Much train travel in the last few days has meant a lot of reading time, and among other things I read PKD’s Dr Futurity (1960).
32-year-old doctor, Jim Parsons, sets off to work one morning in 2012 and finds himself and his car picked up and flung into the 25th century. Shaken but unhurt, he picks up his case of medical instruments and sets out to join whatever society he finds, confident that he will always be useful due to his training (glossing over the possibility that medical techniques and technology have changed beyond his ability). The society Jim finds takes survival of the fittest seriously, basing its selective breeding programme on something like the Olympic Games. With the average age as low as 15, Jim is not as welcome in mainstream society as he’d imagined. Linking up with some fringe groups, he becomes involved in a complicated pan-historical plot which makes him question his politics as well as his professional ethics.
The novel explores some heavy themes in its 152 pages: race and empire; attitudes to death, infirmity and age; beliefs and cultural norms; as well as fate, inevitability and free will in the context of time travel and its attendant paradoxes. The culture of the 25th century seems to have progressed in technology, regressed in at least some political spheres, and simply changed in terms of philosophies and beliefs; it seems that this culture is the same everywhere on earth, but the mechanism for this is never addressed (entirely overturning Judeo-Christian beliefs within 400 years?).
It’s implied that if Jim could be returned to his own time, and his wife, everything would be fine and he’d go on as before, but surely an experience like that would change a person? Tell anyone and you’d be branded a madman, keep it to yourself and it would eat away at you, you’d question your perspectives and attitudes, your priorities might change, and if you’d made friends or come to care for anyone you’d met in your travels, you’d miss them.
Dr Futurity was an enjoyable read and I think the time travel implications are mostly handled well but it does have its flaws (not least the unexplained readiness of a happily married and apparently quite moral man to cheat on his wife). Not a novel to be analysed too deeply, but a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours.
You may be interested in looking at what other people have said about the book, over at goodreads.