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The Penultimate Truth.
By Philip K Dick.
Let me start by saying that I'm not a great fan of PK's work but read this book because it sounded like a great story but wow what a disappointment.
The story follows Nicholas St. James who lives under ground in the "Ant Tanks", basically cities around the world where people went as WW3 happened and where they are kept by lies and deceit by the well to do up above, or so it originally seems as you struggle through this hap hazard book.
Nicholas and his comrades make 'Leadies', robots which they think are being used to fight the above war but in fact are being used as servants by the above populace.
WW3 actually ended of 13 years ago but the people have been kept down there since by written and video lies which the book goes into at great length, Great length...
The descriptions of the above ground world where unclear and who was who equally so, even the conversations between two people where badly written and I oft had to re-read to work out who said what!
I won't tell you any more of the plot except that even the double and triple twists Philip puts in are rubbish and as a sci-fi fan I was truly disappointed, oh I've already said that but you get the point, don't bother with this dismal book.
The characters in this book are badly written and I never really got any of them, the writing itself was truly awful with huge nonsensical ramblings which served only to make me keep putting the book down and go and do something else. It was a relief when I finished it and I swore PK Dick was an author I would never read again. (apple o gees if you're a fan).
A book to be endured is the best way to describe it.
Safe underground in a large 'ant-tank' lives Nicholas St. James with his family, friends and workmates, safe in the knowledge that they are safe from the ongoing war above ground between the robot warriors of the East and West.
They are kept in the loop by the President of the United States, Talbot Yancy, through a large video screen, whose speeches of hope and deliverance keep them going in the cramped conditions.
It has been fifteen years since the war started, but actually thirteen since it ended.
The ongoing war is a lie - East and West laid down their arms years ago, the landscape above riddled with hotspots of radiation from nuclear warfare, the 'Yance-men' who had been controlling the war effort having decided to live like kings in the absence of the millions of humans left underground.
That is until Nicholas must brave the journey up through the Earth to the surface to fetch an important piece of medical equipment that will save his friend and the best mechanic the ant-tank has - he is about to learn the truth, but still there are many dangers for him to face, and the Yance-men are more hostile than they appear.
This is the fourth Phillip K. Dick novel I have read, after "The Man in the High Castle", "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" and "Time Out of Joint", and his usual flare for maintaining realistic dialogue and situations continues here.
Of course, the fictional science advancements are fairly ambitious for the time period he has set it in (early 21st C), but then this was written in the 60s.
The main problem with "The Penultimate Truth" is in its convoluted 'triple-cross' plot that made very little sense - involving a dose of time travel that takes everything a bit too far down the dingy 'out-there' alley.
Its reliance on this plot reveal feels sloppy, especially after setting up some interesting characters, but these characters quickly turn into monologue-drawling static men who just logic each other to death, Asimov style.
The second half did not make for interesting reading, which is a shame given its unique set up of a fake war, everybody undergound deceived, and the few sterile men who are left living the high life in lonely lives among talking machines.
It is a dysmal vision of the future and its a shame the book doesn't really convey the scope of the idea - we know there are more ant-tanks all over the world, but very little mention is made of them - it comes across as a world populated by seven or eight people and a host of robots.
I still maintain that "Time Out of Joint" is the best thing I've read of Dick's, and while this is interesting in its own right, he didn't flesh out the ideas to any satisfactory conclusion - its a missed opportunity.
The plot seems tacked on and unnecessary compared with the propaganda theme running throughout.
A short read, then, but for Philip K. Dick fans only.
[The book can be purchased from play.com for £5.49 (including postage and packing]
Above ground World War III is still going on, or so the people living in underground bunkers below the Earth's surface believe. For the best part of fifteen years, people have been fed lies by the government to keep them below. Now one man ventures to the surface to find that not all is what it seems.
That premise sounds fantastic, doesn't it? And in the hands of arguably the greatest ever science fiction writer, the man behind Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - it must be amazing.
In reality I found this book incredibly hard to read, not that I can't read or anything - its just the prose was so difficult to get into and understand. The book had a lot of 'new' words in it that Dick had made up to describe certain elements or objects. It took almost fifty pages in for him to actually tell the reader what they were! I found the characters also incredibly hard to understand. The plot lines were so deep and complex it was hard to keep track of a myriad of different plot lines and character developments I totally lost faith in the book about halfway through.
Although the novel is only 191 pages long it took me almost a month to read it, usually I can devour a book every three weeks or so - and much longer ones than this. I just didn't feel compelled to read it or look forward to carrying on the story and it ended up being a bit of a chore - especially the last fifty pages or so.
This was a shame, as I have quite enjoyed the other Phillip K Dick novels that I have read so far - Time out of Joint and Now Wait for Last Year. I think I thought the novel was going to go in a direction that I thought was necessary for the story to go in. If there were lots of subterranean bunkers with millions of people in them - wouldn't they be interested to see what was above them? The fact that yes, the war had ended and had been less substantial than the people below had believed - and the people were being fed lies even now through their TV screens sounded such a fantastic concept that it couldn't go wrong. I just felt that it was a wasted opportunity for the story to go in the way it did. If you've seen that new Doctor Who episode 'Gridlocked' - I thought it may be a bit like that, but I was wrong.
Incredibly hard to read, difficult to get into, The Penultimate Truth is available from amazon.com for £5.59.