I can state with perfect confidence that the entire Philip K Dick catalog fits into a suitcase. I know this because I used to store his novels this way, slowly filling up a Samsonite until all 45+ titles were represented in the collection; then I promptly delivered the suitcase to my neighborhood bookshop and delighted the buyer by offering it to her at a bargain price. I had read each of the novels multiple times and knew them back and forward, and why not pass them on to fledglings. After all, I had gotten my start years ago discovering one of PKD's novels -UBIK- in a bookseller window and it gave me a little charge knowing that I would enable someone to have the same experience.
Lo and behold, that bargain dump did not mark the end of my relationship with the great author. So powerful and enthralling are his stories, in certain instances I cannot stop myself from going back and revisiting them. Recently I picked up Now Wait For Last Year, a novel of the future that touches on all of PKD's signature themes: conspiracy, questionable reality, body doubles, perception experiments, and the non-linear nature of time. It's the last theme in particular that comes to mind as I read the book this week.
Having experienced PKD's entire body of output, it's interesting to see what he does with his pet interests. Like other great artists -Woody Allen leaps to mind- he is not so much inventing a story as telling the same one over again and investing it with progressions of his themes. This touches on the non-linearity of time, as you can see him developing concepts of how time really works and the impact it has on characters in each iteration.
Since this a middle period novel, I can touch on later books and see where he went with the idea of overlapping time; I can also go back to earlier works and see where PKD first introduced his idea. This is one aspect of the author where he gets short shrift: he was a bonafide scholar working out a thorough schematic of perception, totally earnest and many times brilliant in his insight.
In Now Wait For Last Year, a narcotic is responsible for opening characters' perceptions to the overlapping nature of time. Once ingested, the drug causes them to recede chronologically; for the duration of the drug's effects, a character is literally in the past and can affect the present while they are there, sometimes literally plucking a past self and transplanting them to take over their life. One character who takes full advantage of being able to do this is Gino Molinari.
Here is the unforgettable introduction:
"The guest; the man they had come here to see. Reclining, his face empty and slack, lips bulging dark purple and irregular, eyes fixed absently on nothing, was Gino Molinari. Supreme elected leader of Terra's unified planetary culture, and the supreme commander of its armed forces in the war against the reegs.
"His fly was unbuttoned."
The Mole, as the character is commonly known, is a great portrait of a hypochondriac; he literally lives to be sick, having such a sensitive nature that he assumes the ailments of people around him; he is a wounded clown who rules from the gurney. I cannot do the complexity of the character justice here, except to say that he makes for very enjoyable reading. His exchanges with an 18-year-old mistress, who dominates him with crude bantering, are a prime example of PKD's antic powers.