Dick’s strength as a writer was always ideas more than technique, and that’s evident here. While the plot is intriguing and pulls you in, it’s somewhat all over the place, lacking the control of some of his other works. The conclusion it builds to is effective, but the way it gets there is meandering and disjointed. Where it works is in sheer inventiveness. The dystopian future setting is bold and well-realised, and all too believable.
The main character, Nick Appleton, is built up to be sympathetic, and for the most part, he is. Through him, we observe the ways in which the Old Men are downtrodden – for example, an aptitude test for his son to join the Civil Service is failed deliberately because of his Old Men status. However, the way he joins the revolutionary group is by becoming infatuated with Charley Boyer, a sixteen-year-old girl. While Charley an interesting character in her own right, Nick’s interest in her is downright creepy and very dated, and stopped me from investing fully in his narrative.
More successful is the portrayal of Thors Provoni. Interspersed with the main story is his interactions with Morgo Rahn Wilc, the alien he is bringing back from Frolix 8 to help the people of Earth. Wilc is a sentient protoplasmic entity who communicates psychically with Provoni as they travel back through space. The strange relationship they form is engaging, and their discussions about society on Earth and Wilc’s home planet are some of the best parts of the novel.
Despite some of my reservations, I enjoyed Our Friends from Frolix 8 a lot. Philip K. Dick is one of my all-time favourite writers, and though this is a minor work in his extensive oeuvre, it kept me interested and gave me things to think about afterwards. While I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to his work, it’s as good an example as any of the qualities that made him great.
Review by Charlie Alcock