Now Wait for Last Year: A virtual compendium of Dick’s pet themes

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsNow Wait for Last Year by Philip K. Dick science fiction book reviewsNow Wait for Last Year by Philip K. Dick

A virtual compendium of many of Philip K. Dick‘s pet themes, tropes and obsessions, Now Wait for Last Year, the author’s 17th published sci-fi novel, originally appeared as a Doubleday hardcover in 1966. (As revealed in Lawrence Sutin’s biography on Dick, the novel was actually written as early as 1963 and rewritten two years later.) Phil was on some kind of a roll at this point in his career, having recently come out with the masterpieces The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Dr. Bloodmoney, and Now Wait for Last Year is still another great one for this important writer.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsIn it, the Earth of the year 2055 is in big trouble, fighting a protracted, losing war with the 6-foot-tall, antlike reegs of Proxima Centauri while being harassed and bullied by its allies from Lilistar. Against this typically bleak Dickian backdrop, we meet Dr. Eric Sweetscent, an “artiforg” (artificial organ) transplant surgeon who leaves his cushy post at Tijuana Fur and Dye Co. to minister to no less a personage than Gino Molinari, the hypochondriacal, psychosomatically ill U.N. Secretary General who is head of the Earth forces in Cheyenne, WY. Sweetscent’s life is severely re-complicated when his estranged wife, Kathy, gets herself hooked on a new military weapon, a drug called JJ-180, which has the power to cause instant addiction and to induce time-travel effects in the user. And as if Eric’s life weren’t troubled enough, Kathy has just decided to get her husband hooked on the drug as well…

I mentioned up top that Now Wait for Last Year is a virtual compendium of Dick’s themes and ideas, and as such, it would make a perfect introduction for any readers new to PKD. The subject of artiforgs had already been broached in The Penultimate Truth, which novel also featured Cheyenne as the U.N. capital. (For that matter, the subjects of 1920s cowboy star Tom Mix AND St. George, Utah, both strangely figure in the two novels.) As in so many of Dick’s other books, the topic of divorce is spotlighted prominently here (the author was himself married five times before his death at age 52), as is the issue of a world leader who is not what he seems (dealt with in depth in The Simulacrum and The Penultimate Truth), although here, that leader is not a mechanical construct, but something much more ingenious. As in The Crack in Space, the theme of alternate Earths with alternate futures is given an airing, as are Dick’s ambivalent attitudes toward drugs (JJ-180 is seen as an abomination in this book, and Eric in one section ponders that anyone who addicts another “ought to be hanged or shot”); these attitudes would turn decidedly antidrug a decade later, in the author’s A Scanner Darkly. The issue of suicide is again touched on (I’ve lost count of how many Dickian characters have had suicidal thoughts; Phil made a few attempts himself during his troubled life), but here, the author treats us to a wonderfully life-affirming resolution that caps his book off very sweetly.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe novel, I should add, just brims with invention and ideas on virtually every page, be it the women’s fashions (ebony teeth, toenails painted to depict the Norman Conquest, public toplessness with nipples gilded with a Martian life form!), Tijuana Fur and Dye owner Virgil Ackerman’s Wash-35 outpost on Mars (an exact replica of a few square blocks of Washington, D.C., in 1935), the ingenious political intrigue or the truly disorienting, drug-induced time traveling. This is a novel that grows wilder and wilder as it proceeds; hold on tight and prepare to be stunned! Here we have Dick operating at the near peak of his powers, and modern sci-fi really doesn’t get too much better, loopier or heartfelt than that.

Now Wait for Last Year, still, is not a perfect book, and nitpicker that I am, I was able to discern some small problems. In the Martian Wash-35, for example, is a replica of the Uptown Theatre… which didn’t open until 1936. And that McComb Street in “D.C.”? That should be “Macomb.” And when Kathy spots a 1932 Model A Ford during her JJ-180 trip… well, the Model A was discontinued in 1931; the Model B started in ’32. And while I’m picking nits, just how DOES one cut a drug CAPSULE in thirds? OK, enough of that. Truth is, I really did love this wild collection of Philip K. Dick’s pet preoccupations. “A daft and delightful yarn,” Scottish critic David Pringle calls it in his Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction, and ain’t it ever the truth! How I wish that some major studio would spend $200 million to lovingly bring THIS ONE to the big screen!

~Sandy Ferber


science fiction audiobook reviews Philip K. Dick Now Wait For Last YearEarth is allied with the planet Lilistar against the alien Reegs. Gino Molinari, the leader of Earth’s forces, has just hired Eric Sweetscent as his personal physician. For his new job, Eric has to leave his wife Kathy, who has just become addicted to a new hallucinogenic drug. Eric is glad to leave, though, because he and Kathy aren’t getting along.

When Eric arrives at Gino Molinari’s side, he finds that the man has some strange health issues. At first Eric thinks Mr. Molinari is a paranoid hypochondriac until he discovers that he has survived numerous bouts of cancer. Soon there are other strange discoveries about Molinari’s health that baffle Dr. Sweetscent. When he finds out that the drug that Kathy’s hooked on came from off-world and causes its users to travel through time, he wonders if her drug addiction and Gino Molinari’s bizarre symptoms could be related. He also starts to wonder if Earth is on the wrong side of the war.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYou never know what you’re going to get with a story by Philip K. Dick. Well, that’s not exactly true. You can almost certainly expect aliens, spaceships, robots, drug use, paranoia, bad marriages, time warps, alternate universes, and badly inaccurate psychology. What I mean is that PKD’s stories vary greatly in quality — some of them are incredibly clever and innovative, while others are almost painful to read. This may be because, according to biographers, Dick’s novels reflect his own unhappy life and his struggles with drugs, divorce, and mental illness.

Now Wait for Last Year (1966) is definitely one of the better ones. Eric Sweetscent is a complex character with complex problems for which there are no obvious solutions. A wrong move could endanger all of humanity! There’s mystery, whimsy, and humor here, too — the scenes with the talking taxis are funny (humorous situations with automatons are a familiar PKD element).

What stands out most, though, is that Now Wait for Last Year is an unusually emotional novel for Philip K. Dick. Eric deals with a whole spectrum of feelings toward his wife: grief, love, hate, treachery, anger, disgust, and pity. I actually dissolved into tears during the final scene of Now Wait for Last Year when the talking taxi gives Eric some beautiful advice.

I listened to Brilliance Audio’s version of Now Wait for Last Year. Luke Daniels performed it perfectly, as usual. I love old science fiction and I love audiobooks, so I absolutely adore Brilliance Audio for putting so much old science fiction on audio recently!

~Kat Hooper

Now Wait for Last Year — (1966) Publisher: Earth is trapped in the crossfire of an unwinnable war between two alien civilizations. Its leader is perpetually on the verge of death. And on top of that, a new drug has just entered circulation — a drug that haphazardly sends its users traveling through time. In an attempt to escape his doomed marriage, Dr. Eric Sweetscent becomes caught up in all of it. But he has questions: Is Earth on the right side of the war? Is he supposed to heal Earth’s leader or keep him sick? And can he change the harrowing future that the drug has shown him?

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough’s finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a “misspent youth” of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship — although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century — and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror… but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle “ferbs54.” Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club….

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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One comment

  1. Dick was a twin, if I remember correctly, and his sister died a few days after they were born. His early childhood was pretty rough, and it seems like some of those formative experiences always find their way into his work.Divorce, suicide, odd babies…

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