Now Wait for Last Year by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I treated myself to a rather more obscure PKD book to end out the year. I've always loved just how wonky his works can get, but here's the really interesting aspect of Horselover Fat's writing: it's never really wonky.
In fact, it has heart. Especially when that heart is breaking, the story is still devoted to some of those most human questions: how to go on when life is hard.
The old saying, "All's fair in love and war" holds doubly true here. Earth is caught in a conflict between two factions of aliens and we've sided with the humanoid types and have been stuck in a tug of war for an awfully long time. The main character, a doctor named Sweetscent, is caught in a difficult marriage, a conflict between duty and hate and tons of difficult questions. He's at war with himself just as much as the human race can't seem to find a way out of the interstellar war.
Enter the drug JJ-180, highly addictive and damaging, but happens to have some serious temporal properties. Namely, it allows you to jump years ahead in time to see the world as it will be. Unfortunately, it's much worse than crack, too, and withdrawal is terminal in days without another dose.
It turns out that it is not only a manufactured drug designed to decimate a populace, but it has the added ability to spawn one's consciousness and self in alternate realities. Add the conflicts of the war efforts and some sneaky back-and-forths with world-lines, and we've got a dual story of the Earth President's life and Earth's flailing status in the war and Sweetscent's attempts to make his own life better as alternate versions of the drug sends him both forward and back in time, spawning alternate versions of everything, as he tries to fix or break his marriage.
The novel is actually fun as hell and thought-provoking and it holds up really damn well. It comes out of Phil's heavily productive mid-sixties SF adventure period, riding close on the heels of his Hugo for Man in the High Castle. It's polished, full of great ideas, action, and best of all, the kinds of hard questions about living through bad relationships that he has a lot of experience with.
Suicide is a big one. So is weakness and sliding and emotional abuse and power dominance games in relationships. I remember his take on all that across so many of his novels. It's hard and it's honest and it is also beautiful even if it's difficult. It's messy. Like war.
But it also feels genuine.
I won't say this is my favorite PKD novel, by a long shot, but it's definitely worth the read and it's still a sight better than most SF out there. :)
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