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Following an inexplicable urge, Ted Barton returns to his idyllic Virginia hometown for a vacation, but when he gets there, he is shocked to discover that the town has utterly changed. The stores and houses are all different and he doesn’t recognize anybody. The mystery deepens when he checks the town’s historical records . . . and reads that he died nearly twenty years earlier. As he attempts to uncover the secrets of the town, Barton is drawn deeper into the puzzle, and into a supernatural battle that could decide the fate of the universe.

From the Back Cover

The Cosmic Puppets begins like an episode of The Twilight Zone and then ramps up the strangeness and fantasy to epic levels. Because the mystery is about more than one man or one town—this is a battle between gods.

Following an inexplicable urge, Ted Barton returns to his idyllic Virginia hometown for a vacation, but when he gets there, he is shocked to discover that the town has utterly changed. The stores and houses are all different and he doesn''t recognize anybody. The mystery deepens when he checks the town''s historical records . . . and reads that he died nearly twenty years earlier. As he attempts to uncover the secrets of the town, Barton is drawn deeper into the puzzle, and into a supernatural battle that could decide the fate of the universe.

PHILIP K. DICK (1928–1982) wrote 121 short stories and 45 novels and is considered one of the most visionary authors of the twentieth century. His work is included in the Library of America and has been translated into more than twenty-five languages. Eleven works have been adapted to film, including Blade Runner (based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly.

About the Author

Over a writing career that spanned three decades, PHILIP K. DICK (1928–1982) published 36 science fiction novels and 121 short stories in which he explored the essence of what makes man human and the dangers of centralized power. Toward the end of his life, his work turned to deeply personal, metaphysical questions concerning the nature of God. Eleven novels and short stories have been adapted to film, notably Blade Runner (based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly, as well as television''s The Man in the High Castle. The recipient of critical acclaim and numerous awards throughout his career, including the Hugo and John W. Campbell awards, Dick was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2005, and between 2007 and 2009, the Library of America published a selection of his novels in three volumes. His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

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3.9 out of 53.9 out of 5
76 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Josh Mauthe
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A marriage of pulp-era PKD and his later philosophical musings
Reviewed in the United States on January 21, 2020
When you pick up a Philip K. Dick novel, you know you''re going to be in for a wild ride. Here''s an author whose work has become nearly synonymous with stories that question reality, undermine a sense of self, peel back the curtain to see cosmic powers, and oh so much more.... See more
When you pick up a Philip K. Dick novel, you know you''re going to be in for a wild ride. Here''s an author whose work has become nearly synonymous with stories that question reality, undermine a sense of self, peel back the curtain to see cosmic powers, and oh so much more. So when The Cosmic Puppets opens with a man returning to his beloved childhood town only to find that he recognizes nothing about it...well, you know you''re in for some insanity.

And yet, even Philip K. Dick standards, it''s hard to prepare for just how wild The Cosmic Puppets really gets. Malevolent children, clay golems, cosmic warfare, faked realities - all of that comes at you fast, and even that doesn''t prepare you as the novel takes a fast dive into Zoroastrianism, turning a moral conflict into something quite literal and terrifying - into something far more complex, theologically and morally profound, and deeply confusing on a truly existential level.

In other words, what you get here is an odd blending of the early and late eras of Dick. The Cosmic Puppets has the myriad pleasures of his early, pulpier work, with its Twilight Zone-esque premise, broad characters, lean page count (less than 150), and sheer propulsive energy. But it''s late-era in the way that it grapples with a deep cosmology, evoking a theological complexity that comes up in works like VALIS and the rest. In many ways, in fact, it feels like a trial run for those later books, exploring those ideas in unwieldy ways that nonetheless keep you gripped with uncertainty and unease.

Make no mistake, The Cosmic Puppets is definitely unwieldy, though. That same marriage of pulp and philosophical depth ends up making the book feel a bit overstuffed, even before it gets to its mind-bending climax that rushes by and left me more than a bit baffled. (My lack of familiarity with Zoroastrianism might not have helped, but it''s hard to tell how much Dick needed you to know the "true" beliefs anyways.) And, in pure pulp fashion, the characters are all a little flat - most notably the female characters, almost every one of which is discussed in terms of looks and body shape (a touch which feels more influenced by the demands of pulp than Dick himself, but who knows).

Still, reading The Cosmic Puppets gives you that weird exhilaration that Dick always gives you, tossing you into a world where everything is uncertain, reality keeps shifting, identity is malleable, and the rules of the universe aren''t even remotely clear. That he got better than this is understandable - this is one of his first few books, after all - but that doesn''t mean that it doesn''t give you that same sense of mind-blowing imagination that Dick often does. Embrace the pulp and enjoy the insanity.
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Michael G Kurilla
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Early PKD from his pulpy days
Reviewed in the United States on November 29, 2020
Philip K Dick''s The Cosmic Puppets begins with an altered reality and then just takes off into the supernatural realm. A man recently married and on vacation feels to the need to stop off at his home town that he left eighteen years earlier, only to find that not only is... See more
Philip K Dick''s The Cosmic Puppets begins with an altered reality and then just takes off into the supernatural realm. A man recently married and on vacation feels to the need to stop off at his home town that he left eighteen years earlier, only to find that not only is nothing as he remembers, but that newspaper accounts have his own death at age 9. What slowly unfolds is a battle between the forces of creation and destruction taking place in this town. His efforts to leave are thwarted. The townspeople are all new, but the old inhabitants are still around as wanderers. His efforts to bring back the original town precipitate a cosmic battle leaving the town as he originally knew it.

Dick never outlines how these supernatural entities chose to come to this backwater small town or why they even need a town to fight over. This tale represents an early foray into reality bending that typifies his later work. In this vein, reality is partly dependent on our own perceptions and require active involvement on our part to maintain. At the same time, there is the element of arbitrary and whimsical forces beyond our control who impose their will on our reality as well. Dick also points out that our reality is in our own minds and not merely subject to physical laws of the universe.
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fra7299
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Interesting read. Much like an episode of The Twilight Zone
Reviewed in the United States on September 8, 2019
This was my first venture into the world of Phillip K. Dick and I was impressed with The Cosmic Puppets. While reading, I was a bit reminded of The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, as the novel has that kind of feel, atmosphere and vibe. On the surface level,... See more
This was my first venture into the world of Phillip K. Dick and I was impressed with The Cosmic Puppets. While reading, I was a bit reminded of The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, as the novel has that kind of feel, atmosphere and vibe.

On the surface level, The Cosmic Puppets concerns itself with one man’s (Ted Barton) obsession and journey to uncover his true identity and the true identity of his hometown of Millgate, Virginia. As part of this, Barton has to come to terms with what exactly has happened. As Barton uncovers the bizarre state of how things exist, there are deeper layers to uncover as well.

I think one of the more impressive aspect to The Cosmic Puppets is there are so many layers of meaning and significance, both in terms of philosophy and symbolism, especially as it revealed to us in the book’s final revelations and conclusion. This is a fascinating book and one key element is the notion of searching for not only identity, but meaning as well. Dick offers many philosophical nuggets of thought.

While the characters are rather unremarkable (which is probably my only knock on an otherwise fascinating read), there’s so much in this book to think about and wrap your mind around as you read the final page.

I’m looking forward to more of Phillip K. Dick. Maybe someone could give me a suggestion of what to read next.
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Happy ReaderTop Contributor: Doctor Who
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Nice Story, Not So Much Science Fiction as Twilight Zone
Reviewed in the United States on December 11, 2017
Peggy and Ted Barton are sweltering in the summer heat. They''re driving south and air conditioning isn''t standard in their 1957 Packard. The destination is the small Appalachian town of Millgate, Virginia, Ted''s childhood home. His family left when he was 9 years-old, and... See more
Peggy and Ted Barton are sweltering in the summer heat. They''re driving south and air conditioning isn''t standard in their 1957 Packard. The destination is the small Appalachian town of Millgate, Virginia, Ted''s childhood home. His family left when he was 9 years-old, and he hasn''t been back for 18 years.

"I wonder if anybody''ll remember me.", he asks Peggy. But then, when they drive down the main street, something''s not right. "Peg felt a chill of uneasiness. There was something on her husband''s face that frightened her. A look she had never seen before."

You would expect some changes in 18 years, but this town can''t be Millgate. The street names aren''t the same. The buildings aren''t the same. And when he checks out the newspaper archive, it states that he died of scarlet fever when he was a kid.

"The Cosmic Puppets" reads like an eerie Twilight Zone episode. And it''s kind of like an old Stephen King story – "there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio."

The First Mariner Books editions of the Philip K Dick novelettes are great, nice little paperbacks all a nice size. "The Cosmic Puppets", for example, is a 136-page paperback. I have gotten my hubby all of them (I think) and he loves them.

Happy Reader
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Dave CarverTop Contributor: Fantasy Books
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Things change back home
Reviewed in the United States on September 29, 2021
What happens when you return to your childhood home and it looks like nothing you remember. In this interesting case, it’s because the Gods have picked this particular valley as a battlefield in the war between galactic good and evil. You have to read it to believe it. And... See more
What happens when you return to your childhood home and it looks like nothing you remember. In this interesting case, it’s because the Gods have picked this particular valley as a battlefield in the war between galactic good and evil. You have to read it to believe it. And it’s worth reading.
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Tim Lukeman
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Archetypes a-plenty!
Reviewed in the United States on May 15, 2008
PKD wrote very little pure fantasy, but when he did, he tapped into something raw & primal. (See his short story "Upon the Dull Earth" for an especially powerful example.) This early work is considered lesser PKD, a first & tentative exploration of themes he would develop... See more
PKD wrote very little pure fantasy, but when he did, he tapped into something raw & primal. (See his short story "Upon the Dull Earth" for an especially powerful example.) This early work is considered lesser PKD, a first & tentative exploration of themes he would develop more fully in subsequent novels. Previous reviewers rightly compare it to the Twilight Zone in its basic plot.

But it has a genuinely eerie tone & intensity to it, as if the contents of his troubled & brilliant psyche are unmediated by the more rational structure of science-fiction. The imagery verges on the Bosch-like in places, and the reader can feel the overwhelming power of the unconscious ready to erupt in full force at any moment. PKD''s fascination with Jung is clear to see in these pages. No wonder he stepped back a bit & took a more controlled approach to such material in his prolific science-fiction work!

Yes -- it''s short, its basic themes are more roughly hewn than in his later novels, and there''s a definite sense of a writer still not entirely sure of himself. But there''s also a glimpse of something so powerful that it almost blinds the conscious, logical eye, leaving an afterimage that lingers for a long while. Most of his work provides much food for thought; this slim work goes directly to the core of the Collective Unconscious. Most highly recommended!
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Worldreels
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
NOT DICK''S CUP OF TEA
Reviewed in the United States on January 10, 2007
THE COSMIC PUPPETS is not Dick''s usual genre. It belongs to the J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter bunch which, of course, it preceded. It is occult -- pitting good against evil -- the eternal struggle. Few of Dick readers are familiar with Zorastrianism, with Ahriman, the the... See more
THE COSMIC PUPPETS is not Dick''s usual genre. It belongs to the J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter bunch which, of course, it preceded. It is occult -- pitting good against evil -- the eternal struggle. Few of Dick readers are familiar with Zorastrianism, with Ahriman, the the destroyer god and spirit of darkness, with Ormazd, deity of goodness and light, or with golems, formed from inanimate clay. So it was an experiment, a showing off, that really didn''t pan out.

In the story he presents only one or two human characters, Ted Barton and William Christopher, neither very convincingly. Most of the story is revealed from behind smoke and mirrors. The two gods, Good and Evil, have decided to play a game using the town of Millgate Virginia, to see who could maintain their version of the streets, parks and buildings. There is, of course, no such town outside of Dick''s imagination.

Did it make any difference whether the real, older town of Millgate or the fake town won the game? Besides being entertainment for the gods, was there any point to the transformation or to returning the town to its original shape and form? Did this story matter to anyone reading it? Yes, it mattered to establish the real identity of two of its characters, but the reader couldn''t readily relate to either of them. The whole story could have reminded one of ghost busters, searching an old house for a ghost who wasn''t there.
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Kyle
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Interesting development for an interesting plot
Reviewed in the United States on April 4, 2019
Great book. PKD always delivers, but here I think he broke the mold. This is a little bit more fantastical than his usual, but it is down expertly and keeps you going until the end. Great character development and visualizations.
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Top reviews from other countries

Jordan, The Comeback
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An early PKD gem
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 8, 2009
The Cosmic Puppets begins unpromisingly as a rather cliched eerie tale from fifties small-town America, somewhat in the vein of Twilight Zone or Outer Limits. Stay with it though and PKD will bend your mind as he brings in the concept of parallel realities (surely years...See more
The Cosmic Puppets begins unpromisingly as a rather cliched eerie tale from fifties small-town America, somewhat in the vein of Twilight Zone or Outer Limits. Stay with it though and PKD will bend your mind as he brings in the concept of parallel realities (surely years ahead of its time for 1957)and a unique twist on the age-old battle between good and evil. If you were ever a fan of the comics from years back such as ''Astounding Stories'', then this will be a very satisfying and stimulating read. It is not too long, either,enough to hook you in and transport you into a world beyond this one but stopping short of eking it out unnecessarily. Give it a go, you have nothing to lose and you will surely be amazed.
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Toby King
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Big on Concept, But Not Dick''s Best
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 29, 2008
If you have ever moved away from an area you''ve grown up in, particularly as a child, then returned some years later you will know that mix of the familiar with the unfamiliar as you recognise some things but also see other things have changed. For Ted Barton it''s a little...See more
If you have ever moved away from an area you''ve grown up in, particularly as a child, then returned some years later you will know that mix of the familiar with the unfamiliar as you recognise some things but also see other things have changed. For Ted Barton it''s a little different, on returning to the town he grew up in he doesn''t recognise anything; all the buildings and people are completely different from what he remembers. The Cosmic Puppets follows Ted Barton as he tries to uncover the mysteries of his missing town, and the strange behaviour of some of the children. The 1957 novel stands at just over 150 pages thick, and, coupled with the simplicity of Dick''s writing, can be devoured in a single sitting. Leaning more towards fantasy than science fiction this novel could be a disappointment for readers coming from the likes of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, however if you come to it with no expectations then you can be swept away by the fantastic story. The one thing that lets The Cosmic Puppets down is the lack of character development, Dick doesn''t take any time to build an emotional connection between the reader and the characters which means we are left with far less interest in what happens to them than in his others books
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Matt Jenkins
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Fine Early PKD Novel
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 18, 2011
" When Ted Barton follows an inner compulsion and returns to Millgate, Virginia, the isolated, sleepy town of his birth, he is troubled to find that the place bears no resemblance to the one he left all those years before. It''s even more alarming to realise that it never...See more
" When Ted Barton follows an inner compulsion and returns to Millgate, Virginia, the isolated, sleepy town of his birth, he is troubled to find that the place bears no resemblance to the one he left all those years before. It''s even more alarming to realise that it never did. And when Ted discovers that in this Millgate Ted Barton died of scarlet fever at the age of nine, he knows there''s something seriously amiss. Imprisoned there by a mysterious and unseen barrier, Ted attempts to find the reason for the disquieting anomalies, only to become enmeshed in a desperate and epic struggle of cosmic importance." - from the back cover Written in 1953 and published in 1957, Cosmic Puppets (Dick''s fourth published novel) is possibly his shortest novel. It explores a number of themes Dick had an abiding interest in (and would bring out more fully in later novels), most specifically the nature of reality and the impact on people when reality as they understand it starts to unravel around them. As with all PKD''s works this novel makes you marvel at his imagination but also (if you are of a philosophical turn of mind) brings you to question and consider the themes he raises for yourself. "[Dick] sees all the sparkling and terrifying possibilities. . . that other authors shy away from." -- Paul Williams, Rolling Stone "The most consistently brilliant SF writer in the world" -- John Brunner "I see Dick as a major twenty-first century writer, an influential ''fictional philosopher'' of the quantum age." -- Timothy Leary If you are new to Philip K Dick''s work I would also recommend the following novels (which generally seem to be regarded as among his best): The Man In The High Castle (S.F. Masterworks) Ubik (S.F. Masterworks) A Scanner Darkly (S.F. Masterworks) Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? (S.F. Masterworks) That said, though some of PKD''s works are better than others, to my mind they are all well worth reading. I would also recommend his short story collections: Beyond Lies The Wub: Volume One Of The Collected Short Stories Second Variety: Volume Two Of The Collected Short Stories The Father-Thing: Volume Three Of The Collected Short Stories Minority Report: Volume Four Of The Collected Short Stories We Can Remember It For You Wholesale: Volume Five of The Collected Short Stories Also of interest may be the fine biography of Philip K Dick by Lawrence Sutin Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (Gollancz S.F.)
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