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
- Webster Foote, Limited – London-based planetwide private police investigation agency
- Artiforgs – Arti-Gan Corporations plastic artificial organs