Dr. Futurity – Philip K Dick (1960)
A rare and early foray into the subject of Time Travel from Dick, although the timeslip element is used initially merely as a device to move an objective viewpoint to a far future and therefore alien society.
Although one of the novels in which Dick was still finding his literary feet, it shows signs of the depths of his ideas and the themes which would come to dominate his work.
Dr Jim Parsons is snatched from the US of Nineteen Ninety Eight and deposited in the year Two Thousand, Four Hundred and Five. Interestingly, the US that Dick envisaged in his own near future is one in which large corporations have been nationalised and society seems to be run by the professional classes (Doctors, lawyers, etc.). American politics and society is often something at which Dick takes a sideswipe, often as part of the background to the main narrative.
Parsons arrives in a post-nuclear world where the human race has become homogenised and the birth rate is strictly controlled (as is female rights).
Children are produced by a process of controlled natural selection whereby competitive ‘tribes’ engage in various mental and physical challenges; the number of points they win determining who contributes their zygotes to ‘The Soul Cube’, which is essentially a vast bank of reproductive material.
Death is welcomed, as when a tribe member dies, a replacement is automatically fertilised within the cube.
Being a Doctor, and somewhat politically liberal, Parsons is confused and appalled when he is arrested for saving the life of a young woman who subsequently makes a complaint against him for denying her the right to die.
Structurally, the novel follows the mythic structure in that the hero – unwillingly in this case – is taken from his world of familiarity and his happy marriage (unusually for Dick, whose heroes tend to suffer from broken or dysfunctional relationships) to an alien world of seemingly bizarre behaviour and barbaric cultural beliefs.
Dick was once quoted as having been influenced by AE Van Vogt, and if it shows anywhere, it shows in this novel which, if a little less obscure and rambling than some of Van Vogt’s work, displays some of his trademarks such as ‘the dark city of spires’, the super race, the peculiar machines, the convoluted plot and the trip to Mars. These are Van Vogt clichés which can be seen at their best in Slan (1940) and ‘The World of Null-A’ (1948).
It’s obviously hastily written, although the time-travel loops and paradoxes are well-thought out and all the ends neatly tied up, although Dick skimps on some areas where the motives of the characters are confusing. For instance, believing himself to have murdered someone by utilising time-travel equipment Parsons goes out of his way to try and ensure that he has actually done so. At that point, however, he has no motive for carrying out the murder, and has been shown earlier to be – he is a Doctor after all – someone who is dedicated to preserving life.