Last Year to Start Next Year

Variety reports that Philip K. Dick’s 1966 novel Now Wait for Last Year has been optioned as a film, with production scheduled to begin Q3 2012.

With Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s Michel Gondry having already drafted a script for Ubik (was there ever a better match between director/screenwriter and source material?), this news means my two favorite PKD novels will be coming soon to a nearby cineplex. Undoubtedly in Imax HD 3D Smell-O-Vision.

Don’t know much about PKD or the plot to Now Wait for Last Year? Here’s a book review I wrote a while back:

Philip K. Dick: Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s
Philip K. Dick
The Library of America (1128 pp, $40, July 2008)
Originally appeared in Black Gate #13, Spring 2009.

In Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, television celebrity Jason Taverner awakens after being attacked by an alien parasite to discover no one knows him. Without identification, Taverner must stumble through the police state his status previously allowed him to ignore, a world wherein the student riots of the late 1960s led to a Second Civil War and a totalitarian United States.

Of course, the very minute he leaves his hotel room Taverner drops into a vipers’ nest of fake IDs, snitches, and Gestapo. “Don’t come to the attention of the authorities,” ruminates the eponymous Policeman. “Don’t ever interest us. Don’t make us want to know more about you.” But Taverner can’t help it; his unique anonymity raises him to fame once more, only now in the sinister eyes of the police alone. And why not? “If you’re afraid you don’t commit yourself to life completely,” Taverner tells another character. “Fear makes you always, always hold something back.”

Not every one of Dick’s protagonists in Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s, chosen and annotated by Jonathan Lethem, is so self-possessed. Yet all live in malignant futures, each a distorted reflection in a shattered funhouse mirror. In the bleak Now Wait for Last Year, Earth’s government has aligned itself with Lilistar in a losing war against the ant-like reegs, a conflict in which withdrawal or a separate peace with the reegs will surely lead to occupation by the Stalinesque ‘Starmen. ‘Starmen agents hook the wife of surgeon Eric Sweetscent on the new drug JJ-180; one dose addicts completely and there is no cure. She in turn addicts her husband. Which then is the more terrifying — the reegs? The ‘Starmen? Or his wife?

Dick’s novels have a rough-draftness about them that wouldn’t be accepted in today’s publishing; Taverner’s assault by the extraterrestrial, for example, fades from Flow’s memory, the cause for his survival never explained or even hinted at. Some scenes have a tacked-on quality as if Dick were simply trying to reach his word count, but in the end they only add to the surreal flow of the narrative in which the reader can never be certain if what the characters experience occurs outside their own skulls.

Two readable yet otherwise average sixties sci-fi offerings, Martian Time-Slip and Dr. Bloodmoney, open the volume, paving a road toward the terminal inclusion, Dick’s masterpiece A Scanner Darkly. Much different in style and tone than his other works, more emotive with the cynicism cranked a hundredfold, Scanner, like the others, revolves around fear and drugs and the disabled, mentally or otherwise, and responsibility toward them. But the world of Scanner is the most dreadful, a modern, indistinguishable Los Angeles inhabited by freaks and heads, and narcs posing as freaks and heads, and freaks and heads posing as narcs. A rabbit hole beyond paranoia, a society superficially functional but made worthless with distrust. “What’s there really in this world, Bob?” asks one character. “It’s a stopping place to the next where they punish us here because we were born evil.” Drugs are solace from the policeman’s flagellation; and by book’s end an incarceration just the same. No parole from the penitentiary of existence.

Various political stripes — anarchists, liberals, libertarians — lay claim to Dick as one of their own but he belongs to no one. He was a Nixon-hating pill popper whose philosophy was anti-authoritarianism. His concerns were not about the structure of governments or the fairness of taxation but with the wheels and cogs of a person’s mind — of the reality specific to each individual, to paraphrase one of his talking taxicabs. Somewhere in the Erlenmeyer flask of Five Novels bubbles Dick’s antidote to our modern poison of conformity, to the dystopia he imagined in a thousand varieties. We live in a time where screaming SWAT teams kick in the doors of wrong addresses and everyone screams to vote for his guy and not the other and if you don’t do what the screamers say then there’s something wrong with you, something aberrant — you’re someone who needs his door kicked in most of all. It’s a future Philip K. Dick foresaw. It’s his world. We’re living in it.

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