1/7/13

Dr. Futurity by Philip K Dick (1960)

In “Dr. Futurity”, Dr. Jim Parsons is pulled from his time in the early 21st century into a future society where strict laws govern birth and death. In the future races have been eradicated, but people are grouped into arbitrary tribes by birth, and hardly anyone survives past their thirties. People willingly die if they are even slightly imperfect, and groups of teens, a sort of Hitler youth called stupos, regularly eradicate political or social dissidents. Parsons, it turns out, has been brought to this time by a group of people who hope to use their time travel technology to remove the 500 year rule of European whites by returning to 1579 and assassinate Sir Francis Drake.


After the shifting worlds of “Eye in the Sky,” the plot of Dr. Futurity” feels like a step back for Dick, and that’s because it is. While it was published in 1960, Dick wrote it seven years earlier. Still it’s cleverly plotted, especially the twists in time. Dick’s books after the late 60’s seem to relax and leave the plotting to the characters, but even these earlier, more heavily plotted books show that he had a knack for storytelling. In this one Dick has enough knots that Parsons ends up occasionally becoming his own antagonist.

In particular, I liked the descriptions of the lost places to which Parsons’ accidental journey take him. After he arrives in the future, he is banished to the labor colonies on Mars, but escapes due to a mysterious time-traveling rocket, which takes him to a dying planet. On it he finds a plaque with his name, and then he recognizes the planet:
“Gazing up at the sky he saw a shape half-lost in the haze. A gray disc sailed beyond the clouds...He studied the face of this moon. The worn surface. The moon was Luna...That had not changed; the patter on its visible side remained the same. This was not Mars. It was Earth."
“Here he stood on his own planet, on the dying, ancient Earth. The waterless last age. It had, like Mars before it, ended in drought and weariness. With only black sand-flies and lichens...His name, the final written words. To survive man, when everything else had gone.”
A similar passage occurs when he’s marooned in North America 1579 near Tomales Bay, California. Dick seems to both fear and idealize what it would be like to be alone in the world.

“Dr. Futurity” also has the one of my favorite PKD names: Al Stenog. While the group who brought Parsons from the past is lead by a matriarch called Loris, Al Stenog is the government office whom we discover is opposing her. Often times Dick’s names are fairly transparent: Dr. Bloodmoney, Dr. Todt (German for death). Horselover Fat is a character whose name is a tranliteration of “Philip Dick”. But, Al Stenog? I guess Dick though that a court stenographer was a petty official, and made that a name.

The inside flap of the 1960 Ace Double edition:
He has a moment of shattering, blinging terror...Where was he? Why was he here? Had somebody brought him here, dumped him off at this spot for a reason?
Suddenly Dr. Jim Parsons realized that he had not been dumped on a new world -- but into a new time. In seconds he had traversed centuries...but why?
How could he escape the time he was in? How could he avoid the terrible role that the Wolves of the future had chosen him to execute? There was no way out, for even death was humbled before the inexorable web of destiny.