Although Philip K. Dick passed away in 1982, his novels and stories still have a feel of immediacy. These works of speculative fiction dealt with themes that still preoccupy our minds — the overreach of governments that lie to their subjects in order to increase their power, corrupt corporations that attempt to control every aspect of peoples’ lives, and the nature of identity in an increasingly confusing world. Hollywood studios love him, because his personal stories of alienation in modern society appeal to modern filmmakers, who have turned his fiction into classic films such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall, and at least three other films that I have seen, but whose titles escape me at the moment.
For me, one of his best works is the novel The Penultimate Inconvenient Truth, which is the story of a conspiracy among scientists and various world governments to convince people that the planet’s temperature (“planetemp”) is rising. In fact, there is little evidence of this — the scientists and governments are just using it as an excuse to consolidate power. The first chapter, reprinted below, is so prescient that it almost feels like it could have been written today, just now, by me, as a satire. Except for all those classic Phildickian terms, of course:
By Philip K. Dick
ExecBranch was in full crisis mode, but no one could see that from BO’s demeanor. He read the words from the rhetorizer like it was just another day, like he was ordering a waffle during a campaign stop. He was cool, and he needed to be. They were still on the correct side of the real universally accepted valid scientific opinion — couldn’t let a few missing docs, hacked homeomails, and a resignation shake them.
But the BO-men on the inside knew the events of the last few weeks could be spun by the fringers in such a way as to sow doubt in the minds of the masses, which was why BO was making his vid speech. All of this was coming hard on the heels of the revelation that Veep Al-Go was a simulacrum, and his filmSpeech, while overall true, had stretched some information to bolster the real universally accepted valid scientific opinion. No, given everything that had happened, it was important to further fringe anyone who questioned what the sci-men had spent years declaring was settled.
This was going to take all of BO’s rhetorizing, because one of the sci-men — one who’d been dumb enough to get hacked — was now saying he wasn’t sure if planetemp was even changing in the universally accepted valid way. Furthermore, this sci-man, Jones Anglia, had stated he’d lost pertinent data that proved the universally accepted valid scientific opinion.
Just yesterday, Jones was a sci-man, and now BO had to fringe him.
“We can debate certain methodologies,” BO was saying, as he read the rhetorizer, “but we cannot, as human beings of conscience, debate the universally accepted valid scientific opinion. Planetemp is reaching dangerous levels, and as a result, inaction is not an option.”
Here it was coming. BO had already emphasized our collective humanity, and already laid it down that we had to do something. He hadn’t specifically singled out the fringers for ridicule, but he had labeled their strategy — inaction — as invalid. Benny Otterman leaned forward involuntarily, dazzled by BO’s delivery. Benny had written the words that appeared on the rhetorizer — in a way, it was he himself who was speaking. He got that same heady feeling of ident with BO, but he repressed it. It was almost blasphemous. No way could Benny Otterman, a mere Prez transcribe, a BO-man, even approach BO’s greatness.
“That is why I am using an ExecOrd to decree that increasing planetemp is a crisis, and we must devote all of our resources and energy to stopping it.”
Just like that, with one carefully delivered sentence, BO changed the world. The hacked homeomails and lost data didn’t matter. The fringers had lost. The gov had thrown itself behind the universally accepted valid scientific opinion. Gov was consensus (that’s where the “we” came from) and now the universally accepted valid scientific opinion was consensus. Fringers weren’t just crackpots — they were in violation of the law.
Benny began to tingle. Yes, BO had spoken the words, but Benny had written them. In a way, it was Benny Otterman who was issuing the ExecOrd. No — he had to repress that thought. It was a struggle.
“Rest assured, your lives will change very little thanks to this small exercise of executive authority,” BO continued, wearing a disarming smile. “Other than that the air will get cleaner for your children, trees will become greener, oceans will start to recede, and icebergs will stop the big melt.”
Benny smiled. There would be sacrifices, of course. But with BO to inspire the masses, no sacrifice would be too great. It was almost too easy to write, with BO’s style and delivery. The BO-men could feed these people anything, and BO could sell it.
BO removed from his inside jacket pocket a small piece of wrapped candy, and nonchalantly placed it in his mouth. Anyone watching in their conapts would believe it was a piece of Chew-E, the hallucinogenic gum that helped alleviate the fringer tendencies to question the universally accepted valid scientific opinion. Of course, the Prez didn’t actually use Chew-E, and, while the fiction that he did use it was comforting to most people — he was an average human being, after all! — they also didn’t want a Prez who used Chew-E.
Every human being was at least a little bit schizophrenic — the pols knew that, the BO-men, even the fringers knew it. BO had won the election by exploiting that, even appealing to it; he’d been a longstanding member of one of the two power-parties and still campaigned as a change agent, or changent.
Benny again felt himself slipping into dangerous ident mode. It was terrifying to think that even a self-aware BO-man like him could watch BO, chewing simulated Chew-E, and almost taste the sticky-sweet gum in his own mouth. The mouth from which emanated the words he was reading on the rhetorizer…
Benny Otterman was BO!
He was also the robot agent of a major corporation that was using designs from a comic book that he was writing to design weapons that were being used to fight a war in the future, and everything that was happening to him was just a dream he was having while in suspended animation during a trip to one of the colonies on a moon of Venus.
Wait. The BO who was Benny Otterman suddenly wondered: Was planetemp really going up? He fumbled in his pocket for a Chew-E. What he found was a random assortment of items that made no sense to him, and once again he questioned his own ident.
Latest posts by Ricky Sprague (Posts)
- Meet the start-ups that are thriving in the current economic recovery - May 27, 2016
- How a Wonder Woman comic from 1942 led to the Great California Cow Exodus of 2012, maybe - November 28, 2012
- A common-sense approach to restoring economic prosperity - November 19, 2012
- New Philip K. Dick novel too absurd to be believed - September 17, 2012
- My 90 Days, 90 Reasons submission - September 12, 2012