“Your Appointment Will Be Yesterday” was originally published in Amazing in August 1966. It can now be found in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 115–133. If you are following along, you will notice that I did not review “A Terran Odyssey.” This is because it was not published in Dick’s lifetime and is just selections from Dr. Bloodmoney. When I get to that novel, I may return to “A Terran Odyssey.” “Your Appointment Will Be Yesterday” was later expanded into Counter-Clock World, but since this story came first and was published prior to the novel, it should be reviewed on its own terms.
*Note: Before getting into the plot you need to know that much in this story worked in reverse time, but not everything. Meals consist of food going from the body to the plate. People rise from the dead. Instead of dying people enter the womb of a nearby woman. Yet, in order to keep the backward progress of time going, agencies need to actively remove knowledge from existence. Books do not disappear when they are unwritten, they need to be burned. Other things seem to go on as normal. Morning is still morning. It is an odd device.
Niehls Lehrer gets up and prepares for the day. He works in an agency that destroys knowledge as it is scheduled to become unknown. His current task is removing from existence the invention of Ludwig Eng called the swabble. This is normally the task of the inventor, but Lehrer’s agency has to sometimes take a more active role in the process. Lehrer receives a call from his lover Charise who asks his help for a friend. He wants an official eradication for his thesis, to help expand his prestige. He hesitates, but is convinced to help when he learns that the young man, Lance Arbuthnot, knows the Anarch Peak and is an member of the Free Negro Municipality, although one of its more moderate voices. He promises to look into it.
Lehrer goes to the library he works at and is met by a robot. He introduces himself as the robot of Carl Gantrix a lawyer, but Lehrer asks to call him Carl Junior. Through the robot, Gantrix contacts Lehrer telling him that he fears that the Hogart Phase—which makes all the humans live in reverse time—is planned to be obliterated in respect to the Anarch Peak, who will soon be absorbed into a woman. If it works, Peak will be virtually immortal. Gantrix knows, but does not tell Lehrer, that Ludwig Eng has a meeting yesterday when the Anarch.
Yesterday, Eng is trying to convince Anarch Peak of the Free Negro Municipality to air an announcement urging people to build swabbles, before the final copy of his book describing how to make them is destroyed. Peak, who is now only a boy hoping someday to be Anarch, does not fully understand the request. Peak wants to ask his father (who has recently be revivified) for permission. Peak’s bodyguard urges him to try to see him again yesterday.
Bard Chai, Gantrix’s superior in the Clearness Council, discuss how it seems that the Hobart phase has been reversed for Eng, ensuring that his invention will not be unmade. Since the invention of the swabble served to direct the Hobart Phase. The uninvention of the swabble would reverse this process, and already has for its inventor. This has created an infinite loop. If they succeed in eliminating the invention of the swabble, the Hobart Phase will be reversed and the invention of the swabble will again go ahead, again reversing the Hobart Phase. Eventually time may be stalled in a single moment. Gantrix realizes that the only solution may be the “rebirthing” of Eng.
Lehrer is at work. Eng did not arrive for the meeting and he receives a phone call from Charise. She confesses that she is Lance’s mistress and wants Lehrer to officially obliterate the thesis because that will require Lehrer to read it and she can find out what it says about her. This makes him disinterested in the thesis. Earlier, Lance Arbuthnot comes to see Lehrer with his thesis that he wants officially obliterated. It describes how to disassemble a swabble. He explains that only his thesis will balance about Eng’s work, preventing the disintegration of the Hobart Phase. He arranges for the Syndicate to look at the thesis. He wonders if he will need his first shave in over twenty years a few hours earlier.
“Your Appointment Will Be Yesterday” along with Counter-Clock World begins with a very interesting idea. It is hard to imagine how a society would function or what life would be like if time ran backwards. Dick made a valiant effort in these works to describe what this may look like and what the social, political, and cultural consequences of this would be. There are many ways this does not work, most prominently in that people still seem to be mostly linear. They still act toward goals. They still have jobs that they complete. The Hobart Phase, which causes the backward time, is fairly arbitrary.
But if we cut right down to it, people are given a form of immortality. Those dead are risen from the graves. The elderly get to live out the rest of their lives backward. I suppose those who were still young and under the Hobart phase will be robbed of some of their life, but in general people seem to accept the Hobart Phase because it means a life of perpetual youth. The cost of this is clearly stated. The gradual destruction of knowledge, culture, and innovation. Yes, we can live out our lives as youth, our lives can be extended, but the cost is the end of all innovation. The government (in the form of an agency called the Syndicate) takes leadership to ensure that all inventions are uninvented, all books are unwritten, and all ideas unthought. It is hard job, but necessary to ensure that the entire system works.
We are thus placed in a world without time. At one point a character reminds us that we can know the future, but cannot know the past. There is some truth to this. Year to year at least we can largely predict the future. We know what next summer’s movies will bring us. We have a basic idea of what video games will be popular in the near future. The Internet is full of speculation—much of it informed—about the future of everything from technology, to politics, to television series plot lines. What people seem to know much less about is the past. The humanities have been brutalized over the last few decades. Even educated college students know only the bare minimum about the past, but can often speak at length about the expectant future. There is much truth to Dick’s story “Your Appointment Will be Yesterday.” Although we are not going back in time, we are living in a world that may as well be.
Review from Philip K. Dick Fan Site.
Panal talk on the crisis in the humanities.