Philip K Dick first wrote this story as a short called "Your Appointment Will Be Yesterday" which was published in the August 1966 edition of the Amazing Stories magazine. Counter Clock World is the expanded, novel length version and was published a year later.
The novel uses the Big Crunch theory that makes the prediction if the universes expansion does not exceed an "escape velocity" then eventually it will begin to contract and time could in theory run in reverse. Back in the mid 1960's this was still considered quite likely to happen however more recent discovery's suggest that the universe is in fact expanding at a faster and faster rate. This increasing expansion is however dependant on the dark energy theory - postulated to drive the acceleration but using methods unknown so it is entirely possible that the universe could still see a "Big Crunch" unless scientists can figure out how this unproven dark energy really works.
Set against this background we have a story of racial tension and religious intolerance told in Philip K Dick's eminent style and subtle intelligence. I must admit it took me a little while to get to grips with this book, when imagining time running backwards I picture everying going in reverse, including conversations and peoples actions - partly due to the fact that the only other novel I have read that features reversal of time being the excellent Red Dwarf novel "Backwards" written by Rob Grant - however I can imagine this would be a very difficult book to write while trying to convey the big ideas that PKD does here.
So here we have some things backwards like "uneating" food and starting a conversation with "Goodbye" however most things still move in a forward direction including the conversations themselves, with the exception that people come to life in their graves and then become younger and younger until they are eventually put back in the womb and merge into their mother's bodies. These "reborn" people intermingle with those still on their first life and getting older which provides an interesting mix.
Once you get used to this idea the sutble and underplayed trope actually works very well, reminding the reader without being right in the face and acts as an effective counter-point to examine our own strange linear existence.
As with PKD's usual style science fiction elements are also underplayed and when used are done so matter of factly without any additional information or indeed justification. This helps to provide a highly believable edge to this relative future novel that is now part of our past (set in 1998). As with most of his novels, the focus of Counter Clock World isn't so much the destination but the journey itself, a voyage of discovery that moves through religion, drugs and paranoia.
These messages are nicely drawn without being too obvious and the only niggle I had was that if everyone knew that anyone that died would eventually come back to life wouldn't they make better provision, like burying them in shallower graves and at least providing some form of ventilation and heart monitoring or warning system?
If you haven't read a Philip K Dick novel then I wouldn't recommend you start with this one, it does take time to really get to grips with but if you have read the authors work before and you are therefore used to his unique style this is one fine book to read.
Written on Monday 26th December 2011 by Antony Jones.
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