Review of Counter-Clock World by Philip K. Dick
by Philip K. Dick
While I've been meaning to read more by Philip K. Dick, Counter-Clock World is worth skipping. It's a mildly-interesting premise lengthened into an uninteresting novel. In fact, the premise is pretty much the only part of the book I enjoyed (and only because of suspension of disbelief). I can't say I cared for either the plot or the characters.
The Hobart Phase that causes everyone to live their lives in reverse is somewhat unlikely, but whatever; I'll roll with it for the sake of the book. The protagonist is Sebastian Hermes, owner of a vitarium--a business that specializes in digging up the reanimated dead and caring for them until someone can claim custody. Sebastian finds the grave of Anarch Peak, a religious leader from the 1970s, who will return from death in less than a day. Peak becomes the centre of a power struggle among his followers, a third party in Rome, and the information-eradicating Library. Sebastian acts alternately as pawn, dupe, action hero, and floor mat.
I'm not at all sympathetic to Sebastian. He rarely takes action throughout the course of this slim novel, preferring instead to remark upon the futility of his situation. At first I was willing to accept this as trepidation over his reluctant role as hero—it's not like he trained for this. Yet he stays like this for the entire book, resisting even the most ardent attempts toward character development. The rest of Counter-Clock World's characters aren't much better. I couldn't stand Sebastian's wife, Lotta. The only one who shows any spunk is Anna Fischer, a sexy amoral antagonist who wraps Sebastian around her little finger and convinces him to betray his current convictions every single time (admittedly, she had a little help from the Anarch the last time).
The plot is supposed to focus on the conflict among the three bidders for Anarch Peak and Sebastian's role as mediator-cum-mercenary. Whenever the book attempts to interject with an occasional interesting action sequence, Dick firmly disciplines it and sends it sulking back to its room, whereupon he resumes lecturing us on the fact that the Library's goal of eradicating Anarch Peak's radical teaching is utterly wrong. In this way, Counter-Clock World embodies the word "thin," in length and quality. It's thinly written and has a thin story with thin characters.
Aside from its anti-eradication stance, Counter-Clock World takes a poke at the nature of God and the afterlife. And again, it really falls short of the mark—not so much in the message as the delivery of the message. There are just so many books that try to address these questions while also delivering a well-written and exciting story; I could be reading one of them instead of this ponderous story of self-pitying Sebastian.
Counter-Clock World's best asset is that it's short, which means that I finished it in an evening and am now free to pursue more entertaining fiction. Die-hard Philip K. Dick fans will read this for the sake of completing his oeuvre, but even a neophyte like me can tell this isn't one of his better stories; I won't tell anyone if you skip it.