Thursday, April 21, 2011

#131: Now Wait For Last Year, #9: Fahrenheit 451

Now Wait For Last Year:

“Human[ity] has always striven to retain the past, to keep it convincing; there's nothing wicked in that. Without it we have no continuity; we have only the moment. And, deprived of the past, the moment - the present - has little meaning, if any.” 
"Presently Jonas Ackerman shrugged and said, 'Well, that's marriage these days. Legalized hate.' "
"In a town where everything is legal, he thought, and nothing achieves worth, you are wrenched back into childhood. Placed among your blocks and toys, with all your universe within grasp. The price for license is high: it consists of a forfeit of adulthood. And yet he loved it here. The noise and stirrings represented authentic life. Some people found all this evil; he did not. People who thought that were wrong. The restless, roving banks of males who sought God knew what --they themselves didn't know: their striving was the genuine primal under-urge of protoplasmic material itself. This irritable ceaseless motion had once carried life right out of the sea and onto land; creatures of the land now, they still roamed on, up one street and down another. And he went along with them." 
Now Wait For Last Year is one of Philip K. Dick's most underrated novels. PKD is one of my personal favorite authors, so I believe that all of his work is underrated, but Now Wait For Last Year stands out as one that doesn't get the attention it should. Novels like Ubik, VALIS, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Man in the High Castle, and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch often get the most attention, but Now Wait for Last Year is up there with them, better, at least, than Three Stigmata, in my view. It is similar to Ubik in terms of how PKD plays with the reader's mind throughout the novel: time is twisted, warped and changed through the use of a hallucinogenic drug, JJ-180 --and it becomes hard to tell what's reality, what isn't. Another mind-bending question is raised: is a certain character we are being told about a human, a robant, or the exact same human, but from a parallel dimension?
As I said, it's one of the more convoluted Dick novels, and that's really saying something! Now Wait For Last Year tells the tale of an artiforg surgeon named Eric Sweetscent, a morally sound, normal kind of guy. He's a typical Dick protagonist, the everyman who remains calm as the world warps and melts around him like a Salvador Dali painting. As an artiforg surgeon, Sweetscent must constantly replace his boss, Virgil Ackerman's, organs as they fail in the old man's body and must be removed. Other colorful characters from the novel include the ruler of Earth, Gino Molinari a.k.a "The Mole", and Eric's somewhat unfaithful wife, who first tries JJ-180 and begins to experience extreme mental trauma. The near-future Earth (the inevitable time period for most PKD novels) is currently engaged in a war with the strange alien Reegs, with a tentative alliance formed with the mysterious 'Starmen. As Eric eventually takes the drug, and realizes that the 'Starmen are much more sinister and manipulative than they seem, the novel gets crazier and crazier, in part because of the series of time-fracturing hallucinations Sweetscent experiences under the influence of JJ-180.
We learn more about Gino Molinari, his constant deaths, and rebirths; versions of him are repeatedly snatched from parallel universes to replace the Earth leader as he dies over and over again. This is your typical crazy, drug-fueled, PKD novel, with a main, perfectly sane, character experiencing an insane degeneration of his world. This novel shouldn't be missed --it remains one of my favorite PKD works. By the way --for a particularly interesting Science Fiction idea, check out Virgil Ackerman's vacation place on Mars: Wash-35, a meticulously recreated version of Virgil's childhood home in Washington in the year 1935, in which robants masquerading as people stand in for his childhood friends. Virgil has created the ultimate nostalgia trip, and it's an incredibly interesting SF idea that only PKD could dream up!
Don't miss this novel --it's not one you should read if you've never read any PKD (this is in part due to its complexity), but if you have read a few of his novels --and are hungry for more-- make this one a priority. It's a book you won't be able to put down --I couldn't.

Fahrenheit 451:

“The books are to remind us what asses and fool we are. They're Caeser's praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, "Remember, Caeser, thou art mortal." Most of us can't rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven't time, money or that many friends. The things you're looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don't ask for guarantees. And don't look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.” 
“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.” 
“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.” 
“If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, topheavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they fell stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change.” 
Fahrenheit 451 is often regarded as Ray Bradbury's masterpiece, and an incredibly important piece of "genre science fiction", AND a classic of speculative "serious literature". Fahrenheit 451 gives the reader a big dose of that typical, bleak, eerie Bradbury feel --you'll also get it from reading the first few stories of The Martian Chronicles, or any of his horror work.
Fahrenheit 451 is about a dystopian future in which television rules over, controls and pacifies the populace. In this grim future world, entire rooms are made specifically to accommodate wall-to-wall television screens. Sounds kind of familiar to the modern reader, no? In this TV-obsessed future, books are prohibited by law, and the main character, Guy Montag, is a fireman assigned to burn books. Montag begins to change when he meets a young girl named Clarisse, who soon dies, but has an impact of Montag for the rest of the novel.
As the novel progresses, Montag realizes that reading is not the terrible thing that it has been made out to be by his society, and so he begins to read in secret. Eventually, he runs away from his city to join a band of book-memorizers who live on the outskirts of the city, away from civilization. These people keep the books alive for future generations --each person becomes the book they study and memorize, in essence.
The whole idea of book-memorizers is very neat, in my opinion, and very trademark Bradbury. Several particularly interesting parts of this novel include Captain Beatty's explanations of why books must be banned: they have clashing philosophies and ideas and facts that they pass off as true, and one doesn't know what to think, he says, so they must all be eliminated for the sake of one, consistent reality. In addition, the scene in which Montag discovers the book-memorizers, and in which they explain what they do, is one of the most potent, interesting, and memorable scenes in all of science fiction. Although Fahrenheit 451 doesn't have quite the same raw, emotional connection with the reader as a dystopian novel like Nineteen Eighty-Four, it still remains a powerful, disturbingly accurate portrayal of a future in which books have  decreased in significance and popularity, almost frighteningly so.
This is an eerie, though-provoking book whose message grows in strength to this day. And, while this novel is not a light, fun read by any means, any person who has ever wondered about the state of literature in our increasingly attention-deficit, technologically driven, mindless society has got to read this book. Its importance grows and its worst fears are confirmed with each passing day.

No comments:

Post a Comment