“Dick is the American writer who in recent years has most influenced non-American poets, novelists, and essayists.”—Roberto Bolaño
In Counter-Clock World, time has begun moving backward. People greet each other with “goodbye,” blow smoke into cigarettes, and rise from the dead. When one of those rising dead is the famous and powerful prophet Anarch Peak, a number of groups start a mad scramble to find him first—but their motives are not exactly benevolent because Anarch Peak may just be worth more dead than alive, and these groups will do whatever they must to send him back to the grave.
What would you do if your long-dead relatives started coming back? Who would take care of them? And what if they preferred being dead? In Counter-Clock World, one of Dick’s most theological and philosophical novels, these troubling questions are addressed; though, as always, you may have to figure out the answers yourself.
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About the Author
Over a writing career that spanned three decades, PHILIP K. DICK (1928–1982) published 36 science fiction novels and 121 short stories in which he explored the essence of what makes man human and the dangers of centralized power. Toward the end of his life, his work turned to deeply personal, metaphysical questions concerning the nature of God. Eleven novels and short stories have been adapted to film, notably, Blade Runner (based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly. The recipient of critical acclaim and numerous awards throughout his career, Dick was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2005, and in 2007 the Library of America published a selection of his novels in three volumes. His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages.
Read an Excerpt
Place there is none; we go backward and forward, and there is no place.--St. Augustine
As he glided by the extremely small, out-of-the-way cemetery in his airborne prowl car, late at night, Officer Joseph Tinbane heard unfortunate and familiar sounds. A voice. At once he sent his prowl car up over the spiked iron poles of the badly maintained cemetery fence, descended on the far side, listened.
The voice said, muffled and faint, "My name is Mrs. Tilly M. Benton, and I want to get out. Can anybody hear me?"
Officer Tinbane flashed his light. The voice came from beneath the grass. As he had expected: Mrs. Tilly M. Benton was underground.
Snapping on the microphone of his car radio Tinbane said, "I'm at Forest Knolls Cemetery--I think it's called--and I have a 1206, here. Better send an ambulance out with a digging crew; from the sound of her voice it's urgent."
"Chang," the radio said in answer. "Our digging crew will be out before morning. Can you sink a temporary emergency shaft to give her adequate air? Until our crew gets there--say nine or ten a.m."
"I'll do the best I can," Tinbane said, and sighed. It meant for him an all-night vigil. And the dim, feeble voice from below begging in its senile way for him to hurry. Begging on and on. Unceasingly.
This part of his job he liked least. The cries of the dead; he hated that sound, and he had heard them, the cries, so much, and so many times. Men and women, mostly old but some not so old, sometimes children. And it always took the digging crew so long to get there.
Again pressing his mike button, Officer Tinbane said, "I'm fed up with this. I'd like to be reassigned. I'm serious; this is a formal request."
Distantly, from beneath the ground, the impotent, ancient female voice called, "Please, somebody; I want to get out. Can you hear me? I know somebody's up there; I can hear you talking."
Leaning his head out the open window of his prowl car, Officer Tinbane yelled, "We'll be getting you out any time now, lady. Just try to be patient."
"What year is this?" the elderly voice called back. "How much time has passed? Is it still 1974? I have to know; please tell me, sir."
Tinbane said, "It's 1998."
"Oh dear." Dismay. "Well, I suppose I must get used to it."
"I guess," Tinbane said, "you'll have to." He picked a cigaret butt from the car's ashtray, lit it and pondered. Then, once again, he pressed his mike button. "I'd like permission to contact a private vitarium."
"Permission denied," his radio said. "Too late at night."
"But," he said, "one might happen along anyhow. Several of the bigger ones keep their scout-ambulances heading back and forth all through the night." He had one vitarium in particular in mind, a small one, old-fashioned. Decent in its sales methods.
"So late at night it's unlikely--"
"This man can use the business." Tinbane picked up the vidphone receiver mounted on the car's dashboard. "I want to talk to a Mr. Sebastian Hermes," he told the operator. "You find him; I'll wait. First of all try his place of business, the Flask of Hermes Vitarium; he probably has an all-night relay to his residence." If the poor guy can currently afford it, Tinbane thought. "Call me back as soon as you've located him." He hung up, then, and sat smoking his cigaret.
The Flask of Hermes Vitarium consisted primarily of Sebastian Hermes himself, with the help of a meager assortment of five employees. No one got hired at the establishment and no one got fired. As far as Sebastian was concerned these people constituted his family. He had no other, being old, heavy set, and not very likable. They, another, earlier vitarium, had dug him up only ten years ago, and he still felt on him, in the dreary part of the night, the coldness of the grave. Perhaps it was that which made him sympathetic to the plight of the old-born.
The firm occupied a small, wooden, rented building which had survived World War Three and even portions of World War Four. However, he was, at this late hour, of course home in bed, asleep in the arms of Lotta, his wife. She had such attractive clinging arms, always bare, always young arms; Lotta was much younger than he: twenty-two years by the non-Hobart Phase method of reckoning, which she went by, not having died and been reborn, as he, so much older, had.
The vidphone beside his bed clanged; he reached, by reflex of his profession, to acknowledge it.
"A call from Officer Tinbane, Mr. Hermes," his answering girl said brightly.
"Yes," he said, listening in the dark, watching the dull little gray screen.
A controlled young man's face appeared, familiar to him. "Mr. Hermes, I have a live one at a hell of a third rate place called Forest Knolls; she's crying to be let out. Can you make it here right away, or should I begin to drill an air vent myself? I have the equipment in my car, of course."
Sebastian said, "I'll round up my crew and get there. Give me half an hour. Can she hold out that long?" He switched on a bedside light, groped for his pen and paper, trying to recall if he had ever heard of Forest Knolls. "The name."
"Mrs. Tilly M. Benton, she says."
"Okay," he said, and rang off.
Stirring beside him, Lotta said drowsily, "A job call?"
"Yes." He dialed the number of Bob Lindy, his engineer.
"Want me to fix you some hot sogum?" Lotta asked; she had already gotten out of bed and was stumbling, half-asleep, toward the kitchen.
"Fine," he said. "Thanks." The screen glowed, and thereon formed the glum and grumpy, thin and rubbery face of his company's sole technician. "Meet me at a place called Forest Knolls," Sebastian said. "As soon as you can. Will you have to go by the shop for gear, or--"
"I've got it all with me," Lindy grumbled, irritably. "In my own car. Chang." He nodded, broke the connection.
Padding back from the kitchen, Lotta said, "The sogum pipe is on. Can I come along?" She found her brush and began expertly combing her mane of heavy dark-brown hair; it hung almost to her waist, and its intense color matched that of her eyes. "I always like to see them brought up. It's such a miracle. I think it's the most marvelous sight I've ever watched; it seems to me it fulfills what St. Paul says in the Bible, about 'Grave, where is thy victory?'" She waited hopefully, then, finished with her hair, searched in the bureau drawers for her blue and white ski sweater which she always wore.
"We'll see," Sebastian said. "If I can't get all the crew we won't be handling this one at all; we'll have to leave it to the police, or wait for morning and hope we're first." He dialed Dr. Sign's number.
"Sign residence," a groggy middle-aged familiar female voice said. "Oh, Mr. Hermes. Another job so soon? Can't it wait until morning?"
"We'll lose it if we wait," Sebastian said. "I'm sorry to get him out of bed, but we need the business." He gave her the name of the cemetery and the name of the old-born individual.
"Here's your sogum," Lotta said, coming from the kitchen with a ceramic container and ornamented intake tube; she now had her big ski sweater on over her pajamas.
He had only one more call to make, this one to the company's pastor, Father Jeramy Faine. Placing the call, he sat precariously on the edge of the bed, dialing with one hand, using the other to hold in place the container of sogum. "You can come with me," he said to Lotta. "Having a woman along might make the old lady--I assume she's old--more comfortable."
The vidscreen lit; elderly, dwarfish Father Faine blinked owlishly, as if surprised in the act of a nocturnal debauchery. "Yes, Sebastian," he said, sounding, as always, fully awake; of Sebastian's five employees, Father Faine alone seemed perpetually prepared for a call. "Do you know which denomination this old-born is?"
"The cop didn't say," Sebastian said. As far as he himself was concerned it didn't much matter; the company's pastor sufficed for all religions, including Jewish and Udi. Although the Uditi, in particular, did not much share his view. Anyhow, Father Faine was what they got, like it or not.
"It's settled, then?" Lotta asked. "We're going?"
"Yes," he said. "We've got everyone we need." Bob Lindy to sink the air shaft, put digging tools to work; Dr. Sign to provide prompt--and vital--medical attention; Father Faine to perform the Sacrament of Miraculous Rebirth . . . and then tomorrow during business hours, Cheryl Vale to do the intricate paper work, and the company's salesman, R.C. Buckley, to take the order and set about finding a buyer.
That part--the selling end of the business--did not much appeal to him; he reflected on this as he dressed in the vast suit which he customarily wore for cold night calls. R.C., however, seemed to get a bang out of it; he had a philosophy which he called "placement location," a dignified term for managing to pawn off an old-born individual on somebody. It was R.C.'s line that he placed the old-borns only in "specially viable, selected environments of proven background," but in fact he sold wherever he could--as long as the price was sufficient to guarantee him his five percent commission.
Lotta, trailing after him as he got his greatcoat from the closet, said, "Did you ever read the part of First Corinthians in the N.E.B. translation? I know it's getting out of date, but I've always liked it."
"Better get finished dressing," he said gently.
"Okay." She nodded dutifully, trotted off to get workpants and the high soft-leather boots which she cherished so much. "I'm in the process of memorizing it, because after all I am your wife and it pertains so directly to the work we--I mean you--do. Listen. That's how it starts. I mean; I'm quoting. 'Listen. I will unfold a mystery; we shall not all die, but we shall be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet call.'"
"A call," Sebastian said meditatively as he waited patiently for her to finish dressing, "that came one day in June of the year 1986." Much, he thought, to everyone's surprise--except of course for Alex Hobart himself, who had predicted it, and after whom the anti-time effect had been named.
"I'm ready," Lotta said proudly; she had on her boots, workpants, sweater, and, he knew, her pajamas under it all; he smiled, thinking of that: she had done it to save time, so as not to detain him.
Together, they left their conapt; they ascended by the building's express elevator to the roof-field and their parked aircar.
"Myself," he said to her as he wiped the midnight moisture from the windows of the car, "I prefer the old King James translation."
"I've never read that," she said, childish candor in her voice, as if meaning, But I'll read it; I promise.
Sebastian said, "As I recall, in that translation the passage goes, 'Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep; we shall be changed--' and so on. Something like that. But I remember the 'behold.' I like that better than 'listen.'" He started up the motor of the aircar, and they ascended.
"Maybe you're right," Lotta said, always agreeable, always willing to look up to him--he was, after all, so much older than she--as an authority. That perpetually pleased him. And it seemed to please her, too. Seated beside her, he patted her on the knee, feeling affection; she thereupon patted him, too, as always: their love for each other passed back and forth between them, without resistance, without difficulty; it was an effortless two-way flow.
Young, dedicated Officer Tinbane met them inside the dilapidated spiked-iron-pole fence of the cemetery. "Evening, sir," he said to Sebastian, and saluted; for Tinbane every act done while wearing his uniform was official, not to mention impersonal. "Your engineer got here a couple of minutes ago and he's sinking a temporary airshaft. It was lucky I passed by." The policeman greeted Lotta, seeing her now. "Good evening, Mrs. Hermes. Sorry it's so cold; you want to sit in the squad car? The heater's on."
"I'm fine," Lotta said; craning her neck, she strove to catch sight of Bob Lindy at work. "Is she still talking?" she asked Officer Tinbane.
"Chattering away," Tinbane said; he led her and Sebastian, by means of his flashlight, toward the zone of illumination where Bob Lindy already toiled. "First to me; now to your engineer."
On his hands and knees, Lindy studied the gauges of the tube-boring rig; he did not look up or greet them, although he evidently was aware of their presence. For Lindy, work came first; socializing ran a late last.
"She has relatives, she claims," Officer Tinbane said to Sebastian. "Here; I wrote down what she's been saying; their names and addresses. In Pasadena. But she's senile; she seems confused." He glanced around. "Is your doctor coming for sure? I think he'll be needed; Mrs. Benton said something about Bright's disease; that's evidently what she died of. So possibly he'll need to attach an artificial kidney."
Its landing lights on, an aircar set down. Dr. Sign stepped from it, wearing his plastic, heat-enclosed, modern, stylish suit. "So you think you've got a live one," he said to Officer Tinbane; he knelt over the grave of Mrs. Tilly Benton, cocked an ear, then called, "Mrs. Benton, can you hear me? Are you able to breathe?"
The faint, indistinct, wavering voice drifted up to them, as Lindy momentarily ceased his drilling. "It's so stuffy, and it's dark and I'm really very much afraid; I'd like to be released to go home as soon as I can. Are you going to rescue me?"
Cupping his hands to his mouth, Dr. Sign shouted back, "We're drilling now, Mrs. Benton; just hang on and don't worry; it'll only be another minute or so." To Lindy he said, "Didn't you bother to yell down to her?"
Lindy growled, "I have my work. Talking's up to you guys and Father Faine." He resumed the drilling. It was almost complete, Sebastian noted; he walked a short distance away, listening, sensing the cemetery and the dead beneath the headstones, the corruptible, as Paul had called them, who, one day, like Mrs. Benton, would put on incorruption. And this mortal, he thought, must put on immortality. And then the saying that is written, he thought, will come to pass. Death is swallowed up in victory. Grave, where is thy victory? Oh death, where is thy sting? And so forth. He roamed on, using his flashlight to avoid tripping over headstones; he moved very slowly, and always hearing--but not exactly; not literally, with his ears, but rather inside him--the dim stirrings underground. Others, he thought, who one day soon will be old-born; their flesh and particles are migrating back already, finding their way to their onetime places; he sensed the eternal process, the unending complex activity of the graveyard, and it gave him a thrill of enthusiasm, and of great excitement. Nothing was more profoundly optimistic, more powerful in its momentum of good, than this re-forming of bodies which had, as Paul put it, corrupted away, and now, with the Hobart Phase at work, reversed the corruption.