Monday, 28 January 2013

The Library: a powerful and nefarious institution

Don't worry! It's only science-fiction.

The frightening library in question is The People's Topical Libary of Philip K. Dick's 1967 novel, Counter-Clock World. 

The basic premise of the novel is that time has started to run backwards in what is called the 'Hobart Phase'. People re-awaken in their graves and are 'old-born'. As time regresses they grow younger until they become children, then babies, eventually entering a suitable womb as a foetus with the foetus finally splitting into a separate egg and sperm.

The Library is charged with controlling information that is no longer relevant as the authors of the works are now younger than when they originally composed them. Douglas Appleford, the librarian of Section B of the Library says that the job of the library is not "to study and/or memorize data; it is to expunge it."

The story centres around the re-birth of Anarch Peak, a controversial religious leader. In a racially and religiously partitioned United States, the Library fears that his re-birth will fan sectarian violence so they seek to find him and kill him. In its quest to 'maintain order in society' the Library makes use of child assassins (former adult employees of the Library who have regressed to childhood) and has a council of "erads" who undertake psychological assessments on Library captives akin to a visit from a Harry Potter Dementor.

In future novels, we humans always seem to have the luxury of getting around in air-cars. Counter-Clock World is no different in this respect, although I was amused by the juxtaposition of the still unrealised dream of air-car travel and the almost defunct technology of a tape recorder.

The time-reversal plot device was a little tricky to get used: the action in the story clearly progresses (cause and effect) with the lifestyle oddities of the Hobart Phase (disgorging food instead of ingesting, blowing smoke into cigarette ends and then placing the un-smoked cigarette in a packet) seeming like a forced reminder of the fact that time is actually travelling backwards.

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