June 21st, 2013

Philip K. Dick and me

Oh, I was a strange, strange child. And not the least of my strangenesses was that I loved the stories of Philip K. Dick.

That was odd in several ways. First of all, it was odd because I was a girl, and most girls in those days didn’t read science fiction. Secondly, I was eight or nine when I was doing this reading. Thirdly, Dick’s stories themselves are very strange; they seem that way to me even now.

But they are very very good. Dick’s become a great deal more famous now than he was then, and his short stories and novellas and novels have been made into several films, including “Blade Runner.” The stories, although they were the stuff of nightmare—children’s minds being especially susceptible to that sort of thing (at least mine was, with the power to frighten me in a very deep and disturbing way)—were extraordinarily compelling.

And yet I kept reading. They were just that good, and stretched the mind in a way I found almost irresistible. My favorite was probably “Second Variety,” an extraordinarily grim tale for a child—or for an adult, for that matter.

So I was delighted to read this piece at American Thinker about Dick. You may enjoy it, if you’re a fan. And you may enjoy it even if you’re not:

But in Philip Dick’s world technology is twitchy, with endless glitches, often open to abuse and exploitation by unsavory elements both in and out of government. Reality itself cannot be depended on — it can collapse under your feet like a rotten stairwell. Nothing is what it seems — even a beloved pet can turn out to be a product with an expiration date. Government officials can simply be simulations, if they exist at all. Threats can appear out of nowhere, often irrationally or even whimsically. To escape all this, the public retreats into drugs or obsessions with apparent trivia — games, “setups” for dolls, hallucinatory virtual worlds. A functional aristocracy has returned, creating a kind of techno-feudalism — (think of Tyrell, abiding alone within the peak of his vast pyramid in Blade Runner). Dick’s world can kill you in a nanosecond without anybody wondering why or even paying much attention.

[NOTE: You may also enjoy this piece about Dick, a man often thought crazy. Let’s just say he had a very unusual mind.]

18 Responses to “Philip K. Dick and me”

  1. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    I became a huge fan of SciFi at the age of 12 in 1960 and remain one to this day. I read some Philip K. Dick and he was a very creative and unique talent but his stories were never my cup of tea.

    I suspect because I lost my mother at a pretty early age (5) I found Dick’s stories in which, “Reality itself cannot be depended on — it can collapse under your feet like a rotten stairwell.” just too disturbing. I’ve never liked horror movies either, perhaps because I learned at an early age that reality can contain very nasty surprises.

    I did see Blade Runner when it first came out with my ex and her parents and I’ll never forget my father-in-laws plaintive comment about the movie; “I kept waiting for someone to turn on a light”.

  2. MissJean Says:

    I I liked the stories about the gas station owner who became Elf King and the ones about people losing their memory (“Paycheck” and I believe the other was “Total Recall.”) However I was particularly creeped out by “Something For Us Tempunauts” because of what it said about human ego and one-page short story (the name of which escapes me) about a man going into the funeral home to arrange his wife’s funeral.

  3. carl in atlanta Says:

    I’ve never read him, will give him a try.

    Hey, I’m in the mood for some good science fiction, what with just having finished the collected works of HP Lovecraft and then having watched the president’s surreal speech this week before the Brandenburg Gate…

  4. Ymarsakar Says:

    I really felt some good emotions from this author

    http://www.baenebooks.com/p-90-the-creatures-of-man.aspx

    Something akin to Brandon Sanderson like themes and emotions, which I have only found in a few places (primarily Japan).

  5. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    The Adjustment Bureau was symptomatic.
    Quite the rabbit hole of articles you sent me down.

  6. davisbr Says:

    Philip K Dick was one of my favorite writers back in the day. I read everything he wrote.

    …but I always remembered Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep as being kind of snarky humor …

    …so Bladerunner was barely recognizable to me as the same story for the first few viewings. I had to go back and re-read the story just to make sure lol.

    But BR remains one of the few “real science fiction” movies to my way of judging (and yes, that’s my highest praise).

    I watch it every year or two. Sometimes both versions (theatrical release & director’s cut: yes, they’re different).

  7. sharpie Says:

    Madness is quite preferrable to Obamaland.

  8. chuck Says:

    I learned to read in order to read science fiction. Until I discovered science fiction reading seemed pointless, the school books were boring and I had forgotten how to read after first grade. My tastes ran more to the sort of stories published in Astounding and Galaxy: Heinlein, Azimov, DeCamp, Bester, Hal Clement and the rest of that bunch. Dick arrived on the scene later with a different generation of writers and I never found his stories to my taste.

  9. Pat Says:

    I never much liked him back when I read a ton of scifi. Always liked Eric Frank Russell, Walter Miller. But I think “Blade Runner” is one of the greatest scifi movies of all time.

    Hal Clement, I just saw his name in a comment, one of the greats.

    It’s been awhile since I read any science fiction. I haven’t read much fiction lately, but when I have, it’s been Jane Austen.

    I spend my reading time on the web on politics 24×7. I

  10. Stan Smith Says:

    Connie Wilis. “Lincoln’s Dreams,” “Fire Watch,” “Blackout,” “All Clear,” “The Doomsday Book,” “Passage.” Many wonderful time-travel stories.

    PKD has been responsible for generating more movie versions of his stuff than almost anyone else:

    Blade Runner, Screamers, Total Recall (2x), Impostor, Minority Report, Paycheck, A Scanner Darkly, Next, The Adjustment Bureau.

    All in all, a pretty influential fella.

  11. Bill Says:

    I didn’t appreciate him until lately, and even now I find him a little too disturbing. “The Divine Invasion” tweaked me in a good way, it made me see Christianity in a new way. I also recognized his experience of “a pink laser” into his brain telling him of his son’s illness; I had experienced what seemed like a foreign invasion into my thoughts with a sudden vision of clarity about a personal matter. The revelation felt like it came from outside of me.

  12. Yancey Ward Says:

    I also discovered Dick very early- I think I was in the third or fourth grade when I found The Man in the High Castle in my school’s rather meager library. Unfortunately for me, it was only later in my life (my early 20s) that I returned to read the rest of his oevres during my first Summer in graduate school, and I think I managed to read everything he ever wrote, even the stories published under pseudonyms. I keep planning to reread some of the better novels. Maybe now I will.

  13. sergey Says:

    “Crazy” is a very ambiguous word. More precise would be a paranoid schizophrenic with bipolar psychosis and amphetamine addiction.

  14. Paul in Boston Says:

    I’ve never read PKD except for The Man In The High Castle. Maybe it’s time to try again. Second Variety sounds very much like a forerunner of the recent Battlestar Galactica series with the Cyclons substituted for the “Varieties”. Great stuff if you’ve never watched, one of the best sci-fi series ever.

  15. gs Says:

    Thors Provoni, won’t you please come home?

  16. IGotBupkis, "Faeces Evenio", Mr. Holder? Says:

    Hollywood loves Dick!

    :-D

    LOLZ — Sorry, HAD to say that…. all the more because it’s true — more than any other SF author, including Wells and Verne, he’s had novels, novellas, and shorts turned into movies, as Stan notes above — nine and counting (ten if you include the remake).

    I don’t think any other SF author is even VAGUELY close. Not even Wells or Verne.

    Also: Minor quibble, Pat:

    }}} But I think “Blade Runner” is one of the greatest scifi movies of all time.

    Blade Runner is *SF*. “Speculative Fiction”, if you want another term. “Sci Fi”, well, allow me to lapse into (someone else’s) poetry:

    “Speculative Fiction” is flawless diction.
    “SF”, too, is fine to do…
    But if “Attack of the Carrots from Mars” makes you cry…
    NEVER use the term “Sci Fi”.

    ;-)

    Dick wrote SF, no question. And the movies based on his stuff are all SF, save (perhaps) Total Recall… and even there, it’s still pretty SF-y.

    SciFi is often found on the channel of the same name, far more than you’ll find actual SF. Think “Mansquito“, when you hear the term, and you’ll generally be right on the mark.

    I’ve never read any of Dick’s stuff. I’m not against him, he’s just never been on my list. So many authors, so little time… :-)

    I did know of this — Robert Heinlein thought very well of him. as Dick describes it:

    “Several years ago, when I was ill, Heinlein offered his help, anything he could do, and we had never met; he would phone me to cheer me up and see how I was doing. He wanted to buy me an electric typewriter, God bless him—one of the few true gentlemen in this world. I don’t agree with any ideas he puts forth in his writing, but that is neither here nor there. One time when I owed the IRS a lot of money and couldn’t raise it, Heinlein loaned the money to me. I think a great deal of him and his wife; I dedicated a book to them in appreciation. Robert Heinlein is a fine-looking man, very impressive and very military in stance; you can tell he has a military background, even to the haircut. He knows I’m a flipped-out freak and still he helped me and my wife when we were in trouble. That is the best in humanity, there; that is who and what I love.”

  17. NeoConScum Says:

    Question: DO androids dream of electric sheep??

    Hey…Just asking..(-:

  18. Stan Smith Says:

    @Bupkis: Yes, I’ve heard similar stories about Heinlein from other writers as well. I believe Ted Sturgeon also has one. I think PKD’s main problem was the drugs. The story he wrote for Ellison’s Dangerous Visions, (“Faith of our Fathers”) supposedly under the influence of LSD was a prime example of muddled thinking, even though it won a Hugo. It’s one of my least favorite in his oeuvre.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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