This is the second work by Dick that I have read, and I am sensing a theme. It is a sort of character study set in a severely screwed up near-future world, not unlike A Scanner Darkly (the other Dick novel I read). In Dr. Bloodmoney the world is screwed up because of war, not drugs, but the story is still all about what people do when things fall apart.
The novel starts with snippets of characters’ lives, drawing a picture of a world in which there was a terrible tragedy of miscalculation by the title character, Dr. Bluthgeld (German for blood money). A ‘high altitude test’ of a hydrogen bomb, which Dr. Bluthgeld had assured the world would be totally safe, went awry. Many people were affected by radiation, leading to mutations and the development of a few unusual abilities. Then, a few years later, a real war came along, and hydrogen bombs fell like rain, decimating most of the world. The story skips a few years, going from the day the bombs fell to abut 7 years later. People have started to rebuild, but the world is very different from what is was before the war. There are many more mutations, and not just of people. Animals have been drastically changed, many developing much higher intelligence. Some are even able to talk. Some of the phocomelus or ‘funny people’ – those with severe birth defects because of radiation – have new abilities, including telekinesis. There is no electricity and no gas, so people get around in wood burning or horse drawn vehicles. There is virtually no contact over long distances, because there are no more working satellite systems or phone lines, and many major roads were destroyed and not rebuilt. The only outside contact many communities have is with an astronaut orbiting overhead, alone, in a ship that was originally intended to carry him to Mars to start a colony.
In this setting, Dick explores how people react to losing everything, how they rebuild, and what they hold on to. His characters are very vivid, from those struggling to gain power, to those trying to seize the opportunity to show their worth in the new post-war world, to those just trying to believe there is still something to hope for after all the destruction.