Now Wait for Last Year

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Now Wait for Last Year is a 1966 science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick.

Plot summary

Set during a war between the 'Starmen (inhabitants of the planet Lilistar) and the Reegs, Now Wait for Last Year is the story of Eric Sweetscent, an organ-transplant doctor who gets wrapped up in Earth-Lilistar politics.

At the onset of the story, Sweetscent is the personal org-trans surgeon for Virgil Ackerman, the president of Tijuana Fur & Dye. Using an off-world amoeba which can imitate the cell-structure of anything it touches, TF&D had been the largest manufacturer of synthetic furs on the planet. But like all major corporations on Earth, TF&D has been requisitioned to produce for the war effort.

Ackerman invites Sweetscent to his vacation getaway on Mars where he announces an ulterior motive in the retreat. Waiting for them when they arrive is a guest—Gino Molinari, the elected leader of Earth. Known as "the Mole", he is rumored to have the enigmatic ability to come back from the dead, and he has requested the services of Sweetscent. Ackerman gladly passes Sweetscent on to Molinari.

Meanwhile, Sweetscent's wife, Kathy, tries JJ-180, a new hallucinogenic drug which proves to be highly toxic and addictive. The effects of JJ-180 are not clear at first, however, only hours off of it, Kathy finds herself unable to function and violently craving JJ-180 again. She is visited by 'Starmen who claim the Reegs invented JJ-180 as a chemical weapon against the 'Starmen and Terrans, also stating that there is no known cure for the drug's addiction and 'That's why we put you on it'. Kathy is now a slave to JJ-180.

The 'Starmen inform Kathy of her husband's new employment to Molinari and suspect the latter's possible defection to the Reegs. Kathy is promised more JJ-180 if she agrees to spy on her husband for Lilistar. Threatened with deportation, Kathy capitulates and agrees to their terms. Eventually, she takes a second dose of the drug as her ability to function becomes nearly impossible due the effects of the withdrawal. Jumping into a taxi-cab, both she and the cab are plunged back in time to the mid-20th century. As the effects of the drug wear off, they slowly make their way back to the present time, uncertain as to whether or not the past visited was theirs or an alternate timeline.

Paranoid, Kathy sets off to visit her husband.

Under his new employer, Eric Sweetscent is let in on certain state secrets: Molinari seems to have a psychosomatic condition that mirrors any illness or disease of anyone in his vicinity. The effects of this condition appear to be real, yet the Mole pulls through every time, always just on the brink of death.

Molinari, like everyone else, has realized that in siding with the 'Starmen Earth has doomed itself to the wrong side of a losing war. However, there does not seem to be any safe way of defecting to the Reegs, and Molinari fears that his deteriorating health will not instill confidence in the Terrans should the 'Starmen retaliate, as they are certain to do. Sweetscent is shown footage of a healthier, younger Molinari in uniform and is led to believe that an android look-alike of the President has been created for public appearances, a notion that does not account for the fact that scattered throughout the Mole's headquarters are 'his' various corpses, all killed in different fashions.

Kathy arrives to inform her husband of her addiction, and in an effort to motivate him to find a cure she slips a pill of JJ-180 into his drink. Without enough time to be furious, Eric slips a year into the future of an alternate world where his colleagues inform him that he disappeared the day Kathy came to visit. Sweetscent also witnesses that in the new timeline Earth has sided with the Reegs and Lilistar has lost the war.

Upon returning to the present of his own timeline, Sweetscent is eager to present this information to Molinari, who reveals that he too has been taking JJ-180, and that the effect is different for each user. Certain users are sent to the past, while others are sent to the future. Each trip is in an alternate universe, and therefore no one can effectively change their own past or future. However, aside from minor details, events in all observed universes seem to be moving in the same direction, and therefore, information obtained from one alternate world's future will most likely be applicable to another.

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