“The two basic topics which fascinate me are “What is reality?” and “What constitutes the authentic human being?” – Philip K. Dick, from a speech he gave in 1978
Counter-Clock World is the twelfth PKD novel I’ve read this year, accompanied by a monthly quota of 75 pages of The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. Out of the twelve books I’ve read, this has become one of my favourites. It is built on a simple concept: what if people’s lives started running backwards? So, instead of being born as a baby from the womb, people are “old-born” from the grave and age in reverse, getting younger year by year. Dick calls this process “the Hobart Phase”.
“Those who were presently being old-born had been the last to die: final mortalities before June 1986. But according to Alex Hobart, the reversal of time would continue to move backwards, continually sweeping out a great span;” (p.14)
The older we get, the more we dream of slowing or halting the aging process. Isn’t this what so many of us desire? But this is a PKD story which means it has his unique take on such a concept. And if we stop and actually think about the ramifications of reverse-aging, we might not see it as being such a great thing after all. For one thing, can you imagine regaining consciousness in a coffin six feet underground?
“You know,” he said to Lotta, “when you wake up in your coffin you first feel a weird fatigue. Your mind is empty; your body does nothing. Then you have thoughts, things you want to say, acts you want to perform. […] But your body doesn’t respond. […] It’s the worst experience I’ve ever had. Much worse than dying.” (p.198)
Sebastian Hermes is the owner of a small “Vitarium”, a business which digs up the newly resurrected and aids them in their return to society. He has heard rumors of the impending resurrection of controversial religious leader Anarch Peak and is keen to find him before anyone else does. The trouble is Hermes is not alone in his interest. There are powerful parties with a vested interest in the religious leader, parties that will stop at nothing to reach him first.
Counter-Clock World contains some typically strange Dickian moments as well as a couple of truly thrilling scenes. One such scene near the end of the book has Sebastian attempting to rescue his wife. His “rescue kit” contains, among other things, a “LSD hand grenade”. To say any more would be to spoil the fun of reading this scene, something that surely only PKD could have brought to life in 1967.
It’s difficult to write a review without spoiling too much of the story. I always aim not to reveal too much more than what is written on the back cover or inside-flap. After one year of reading part of Dick’s substantial output, I would now call myself a PKD fan. Yet, as many reviewers have already pointed out, there’s no such thing as a flawless book by Philip K. Dick. Personally, I can take the flaws because the imagination, the weird and wonderful ideas, the questioning of reality are all worth any minor quibbles that may surface. Perhaps I’ve been lucky in my choices but I can honestly say that I have not read a “bad” book by Dick yet. This one year reading challenge has also left me keen to read more. Just no more Exegesis, please. I am all Exegesis~ed out!
This is the last review I’ll be posting in 2016. I am flying to Manchester on the 25th to spend the rest of Yuletide with my dad. I will be back in Japan on the 7th of Jan.
Thank you so much for joining me this year. It’s been a great year of reading books, blogs and comments. I’m looking forward to more reading and blogging in 2017, the year of the William Gibson Reading Challenge. After 12 books by PKD it’ll be interesting to see how 12 Gibson books compare. I hope to see you again in the New Year. Until then, all the very BEST for the festive season and have a very HAPPY 2017.