Philip K. Dick begins A Maze of Death with a brief foreword in which he explains that “the theology in this novel is not an analog of any known religion.” It is an artificial construction based on the arbitrary postulate that God exists.
That being said, the religion A Maze of Death bears an remarkable similarity to much of Gnostic thought – there is a mutli-modal Deity who created the universe, but whose powers were weakened so that an enemy could arise to confound his creation – known in this novel as The Form Destroyer (which even sounds like it could be a first century Gnostic term.)
A Maze of Death is not an easily read novel. It’s philosophical science fiction. It’s Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None with space travel and artificial reality. It’s the inverse of the Wachowski sibling’s The Matrix.
The story follows the 14 inhabitants of Delmak-O who have been sent to this colony (?) for reasons unknown. It is a strange planet (?) devoid of intelligent life except for the gelatinous cube shaped beings that cannot speak, but will answer questions put to them, with anagrams. The group’s struggle to find meaning in this bizarre place is put in further jeopardy as the members begin to die off one by one.
Much of Dick’s work wrestles with the question of – What is real? What is reality? And A Maze of Death is no exception. But to say more about that risks giving away spoilers. Stop here. You’ve been warned.
It is revealed at the end of the novel that Delmak-O is not a ‘real’ place, but merely an elaborate polyencphalic construction created by the ship’s computer. So too is the religion which they practice while within this ‘matrix.’ While within this dream world it felt completely real to them, but upon awakening they recognize it as the artificial construction that it is.
And they are disappointed.
Unlike Neo, they’d prefer to live within the illusion. “That’s why we created it” says one of the characters. “Because we wanted it; because we didn’t have it and needed to have it. Now we’re back to reality … once again we have to face things as they are. It doesn’t feel too good does it?”