Now Wait for Last Year is one of Philip K. Dick’s best novels from the1960s, ranking right up there with the classics Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and A Scanner Darkly, though it is perhaps not as well known.
Earth is embroiled in a war against aliens called the Reegs; another alien race, the ‘Starmen, from Lilistar, are our allies. The supreme leader over all the Earth, Secretary Gino Molinari, is a dictator, though one with the best interests of humanity at heart. The ‘Starmen often behave more like our enemies than do the Reegs, wanting greater involvement and sacrifice from humans to further the war cause and bring about the ultimate defeat of the Reegs. For their part, the Reegs would prefer to negotiate a separate peace with Earth and only seem to be the “bad guys” because the ‘Starmen paint them that way, as does the Earth’s media. Standing in the way of the Reegs preferred peace are the ‘Starmen and Virgil Ackerman stand.
Who is the industrialist Virgil Ackerman? Dr. Eric Sweetscent, Ackerman’s personal physician, works along with his wife, Kathy, for the Tijuana Fur and Dye Corporation. Sweetscent is charged with keeping Virgil alive and prolonging his 130-plus years by being at his beck and call 24/7 and transplanting artificial organs into him as the old ones wear out. The obscenely wealthy Ackerman has had an entire city recreated on Mars, a “babyland” of Washington, D.C., circa 1935. It’s called Wash-35, and it’s Kathy Sweetscent’s job to obtain antiques from that time period to help make Wash-35 more realistic.
Ackerman knows Secretary Molinari and suggests that Dr. Sweetscent be made a member of his staff at a meeting at Wash-35. Eric, whose wife is cheating on him, is offered the job but told it will require even more of his time than Virgil does, since Molinari suffers from a seemingly never-ending list of maladies. Is he a hypochondriac, Sweetscent wonders, or is he habitually at death’s door because it makes for a good reason to temporarily escape or halt negotiations with the ‘Starmen and save people’s lives?
The ‘Starmen hook Kathy on a bizarre new drug that TF&D has developed to aid the war effort, JJ-180, by having one of her friends give her a capsule at a party. The drug, in addition to being very addictive and toxic, alters a person’s perceptions of time, even taking its users literally and physically back in time. The ‘Starmen use her addiction to recruit her to follow Eric; she is to claim a desire to reconcile, then use her to influence Eric and Molinari. The last third of the book is really mind-blowing, exploring various alternate realities.
Along with Ubik, Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep? and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Now Wait for Last Year is classic P.K. Dick and one of my favorite Dick novels. He was one of the best science fiction authors of his generation, and his writing is still well worth reading today. If you haven’t yet read this novel and are a fan of the author, or you love reading great mind-bending visions of alternate realities, you owe it to yourself to check out Now Wait for Last Year.