You may have noticed by now that I really enjoy sci-fi, and Philip K Dick in particular! Yet again I have read, and loved, one of his novels. I’ll probably end up reading all of his novels by the end of my life. This novel is an excellent Philip K Dick novel, and it would be perfect as an introduction to his work. It includes a number of tropes that he uses in a number of novels.
The Penultimate Truth is one of the most interesting novels I have read recently, as it is the branch of sci-fi that is concerned with events in the future that may be possible. Dick sets the novel in a time when there has been a third World War, one fought with nuclear weapons, and rendering the surface of Earth as uninhabitable, or is it? In this novel there is an obvious fear of nuclear war; it was published in 1964 at the height of the Cold War, and throughout there are references to nuclear destruction and the fictional World War III was fought between two superpowers, West-Dem and Pac-Peop, very obviously based on the USA and Russia. The novel follows two story lines; one that takes place in underground bunkers, designed to protect humans from the war raging above, and the other is above ground, where the world is now being developed into a paradise for a few citizens.
In many novels Dick invents machines that do work for humans; in The Penultimate Truth one character, Joseph Adams, is shown using a machine that helps him write speeches. Adams writes speeches that are broadcast to the underground ‘Tom-Mix’ bunkers to continue the lie that the war is ongoing. By inserting one idea or phrase the machine will create a whole sentence, however Adams is unhappy with the outcome. Meanwhile the bunkers are tasked with producing ‘leadies’, essentially robots, to fight the war. The reader soon learns that these robots are simply being used as slaves for the men living above ground. Another trope that is prevalent in Dick’s work is the unfinished story; although the novel ends with a conclusion, the story itself is unfinished, as the title suggest, there is still one more truth to come. The final trope is the alternate history. This novel contains one of the most interesting ideas, the idea that Britain was responsible for World War II and that Germany engineered its own downfall as they saw Soviet Russia as a greater threat to the world. This idea is intriguing, but also classic Philip K Dick; he makes the reader question everything they know to create these amazing science-fiction stories.
As a lover of Philip K Dick, I was of course going to enjoy The Penultimate Truth, but I genuinely believe this is one of my favourites by him. It is a fairly easy read, I finished it in about 3 days or about 2 hours of reading, yet it does make you think and is entertaining. As I said in the opening paragraph, this would be one of the books I would recommend to a Philip K Dick virgin, it has everything I enjoy about him.