One of the most ambitious and at the same time funniest of Dick’s novels, it is also one of the less appreciated, probably because it heaps up too many themes.
Three main themes in the novel: first and foremost, of course, the gradual resurrection of the whole mankind (followed in due time by its return to the womb!); then the racial and religious issues, quite hot when Dick wrote (in the novel they have led to the US’ “lower 48” splitting into three: Western United States, Free Negro Municipality at East, and a third, never mentioned entity); last and intriguing, the Council of Erads and their People’s Topical Library, a powerful institution vowed to eradicate books, music and other creations of the human spirit.
Mankind has entered the “Hobart phase”: in precisely reverted order, dead people come back to life, so to become “old-borns”. Institutions have been created first to rescue them from the grave, then to assist them in rehabilitation, finally to sell them to the highest bidder: though persons, they can be sold as objects. Again, as in Ubik and Bloodmoney, boundaries between life and death have become very thin.
The whole span of human biology is reverted. People sit at table to “disgorge” food, which is later packaged and put again in the fridge (we are spared the opposite end of the nutrition process); actually, even some physical phenomena follow the new trend: people are constantly collecting stubs, un-smoking them until they are cigarettes again, and so refilling packets. The weirdest aspect is that, as people get very young, they must find a woman whose womb they will re-enter (not necessarily the original mother!); then she will have to find a man who will.. de-fecundate her (not necessarily the original father).
At the hands of P.J.Farmer, this would have been a canvas for the most bizarre plot; to Dick, every chapter is a theological “argumentum”, well introduced by a sentence of St Agustin’s or Scotus Eriugena (such as “God does not know things because they are, but things are because God knows them: knowledge by God makes them be"), and commented by characters quoting Paul and the psalms.
Even the second theme, the sociopolitical splitting of the “lower 48” states of the US, is charged with religious meaning, because black people have founded a religion, the Divine Unity or Udi; its peaceful founder was dead, his more violent successor fears his resurrection (hints of the different paths shown by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X).
Finally, the third theme: the Library. It is not only a useful villain for the plot, and a grim symbol of oppression; it also provides a deep insight into Dick’s intense and tormented relationship with women. The harsh, haughty Library’s director Mrs Maguire and her wily, sexually irresistible daughter (appearing at half of the story) constitute quite a good specimen of what men lust for and then fear in women at different ages, the two of them creating together a complete image of misogyny; while Lotta, wife of the main character, is the sweet and passive femininity Dick probably longed for, when not distracted by the former..
And where is the fun? It is everywhere: in puns, grotesque scenes, cumbersome machines like the “snooping tool” a policeman employs.
This is just a sweeping view on the novel’s themes: an entire book would be needed to delve into its religious, philosophical, social and psychological suggestions, so entwined they are with human characters and an enthralling story.
Let us only add that the main question is the same as in that wonderful poem by Giacomo Leopardi, where mummies are questioned about their memories of previous afterlife.
A very interesting book with a creepy ending. Sometime in the 1980s time had started going backwards on Earth (Mars was still ok) so dead people were coming back from the dead and ageing backwards (while people who hadn't died also started ageing backwards). The premise was odd, and probably because of Red Dwarf, a bit silly in places. But nonetheless it was an interesting story. I think my favourite idea was the evil library that was intent on destroying all information, eradicating knowledge from the world. A book with evil librarians as the villan's definitely appeals to me.
While obvious allusions were made to the Watts riots, I didn't really feel like there was that much social commentary beyond the fact that the events were a little similar. In a way I wasn't really sure what he was saying about them. The rioters in this story weren't really sympathetic, but then nobody was. I also felt like I was loosing some of the point of the religious conversations, but nonetheless I did still enjoy the book.
One thing that I think was lacking, and seems to be one of Philip K Dick's weaknesses, was a good female character. This book had three main women, one who was the evil head of the library, her daughter whose job it was to seduce men into cooperation, and the very childlike wife of the protagonist who was just wanting someone to look after her.
While not as good as some of his other books I've read I did like this one, and thought that the ending was very creepy indeed. I shall definitely keep reading his other books....Continua