The world of science fiction misses the writing of Philip K. Dick, and many authors have carried on his legacy with their own novels written in the style of this very influential novelist. Thomas World by Richard Cox is one of the latest of these homages and quite possibly the best, rivaling some of Dick’s best novels in its creativity. It’s a killer book that will leave you wanting to read more from Richard Cox after you finish reading it.
This wild ride of a read begins with chapter Thirty-One, which is followed by One. Before the story even begins, though, the author lists suggested music to listen to while reading Thomas World. Cox intends to make readers active participants and voyeurs watching his main character, Thomas Phillips, lose his mind. He’s been losing it for as long as he can remember—or is the truth that he is actually getting too close to discovering the reality behind what everyone else thinks is reality?
Thomas loses interest in his job, preferring to surf the Internet. He downloads the game Antz, which a fellow employee claims contains clues to what reality really is, but he is fired before he can play it. At Mass one Sunday with his wife, an electric purple ball flies down and enters his forehead. A strange old man in the church’s restroom yells at him (or is it only a hallucination?): “EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS A LIE,” and “THEY’RE WATCHING YOU.”
Thomas eventually even loses his wife after refusing her suggestion that he seek psychiatric care. Are the FBI agents who seem to be following him merely characters in the novel he’s writing, or are they actual reality seeping through? Why do they endlessly pursue him? Is it because he’s too close to discovering some deep secrets about reality, like that everyone he’s ever known in his entire life has been scripted to be there, that he’s lived all of the encounters before hundreds, maybe thousands of times? What if the person who’s been watching you all of this time was...you?
Perhaps, one part of our minds thinks as we read Thomas World, we’re reading about the mental collapse of the narrator, Thomas Phillips. But, his delusions draw us in, and make us question whether or not they are delusions or are just crazy enough to be real. What is reality? What is a simulacrum of reality? Are we reading a novel, or are we peering through a window like Peeping Toms, glimpsing the real-life man Thomas Phillips as he evades the FBI and eventually comes to terms with the nature of reality and his life?
Cox’s hallucinatory, visionary novel pays homage to the works of P.K. Dick but takes some of Dick’s themes even farther, following them down the rabbit hole of reality. What is madness and what is insight into hidden knowledge, a peering behind the veil of illusion at what is the true nature of reality? How much of how we interpret the world with our minds is the way the world actually is, and how much is a world we are imagining? Add Thomas World to your reading list and puzzle out the true nature of reality for yourself.