Book Review: A Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick wrote more than forty novels in his prolific career, and you’ve definitely heard some of the titles before. Blade Runner was adapted from his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? A Scanner Darkly became a great movie starring Keanu Reeves. Recently, Hugo winning The Man in the High Castle became an Amazon series. You probably haven’t encountered Maze of Death, as it’s one of his lesser-known but undoubtedly brilliant works.

A Maze of Death (1970) hasn’t been adapted yet but it’s one of Dick’s most ambitious novels. Fourteen colonists take one-way rocket trips to Delmak-O, a strange planet, to pioneer a new human society. Each of the fourteen people has a different function to play in the new civilization and they all come from different backgrounds. It’s a smorgasbord of different personalities. Things quickly go awry, however, when the communication relay fails and cuts the colonists off from the outside world.

That’s when this novel really develops into a fascinating genre bender. There are elements of the whodunit murder mystery, science fiction, philosophy, horror, and an insane twist at the end of 216 thrilling pages.

The journey of this novel is incredibly captivating and carries the reader through a number of baffling situations. The characters question their reality and so does the reader. What secrets does Delmak-O hide? What’s the meaning of the alien and synthetic life forms populating the planet? Most importantly, why are the colonists there?

After reading the ending, I kept saying “holy shit.” There’s a striking conclusion to this mysterious story, and the revelations at the end stay with you. Even thinking about it now makes me feel unnerved.

Like many of Dick’s novels, A Maze of Death deals with major philosophical issues. What is perception? What is reality? What will people do when faced with the impossible? The novel explores how group dynamics function in a situation that defies reason.

The milieu reminded me of an Agatha Christie novel on acid. There are all the trappings of a classic closed room murder mystery here. There are only fourteen people on Delmak-O, so when colonists start getting murdered, it stands to reason that one of them must be responsible. Suspense and paranoia follow, amplified by the strange circumstances the colonists find themselves in.

The one weakness of this novel might be in the portrayal of some of the characters. Particularly a few of the female characters. Dick’s not the best at writing round female characters, and one, in particular, stood out as more of a caricature than a real person. That said, I believe the construct of this unique and spectacular tale outshines any flaws in character writing.

A Maze of Death is a great read for anyone who appreciates unique stories that blend genres together. It’s also highly recommended if you love twists. I’ve read lots of books with twists, and sometimes I see them coming, but the ending of this book blindsided me.

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