Sunday, February 22, 2015

Now Wait for Last Year (1963)

Time travel via taking drugs is a strange idea, although it's maybe not so strange that Philip K. Dick would take it on. (What's strange to me is that Daphne du Maurier tried it too.) As usual, there is a lot going on here. Earth is involved in an interstellar war in which Terrans (so-called) have an uneasy alliance with Lilistar, who are genetic cousins. But it appears likely their common enemy, an alien insect race, might make the better partner. Leaders of nations and captains of industry clash with mixed motivations. It's not actually a very interesting story. But Dick has a way about him. Here he introduces parallel universes as well as time-travel paradoxes—or more accurately, perhaps, uses the one to explain the other, as convenient—and quickly lets the implications run to infinity. So a wise leader of Earth has spent years yanking in counterparts of himself to serve various roles, dipping in as needed to alternative time streams and/or parallel universes. In the present time and space of most of the novel the leader, Gino Molinari aka "The Mole," has a perplexing medical condition in which he continually contracts fatal diseases from which he always mysteriously recovers. This is never exactly explained. But there is one very funny scene in which he stalls for time in a delicate political negotiation by lapsing into a severe medical condition that requires immediate major surgery. What this "ploy" accomplishes is explained a little better—the political gamesmanship. But many other things happen that make little sense. Eventually the drug JJ-180 appears and something like a plot clanks into view. The ideas are interesting in flashes, not unusual, but here I'm not otherwise very satisfied with the clinical way Dick sets up his pieces and moves them about—a doctor and his wife, an antique dealer, have a bad marriage. The Moles spins and pirouettes to a tune only he can hear, evidently successful at minimizing risk and danger to Terrans—a hero. People take JJ-180 and move about in time. There are questions about why some go forward and some go back. There are questions about moving physical objects between time streams, and of course there are the usual questions about various time travel paradoxes. Questions, questions, questions. I want some answers!

In case it's not at the library.


  1. As I've said before, this is possibly my favorite of his books. You make me think, though ... there is a lot going on, but not much plot, and what exists isn't all that interesting. Why do I like it? It's a bit of an uber-Dick: neurotic man, bitchy wife, leader who is both role model and flawed. I love how he treats time travel, and I also love how you describe it: using one to explain the other and letting the implications run. I find this wonderful, because most time travel seems to end up dealing with the "can't change anything in the past" problem, while Dick just plows right past it. Meanwhile, there's JJ-180. I admit my fave PHD are the drug novels, and JJ-180 is a good one (CAN-D and Chew-Z from Three Stigmata are also favorites, and I LOVE Perky Pat Layouts, but I'm often flummoxed by the book as a whole). I don't expect to find answers in his books, so maybe that helps.

  2. I'm starting to buy into a sort of Heironymus Bosch view of PKD and his catalog, which I'm sure is not original with me. They are like nodes in a diorama, or details in a Bosch. I find myself liking some of the novels more than others, but there is always a background intrigue of the ideas, which can be truly mind-bending -- mental illness, the effects of drugs, time travel, multiple dimensions. There is also a continuity of tone and affect -- the characters' names change, but none are much different from any others. Good stuff.