Review by Jason Koornick: Counter Clock World (1967)
Written in 1967, Counter Clock World is a unique sci-fi story that also incorporates all the depth and reckless imagination that fans of Philip K. Dick know and love. Building off the basic premises of one or two major concepts, the story is a wild ride in which intrigue and deception gain a whole new meaning.
Curiously, Counter Clock World takes place in 1998. Due to a bizarre scientific effect called the Hobart Phase time moves in reverse. The dead are reborn and “grow” into childhood eventually returning to the womb from whence they came. Without dwelling on the specifics, Dick uses this simple concept to expand the story into a story of religious and theological intrigue. The main circumstance around which the novel is built involves the resurrection of a major religious figure, Anarch Thomas Peak. In an allusion to Christ’s resurrection, this character awakens to find that people are raised from the dead every day and that his rebirth is of no religious significance, at least to the staff of the Flask of Hermes Vitarium, a business that sells reawakened humans to the highest bidder.
The black movement known as the Udi realize the importance and have been waiting years for the moment when their leader would rise from the grave to unify and lead his children to salvation. This is the basic premise for Counter Clock World and we join the characters on a bizarre search for the truth.
The books unlikely hero is a police office named Joseph Tinbane. Like Dick characters in other novels, he gets caught in a complicated series of events over which he has little control. Motivated by his desire for the Vitarium owner’s wife, Lotta Hermes, Tinbane does what he has to in order to protect her and to discover the truth behind her dangerous knowledge of the Anarch’s whereabouts. Meanwhile Sebastian Hermes, her husband and owner of the Flask of Hermes Vitarium is a small business man caught in a web of political manipulation. Since he holds the fate of the Anarch in his hands, many groups will do whatever they have to in order to own the returning visionary. His main enemy is the government itself, portrayed as “The Library”. Using manipulation, coercion and intrigue “The Library” seeks to silence the Anarch in order to maintain their control over a fragmented population.
Other characters enter the story with similar motivations but different means towards attaining their goal. What unwinds is a thrilling, complex and very amusing series of events filled with twisted innuendos and biting social commentary. Each chapter begins with a quote from a medieval philosopher which leaves much open for interpretation. Limited in scope but rich in imagination, Counter Clock World is sure to please PKD fans. One can expect a high degree of weirdness that might not make is accessible to new readers. All in all, Counter Clock World is worth reading because it is short and raises many questions about life, collective consciousness and the role of government in society all in the context of an action-packed sci-fi story. Enjoy!
Warning: Reading the review below may give away the story if you haven’t read it.
This reader really enjoyed the ironic complexity of Counter Clock World. This novel succeeds through its focus on one or two key concepts and developing them to their potential. The story of economic, political and religious intrigue incorporates many typical Dick themes throughout the course of the novel. The characters are consistent and act upon logical motivations. The novel was a quick read once one gets into the heart of the story.
I found Counter Clock World to lack a certain depth and complexity that I
may discover upon re-reading this book (which wouldn’t take too much time).
Instead of outlining comprehensive and detailed situations and characters,
the novel presents a few rather bizarre situations and lets the reader
decipher the underlying meaning.
The main focus of the
novels characters and actions is the Anarch Thomas Peak. To the readers of
Counter Clock World, the Anarch is a mysterious character who represents a
force greater than life, a sort of collective consciousness awaking from an
ancient slumber. The characters in the book such as Officer Joseph Tinbane
and Sebastian Hermes are well aware of the Anarch’s importance and act
accordingly. Meanwhile, the readers are left to speculate why everyone is
so excited. In a world where time moves backward and the laws of physics
are turned on their head, anything is possible. The comparisons between the
Anarch and Jesus are very apparent and it seems that Philip K. Dick is
commenting on the economic value of spirituality as the interested parties
square off in a bidding war to own this valuable piece of spiritual property.
This is where the novel’s most ironic moment plays itself out. When the
three groups meet to negotiate the rightful ownership of the Anarch, Dick’s mastery of the absurd is revealed. Imagining a robot named Carl Gantrix engage in a theological discourse about the nature of the human soul is quite amusing. The robot argues its strongest point in this quote:
“The real issue,” the robot said, “is spiritual; we must determine and agree on the precise moment at which the soul enters the corpse in the ground. Is it the moment when it is dug up? When its voice is first heard from below, asking for aid? When the first heart beat is recorded? When all the brain tissue has formed? In the opinion of Udi the soul enters the corpse when there has been total tissue regeneration, which would be just prior to the first heart action.” (pg 103. Berkley Medallion Edition, May 1974)
The concept of the “Library” as the controller of information also stood out in Counter Clock World. The role of the “Erads” is a truly frightening one and is reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984. Dick focuses on the power that is attributed to the control of information and the centralization of government. In many ways, the “Library” is a statement about and a satirical portrayal of the role of government in our society and other industrialized nations. Their use of cunning and deceitful methods to further their own interests is both disturbing and thrilling. Similar to the Fedgov in The World Jones Made, the “Library” uses everything in its power to keep their population fragmented and individualistic. In both organizations, the ends justify the means for an ignorant population is easier to control. The power of collective consciousness threatens both power structures. In TWJM, the acceptance of a common enemy unites the people while religion is the unifying force in Counter Clock World, epitomized in the character of Ray Roberts.
The bizarre scientific phenomenon of the Hobart Phase adds a unique twist to Counter Clock World. Observing a world where time goes backwards and the dead are reborn is often bewildering and thankfully PKD does not dwell on the intricacies and problematic details of this concept. Instead it is used to its full ironic potential and Dick plays around with these possibilities. The most noteworthy example is the situation involving Ann Fisher (McGuire) and her “biological necessity” to mate with a man nine months after a baby returned to her womb. How’s that for artificial insemination?!
As far as the plot goes, the only major role of the time shift is to create a set of circumstances where a religious leader would wake from the dead not by divine intervention but by a scientific phenomenon. This occurs in a world where people wake from the dead every day and are not divine. How is a religious leader to be treated any differently? This sentiment is expressed in the exchange between cynic/pragmatist Bob Lindy and the Anarch as he awakes:
“The Alex Hobart was right,” the Anarch said. “I had people who thought so; they expected me back. I thought it was grandiose, on their parts. I wonder if they’re still alive.”
“Sure,” Lindy said. “Or about to be alive again. Don’t you understand? If you think your coming back signifies something, you’re wrong; I mean, it has no religious significance; it’s just a natural event now.”
(pg 58. Berkley Medallion Edition, May 1974)
Dick explores the complexities and ironic problems that would accompany this situation. He also addresses the race issue in an obvious but undramatic kind of way. The Anarch, Ray Roberts and their followers (the Udi) are all black and their organization is even called the Free Negro Municipality (F.N.M.) but real-world race relations bear little resemblance to the groups and their actions in Counter Clock World. The only comment that could be interpretated is that whites are the rational, empirical and logic driven race while the blacks are intuitive bonded by religious and/or cosmic forces. Even if this is a point Dick was trying to emphasize, it certainly is not the main focus of the novel. Instead Counter Clock World is about political and religious intrigue.
The characters in Counter Clock World are well-outlined and consistent. They frequently act is ways familiar to Dick readers. Lotta Hermes and her affair with Officer Joseph Tinbane, Sebastians’ neurotic business dealings and Ann Fisher as the manipulative “other woman” are all common PKD themes. Officer Tinbane is the nonchalant hero who gets mixed up in a situation over his head and uses love as a justification to disobey his superiors. The moral conflict between his work-related duties and his personal values is one which is seen in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and other novels.
Counter Clock World works on many levels. The first and most obvious is a Dickian world based on political and social intrigue. Mix in a healthy does of irony, science and theology and there is a bizarre novel as only PKD could imagine but we are lucky enough to enjoy. Despite its flaws which include a lack of detail and depth of plot, Counter Clock World is a solid book by PKD. On the outside, a twisted sci-fi pulp story but on the inside a complex theological puzzle which has many connections to our own world.
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