Theme: Time Travel

Ubik published 1969

In Ubik Dick took one of his own tropes, a group of people trapped unknowingly in a simulated or false reality (used previously in Eye in the Sky and later in A Maze of Death) and created one of his most entertaining novels.

Ubik
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In 1992 Glen Runciter’s anti-psionic prudence organization duels with Raymond Hollis’s group of telepaths and precogs. Runciter’s employees end up stuck in the simulated reality of half-life storage after Hollis lures them to the moon and attempts to kill them. The group is tormented by a powerful fifteen-year-old half-lifer, and Runciter, still alive on the outside, tries to help them as time inside half-life regresses into the past (similar to the drug-induced time travel in Now Wait for Last Year).

It sounds absurd in summary, but the book is stuffed with some of Dick’s funniest and best ideas while dealing with his prevalent theme of the nature of reality.

Cast of characters

  • Glen Runciter – owner of Runciter Associates, an anti-psi prudence organization
  • Ella Runciter – Glen’s twenty-year-old dead wife in half-life
  • Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsang – owner of Beloved Brethren Moratorium
  • Jory Miller – a dead fifteen-year-old boy in half-life cold-pac storage
  • Raymond Hollis – employs telepaths. Runciter’s opposition
  • G. G. Ashwood – one of Runciter’s telepaths
  • Joe Chip – Runciter’s electrical tester
  • Pat Conley– an anti-precog
  • Stanton Mick – reclusive speculator and financier
  • Zoe Wirt – Stanton Mick’s assistant
  • Tippy Jackson, Edie Dorn, Al Hammond, John Ild, Francesca Spanish, Tito Apostos, Don Denny, Sammy Mundo, Wendy Wright, Fred Zafsky – Runciter’s inertials who travel to Luna

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Dr. Futurity published 1960

Dr. Futurity (not to be confused with the much better Dr. Bloodmoney) tells the story of Dr. Jim Parsons who is snatched away from 2012 and brought to the year 2405. The world of the future has no need for doctors as they have embraced death and eugenics. Their society is organized into tribes represented by animal totems. These tribes compete in contests to determine future generations as the winning tribes are able to contribute a greater number of zygotes to the Soul Cube. I feel stupid writing this down.

Dr. Futurity
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The Wolf Tribe has access to a time travel device, and they need the medical know-how of Parsons to save the life of Corith who was shot by an arrow in 1579 during a botched attempt to travel back in time to kill Sir Francis Drake. His plan was to erase the next 500 years of white supremacy by preventing England from taking North America from the Native Americans. Anyway… at least he wasn’t trying to stop Hitler.

The whole thing is full of plot holes, time travel and otherwise. Dick tries to explain away some of these issues, but the poorly-written story remains muddled and not very interesting.

Cast of characters

  • Dr. Jim Parsons – our protagonist
  • Wade and Icara – members of an illegal political group advocating women’s rights
  • Al Stenog – the Director of the Fountain
  • Loris – Mother superior of the Wolf Tribe
  • Helmar – Loris’s brother
  • Corith – Loris’s father. He travels back to 1579 in an attempt to kill Sir Francis Drake.
  • Jepthe – Loris’s mother
  • Nixina – mother of Jepthe and Corith

Other things to know

  • Shupos – delinquent children who work as government enforcers
  • Soul Cube – contains all the zygotes of the human race
  • The Fountain – government building where the Soul Cube is kept
  • Nova Albion – Northern California landing spot of Sir Francis Drake in 1579

Rating:

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Now Wait for Last Year published 1966

Set in 2055… at least before the drug-induced time travel kicks in.

Once again we have an old man kept alive by artiforgs, although the description of 130-year-old Virgil Ackerman as a slight, hermaphroditic creature is almost the exact opposite of how Stanton Brose is described in The Penultimate Truth. Rich men like Ackerman build simulated worlds on Mars to recreate their childhoods down to the smallest detail. It doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the story, but it’s still hilarious as Dick calls them regressive babylands.

Now Wait for Last Year
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Dick is airing out some issues with women with this book. His scheming, mentally unbalanced Kathy Sweetscent is one of the most caustic depictions of a wife that I can recall in any of his novels. The whole thing is ultimately about whether our protagonist, the unfortunately named Eric Sweetscent, will stay with his wife or not, even though he knows she is destined for the psychiatric hospital.

At one point it seems we will have yet another simulacrum of an authority figure just like in The Penultimate Truth and The Simulacra, (in this case one of the UN Secretary General), but that turns out not to be the case.

Some unexpected twists and a well-rounded world leader in Gino Molinari make this one worth the read. I thought I had read most of Dick’s good books, but I’m still discovering some gems as I work through the ones I have left.

Cast of characters

  • Virgil Ackerman – founder of Tijuana Fur & Dye Corp
  • Dr. Eric Sweetscent – artiforg surgeon who works for Virgil Ackerman
  • Katherine Sweetscent – Eric’s wife who works for TF&D as an antique collector
  • Bruce Himmel – quality control inspector at TF&D
  • Jonas Ackerman – Virgil’s great-grandnephew
  • Phyllis Ackerman – Virgil’s great-grandniece. On TF&D’s board of directors
  • Gino Molinari – aka “the Mole”. Terra’s supreme elected leader and commander of its armed forces in the war against the reegs
  • Minister Freneksy – Prime Minister of Lilistar
  • Christian Plout – host of the JJ-180 drug party
  • Marm Hastings – a San Francisco Taoist
  • Harry Teagarden – chief of the Mole’s medical staff
  • Mary Reineke – the Mole’s eighteen-year-old mistress
  • Roger Corning – a ‘Starman
  • Don Festenburg – advisor/speechwriter for Molinari
  • Bert Hazeltine – representative of the Hazeltine corporation where JJ-180 is made

Other things to know

  • Lilistar – dominant military power in the galaxy. Terra is their ally in their war against the reegs
  • Reegs – creatures from Proxima at war with the ‘Starmen from Lilistar

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