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"Counter-clock World" is a novel by Philip K. Dick, published in 1967. It includes many settings and themes common to many of Dick's works, such as a near-future, dystopian setting, cosmological and religious themes, and lots of paranoia.

The central concept of this book is that time has begun to run backwards. Most importantly, the dead return to life, and living people grow younger until they finally enter back into the womb. As well as that, there is other such touches: the entire process of eating and excretion is now done in reverse (although this isn't described in detail) and cigarettes are butts that turn into full cigarettes. Incidentally, the United States is divided into two countries, which is not directly related to the entire reverse-time thing, as much as it is something that seems to happen in many Philip K Dick stories.

The plot of the book involves the resurrection of one Anarch Peak, an African-American religious leader who founded a religion before he died, and whose resurrection could change the social and political make-up of what remains of the United States. Both his disciples and a reactionary group called "The Library" (whose purpose is to eradicate books) want to get their hands on Peak, and the hapless owner of the vitatorium (like a mortuary, only different) who found Peak must run and avoid the plots and schemes of all concerned parties, which brings about some typically Dickian paranoia. While this is going on, there is also some attendant theological and cosmological debate and speculation. The book finally comes to an end that somewhat concludes both the espionage story line and philosophical tract.

How do you feel about Philip K Dick? Because that is how you will feel about this book. I appreciate that Dick, as usual, starts out with a mind-bending premise, but there are also big inconsistencies in the premise. For starters, wouldn't a world where time is going backwards change more than just a few biological processes? Do cars need to be defueled? How do guns fire if chemical reactions are going backwards? How do people gain memories, instead of losing them? But beyond those problems, I also was somewhat amused by the mixture of reality-warping background and quite commonplace characters. Despite all the changes that are going on, the story is still about the fringes of the middle-class in the 1960s. Of course, it is odd that cigarettes go from butts to unused, but it is also odd that people in 1998 are smoking casually. In a world where time is going backwards, would people still be quite so concerned with the racial conflicts of the 1960s? While Dick's imagination manages to twist the most basic concepts of reality, it is also unable to escape the mindset of 1967. Although, of course, this is something that is common to much science-fiction.

So in other words, this book is classic Philip K. Dick, and how you will feel about the mixture of reality-warping and social commentary that makes up the book depends on how much you like Philip K. Dick in general.

 When I picked up Philip K. Dick's Counter-Clock World, it was more under the assumption that any work of his would be a great read (after a normative 100 pages or so to set up the inevitably-bizarre world), than because of anything specific I knew about the book. In fact, I'd never heard of it, and my copy was bereft of a cover - so without synopsis, blurb, or psychedelic 1960s science-fiction cover art, I had the opportunity to get to know the book strictly on the basis of the words inside (note to self: this is a good thing).

 Mr. Dick wastes no time reminding us why his work has aged so well, while so many early SF works feel dated and rusty - the story begins at the beginning, with no space wasted for voiceless exposition. The everyman reader surrogate (in this case named Sebastian Hermes) operates a Vitarium, a facility for assisting the newly-resurrected into their again-existence. If this seems strange to you, you haven't read enough Philip K. Dick novels.

 Before I continue, let me tell you why I love PKD's works. I have read an even dozen books written by Philip K. Dick. I won't say they're great novels or that they will ever be classic literature - the prose is bizarre, the characters are barely human (even when they're supposed to be human), and sometimes the plots are completely incomprehensible. I don't read his novels for the literature. I read for the spiritual sense of awe he lends to everything he touches.

 I didn't love this book. I think Philip phoned this one in. Maybe he went on a shroom trip and lost the narrative thread, or maybe he concluded that a secondary character was an embodiment of Satan on Earth, or perhaps he just got bored. I doubt the world will ever know. In this case, the story builds up to a brilliant, Messianic climax, and then is unceremoniously chopped off short and brought quickly to a generic ending. In the last fifty pages, it doesn't even read like Philip's work to me. 

 If I was reading the book for a brilliant plot or for an awe-inspiring setting, this would not be a serious problem - a lot of authors are afflicted by an anemia of the endings. If Stephen King and Charles Dickens can get away with it, I'm willing to forgive anyone a weak ending, as long as there's good meat in the middle. 

 The problem with this in the case of a Philip K. Dick novel is that, when you read his books, what you're really doing is sharing an experience with him. In his lifelong haze of psychedelic journeys, intellectual tangents, and richly-tapestried psychoses, his novels were more than stories - they were a sharing of ideas that were uniquely, utterly his own. In this novel, it just isn't there. The story begins at the beginning, continues to the end, then stops. The brilliant insanity is missing, and it leaves a great void behind it.

Verdict: Read anyway, but read it after Three Stigmata, Ubik, and probably most of the rest of PKD's canon.

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