a dense jungle. He gets to a vehicle called a getabout, the equivalent to an automobile of our time, and smashes it with a rock. After waking up, Allen asks Janet if had been anywhere. Janet says that she doesn't remember, and Allen tells her about the dream he had. However, Janet finds the head of Maj. Stiner's statue in the laundry basket. This fact alarms Allen, and he rushes off to the Health Resort to see Dr. Malparto. After Allen arrives at the Resort, he tells the doctor that he japed the statue again. The doctor decides to run a battery of tests on Allen. The examination is to determine if Allen has psi powers. Allen scores negatively on every test Dr. Malparto gives him. At this point, Allen is tired of being probed and prodded. He says he has had enough and decides to leave. But before he can make it out the door, he goes unconscious.

A trip off-world.

When Allen wakes up, he finds himself on a bus riding around a town. He disembarks the bus but is unfamiliar with his surroundings. Allen feels that he is lost and can't remember where his home is. However, he realizes that he is not on Earth and in a society not governed by morec. The town looks like a mid-twenty century suburb similar to the 1950s. He sees a young girl sunbathing in her front yard and explains that he is lost. After Allen asks for directions, she tells him to look inside his wallet to find his address. Allen sees the address of his home on a card and gets a ride to the address listed. Once there, he encounters a baby who recognizes him as the father and a young woman who claims to be Allen's wife. The woman is Gretchen Malparto which doesn't make any sense to Allen since he is happily married to Janet.

I have to get off this planet.

After his encounter with Gretchen Malparto, Allen reasons that he was transported there against his will. The planet he is currently on is a heath resort world where morec sends its most undesirable persons. He discovers this by seeing a date in a local newspaper and understands that this isn't an illusion. The previous conversation Allen had with Gretchen turned out to be an illusion created back on Earth by her brother. They wanted to tick Allen into thinking he had left his wife for another woman who was pregnant by him. So Allen goes to the nearest spaceport and tries to buy a ticket to Earth; but can't due to insufficient funds. He tries to call home but can't get through. Getting desperate, Allen decides to commit a serious crime. He finds the nearest bank and decides to rob it by pretending to have a pistol in his pocket, but only his hand and finger are in the coat pocket. The attempt fails, and Allen gets arrested by local police. He gets placed on the next transport ship to Earth.

Allen gets back to Earth.

Allen arrives back on Earth and wants to get back to his wife and the new job. However, it is not as simple as you might think. When he arrives back at his apartment, Janet tells him the health resort told her he was sent off-world due to a nervous breakdown. Allen ensures Janet that he is alright and not to worry about him. At this point, she is more worried about the japed head of Maj. Stiner more than anything. She realy doesn't want to lose the lease they have on the apartment because it would be so devastating to their reputation.

Allen contacts Sue Frost to let her know that he will be starting the job the next day. However, she wants to meet with him about something important regarding his future employment with TM. Later on that day, Allen meets with Mrs. Frost. She and some of her colleagues have some questions for Allen regarding the time spent away from Earth. They tell Allen they have proof of an affair he was having with another woman. Sue Frost shows Allen a photo that depicts himself and a young female together. The female is Grethen Malparto and, they are both boarding a rocketship to go off-world. Allen denies the and says the charge and says he was away on a businesses trip. Sue Frost demands his resignation but, Allen refuses. He wants the Block Committee to decide if he is guilty or not. So he leaves the meeting and goes to work knowing he is on borrowed time, but he has enough time to plan his net move.

First Day on the job

Allen starts his first day at TM by implementing a packet created by the first agency he controlled. The 'packet' is a program of propaganda tuned out by the Ad agency. He is busy at work when he receives his first visitor, Grerhen Marportlo. Allen demands to know why he was kidnapped and sent to the resort planet. He threatens to have her arrested, but she decides to explain her actions. She tells Allen that her brother believed that he had psi powers. Allen's brain scans showed something unusual about him, and Dr. Marportlo thought it was a very remarkable find. It would seem that Allen Purcell is different than most men. Allen decides not to have Gretchen arrested and allows her to leave. However, before she leaves, Gretchen professes an attraction for Allen, and Allen kisses her. During the conversation between them, a juvenile (spy camera) was eavesdropping on their conversation. It sees the kiss and records it, then tries to leave. Upon seeing the device, Allen proceeds to destroy it by smashing the probe with his foot. At that point, two men burst into Allen's office; they represent Sue Frost and demand to know about the juvenile. An altercation ensures between Allen and the two men; a fight breaks out. Allen assaults one of the men after he tries to detain Grethen. However, she flees the building as Allen instructs her to do.

Back to the Block Committee.

After the events at Telemedia, Allen receives a summons to the block committee meeting to answer new charges. Allen knows he will lose his current lease, and he decides to work against the system. Since he is still head of TM, Allen believes he will still get a new lease anyway. Allen and Janet attend the block meeting, and things do not go well for them. Among the charges is Adultery and destruction of juveniles. Allen defends himself by saying that the woman in question, Gretchen, is just a friend. He further states that nothing immoral has happened between them. Allen also explains that he told her to leave his office during the confrontation for her safety. Allen is found guilty of both charges and loses his lease. The Purcells must vacate their apartment within two weeks and relocate elsewhere. Allen is furious and belates the block committee system; he demands the faceless judge show himself. But it is to no avail, the Purcells leave the meeting and go back home. Once more, Sue Frost asks Allen to resign from TM but, Allen refuses.

Back to work at TM.

By now, Allen realizes that he will be fired from his position soon. So he plans one last jape before termination. Allen calls a staff meeting and explains that he will be removed from the directorship soon. He gives the staff the option to stay or leave. Most employees opted to stay home, leaving Allen with only a skeleton crew to run TM. However it does obtain help from his old agency to fill in any crucial gaps.

Allen directs one of the remaining staff members to start researching historical information on Maj. Stiner. Allen also enlists the aid of another staff member to help him with his project even though he is not a historian. However, he does get assistance from an old friend, Professor Sugerman. Professor Sugerman man is a historian and, introduced early in the novel while Allen visits the park. After the information on Maj. Steiner's history is complete, Allen proceeds to create a plug, a subject for a TV documentary.

The Pagent of Time.

Allen comes up with the idea of doing a historical documentary on Maj. Stiner. It seems there has been a lot of discussion about bringing back some of the policies he used after the Atomic war. Among them was active assimilation, a means whereby the enemies of society became merged into Morec. Most of the population believes that returning to this practice will resolve some problems the planet faces; immigration to other planets and the recent japing. So Allen decides he can capitalize on this fear.

For the broadcast, Allen assembles four so-called experts on Maj. Stiner. They are all moderated in a panel discussion hosted by Allen. In reality, all the panel members are imposters except for Professor Sugerman. They start by discussing the effects the Atomic war had on the planet during the late-twenty century. There were food shortages, areas affected by radiation, and the chaos that followed the war. They further explained how Maj. Stiner helped bring back order in the world by implementing his policy of active assimilation. Professor Sugerman explains in detail how Stiner would kill his enemies and then consume them. In other words, cannibalism is central to assimilation. Now you can imagine that this didn't do off too well with the powers that be. It is especially Mrs. Birmingham who had been watching the broadcast when the revelation that Maj. Stiner was a cannibal. She sat in front of her TV set, dazed and confused after the broadcast ended due to technical difficulties.

The Outrage.

Well, as I am sure you can imagine, the broadcast started a riot just outside the studio. The power to the transmitter was severed to cease the program. However, Allen orders the use of the emergency generator in an attempt to continue the broadcast. The TM staff manages to restart the program, and it continues with the segment about Maj. Stiner's cannibalistic instinct. One of the panel members further states that his policy not only eliminates your enemies but makes for a great dinner as well.

Eventually, the broadcast becomes terminated, and the reason given is technical difficulties. Moreover, the viewers are advised not to watch any more of the show. A mob surrounds the studio, and the TM staff put their escape plan in motion. Allen immediately heads home to get Jane,t and he assures her the broadcast was phony; Allen says that Stiner never ate his enemies. They both head for the nearest spaceport, where a ship is getting ready to blast off to one of the distant planets. They have tickets to leave Earth courtesy of an old friend. Both Allen and Janet nearly make it there on time but, what happens after that; you will have to read for yourself.


My Thoughts

As I had stated before, this is the first novel I have read by Philp K. Dick. It was an excellent read, and I am glad I finally got around to reading it. The story is not too difficult to follow and understand. At its core is an anti-totalitarian police state story that has plenty of humor and satire. The protagonist, Allen Percell, is so contemptuous of Morec that he tries to bring the system down. He despises the use of block committees, censorship, and dislikes how the government invades a person's private life. Even though his position is supportive of the morec's means of control, he is ready to bring it all down. First by the two japes of the statue of Stiner, then by the fake news style broadcast demining his reputation. Also, given the political climate existing in the US, there was the fear of Communism and the lingering effects of the McCarty era fresh on the public consensus. The Man Who Japed can serve as a cautionary tale of what could go wrong with society under those circumstances. During my research, I read that the author intended to show what was happening in Mainland China under Charmain Mao.

As for future tech in the story, there is plenty of it. At least by 1950s standards. There is space travel and colonization to other worlds, as already mentioned. There are flying cars to traverse to different parts of the world. There is a suggestion of virtual reality utilized by Dr. Marporto when Allen was on a Resort planet. An electronic device created the illusion that he was married to a different woman and had a new life in that world. The use of prescription medication for anxiety that Janet Purcell took is not uncommon in today's world. While I didn't see any personal computers or the internet, the juveniles used reel to reel analog recordings.


Well, I will wrap up this podcast episode. This show is almost 30 minutes in length and maybe the longest I have reconded as of now. I hope you have enjoyed this episode of my series, and I hope to return with a new podcast episode soon. This episode is the first show I recorded using the Blue Ball microphone I recently purchased. I hope you have heard a better quality sound in my podcast. Please feel free to send me any feedback via the comments section, e-mail, or social media, follow me on @EdwardGerman3 on Twitter, e-mail [email protected] or use the comment section on the podcast platform you are currently using.

Thanks for listening

science fiction

About the Creator

Edward German

A long-time sci-fi fan who loves the internet. I am also writing on subjects other than sci-fi.

you can follow me on "X" @EdwardGerman3 Listen to my podcast The 1950s Science Fiction Podcast on Spotify for Podcasters.

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