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on 19 September 2006
Ok, so this is the 5th in the series of SF Masterworks I have read in as many weeks. I cannot, so far, recommend this list enough, having started on 'I am Legend', to 'Do androids dream', 'The Forever War' and 'Time out of Joint'. So far, I have been blown away by them all, but this story has really got to me.

The other review here will tell you about the story. I don't need to repeat that. But really, I was quite unsettled by this book (which is a good thing!!!).

There was no easy solution. The story was full of twists, conspiracies and points where I actually thought about what I would do if I were faced with the same choices.

For those of us growing up in the 80's with all the propaganda about what to do in the event of a nuclear war (what were those cartoons all about?) the harsh reality of what could happen, combined with the politics and greed behind it all, is all dealt with, and in a way that seems, even today, totally believable (if you can excuse all the time travel stuff!).

Not an easy read to start with, but one you will find immensely satisfying, even if all you do is remember the total insignificance of war.
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Not being a great reader of sci-fi Philip K Dick is an author that I do read. What he writes is so much more than mainstream sci-fi, raising both metaphysical and philosophical questions. This book is really ahead of its time as it shows us to some degree that we're going through the same predicaments currently. We are all aware of media manipulation and political spin, and that is mainly what this book is about.

The setting is after the third world war, where millions of people are living in giant town sized bunkers underground. The information they receive comes from the tv and political officers, showing them the devastation and the war raging on the surface of the earth, where the government are still and robots are fighting the war. These people are stuck underground for years whilst this war rages on. But what if the war had ended and there was peace on the surface? What if the few people on the surface lived on massive tracts of land? What would happen if people found out? Read this book and find out, and you will never view the news or statements from politicians in the same way again.
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on 8 January 2006
Whilst the description may give the impression of a Matrix-style awakening and eventual hostility, The Penultimate Truth is rather a decent examination of propaganda and its methods. The book runs parallel stories of the man who discovers said truth and the political (and ethical) wrangling that the people maintaining the lie experience.
SPOILERS***************
Nicholas St. James is the President of the underground tank, the Tom Mix, which manufactures components vital to the perceived war effort. However, when their chief mechanic becomes ill he is chosen (through dubious methods) to go topside to find an artificial pancreas. What he discovers is what the reader already knows - that the war is in fact over.
Of the two stories, though, the liars' is more convincing and entertaining. Memorable characters such as the ancient, overweight and artiforg-enhanced Stanton Brose as the true world dominus add an aspect of ghastliness - he can only understand people when he can see their lips move.
As the alternative protaganist, Joseph Adams is the speech-writer with whom the people underground connect to albeit through the lies of a simulacrum called Talbot Yancy - what they think is their leader. Along with the 'Yance-men', Adams preserves the lie until all is disrupted by a young, genius speech-writer called David Lantano.
It is here, in the middle third that a murder mystery is thrown in and really starts finding its feet. Unfortunately as with many Philip K. Dick books the end feels rushed (e.g. Flow My Tears..., ) and whilst a conclusion is necessary perhaps it shouldn't have needed such an ending as was written. Perhaps a little more dystopian maybe...
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on 16 September 2007
The story is set in North America, which is now part of an alliance known as Wes-Dem, following a nuclear war with the USSR-based Pac-Peop group of countries. The war resulted in the vast majority of the population being forced to live underground in crowded 'ant tanks', which is where we pick up the action 15 years later, in the early 21st Century.

The chief mechanic of one of these tanks is seriously ill, so the president of the tank is forced to go to the surface and find an artificial pancreas. The tankers are under the illusion that the war is still going on, and that the surface is uninhabitable, with mechanical warriors and various plagues being the major threats. However, the president finds that this is not the case and that the war ended 13 years ago.

Simultanously, we follow the story of one of the ruling elite who live in luxury on the surface. He helps to write speeches for faked news reports that are delivered to the tankers in order to keep them under control and under the ground.

The story then progesses into a kind of detective story with this backdrop. There is a series of crosses and double crosses and plot twists that we follow in order to discover the ultimate fate of the tankers and the ruling class. This isn't a typical post-apocalyptic novel, but if you like that sort of thing, I would definitely recommend it. Many of the questions raised are resolved, but the only down side is a slightly ambiguous ending that I won't discuss as it will spoil the story.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 February 2009
A book that, for me, just didn't reach it's potential! A great story that starts really well and then gets bogged down in a conspiracy story that doesn't really add much to the overall tale. I wanted to know much more about the plight of the tankers, the feelings of the con-apt dwellers and the guilt of the elite.

Like other books in this genre that haven't quite satisfied, this book skims over some of the things that I find so interesting - the nature of human survival against terrible conditions. The lead characters are possibly too numerous to really learn about their deeper feelings and so the book never quite gets to the core of the issues.

I did enjoy the book and it was a story that kept me interested but again it was a book that just didn't quite make it to the brilliance that Dick could have achieved.
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This is a short novel describing - without revealing anything specific - the politics, power struggles, deceit, greed and inequality on a post world war 3 Earth. It is both clever and thoughtful, full of intricate, ingenious twists and speculations on the nature of propaganda and leadership.

There is a revelation about a quarter of the way into the book which is possibly the most striking, disturbing moment of science fiction reading I have experienced. Although that is early on in the book, the pace of twists, dilemmas and revelations continues right to the end. What started as a post apocalyptic scenario becomes an exploration into universal human behaviour. As another reviewer said, the war hardly matters.

Altogether it is a fascinating, enjoyable and provocative read, although he does have a stuttering prose style which could surely have been improved by an editor or advisor. It is hard to give an idea with short quotations but here are a few examples:

"And then his own voice, but slightly speeded up, it seemed to him, answering."

"Because aging, Adams realized, as Brose said, can't be faked."

"Both, staring at the screen, said nothing to him, as if he weren't there. In fact each person in Wheeling Hall was isolated, now, by the catastrophe on the giant TV screen and the announcer, then, said it for them."

"But it was hard on the tankers to be subjected to Dale Nunes' rah-rah tactics whenever Dale - or rather his superiors above ground - saw fit, such as now, at bedtime."

"Still shuffling his documents, trying to come up with something of use, trying and unhappily failing, the abstract-carrier Footeman said, "I wish you good luck. Maybe next time". And he wondered if, for Runcible, there would be a further report. This inadequate - admittedly so - one today might well be the last, if his employer Webster Foote's extrasensory intimation were at all correct."
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on 20 September 2007
I'm begining to be quite a big fan of Philip K. Dick, but I think this is probably one of, if not the, best I've read so far. This is a much more cohernet novel than his later stuff which is a little too driven by his own psycological problems, but at the same time not dated sci-fi from the '50s. The premise, as you can see, is interesting and the book is not only crammed with great little details and ideas, but it is actually very well-written aswell. I bought this book after reading the begining in the shop becuase that very first paragraph captured me totally. A real joy.
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After the outbreak of the Third World War, the main worry was the radiation sickness and the general population went underground. It was a long war and when we are introduced to the cast of characters it is still (ostensibly) taking place. Nicholas St James is the President of the Tom Mix ‘ant Tank’ and one of the most important and valuable members of Tom Mix is Maury Souza whose pancreas is only replaceable by an artiforg, an artificial pancreas. Desperate to save the old man Nicholas decides to go to the surface by digging a tunnel and he has raised money from the whole ant Tank to pay for the artiforg and hopes somehow to make his way through the dangers of the outside world and find the required organ.

But as chapter one has already shown us, the real situation of the earth is entirely different from what they have been shown in on-screen videos. Rather than a wasted dangerous radioactive world they see on their screens, the world is otherwise undisturbed. All the animals have been killed off (so what do they eat?). The Yance-Men have huge tracts of land and can make claims as they will. The terrible truth is that the vast majority of people have been sold the story of a war that doesn’t exist. The USSR and America have abandoned hostilities and are keeping the population underground where they have quotas to meet in the production of robot warriors called leadies.

The logic of this scenario is a little wonky of course. Since there is no war, what are leadies being created to do? I was some way into this story and involved with the struggles of the Yance-Men before this point struck me. By that time, of course, I felt I had to finish the novel, which is a farrago of in-fighting and struggles between very rich men. I felt it would have been more interesting to have the leadies being re-trashed over and over again. Why waste more expensive materials when you can just recycle them?

I did enjoy some of this, but the big plot hole of why they needed more and more leadies never got filled. I suppose you could read this as the triumph of the few over the many. Coming to an ant Tank near you any day. Propaganda as a way of life. The struggles of the ultra rich are a bit of a bore and I didn’t much care which of them ended up on top. I liked Nicholas St James, however who stuck to the point.
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on 22 August 2012
Philip K Dick is renowned for his ability to summon up the most paranoid and mindblowing what-if scenarios for his books, then plunge the reader into the mind of someone whose world has been turned upside down. The Penultimate Truth is the author in his mid 1960s prime, with a novel that completely delivers on its own terms as a story but also has resonances in the here and now.

In the early 21st Century, the dreaded World War Three that inhabited the nightmares of all those alive during the Cold War has finally happened. The people are hurried below the surface of the earth to hide while mighty robots and missiles conduct the war on their behalf. The Western and Eastern blocs of countries play out the doomsday scenario, as city after city is destroyed. Fifteen years later, the hard pressed people below the surface live in cramped and horrendous conditions, working themselves to death to meet the productivity targets of wartime equipment construction. Their charismatic leader addresses them nightly, exhorting them to keep pushing to help achieve a military breakthrough, while each night the news brings them dramatic footage of catastrophic battles raging above ground.

In reality, the only wartime activity that took place was a brief exchange of missile attacks from either side, followed by a rapid agreement that any further war on this scale must be stopped. However, the masses, scared and brainwashed by their own sides into believing war is inevitable, would perhaps be inconvenient in keeping this peace, and in other ways too. The sworn enemies of East and West reach an accommodation in which the people will stay underground in their bunkers while an elite manipulates and fools them into believing a war is still on. They gradually reclaim the land blasted by the shortest of nuclear attacks and live in villas across a new wilderness of the earth, while the people below huddle in their tiny boxes building equipment that sustains the elite's life above ground and the technology required to film and broadcast fake war footage.

In many books, this would be the big reveal and that last paragraph would have spoilt the plot for a prospective reader. But this is the start of the story, explained in the first few pages, and the rest of the novel takes you through the looking glass into how this world is maintained, threatened and reshaped by various agents of change. Through the usual complex, dizzying plot and damaged characters you expect from Philip K Dick, you are dragged into a chilling race against time and a battle of wills where you genuinely don't know what the outcome will be. You are left with a final, ominous sentence hinting at what is coming next for this world and the likely aftermath, and I for one carried that thought around with me for some time after reading it.

I loved this book. Like much by this author, the chronological setting of the story had been and gone by the time I read it, and the nuclear attack prophesied had not come true. But while the detail in the writer's future changed, all we have instead is the same game with different players. Conflict shown every night on television, an elite acting on our behalf ostensibly for our own good but with a hidden agenda. The people's liberty constrained and their lives locked in a never ending pattern of work, anxiety and compromise for an end that may never be achieved. A distant enemy who is always there, always ready to strike, never quite beaten but never gaining an initiative. A narrative constructed for us by a coterie of driven men determined to transcend reality and complete their project at our expense. Paranoid? Maybe. As an allegory for how mass media, government, corporations and the people interact in increasingly worrying ways, this still stands up. And Dick's writing takes you deep inside his world as always.
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on 10 March 2011
"World War III is raging - or so the millions of people crammed in their underground tanks believe. For fiteen years, subterranean humanity has been fed on daily broadcasts of a never-ending nuclear destruction, sustained by a belief in the all powerful Protector. Now someone has gone to the surface and found no destruction, no war. The authorities have been telling a massive lie. Now the search begins to find out why."
-- from back cover

Philip K Dick's fourteenth novel, written and published in 1964. The Penultimate Truth deals with, amongst other things, truth, reality and political oppression in a post apocalyptic world. As with all PKD's works this novel makes you marvel at his imagination but also (if you are of a philosophical turn of mind) brings you to question and consider the themes he raises for yourself.

"At a time when most 20th-century science fiction writers seem hopelessly dated, Dick gives us a vision of the future that captures the feel of our time."
--Wired

"The finest American novelist of our time."
--Hartford Advocate

"Dick was...one of the genuine visionaries that North American fiction has produced in this century."
--Steve Erickson, L.A. Weekly

If you are new to Philip K Dick's work I would also recommend the following novels (which generally seem to be regarded as among his best):

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?
Ubik (S.F. Masterworks)
A Scanner Darkly (S.F. Masterworks)
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (S.F. Masterworks)
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (S.F. Masterworks)

That said, though some of PKD's works are better than others, to my mind they are all well worth reading. I would also recommend his short story collections:

Beyond Lies The Wub: Volume One Of The Collected Short Stories
Second Variety: Volume Two Of The Collected Short Stories
The Father-Thing: Volume Three Of The Collected Short Stories
Minority Report: Volume Four Of The Collected Short Stories
We Can Remember It For You Wholesale: Volume Five of The Collected Short Stories
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