by Stepan Chapman
Ministry of Whimsy Press
The Troika is a bizzarre excursion into virtual reality and the cycles of human madness; its author is the recipient of the 1997 Philip K. Dick award, and deservedly so. Chapman dances around the line separating perception and reality with an agility worthy of Dick's Ubik, and the resulting plot, inconsequential and confusing at its surface, develops deep implications.
Alex, Naomi, and Eva have been traversing a giant desert for as long as they can remember. While Eva takes the form of an old woman, Alex seems to inhabit a sentient Jeep most of the time, and Naomi is a full-scale brontosaurus. As part of their journey, they must weather personality storms that might leave them occupying each other's "bodies." As they travel, they recount and recall episodes whose surreal nature might be a reflection of their origins or simply figments of madness; the entire situation seems to be so far out of consensual reality that any lessening of improbability qualifies as a possible truth. This is all part of a treatment to cure a mechanically-imposed insanity (a long story, and perhaps also one that's not true), a program administered by a fourth character who is apparently also insane.
The difficulty of discerning the truth in the plot from the character's constructions eventually became so great that I gave up trying to keep my facts straight and began taking everything at face value, at which point reading became a lot easier. The Troika raises some interesting questions (though most have already been framed by PKD), and does so with an advanced and inventive style. Though we never quite learn whether everything was far-fetched truth or just another example of schizophrenia, The Troika is a satisfying read, and I look forward to more from Chapman. Ministry of Whimsy Press, P.O. Box 4248, Tallahassee, FL 32315; http://www.mindspring.com/~toones/ministry.htm