17 May 2008

Dr. Futurity: Medical profession saves humanity, surfs temporal paradoxes

Dr. Futurity
Philip K. Dick

Jim Parsons, MD, 2012, born in 1980 wakes up in a world of foreign spires, colors, and nighttime skies. He has abruptly and involuntarily traveled through time to 2405 after some sort of radiant beam knocked his car off the guide beam and into the far future. There (or it is then) he saves a gravely injured woman's life, thereby discovering that doctors and the entire medical profession are viewed as criminal. In this future society the population has reached a steady state with zero-population growth and no natural births; new embryo formation is triggered only when someone dies.

Dick hints at an earlier nuclear war (the H-War) and a subsequent Age of Darkness. He also presents a future in which post-Columbian global white power has been supplanted by an interplanetary tribal culture and society. Future humans comprise one general ethnic type, a mix of African-American and Native American, and whites have been wiped out or racially integrated. The future's eugenicist culture views death as nature's way of improving the species and so poverty, disease, and other forms of "weakness" have been allowed to die off. In this future death is revered as the source of new, ever stronger life.

And so the head of the future government, Chancellor Al Stenog, exiles Dr. Parson to Mars.

His spaceship is intercepted en route (reminiscent of Purcell's kidnapping in The Man Who Japed). Parsons comes to a parched red plain devoid of water and life (except for a single fly!) and so he assumes he is on Mars. In a rather chilling scene, he discovers an extremely weather ed marker with his name on it and instructions on how to operate the time travel controls on the spaceship. Only when he sees the surface of the moon does he realize that this isn't Mars but the Earth and that he has traveled far, far into the future. (Shades of The Time Machine.)

The marker directs Parsons back to his future and to a tribal lodge whose inhabitants wrongly believed that it was one of their beacons which brought the surgeon. These tribal people, who obviously disagree with the dominant culture's views on death, request that Parsons perform surgery on their wounded leader Corith, who has been fatally injured by an arrow wound. Parsons, being a dedicated physician (and also attracted to Corith's exotic daughter), revives Corith after extracting the arrow, only to have it later rematerialize mysteriously in Corith's corpse.

Lifting her head, she gazed at him; her eyes seemed to have shrunk so that the pupils gleamed like tiny, burning points, no longer located in space but somehow hovering before him, blinding him almost. "Someone is working against us," she said. "They have it, too. Control of time. Thwarting us, enjoying it..." She laughed. "Yes, enjoying it. Mocking us." Abruptly, with a swing of her robes, she turned away from Parsons and disappeared past the ring of attendants. (p. 94)

To solve mystery of this second arrow, Parsons and Corith's relatives travel back to Corith's previous assignment. The year is 1579, the place is the Golden Gate, Northern California. Corith has come back in time to kill Sir Francis Drake in order to change history and protect the Americas from European colonization.

"My son Corith is responsible for the idea. Many years ago, when he was a young man like yourself. He was very brilliant. And so ambitious. He wanted to make everything right, erase the Terrible Five Hundred Years..."

Parsons recognized the term. The period of white supremacy. He found himself nodding....

"So my son went back. The the first New England. Not the famous one, but the other one. The real one. In California. Nobody remembers...but Corith read all the records, the old books." Again she chuckled. "He wanted to start there, in Nova Albion. But he didn't get very far." ...

That was their great plan. To change the past by going back centuries, before the time of the white empires. To find Drake encamped in California, helpless while his ship was being repaired. To kill him, the first Englishman to claim part of the New World for England....

One after another, he thought. Drake would have been the first, and then--Cortez? Pizarro? And so on, down the line. As they landed with their helmeted troops, they would be wiped out--the conquerors, the plunderers, and the pirates. Prepared to find a passive, helpless population, they would instead come face-to-face with the calculating, advanced descendants of that population. Grim and ready. Waiting. (pp. 101-2)

Parsons sees Corith's assassination attempt and realizes that Drake is in fact Chancellor Al Stenog who is in turn planning to ambush Corith. Parsons warns Corith, who hasn't met him yet and so doesn't know him, and who thinks he's bad guy (after all, he is white) who has come to attack him. Corith leaps at Parsons, they fight, and the doctor Parsons accidentally stabs Corith in heart with arrow one number.

Although they recognize the accidental and ironic nature of the time traveler's death, their sense of tribal justice still demands a punishment for the killing. Parsons is taken through time and stranded in 1597, after whites had departed for Europe, and is rescued after brief while (for him at least) by Corith's hottie daughter Loris, who is pregnant with Parson's child.

Parsons realizes that he must be responsible for the second arrow as well and conjectures that he will kill Corith the second time in order to protect himself from the reviving Corith, but being a doctor he cannot bring himself to harm his "patient." As he is prepares to flee, two young people appear from future and kill Corith with second arrow to heart. Parsons realizes that they the children are the children he had/will have with Loris, traveling back to 2405 from an even more distant future.

After they take him forward to meet Loris again, he decides to return to 2012. back to the same day from which he was swept, to his doting wife. The novel closes with him constructing the stone marker that will eventually save his life on that desolate future Earth.

It is an expansion of his earlier short story "Time Pawn", which first saw publication in the summer 1954 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. Thus far in my "PKD Project," this has been the most fun novel to read, in terms of the pacing, the plotting, and the deft usage of tangled timelines and temporal paradoxes. I'd never even heard of this novel before I'd begun my project, and now I would recommend it highly to anyone.

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