Review by Jason Koornick: Galactic Pot-Healer (1969)


Galactic Pot-Healer tells the story of Joe Fernwright, a low level bureaucrat who lives in an overcrowded dystopia and whose life has no real purpose. Trained in the art of pot healing, Fernwright is a restorer of old ceramics but in his time all the pots have been fixed and he spends his days in a cubicle waiting for any random assignment that might come his way. He passes the hours by playing a meaningless word game with his co-workers.

Joe’s life takes a turn when he receives intergalactic communication from an unknown entity through various channels. First, a message comes to him in his mail tube, next he finds a note floating in the bowl of his toilet. Not sure what to make of all it, Joe discovers that he is being contacted by a force called the Glimmung who is trying to enlist his pot healing services to restore an ancient cathedral on a distant planet.

We join Fernwright as he journeys across the universe on a perilous mission which confounds and astonishes him. We meet bizarre aliens and wise-cracking robots as Joe tries to discover the true nature of his mission and the intention of his flawed but omniscient host, the Glimmung. Appearing to the group of intergalactic workers in many various forms, the Glimmung is a being with a purpose and determination which goes back through the ages and needs the help of the otherwise useless workers in his efforts to restore what can be seen as balance and harmony on the alien planet of Plowman’s Planet.

Sprinkled among the quick moving plot and reckless abandon of this novel, one finds bits and pieces of the irony and humor for which Dick is known. Joe Fernwright is the perfect PKD character even if his story is vague and unclear.

Just like Joe, the reader is often confused and baffled by the events which transpire in Galactic Pot-Healer. This is not a book for the faint of heart or those looking for clear cut answers. The symbolism and message of this novel are buried under layers of false suggestion and distorted truths. Only by reading between the lines is a reader likely to walk away from Galactic Pot-Healer understanding Dick’s intentions with this book.



Warning: Reading the review below may give away the story if you haven’t read it.

I’m going to be honest with you here. Galactic Pot-Healer is a book that I had heard some good things about before I read it. I knew that is wasn’t one of Dick’s best but I was excited to read it nonetheless. When I finished the novel I was glad that it wasn’t the first PKD book I ever picked up because it left me confused and a little unsatisfied at the end.

Many classic Dick elements are at work here and I got a kick out of spotting these as I made my way through Galactic Pot-Healer. The everyman character of Joe Fernwright caught up in a series of events much greater than his own power, the fallibility of the “godlike” Glimmung and the whacked out aliens with whom Joe gets involved were instantly recognizable to this PKD reader as examples of Dick’s unique sci-fi. However, the whole story into which these elements were worked was less than inspiring for this reader at least.

I was wondering what the message of this novel was as I went along. It seemed obvious that the Glimmung was some sort of godlike creature who possessed much greater control over its environment than humans (or aliens for that matter). The story displays it gnostic overtones as the Glimmung itself proves to be flawed and limited in its power. It is faced with death at a number of times in the novel and demonstrates fear, anxiety and all around imperfections throughout the story. What all this means is unclear to this reader. The main conclusion that I was able to draw from this aspect of Galactic Pot-Healer is that we are caught up in a universe so broad reaching that not only are there forces which are vastly superior to us in energy and depth but even those forces which may seem to us as “godlike” are governed by their own laws of nature and are imperfect as well. This ties into one of the grand themes of Dick’s fiction – the notion of the infinite potential of the mind of which humans have only begun to scrape the surface.

One of the strongest themes of this novel is the exploration of the notion of collective consciousness. I was genuinely excited as I read near the end of the novel when Joe and the others are “swallowed” by the Glimmung and their collective energy proves to be the catalyst for accomplishing their goal of raising Heldscalla. As they discover the feeling of power and transcendence beyond their own limited existence, Dick outlines an important theme of the novel and his fiction in general – the collective power of the human mind and our inherent nature as social beings. Mali Yojez sums up the sentiment when she says:

“Yes, it makes me realize how isolated each of us normally is, how cut off. Separated from everyone else . . . in particular separated from other life. That ended when Glimmung absorbed us. And we were no longer individual failures.” (Berkeley, 1969. pg. 137)

This is an idea that Dick explores in a number of his novels in many different contexts – political (The World Jones Made, The Crack In Space), psychological (Martian Time-Slip, Eye In The Sky) and religious (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Divine Invasion). The power of the mind is indeed greater than any one person can even begin to imagine.

Dick’s rambling, disjointed, often non-sensical sci-fi works from this assumption that anything can and will happen. He writes novels like Galactic Pot-Healer with the mindset that he is not bound by any rules – literary, scientific or otherwise. Onto this blank canvas, Dick paints whatever flows. What is at once logical becomes turned on its head. The genre of sci-fi allows a writer to exercise this bending of literary physics. It is just this sense of chaos that give the novel its cohesiveness. It almost makes the reader feel as helpless as a character like Joe Fernwright who is caught up in a series of events which are much greater than the sum of his existence. How can Joe make a difference in a world dominated by such forces and what is the psychological effect of this circumstance? These are questions which Dick explores in novels like Galactic Pot-Healer, Clans of the Alphane Moon, The Zap Gun and many others which may not be his most acceptable or even his best work but which leave the reader with a sense of wonder and often confusion as to the true nature of Dick’s created universe as a reflection of our own reality. This is the true essence of Galactic Pot-Healer and this understanding allows a reader to appreciate its eccentricities without focusing too hard on the details.

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