Pop Culture Gadabout
Thursday, July 30, 2009
      ( 7/30/2009 09:43:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"HE'S A POOK." One of the first of his extended sci-fi meditations on the culture of addiction that would ultimately lead to his elegantly despairing A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick's Now Wait for Last Year centers on a "tempogogic" drug that seriously screws around with its users' time sense. Set in a future where Earth has gotten itself enmeshed in a losing intergalactic war, the book focuses on a husband and wife, Dr. Eric Sweetscent and his wife Katharine, who've taken JJ-180, a highly addictive drug that was developed by somebody (stories vary as to who) as a weapon in the war. Said drug may or may not -- as with other Dick works, the line between reality and hallucination quickly grows murky -- take its users into the past or future, though its long-term use ultimately destroys the addict's mind and body.

Our book's protagonist, Sweetscent, is given the drug surreptitiously by his already addicted wife, so he understandably spends much of the novel swinging between murderous anger and empathy toward Kathy. In a canon that features beaucoup unsympathetic female characters, Katharine Sweetscent has to be one of Dick's most difficult: when the book opens, we already see her engaged in shrewish conflict with her husband, whose role as primary surgeon to one of the wealthiest men in the world is insufficiently profitable to her, though when the doctor rises to take care of Gino Molinari, the Machiavellian elected leader of Terra's unified planetary culture, she suddenly turns antagonistic toward his elevated stature.

When the woman becomes an instant addict to JJ-180, it's inevitable that she slip a capsule into her husband's drink. Not only does it fit the conflictual relationship between the two ('Well, that's marriage these days," one character sardonically notes, "legalized hate."), it's what addicts do. They work to bring everyone around them into their world of addiction.

Though we're with Katharine when she first ingests the dangerous JJ-180, the main focus of Last Year remains on her husband both before and after his drug-induced temporal adventures. Dick's creation of a world at war proves as timely now as it did in 1966, especially in his depiction of the political milieu where Eric has landed. Molinari (a.k.a. the Mole) is a particularly inspired creation. In an era where artificial organs (artiforgs) keep the well to do alive in seeming perpetuity, the Mole refuses to have anything artificial put in his body. A catalog of somatic complaints and sudden illnesses, Molinari uses his ravaged body as a tool to manipulate negotiations with both sides in the war.

As such, the very nature of his regular parade of medical issues becomes murky, while the appearance of a seemingly robust and healthy Mole on the scene complicates matters even further. Is he a robotic creation? A JJ-180 traveler from some alternate Terran future? If you're expecting a clear-cut answer to those questions, then you don't know Dick. The book's final chapters, where Sweetscent seemingly travels through several alternate time streams, are particularly befuddling.

And yet, for all its mucking around with sinister war-time machinations and temporal paradoxes, the gist of Now Wait for Last Year remains Sweetscent's ongoing emotional struggles dealing with a mentally ill, drug-addicted spouse. Dick remains brutally unsentimental in his delineation of these struggles; though his protagonist is correctly called a "good man" by a sentient taxicab, he's also capable of appalling fantasies about escaping his damaged spouse. It's an unfortunate dynamic that many addicts' partners know, one that the writer believably and empathically captures in the pages of this seeming piece of sci-fi pulp.

Now Wait for Last Year is the third of five novels reprinted in the Library of America's Philip K. Dick: Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s (The other four: Martian Time-Slip; Dr. Bloodmoney; Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said; and Scanner Darkly.) Where both Time-Slip and Bloodmoney feature a large cast of individually rendered California neurotics, the focus in Last Year is tighter, more constricted. While some readers may take issue with the book's final parts, this still remains a must-read for lovers of bracingly disturbing speculative fiction.


# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

On Sale Now!
Measure by Measure:

A Romantic Romp with the Fat and Fabulous
By Rebecca Fox & William Sherman

(Available through Amazon)

Measure by Measure Web Page

Ask for These Fine Cultural Blogs & Journals by Name!

aaronneathery.com News
Aaron Neathery

American Sideshow Blow-Off
Marc Hartzman

Arf Lovers
Craig Yoe

Sean T. Collins

Barbers Blog
Wilson Barbers

The Bastard Machine
Tim Goodman

The Beat
Heidi MacDonald

Kevin Church

Big Fat Blog
Paul McAleer

Big Mouth Types Again
Evan Dorkin

Laura "Tegan" Gjovaag

Blog This, Pal!
Gordon Dymowski

Rod Lott

Cartoon Brew
Amid Amidi & Jerry Beck

Cartoon Web Log!
Daryl Cagle

Clea's Cave
Juana Moore-Overmyer

Collected Editions

The Comics Curmudgeon
Josh Fruhlinger

The Comics Reporter
Tom Spurgeon

Christopher Butcher

Comics Waiting Room
Marc Mason

Comics Worth Reading
Johanna Draper Carlson

a dragon dancing with the Buddha
Ben Varkentine


Electromatic Radio
Matt Appleyard Aaron Neathery


Eye of the Goof
Mr. Bali Hai

Fred Sez
Fred Hembeck

Greenbriar Picture Shows
John McElwee

The Groovy Age of Horror
Curt Purcell

The Hooded Utilitarian
Noah Berlatsky

Hooray for Captain Spaulding
Daniel Frank

The Horn Section

The House Next Door
Matt Zoller Seitz

Howling Curmudgeons
Greg Morrow & Friends

The Hurting
Tim O'Neil

I Am A Child of Television
Brent McKee

I Am NOT the Beastmaster
Marc Singer

In Sequence
Teresa Ortega

Innocent Bystander
Gary Sassaman

Irresponsible Pictures

Jog - The Blog
Joe McCulloch

The Johnny Bacardi Show
David Allen Jones

Dirk Deppey

King's Chronicles
Paul Dini

Let's You And Him Fight
One of the Jones Boys

Mah Two Cents
Tony Collett


Michael's Movie Palace

Nat's TV
Nat Gertler

Ned Sonntag


News from ME
Mark Evanier

No Rock&Roll Fun
Simon B

Omega Channel
Matt Bradshaw

Pen-Elayne on the Web
Elayne Riggs

Peter David

Dorian White

Progressive Ruin
Mike Sterling

Punk Rock Graffiti
Cindy Johnson & Autumn Meredith

Revoltin' Developments
Ken Cuperus

Marc Bernardin

Matt Hinrichs

Self-Styled Siren

Spatula Forum
Nik Dirga

Tales from the Longbox
Chris Mosby


The Third Banana
Aaron Neathery & Friends

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.

Toner Mishap
B2 et al

Trusty Plinko Stick
Bill Doughty

TV Barn
Aaron Barnhart et al

Unqualified Offerings
Jim Henley

Various And Sundry
Augie De Blieck

Video WatchBlog
Tim Lucas

When Fangirls Attack
Kalinara & Ragnell

X-Ray Spex
Will Pfeifer

Yet Another Comics Blog
Dave Carter

A Brief Political Disclaimer:

If this blog does not discuss a specific political issue or event, it is not because this writer finds said event politically inconvenient to acknowledge - it's simply because he's scatterbrained and irresponsible.

My Token List of Poli-Blogs:

Roy Edroso


Jane Hamsher

James Wolcott

Lance Mannion

The Moderate Voice
Joe Gandelman


Amanda Marcotte & Friends

The Sideshow
Avedon Carol

Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo

Talking Points Memo
Joshua Micah Marshall

This Modern World
Tom Tomorrow

Welcome to Shakesville
Melissa McEwan & Friends

Blogcritics: news and reviews
Site Feed

Powered by Blogger

    follow me on Twitter