My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a three star book I’m giving four stars to because of its originality. Dick is an author unlike any other. He can definitely come up with some unique stuff. This isn’t Dick’s best book, but it’s not bad. The premise is interesting. Due to the mysterious Hobart Phase, everything on Earth is moving backwards now, as of the 1980s (this world is in the late 1990s). Dead people wake up and are unearthed by companies who sell them to the highest bidder. The fact that relatives never seem to bid on these people is a fact conveniently ignored by Dick and I thought it was a weak component of the novel. Additionally, instead of eating, people disgorge (privately), smoke cigarette stubs back to full length, have sex to end a pregnancy, grow younger until they find a womb to end their life in, say “Goodbye” to greet and “Hello” in departing. Unusual, yes? Unfortunately, Dick didn’t think it all through, it seems to me, because most of this world is completely linear. You don’t drive backwards. You put your clothes on just as we do today. Shots fired from a gun are done so as in real life. Shouldn’t bullets be flying back to gun barrels in this book? Real weak plot depth there, so that’s one star gone.
In this world, the Library is the ultimate totalitarian authority and scares the hell out of everyone. They “erad” books now and have their own army. We’re introduced to Sebastian Hermes (and his wife, Lotta) as he and his crew are about to dig up the Anarch Peak, a MLK-type black religious figure whose followers founded the Udi cult, basically a bunch of pissed off, drugged out black people. (Another complaint I have with the book is Dick’s treatment of women and minorities — blacks. Women are users or to be used and blacks all find their beginnings in the 1965 Watts riots in L.A., and he describes howling mobs of them outside the library. It’s very disappointing, and I don’t want to sound too PC, but it’s a real failure on the author’s part, in my opinion.) Sebastian digs up Peak, but the Library steals him away and the book revolves around Sebastian’s attempts to get him back (along with his wife, who the Library also has) with the help of the Udi and the Rome faction. There’s an LSD grenade, which is pretty original. That’s how he disables the Library’s guards.
In addition to the things I already wrote that were dissatisfying, I took issue with Lotta jumping in the sack with a cop who gets assassinated by the Library while Sebastian jumps in the sack with Ann Fisher, the dangerous Librarian’s daughter, who seduces him to get the Anarch. However, the book does have some redeeming qualities to it, not the least of which is Dick’s private struggle with theology. People and the world are made up of concentric rings that go outward until God is found. “Evil is simply a lesser reality, a ring farther from Him. It’s the lack of absolute reality, not the presence of an evil deity.” As is the case in most Dick novels, we’re treated to the whole “what is reality, what isn’t?” conundrum. I found it less confusing in this book than in others. I actually felt fairly comfortable with Dick’s exploration of theology in this book, unlike several others I’ve read.
The book was truly original, but not well thought out. I enjoyed it enough to give it four stars, but it probably only deserves three. I’m just partial to the author. I admit my bias. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably like it. If you’re not familiar with Dick as an author, this isn’t the book with which I would start.