From its full title, you readily get the impression that Philip K. Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney Or How We Got Along After the Bomb is a rollicking dark comedy in the manner of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. The book was written in 1963, a year before that classic Cold War satire was released, but its title wasn't affixed to the book until after the movie was a hit — at the advice of Ace Paperbacks editor Donald A. Wolheim. It's doubtful that this ploy did much for the Bloodmoney's sales, as Ace's cheap paperbacks weren't much known beyond its core readership of hard-wired sci-fi geeks back in 1965. Too, Dick was too honest a writer to indulge in the kind of crowd-pleasing broadswipe caricaturing that characterized Strangelove.
Bloodmoney was reissued last year as part of the Library of America's hardbound collection of five Dick novels of the 1960s and '70s (the other four titles: Martian Time-Slip; Now Wait for Last Year; Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and A Scanner Darkly). The book provides a solid reflection of the writer's focus and voice during the sixties; as with Time-Slip, it centers on a community of people struggling to survive in a harsh world where even their most hard-held beliefs are up for grabs.
In this case, as the title indicates, it's the post-nuclear apocalypse. Set in Berkeley and Marin County during the eighties, after a nuclear accident in 1972 resulted in an outbreak of human and mutations, the book opens prior to the even more devastating holocaust that will change everything. We meet many of the book's main characters prior to the change. Among these are black television salesman Stuart McConchie, psychiatrist Dr. Stockwell, unhappy housewife Bonny Keller (one of Dick's chronically unsatisfied women), astronaut Walt Dangerfield, mentally ill former physicist Bruno Bluthgeld and thalidomide victim Hoppy Harrington.
Bluthgeld is the Dr. Bloodmoney of the title. It's his supervision of high altitude bomb testing that led to the Catastrophe of 1972, and guilt for this has driven him mad. When full-blown nuclear war breaks out in the eighties, Bluthgeld holds himself responsible for that, too. Whether he's delusional and engaging in magical thinking — or indeed truly has the ability to create an actual devastating nuclear event — is never clearly resolved in the book.