The existence of In Milton Lumky Territory, in its slim trim top shelf cover and packaging is a testament to the ongoing obsession with Philip K. Dick. Even Science Fiction grandmasters don’t get this kind of treatment, having obscure non-genre books hauled out and presented all over again.
There’s a reason why Philip K. Dick didn’t make it writing straight fiction. In Milton Lumky Territory reminds you why. Philip K. Dick wasn’t a good writer. He was an interesting writer. Good writers can tell a good story. Interesting writers can make a bad story interesting.
When Philip K. Dick was working with a pallette of robots, space travel, time travel, police states and altered reality, he could make a bad story interesting. In Milton Lumky Territory doesn’t have those things. Instead it has Bruce Stevens, a somewhat immature but ambitious buyer for a discount house, who is mechanical and unimaginative, we have Susan, a classic Dick female character, hysterical, needy and predatory, whom he falls in love with before realizing she was his fifth grade teacher, and Milton Lumky, a depressed sick paper salesman, who is also the closest thing to the book’s Dickian character.
And that’s about it. Susan drags Bruce into a personal and business relationship and then wrecks it and in a creative act of imagination, apparently his first such act, he envisions what things might have been like if their life together had worked out.
There’s not much more than this, but that’s not unusual for Dick’s non-genre fiction, which usually end in practical failure, but some form of spiritual renewal. The blurb calls In Milton Lumky Territory, Dick’s best non-genre work. It’s not. Not even close. Philip K. Dick calls it his favorite book. That part is probably true and you can even see why, but there’s nothing worth the read.
Dick wasn’t a good enough stylist or capable of creating enduring characters that would have made his career as a mainstream writer a success. He was good enough to tell a story, but not good enough to take it to the next level. And there is no next level in In Milton Lumky Territory because there’s no imagination. The very thing that Bruce Stevens achieves in the end is absent from the book.
Philip K. Dick could bring theology and philosophy to science fiction, but he had trouble bringing it to the everyday life where literary fiction wanted it. In Milton Lumky Territory reminds us that it’s just as well that Dick wrote Science Fiction and not literary fiction.