Review of A Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick

SFFaudio Review

A Maze of DeathA Maze of Death
By Philip K Dick; Performed by Benjamin L. Darcie
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] 6 discs

Themes: / science fiction / anagrams / deities / cubes /

Publisher summary:

Delmak-O is a dangerous planet. Though there are only fourteen citizens, no one can trust anyone else and death can strike at any moment. The planet is vast and largely unexplored, populated mostly by gelatinous cube-shaped beings that give cryptic advice in the form of anagrams. Deities can be spoken to directly via a series of prayer amplifiers and transmitters, but they may not be happy about it. And the mysterious building in the distance draws all the colonists to it, but when they get there each sees a different motto on the front. The mystery of this structure and the secrets contained within drive this mind-bending novel. 

A Maze of Death is like a miniature picture of humanity: a bunch of egocentric, paranoid people are stuck on a strange planet where they spend their time wondering what their greater purpose is, judging each other, and trying to escape death.

Philip K Dick structured A Maze of Death so that you learn about the world through different characters’ psyches, but since every character has their own preconceptions and usually distrusts or discredits the others, you’re never quite sure what the objective reality is. On one level it’s a surreal murder mystery; on another it’s an exploration of our cognitive limitations and the authenticity of the subjective human experience.

Everything in the book is designed to unsettle. The characters are irresponsible and petty, and have weird habits or addictions. One is “sexually deranged,” one is constantly popping pills, another tends to psychoanalyze everyone, and another imagines his companions engaged in acts of bestiality.

Conversations repeat almost exactly except with trivial differences. Characters lie to each other and to themselves, or see things in conflicting ways: one notices how everyone is strange because they’re all overly bright, like prodigies; another says, “There’s something the matter with all of you. A kind of idiocy.”

The setting is also bizarre. Features of the landscape move, gelatinous lumps give cryptic answers to written questions, and artificial flies buzz past playing very faint music. Meanwhile a strange factory moves locations and has a different sign over its door depending on who’s looking.

The religion is weird too. People of this future consult a holy book called How I Rose from the Dead in my Spare Time and So Can You, by A.J. Specktowsky. Like in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, religion is mechanized: people use technology to have religious experiences and send prayers electronically to “god worlds.” And the gods, which are natural and not supernatural, usually answer them. This is PKD’s idea of a “logical system of religious thought, based on the arbitrary postulate that God exists.”

A Christ-like figure, The Walker-on-Earth, sometimes shows up to prevent people from making stupid decisions. For example, after Seth Morely (who his wife says has no sense judgment but only “mutant-like luck”) picks a mechanically unsound ship called Morbid Chicken to travel in, because he likes the name, the mysterious robed figure of The Walker-On-Earth appears to tell him it’s a death trap and then kindly helps him reload his supplies (mostly marmalade) into a safer ship.

I loved the narrator’s work on this book. Benjamin L Darcie captured the tone brilliantly, and gave all the characters distinctive voices. The only thing really lacking from the audio version is the hilarious list of contents, which has nothing to do with the contents of the story at all. Maybe PKD’s joke to himself? Whatever it is, it seems a shame to miss out – so here it is for your bafflement:


  1. In which Ben Tallchief wins a pet rabbit in a raffle.
  2. Seth Morley finds out that his landlord has repaired that which symbolizes all Morley believes in.
  3. A group of friends gather together, and Sue Smart recovers her faculties.
  4. Mary Morley discovers that she is pregnant, with unforeseen results.
  5. The chaos of Dr. Babble’s fiscal life becomes too much for him.
  6. For the first time Ignatz Thugg is up against a force beyond his capacity.
  7. Out of his many investments Seth Morley realizes only a disappointing gain– measured in pennies.
  8. Glen Belsnor ignores the warnings of his parents and embarks on a bold sea adventure.
  9. We find Tony Dunkelwelt worrying over one of mankind’s most ancient problems.
  10. Wade Frazer learns that those whose advice he most trusted have turned against him.
  11. The rabbit which Ben Tallchief won develops the mange.
  12. Roberta Rockingham’s spinster aunt pays her a visit.
  13. In an unfamiliar train station Betty Jo Berm loses a precious piece of luggage.
  14. Ned Russell goes broke.
  15. Embittered, Tony Dunkelwelt leaves school and returns to the town in which he was born.
  16. After the doctor examines her X-rays, Maggie Walsh knows that her condition is incurable.

Posted by Marissa van Uden