Like a mad dream of himself, some Philip K. Dick books seem more autobiographical than fictional. One can almost see him, hunched over the typewriter, taking his wacky visions and delusional experiences of the afternoon and plunking them into a story. Bad marriages, paranoia, experimental drug use, precogs, suicide, etc., etc., are landmarks navigating his novels. Written in 1966, Now Wait for Last Year has all of this and more, and leaves the reader asking: how many different ways can Dick combine his favorite motifs. The answer: at least one more.
Containing the ambiguous leader concept of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, the reality-altering property of drugs from FlowMy Tears, the Policeman Said, and the surreal mood and broken relationships of every seemingly Dick book, Now Wait for Last Year has little new to offer well-read Dick fans in the way of ideas. The writing beginning broken and jumbled but settling in after the first few chapters, Dick’s poor prose is also present, but not in spades. Thus, from being nothing special through one glass, to a representative sample of PKD’s work through another, the verdict is ho-hum.
The year is 2055 and Eric Sweetscent, an artiforg (artificial organ transplant surgeon), is employed by one of the richest men in the world keeping the centuries old businessman alive. When not at work, he spends his time in constant disharmony with his wife, Kathy. She a drug addicted, emotional wreck, their domestic life alternates awkwardly between hurtful disagreements and tender sensitivity—a lifestyle which does not well suit the mild-mannered, highly passive Sweetscent. But when the UN Secretary General, leader of the Earth’s government, recruits Sweetscent to be his own personal physician, events start rolling.
In Dick’s 2055, earthlings are the third wheel in an interstellar battle between the power hungry ‘Starmen and the insectile reegs. The Secretary General, Gino Molinari, spends his time trying to sidetrack the ‘Starmen, with whom Earth has signed a peace treaty, in order to prevent humans from being sent to the front to fight. Molinari’s main method of redirecting ‘Starmen requests for soldiers is not so subtle: he plays dead, literally, and Sweetscent must keep him alive. But when Sweetscent finds both an assassinated version and a younger version of the ageing Molinari in the white house, questions arise. Further complicating events is the appearance of a mysterious drug named JJ-180. Having the ability to send people back and forth in time, things really lose touch with reality when Kathy slips Sweetscent some of the strange drug. Highly addictive, Sweetscent is forced to abandon his relaxed life to escape the mysterious shifts in time, possibly just saving Earthlings in the process.
Now Wait for Last Year of the middling grade in Dick’s oeuvre, diehard fans will undoubtedly enjoy it despite the lack of anything truly fresh. A direct analogue of Dick’s own relationship troubles (Wikipedia states he was married five times), Sweetscent’s broken marriage is perhaps the strongest aspect of the novel. The dialogue that occurs between he and his wife, particularly the hurtful vitriol hurtling across the room in the opening scenes, is especially realistic. Dick’s final resolution of the relationship—almost a note written on a mirror to himself—is touching and closes the novel in affective fashion.
Time travel a gaping hole just waiting for writers to trip and fall into, Dick handles the motif with ease. Perhaps too lax, its effect on the reality of the novel is poorly thought through. In the same vein as the drug effects of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, if a large number of people are able to modify reality simply by taking a pill, one would expect reality to be in constant, chaotic shift, rather than responsive only to the main character’s actions. This selfish personalization, while effectively focusing the plot on the main characters, fails to deliver a message at any logical or social level, thus diminishing the idea’s credibility.
In the end, Now Wait for Last Year is an average read. Readers who enjoy time travel will like the book, however, there are several other books which portray the motif in more convincing fashion. (The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers or Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys’ film are good examples.) Fans of the author will find nothing to complain about; all the typical Dickian elements are present in quantity. One of his stronger examinations of a broken relationship, readers should expect domestic turmoil to heavily affect the plot. However, when contrasted against the larger conflict occurring in space, its depth gets lost solving the mystery of who or what Molinari really is . There are better Dick stories out there, but there are probably more that are worse.