Philip K. Dick
~ "The dead grow young again" ~.
In this 1967 novel, Counterclock World, author Philip K. Dick writes of world where there has been a reversal of time. The Hobart Phase, named for the scientist who first predicted its existence, causes the normal flow of time to reverse itself. The dead are born again from the womb of the grave and regress through life to the point where they must seek out a surrogate womb to "die" in. Set against this backdrop is the story of Sebastian Hermes, owner of Flask of Hermes Vitarium. Sebastian, himself an old-born, operates a small company whose job it is to seek out the "old born" and rescue from the grave and find someone living to buy them. A reverse undertaker if you will. Sebastian and his team find themselves in the middle of political and religious intrigue as they discover the remains of Anarch Peak, a revolutionary religious leader who founded the Uditi. The current incarnation of the cult is lead by ruthless power hungry Ray Roberts.
As with much of Dick's writing the destination of the journey is not the be all and end all of the story, but rather the terrain that is traversed throughout the course of the journey. Counter-Clock World dwells on many of Dick's hallmarks namely paranoia, religion, dark-haired women and drugs.
While attempting to introduce the readers to a retrograde world where everything works in reverse, Dick fails to apply the phenomenon consistently. In addition to the rebirthing process, Dick focuses on eating and smoking as two examples of the Hobart Phase in progress. Cigarettes are smoked in reverse, beginning with the butt and concluding with a complete unused cigarette. Eating involves a complicated process of regurgitating food into whole form and returning the "fresh" food to the original packaging.
Also key to the novel and the reversal of time are the "Erads". A group of powerful librarians the "Erads" are responsible for eradicating chronologically all copies of written works as time progresses backwards. The Erads' motives are never made clear. Whether it's a by-product of the Hobart Phase or whether the group is using the Hobart Phase as a convenient excuse to carry out their form of censorship is not resolved.
In UBIK, Philip K. Dick's next book, the author succeeds in perfecting this concept of a world where things regress.
Counter-Clock World as with much of Dick's writing is infused with a sense of despair and futility. Characters are constantly losing hope as the things they desire the most are out of reach, or they sink into despair as they accept their own perceived short-comings. Not exactly reading designed to motivate or cheer you up.
For all the intrigue generated by the competing religious factions, the novel ends rather abruptly and left me somewhat unsatisfied. A mercifully short work, weighing in at only 200 pages, Counter-Clock World is only recommended for the true Philip K. Dick fan. More casual fans of both time travel and Philip K. Dick would do better to read some of his more accessible works like UBIK or The Martian Time-Slip.
©2000 - A. Taylor
Review Posted: 2000-10-03
Review Posted: 2000-10-03
Counter-Clock World at philipkdick.com.
Links to to alternate reviews for Counter-clock World as well as images of cover art from various editions of the novel.