THE PENULTIME TRUTH

WARNING: If you haven’t read the novel, go no further (unless you don’t intend to read it anyway, in which case go ahead) !

 

“You think,” Nicholas said, “that the biggest lie is still to come?”

After a long, visibly tormented pause, Adams said, “Yes.”

 

IT IS 1982

Thermonuclear war erupted between the USA and the Soviet Union. Pressured by the threat of radiation and its dystopic devastation, the masses across both sides of the barricade are persuaded by their leaders to move underground into specially designed tanks, where they can continue to engineer and produce robots that can continue the fight on the surface and hopefully bring them victory in WW III.

The multiple underground tanks, although physically isolated, are kept united by the steady stream of news broadcasted through the television networks of both foes.

Fifteen years after the descent, pressured by the illness of a friend and by his duties as the elected leader of his small subterranean community, Nicholas St. James decides to go up to the surface, inevitably sacrificing his life by exposure to the nuclear fallout in the search for of one the high-tech synthetic replacement organs that are rumoured to still exist above ground (that’s right, the war had actually set back technological and scientific development).

Once above ground, Nicholas discovers that the war had actually ended shortly after the masses had been interred underground. Once millions were out of the way, the leaders of the two blocks quickly reached an agreement and a sort of world government had been established, under the sinister influence of Brose, a deformed old man that captured the most advanced technology and the few remaining synthetic organs, thus prolonging his life well beyond what would seem likely.

Brose lives in Switzerland and controls “history” through a select group of individuals (mostly made sterile by the radiation): the Yance-men. These men and women reside in large isolated estates, served by retinues of robots fabricated by the underground tankers. They are the engineers, scientists, scriptwriters, prop masters and moviemakers that were mobilized to produce the necessary technology and the required false footage of historical events and simulated destruction, in order to persuade millions of tankers to remain voluntarily sheltered in place, deep in their underground tombs.

Hovering over vast empty forests, this privileged elite wrestle with the guilt that inevitably tars the enablers of enslavers. But this was a tussle that their self-centredness always ended up winning. «Because all the Yance-men had this streak. They were selfish; they had made the world into their deer park at the expense of the millions of tankers below; it was wrong and they knew it and they felt guilt – not quite enough guilt to cause them to know-off Brose and let the tankers up, but enough guilt to make their late evenings a trashing agony of loneliness, emptiness, and their nights impossible.»

Karasu Marsh, Akita (Akita Karasunuma), from the series “Souvenirs of Travel, Third Series (Tabi miyage dai sanshu)

After a series of the sort of trademark Philip K. Dick dizzying twists, Nicholas and his allies are finally in a position to tell the truth. But can they really do it without unleashing hell?

How can you explain to millions that they were the victims of an hoax that deprive them of their freedom for fifteen years while up there, on the surface, instead of a nuclear wasteland, there is an «entire planet of green»?

«Could there be a plausible cover story? »

Those on the surface, those in the knowing, no matter where they came from, no matter their origin, once they are made aware of the truth, can they silence it for a second without becoming immediately embroiled in the necessity of protecting themselves against the predictably uncontrollable revolt of the masses?

THE PENULTIME HOAX

Adam, the Yance-men, consumed by the fog, is convinced that he can indeed come up with the ultimate hoax, that would explain everything and be accepted by all, even the most resolute sceptics.

“You think,” Nicholas said, “that the biggest lie is still to come?”

After a long, visibly tormented pause, Adams said, “Yes.”

And the book ends with Nicholas in anger:

«He put his arm around his wife to draw her closer.

You’re not going to.

Because we will not allow you.»

And yet, what lie fed by the hoaxers have we not ended up accepting in return for being allowed to continue to live (at least) as we’ve always lived before?

Who cares about the truth?

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE HOAX?

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