time travel

Dr Futurity by Philip K Dick

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.

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Films, biscuits and shared ideas

I don’t need much of an excuse to eat jammie dodgers, but if I did I could use the first rejection from my batch of submissions this weekend (actually I usually just shrug and move on – often a story that one person says has no potential, another person is prepared to pay for). That’s good in a way, it means the story’s not tied up for long and I can try it again somewhere else straight away. Except of course we all know I’ll sit here with biscuit crumbs on the keyboard and think about it for a while, file it in the mental To Do list and get round to it in a few weeks.

In the meantime I’ve been scribbling ideas cobbled together from things that Mark and OneMonkey said yesterday: one muses on X and Y happening to Z, the other then says maybe X would happen to A and Y would happen to Z but in a different universe, and I take X happening to Z in the different universe and see where it gets me. I do that a lot with things OneMonkey says, he’ll mention a good idea in passing and I take the core, strip away the bits I’m not so keen on, add a few twists of my own and write something. I can’t decide whether that means I have no imagination of my own, or I’m just good at being sparked by snippets of someone else’s thoughts.

Which made me think of a film I saw recently, on Mark’s recommendation, called Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel. It had its flaws (the big one being why on earth would the other two hang around with Pete, but OneMonkey reckons it’s because they worked at the same place) but it was quite fun and strange. Three friends in the pub encounter a time slip, a time traveller, adulation, fear, the apocalypse (possibly) and out of date crisps. One of them is a struggling writer of speculative fiction who often works on ideas based on conversations the three of them have had, or things the other two have said. It’s British, it’s funny, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and it reminded me of our Thursdays at the pub before French friend A (potential translator of Boys Don’t Cry) went off to do adventurous outdoorsy things for a few months (though in the film they have a drink each whereas we, being tight, had a maximum of two between four of us. And I don’t remember ever stumbling out of my own time). It does feel like a film that could have been written by three friends in a pub, and I mean that as a compliment.