The Penultimate Truth – A Not-So Review

There are many authors from the 20th century that don’t get the recognition they deserve. Hunter S. Thompson is one of them. I think Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail: 1972 should be required reading for every high school student. I also think that everyone should read Hell’s Angels. These are two works that you just can’t ignore. HST’s writing style is so drastically different from anything else out there.

Okay, Reed. We’re writing about PKD, remember?

Just… Just read them, okay?

Another author that I think is extremely underrated is Philip K. Dick. About a year ago, my fiancée picked up Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? at Half Price Books. This intrigued me because she absolutely hates the movie that’s based on the book – Blade Runner – and I guess she just wanted to see if it was any good.

After she was done, I grabbed it off the shelf and began reading it while I would ride the bike at the gym. Since then, I’ve bought 5 more PKD books and finished every one of them. I can’t put them down. I can’t stop. The only other author I’ve felt this way about is HST, and It’s easy to see why these both

Dick’s writing style is interesting, to say the least. A lot of his stories don’t really have a point. At least they don’t seem like they have a point until the last three pages. I think Androids is probably his most well received book solely because it actually does have some sort of uniform plot to it. But once you dive in to his other works, it’s rather hard to keep up with what’s going on.

That’s hardly the case, however, in the book of his I’ve finished most recently – yesterday, in fact – The Penultimate Truth.

The year is 1982. About 90% of Earth’s population is living underground. After World War III broke out in the early 20th century, a majority of humanity fled to these underground bunkers to maintain safety, but to also build the robots that fought the war on the surface. The men that stayed above ground, Yance Men, coordinated war efforts. That is, until the war ended.

The Yance Men continued their charade for over 20 years, lying to all those who lived underground, telling them that the war was still going on and that they needed to continue producing leadys, the name for the robots. The Yance Men flourished on the surface. Creating a government of their own, they developed a society and way of life that revolved around controlling the people inside the underground vaults.

I’m not going to get super deep into the story. There’s a lot that goes on. And of course, it includes time travel. What would a PKD book be without time travel?

I do want to make some points about PKD in general, though, and how he’s influenced my writing.

I’ve always been one to enjoy a solid back story. I really like getting deep into lore and figuring out why things are the way they are in a certain universe. That’s why I enjoy Fallout so much, I think. It’s so much fun to go in and get all these different perspectives, get all these different stories on how the universe came to be.

But when I first began reading PKD books, I noticed that he didn’t do that. He doesn’t world build. He just goes for it. He sets up a story and tells it to you. If you want to have any chance of understanding the story, you have to just accept the world and the conditions in it for what they are.

It took me a few books to get past this, but I think the best example of his ‘jumping-in-ness’ is The Man in the High Castle. Dick doesn’t tell you how or why the Axis powers ended up beating out the Allies in WWII (well, he does a bit, but he doesn’t spend 18 chapters on it), he just states it as outright fact and goes along with the story.

The same thing goes for time travel. He doesn’t spend hours and hours explaining how or why the time travel exists. He doesn’t worry about paradoxes or other weird shit happening as a result (unless it’s part of the plot). It just exists. “Oh yeah by the way, before the war they had time travel machines. Back to your originally scheduled programing.”

As someone who has been in the process of writing a sci-fi book for over 5 years and gave up because I got stuck, this really opens up a lot of doors for me. I’m actually starting to have ideas again on how and where to go with my book. Which is great.

It’s also helped me with fiction writing in general. You don’t have to spend time worrying about all the little things. If you know what’s going on in your world, that’s all that maters. That creates the mystery. That gives it the air that it is, in fact, a real world. You don’t know everything that’s going on in the world right now, do you? You just accept unknowns for what they are and roll along with it. That’s how you write great fiction. And Dick does such an amazing job at writing fiction.

I know this was going to be a review of The Penultimate Truth, and it didn’t quite turn out that way. But I don’t feel like I could do it justice in a review regardless. I don’t think I can put a number value on Dick’s books because each one is so unique. Each book of his is like nothing I’ve read before, even other books that he’s written, and that’s why I can’t put them down. One day I hope to have gone through all his works, just like I have with HST, but we’ll see. I’ve got quite a few more to read. 6 down, 38 to go. And that doesn’t include the short stories. I think I’m in deep, guys.

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