The Penultimate Truth, newly released in the wonderful new edition from Mariner Books, is a perfect example of Philip K. Dick at his best: a future story that immediately draws the reader in with its complexity and interest, as well as taking its characters to interesting and unexpected places. Like most of his books, it’s a short one that leaves the reader contemplating on what they’ve just read and what it might mean for his or her life and world.
It is the future and a devastating world war of epic proportions has taken place and most of humanity now lives deep beneath the ground in massive bunkers which is all the world that these people know. To them the battle still wages above, and they continue about their daily lives, manufacturing weapons and making supplies to send up above, while eking out a pitiful existence in this regimented and hopeless society. That is until Nick St. James, president of one of these “anthills,” makes the decision and digs himself to the surface to get help to his people. It is there that he discovers a shocking reality he never could’ve predicted.
The Penultimate Truth has a great message to it at the end, which may not be completely clear, but unavoidably asks questions of our own society and where we might be headed in the future. Given that Dick was writing this in 1964, it is an astonishing revelation and foresight that many have come to expect from this master of science fiction.
Originally written on March 14, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.
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