the Little Red Reviewer

The Penultimate Truth by Philip K Dick

Posted on: September 18, 2018

The Penultimate Truth by Philip K Dick

published in 1964

where I got it: purchased used









You trust your government right?  Ok, maybe not 100%, but at least when it comes to defense of the nation and keeping our citizens safe, you trust the head honchos, right?


Nicholas St James and his entire community follow that trust.  They remember being shuffled into underground shelters when the bombs fell.  They remember being told that it would just be until it was safe to come back to the surface, two years at most.  Nick and his family and his community listen to the radio broadcasts, they watch Talbot Yancy speak on TV, they know if they just wait a little longer, that it will be safe to go above ground, and that one day soon their children will see a sunrise and a sunset.  One day the war will be over and the citizens of the tanks will be able to stop building and repairing the leadies who fight for the people’s freedom every day. Without trust, there would be chaos and death. They’ve been in these damn tunnels for thirteen years.


Meanwhile, Joseph Adams lives on his estate in California with a phalanx of leadies who are mostly used as house servants and security guards. On a daily basis he flies to his job in New York, where he works as a Yanceman – writing the speeches that will be fed into Talbot Yancy. Who is a robot bolted to an oak desk. Adams and his peers literally write “fake news”.  So much so that fake documentaries were even made that all children watch in school, and most adults have nearly memorized, documentaries that convince the people in the shelters that the government did what they did to protect their own people from harm. The Yancemen take their orders from Stanton Brose, who effectively rules as a feared regent. In Brose’s attempts to rule forever, he has had multiple parts of his body replaced with artificial organs, known as artiforgs. There may be half a dozen artificial hearts or artificial livers in existence, but according to Brose, they are all reserved for his use.


Oh, there was a war all right, between West Dem and Pac Peop. And there were bombs that fell. Most of the actual fighting was done by leadies.  The American government shoved as many people as they could into underground shelters, and those who survived above ground lived our their sterile lives in park like surroundings, with leadies to do their bidding. It’s so beautiful and empty up here, no dirty workers anywhere. Maybe we’ll wait just a few more years to bring the people from the shelters up, yeah? Because it’s just so nice up here, with only our friends up here.  Those filthy people who came up on their own? Oh, they are housed in prison-like apartment complexes, where they have a roof over their head, food, their medical needs are seen to, they’re even given jobs!


When the lead engineer in the Tom Mix shelter lies dying, in desperate need of an artiforg, Nick St. James is volunteered to go to the surface to buy one on the black market.  What will he face when he gets to the surface? Will he be killed by a leady in a matter of a few minutes? Will his face burn off from the radiation that surely still plagues the land? Will he slowly die of radiation poisoning, with no hope of contacting his people?

is this what a leadie looks like?


What he finds is a beautiful park, guarded by leadies.  Nick meets the strange property owner, David Lantano. Lantano is also a yanceman speechwriter, and the speeches he writes are things of beauty. Adams doesn’t know if he should be murderously jealous of Lantano’s skills, or beg to learn at the man’s knee.

Now that St James knows the truth, will he tell his people they can just come on up? Can he bring himself to believe that Talbot Yancy doesn’t exist?  What kind of government would do this to their own citizens?


The Penultimate Truth is a fun and readable dystopia that runs along at a nice pace. Not all PKDs are fun, and very few of them are fun and readable. The first half of The Penultimate Truth is excellent scene after excellent scene, smart dialog, great ideas. In the second half (as with many Dick novels), the plot and everything else seems to go in too many directions at once and just falls apart. What started out as a “here’s how to tell when you shouldn’t trust the government!” turns into an unfocused murder mystery of little consequence with subplots that go nowhere.   But don’t let that stop you from reading this book!


I loved the undercurrent of that the people in the shelters just needed an authority figure who sympathizes with them, who thanks them for their patience, an authority figure who says what the people think they want to hear, all packaged and framed in a way so that those in authority can continue to have their easy lives.  Think about it though – are you more likely to vote for a politician who speaks to you in a way you want to be spoken to? Someone who sounds like they sympathize with you, that they appreciate your patience and that they feel the pain you are going through? You’d vote for that person, wouldn’t you? Is it that person you are voting for, or their speech writer?


If you’ve never read Philip K Dick, The Penultimate Truth is a great place to start.



4 Responses to "The Penultimate Truth by Philip K Dick"

I really need to get around to trying out his books, I have so many books by the ‘classic’ genre authors that I need to get to. I’ll have to see if I can find a copy of this one.


In the last 10 years a whole ton of his stuff has been reprinted with really nice covers. I’m not if this title was part of the reprint, I’d found this copy at a used bookstore. Happy book hunting!


There are broad swaths of current government influences in this one. Dick was prescient about the future of government, and the general populace’s reaction to it.

Liked by 1 person

That sounds like an interesting book! I’ve read some of Dick’s short fiction, but haven’t tackled any of his novels yet. Thanks for the review!


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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