I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read (a long weekend) by the sci-fi master Philip K. Dick.
Set on a post war earth, the government has adopted and enforces the policy of Relativism to maintain stability. This is never really defined, but seems to be something along the lines of either there is no absolute truth, or truth is flexible, dependent on the viewpoint of the individual. In light of this, it is forbidden to express judgement as this goes against the truth of others. There is a clear resonance with Postmodernism with its suspicion of meta-narrative and encouragement of tolerance and anything goes (‘if it feels good do it’). Dick explores what the world look like if this way of thinking was taken to its politically logical conclusion, and concludes that the lack of expressed conflict and truth would lead to blandness and stagnation – rather than encouraging variety and multi-culturism, uniformity and conformity dominate. This is echoed in the sub-plot, the life of a group of genetic mutants kept alive in the Refuge and introduced in the first pages of the novel. Their lives are marked by frustration and purposelessness, with them not knowing who they are and why they exist (more I can’t say here without spoilers).
Into this world comes Floyd Jones of the title of the book. He is a mutant who, it appears, has the ability to see one year into the future. This in itself is a fascinating concept which Dick explores – who hasn’t wanted to see into the future, but would this be a beneficial or good thing for the person with that gift? Who is better off, the person with this talent or the one who remains ignorant?
The existence of Jones causes a crisis. How can Relativism exist alongside someone who is able to see into the future and so actually know Truth? The main character of the book, Cussick, is forced to confront this question as part of his work for the state as his life and Jones’ intertwine.
I’ve read a number of Philip K. Dick’s books, and always found them entertaining and provocative. This was no exception. More straightforward than some of his latter works, it was still stimulating and worthwhile reading and reflecting on, particularly in light of some of the current trends in the West today as it grapples with exposure to other world-views and the clashes when they come together.