Set in 2041. I never realized, before I started reading a lot of PKD books back to back to back, how fascinated he is with Nazis and World War II Germany. Three of the last five books I read (this one, The Penultimate Truth and Lies, Inc) dealt with Nazi Germany in some way.
Dick threw nearly everything he could think of into this one. The main storyline has an concept similar to The Penultimate Truth involving a simulacrum of the President, although the rest is stuffed with multiple subplots that include psionics, Neanderthals and an attempt to cure Hitler by sending a psychoanalyst back in time.
This novel has a million characters to keep track of, but the anxiety-causing commercials that buzz around like flies, used-car salesman who sell jalopies that travel to Mars and primitive alien life forms used on Earth as components in recording devices are all great.
The conclusion focuses on the least interesting subplot as a group of Neanderthals called chuppers from some different branch of the evolutionary tree gather around a television and watch as Homo sapiens destroy themselves in a war. The few Homo sapiens in the room with them have the grim realization this is the moment the chuppers have been waiting for. Just short of a classic as it doesn’t all come together in the end.
Cast of characters
Richard Kongrosian – a Soviet pianist who plays Brahms and Schumann with his mind
Dr. Egon Superb – a psychoanalyst
Bertold Goltz – head of the Neo-nazi group Sons of Job
Wilder Pembroke – commissioner of the National Police
Rudolf Kalbfleisch – the current der Alte. A simulacrum
Nicole Thibodeaux– the First Lady. Has a stature greater than the president in their matriarchal society
Emil Stark – Prime Minister of Israel
Janet Raimer – Chief White House talent scout
Garth McRae – Assistant State Secretary
Harold Slezak – White House A & R secretary
Hermann Göring – founder of the Gestapo, commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s successor in World War II
Vince Strikerock – works for Karp u. Sohnen
Chic Strikerock – brother of Vince. Works for Frauenzimmer Associates.
Julia Applequist– ex-wife of Vince Strikerock
Maury Frauenzimmer – Chic’s boss. Owner of Frauenzimmer Associates
Felix and Anton Karp – father and son owners of Karp u. Sohnen
Ian Duncan – aimless member of the Abraham Lincoln apartment building
Al Miller – Ian Duncan’s former friend and jug band partner. Works for Loony Luke’s jalopy business
Patrick Doyle – skypilot for the Abraham Lincoln apartments
Edgar Stone – scheming member of the Abraham Lincoln apartment building
Nat Flieger – works at Electronic Musical Enterprise
Jim Planck – employee of EME
Leo Dondoldo – owner of EME
Molly Dondoldo – Leo’s daughter
Other things to know
USEA – United States of Europe and America
McPhearson Act – outlaws the practice of psychoanalysis in favor of drug therapy
der Alte – German for “the old man.” The president. Has been a simulacrum for the last fifty years
Karp und Sohnen Werke – German for Karp and Sons. Built the Kalbfleisch simulacrum
the Ges – Geheimnisträger. The upper social class. Possessors of the secret that der Alte is a simulacrum
the Bes – Befehlträger. The lower social class
Frauenzimmer Associates – simulacra construction company
The Penultimate Truth is set in 2025, thirteen years after the end of World War III. Most of the population though believes the war is still ongoing and lives below ground. The war, between the Wes-Dem countries and the Russians of Pac-Peop, was fought mostly by two factions of leadies, autonomous robots that can survive the radiation from the nuclear fallout of the atomic weapons.
Those who live below ground build leadies for the U.S. war effort. Above ground, in large estates in areas of the U.S. no longer contaminated by radiation, live the Yance-men. They are responsible for continuing to propagate the lie, for those trapped underground, that the war still continues.
This is a dense book with some heavy world-building and quite a few twists and turns. We have a precog as well as some kind of time manipulation that isn’t exactly time travel, although it isn’t explained too well either. The story tends to suffer as it splits its focus among Joseph Adams, Nicholas St. James, and Webster Foote who are all broadly similar in the way of a lot of Dick’s leading men.
Part of the book is a sly commentary by Dick on the world of publishing. He sets the Agency at 580 Fifth Avenue, New York City, the address of his real-life literary agent at the time. The Yance-men, hacks who spread lies to the general population, feed their speeches to the Megavac 6-V, a computer that alters and then disseminates them through the Yancy simulacrum to the tankers. Dick is identifying as one of these Yance-men, in particular Joseph Adams, who has a crisis of confidence after he encounters the brilliant speechwriter Dave Lantano.
Cast of characters
Joseph Adams – works for the Agency. Speechwriter for Yancy
Nicholas St. James – President of Tom Mix
Stanton Brose – Minister of Interior. More artiforg than man
Dave Lantano – a Yance-man and speechwriter who acquires the land above Tom Mix near Cheyenne
Webster Foote – a precog who runs a PI agency
Talbot Yancy – the Protector / political and military leader on the surface. Turns out he’s a simulacrum programmed by the Megavac 6-V computer… or is he?
Louis Runcible – an architect. Builds the conapts to house those who return above ground from the ant tanks
Dale Nunes – Political Commissioner of Tom Mix. Human link between the underground and the Estes Park Government above ground
Maury Souza – chief mechanic in Tom Mix. Dies from pancreatitis
Vern Lindblom – Agency artist. Constructs the models of U.S. cities and later the artifacts planted in Runcible’s dig site in Utah
Dr. Carol Tigh – head of the Tom Mix clinic
Rita St. James – Nicholas’s wife
Marshal Harenzany – top Pac-Peop military leader
General Holt – Wes-Dem military leader
Other things to know
Tom Mix – the name of the World War III antiseptic subsurface communal living tank established in June of 2010. These underground “ant tanks” produce leadies for the surface. Tom Mix was a silent movie star in Westerns from the early 1900s
Wes-Dem – the Western Democracies
Pac-Peop – the Soviets
Leadies – robots originally built to fight WWIII
Recon Dis-In Council – A group of leadies that form the high court of the world, above both Wes-Dem and Pac-Peop, located in Mexico City/Amecameca
Set in 2114. Our protagonist Allen Purcell says this about japery: “When a theme is harped on too much you get parody. When we make fun of a stale theme we say we japed it.”
Purcell, as a prank against Morec, unconsciously japes the statue of Major Streiter by cutting off the head. He undergoes psychoanalysis to discover why he acted out, and it reveals a blob on his report. A battery of tests at the Mental Health Resort to uncover any psionic abilities turns up negative, but he later finds out the blob indicates he possesses a sense of humor.
In Purcell’s final act of japery before he is ousted from his new job as the director of Telemedia he broadcasts invented historical facts framing Major Streiter as a cannibal.
This is one of Dick’s earliest published novels. It doesn’t deal with too many of the themes we’re familiar with in his later work, although there is a hint of what-is-reality weirdness when Purcell is drugged and sent to Other World.
Omphalos is a Greek word that means “navel.” Dick uses it several times— referring to the statue of Major Streiter and the spire being the hub of Morec and using it again to refer to Earth as being the navel of the universe. Omphalos is also the name of Rachmael ben Applebaums space freighter in Lies, Inc.
Cast of characters
Allen Purcell – owner of the Allen Purcell, Inc. Research Agency
Janet Purcell – Allen’s wife
Sue Frost – administrator of Telemedia
Mrs. Birmingham – oversees Purcell’s housing unit for the Parent Citizens Committee
Myron Mavis – former director of T-M
Doctor Malparto and Gretchen Malparto – brother and sister who work for the Mental Health Resort
Gates and Sugermann – two men who live as individuals in Hokkaido
Major Streiter – founder of Morec
Other things to know
Morec – Moral reclamation. Earth’s oppressive Puritanical culture
Cohorts of Major Streiter – male descendants of Major Streiter
Telemedia – aka T-M. Official government trust controlling mass communications
Hokkaido – an island that was left as a wasteland after the war ended in 1972
Mental Health Resort – psychoanalysts. The last refuge for individuals who are enemies of Earth’s moral civilization
Other World – a haven, on the fourth planet of the Vega system, for the Mental Health Resort’s neuro-psychiatrics