Guest Blogger and WWEnd Member, Charles Dee Mitchell, has contributed a great many book reviews to WWEnd and we’ve invited him to contribute to our blog. This is the latest in Dee’s series of Philip K. Dick reviews that he started on his blog www.potatoweather.blogspot.com. We’ll keep posting them until he runs out of reviews or gets tired of Philip K. Dick books.
This is the first Philip K. Dick novel I have read in seven months, and I have to say — it felt like coming home.
The Dickian weirdness begins on page one. A policeman patrolling a rundown cemetery hears a familiar sound. A recently revived corpse calls out from her grave, “My name is Mrs. Tilly M. Benton, and I want to get out. Can anyone hear me?”
Dick published Counter-Clock World in 1967 and set it in the near future of 1998. But in this world, the Hobart Phase has been operating since 1986. Time is going in reverse. The dead are returning to life, and the lucky ones are rescued in time by vitarium operators, those who dig up the “old born,” get them healthy, and then sell them off to the highest bidder. This is usually a family member willing to care for an aged relative who will now, like everyone else on earth, start the process of becoming younger. (Unclaimed old borns become wards of the state.)
Right. The Hobart Phase. That thing where time starts running in reverse. Dick, as is usually the case, cannot be bothered by all the details of such a preposterous notion, at least not to the extent that it might slow down the story. He gives us the bits he finds funniest, most notably the fact that eating has become disgorging, an act done in private. Meanwhile everyone expects at least a daily dose of sogum. They look forward to it like it was cocktail hour and sometimes make a date to meet at sogum palaces. “Sogum,” although it sounds like a combination energy drink and drug, is clearly something to do with excrement, and for once we can be glad Dick spares us the details.
But all the implications of a world truly running in reverse are not Dick’s concern, and don’t let it be yours either or you will never make it through the novel. His plot surrounds the resurrection of a religious leader who the novel’s main character, Sebastian Hermes, proprietor of Cup of Hermes Vitarium, realizes will be a hot property on the resale market. What he doesn’t expect is the world of dangerous intrigues having the Anarch Peak on hand will expose him to. Rome wants him; the current leader of the Udites, Peak’s religion, wants him; and, the librarians and erads, whose job is to keep eliminating knowledge and art that could not yet have existed, they want him bad. They suspect, with good reason as it turns out, that Peak will have insights to the afterlife that other of the old born have not been able to articulate.
Dick puts his rather flat characters through a plot that spans only a couple of days but is filled with lies, bomb threats, assaults, a little adultery, and some soul searching. This is Dick’s most overtly religious novel, although it is hard to know exactly what he is thinking about when it comes to the religious implications of the plot. But he shares that sense of muddle-headedness with his lead character.
Religion, Sebastian thought wearily. More ins and outs, more angles, than ordinary commerce. The casuistry had already gone beyond him. He gave up.