Sunday, 22 January 2017

Dr Futurity - Philip K Dick

The sheer weight of ideas Dick manages to cram into these early novels is amazing. Here we have Jim Parsons, a doctor in 1998 America, which as usual is a technologically advanced, freedom-stunted version of America circa 1957. A couple of pages in and Parsons is abducted into the distant future. He sees a vehicle coming towards him, waves for it to stop. Instead the young driver, little more than a boy, deliberately tries to run him down - because that is the expected, courteous thing to do in these times.

Parsons finds himself in a supercity full of very young, good-looking people who all look broadly the same because they share the same blended racial heritage, a sort of dark coppery flesh tone. Parsons tries to save a young woman's life, which is a crime here. In these days they don't have doctors they have euthanors, because everyone agrees to limit the population. Couples don't have children. The men are sterilised at puberty and the women donate their eggs to the central sperm bank to be fertilised as and when required.

For his inadvertent crime Parsons is exiled to Mars. His prison ship is intercepted and he finds himself back on Earth, in the tribal lands outside the city. The tribe that has captured him - the tribe that brought him forward in time - is the Wolf Tribe, and they do things slightly differently. They are clearly more Native American in ancestry and they have old people. Loris, the queen, has her mother and grandmother still secretly living. Moreover, her father Corith is in a cryogenic tank with an arrow in his chest. Corith is dead but Parsons has the skills to bring him back. No one since Parson's time has possessed those skills. The Wolf tribe have been able to track him down because they, alone among the tribes, have perfected time travel.

Parsons removes the arrow, repairs the damage and gets Corith breathing again. He has learnt by now that Corith was killed back in the sixteenth century when he went back to try and stop Sir Francis Drake landing in the New World and wreaking genetic havoc. Overnight he examines the extracted arrow. It looks like an authentic sixteenth century arrow - except the feathers are plastic. Next morning he is called to his patient. H finds another arrow jammed into Corith's chest.

To try and solve the riddle everyone goes back in time to Drake's Californian landfall. They aim to intercept Corith as he runs down the hill to confront the Englishman, thus intervening before the arrow is loosed and he is killed. Then things get really complicated and really ingenious. And the whole tangled web is satisfactorily sorted in a total 150 pages. A mini masterpiece.

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