DICK, Philip K(indred)

DICK, Philip K(indred)
(1928-1982)
   US writer, one of the two or three most important figures in 20th-century US sf and an author of general significance. He lived most of his life in California, where most of his fiction was set, either literally or by displacing sf protocols into a nightmare of the Pacific Rim. He attended college for one year at Berkeley, operated a record store and ran a classical-music programme for a local radio station; he was married five times, and had three children. From 1950 to 1970 he was intensely and constantly productive - a circumstance only posthumously made clear by the publication of several mainstream novels written during the first years of his career. The order in which he wrote his many novels is of importance in assessing their interrelation, and so the relevant dates are indicated in the discussion below.He began his career with short magazine fiction-his first published story was "Beyond Lies the Wub" (1952) - and over the next few years came a number of ironic and idiosyncratic short stories, some of which were collected in A Handful of Darkness (written 1952-4; coll 1955 UK; with 2 stories cut 1966 UK), The Variable Man and Other Stories (written 1952-4; coll 1957) and The Book of Philip K. Dick (written 1952-5; coll 1973; vt The Turning Wheel and Other Stories 1977 UK). The first three and a half volumes of THE COLLECTED STORIES OF PHILIP K. DICK are devoted to these early years. This set, which is definitive, consists of 5 separate titles, all of which suffer from a singularly unhelpful array of vts: Beyond Lies the Wub (coll 1987; vt The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford 1990); Second Variety (coll 1987; vt We Can Remember it for You Wholesale, with "Second Variety" dropped and the new title story added, 1990); The Father-Thing (coll 1987; rev with "Second Variety" added, vt Second Variety 1991); The Days of Perky Pat (coll 1987; vt The Minority Report 1991) and The Little Black Box (coll 1987; vt We Can Remember it for you Wholesale 1991 UK; vt The Eye of the Sibyl 1992 US).PKD's first novels - The Cosmic Puppets (written 1953; 1956 Satellite as "A Glass of Darkness"; exp 1957 dos) and Dr Futurity (written 1953; 1954 TWS as "Time Pawn"; exp 1959 dos) - were professional expansions of magazine tales and reveal his fingerprints to hindsight; the former interestingly returns a man to his home-town which, overlaid by manufactured illusion, serves as a battleground for two warring forces who bear the aspects of Ormazd and Ahriman (the opposing principles of Zoroastrian cosmology). PKD's PARANOIA about godlike manipulations of consensual reality marks a theme he would obsessively repeat in less crude form, just as the confusion of humans and mechanical simulacra adumbrated in the second book might be considered one particular variant of the major theme which runs right through PKD's work: the juxtaposition of two "levels of reality" - one "objectively" determined, the other a world of appearances imposed upon characters by various means and processes.His first published book, SOLAR LOTTERY (written 1953-541955 dos; rev vt World of Chance 1955 UK - each text printing some material the other excludes), has an immediate impact; it is a story belonging to, if not rather dominating, a category prevalent in the early 1950s-the tale in which future society is distorted by some particular set of idiosyncratic priorities: in this case social opportunity is governed by lottery. The plot of the novel is reminiscent of A.E. VAN VOGT, and juxtaposes political intrigues with the utopian quest of the disciples of an eccentric MESSIAH. This interest in messianic figures runs throughout PKD's work as an important subsidiary theme. There are versions of it in The World Jones Made (written 1954; 1956 dos), Vulcan's Hammer (1956 Future Science Fiction; exp 1960), and in his sf of the 1960s.But, after writing The World Jones Made, a heated authoritarian DYSTOPIA, Eye in the Sky (written 1955; 1957), which sophisticates the reality diseases of his first novel, and the routine The Man who Japed (written 1955; 1956 dos), PKD began an exceedingly ambitious - and totally unsuccessful - attempt to break into the mainstream-novel market. From this period came Mary and the Giant (written 1953-5; 1987), The Broken Bubble (written 1956; 1988), Puttering About in a Small Land (written 1957; 1985), In Milton Lumky Territory (written 1958-9; 1985), Confessions of a Crap Artist (written 1959; 1975), The Man whose Teeth were All Exactly Alike (written 1960; 1984) and Humpty Dumpty in Oakland (written 1960; 1986 UK). Graceful, wry, vulnerable, pessimistic and wise, they are novels less good only than the best of PKD's intense prime, which began immediately.Time Out of Joint (written 1958; 1959) is a bridge novel: its central character, who lives in a peaceful POCKET-UNIVERSE enclave created for him by a war-torn society so that it can exploit his precognitive talents, retains the desire and capacity to defeat illusion and regain objective reality. In later books the author became more and more fascinated by the various unreal worlds he created. In the first of these, the HUGO-winning THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE (written 1961; 1962), his best-known single book, the characters live in an ALTERNATE WORLD in which the Allies lost WWII (HITLER WINS), but one of them eventually learns from the I-Ching that the real world - manifest in the alternate through the pages of a novel - is one in which the Allies won (though it is not our world). After this major novel came, in close succession, the writing of three further books which together constitute his finest achievement. Martian Time-Slip (written 1962; 1963 Worlds of Tomorrow as "All We Marsmen"; exp 1964) creates a world irradiated by schizophrenic (PARANOIA) perceptions, and moves with frightening intensity - and hilarity - to an elegant transcendental finale. Dr Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb (written 1963; 1965), is built more intricately than any other PKD novel upon a plot-structure whose interconnections and layers themselves work as a portrayal of the world - in this case a post- HOLOCAUST USA. THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH (written 1964; 1965), more extremely than any previous PKD book, inhabits the badlands within which the real and the ersatz interpenetrate: suppliers of a hallucinogenic drug which makes life tolerable for Martian colonists face opposition from the sinister Eldritch, whose own new drug (imaged in language which recalls the Communion wafer) pre-empts reality entirely.The complexity and stature of these four books were perhaps muffled in the 1960s through their being outnumbered by the less achieved PKD works that were being composed or released at this same time - We Can Build You (written 1962; 1969 AMZ as "A. Lincoln, Simulacrum", with last chapter added by Ted WHITE; text restored 1972), The Game-Players of Titan (written 1963; 1963), The Simulacra (written 1963; 1964), Now Wait for Last Year (written 1963; 1966), Clans of the Alphane Moon (written 1963-4; 1964), The Crack in Space (written 1963-4; 1966), The Zap Gun (written 1964; 1967), The Penultimate Truth (written 1964; 1964), The Unteleported Man (written 1964-5; first half only 1966 dos; both halves rev 1983; with short inserts by John T. SLADEK rev vt Lies, Inc 1984 UK) and Counter-Clock World (written 1965; 1967). None of these stories quite jell in the end - though much happens of considerable interest - and none lack moments of extraordinary cultural and psychological insight, sometimes presented in a language singularly familiar with the large repertory of mind-states accessible through the use of drugs. It was only with a late novel, A SCANNER DARKLY (written 1973; 1977), that he would explore the more negative human implications of drug-taking, though with an almost hallucinated vehemence.In his next major novel, DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? (written 1966; 1968; vt Blade Runner 1982), filmed in 1982 by Ridley SCOTT as BLADE RUNNER, PKD effectively climaxed the series of novels in which mechanical simulacra of human beings - sometimes eminent - figure as agents of illusion. In this tale, which became much more widely known after the film, android animals are marketed to help expiate the guilt people experience because real ones have been virtually exterminated; simultaneously the protagonist must hunt down androids illegally imported from MARS. In so doing, he learns that the society's new MESSIAH may also be a fake; and that the landscapes of decay and imposture may in fact only mirror his own condition. As with so many of PKD's best books - like Martian-Time Slip, Dr Bloodmoney and THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH - the story takes place in a depleted environment, with a small population existing in a derelict world. This sense of a shrinking world intensifies in PKD's last two "untroubled" works of genius: Ubik (written 1966; 1969), which features the creation of a subjective world by a group of people killed in an accident but restored to a kind of consciousness within a preservative machine, though any final determination of what is real in the book is made superbly problematical; and A Maze of Death (written 1968; 1970), a bleak poisoned exercise in theology which has been described as his single finest work.From this point in PKD's life, metaphysical questions began to dominate. GALACTIC POT-HEALER (written 1967-8; 1969) begins almost as a parody, but soon becomes involved in questions of predetermination and the Dualistic conflict between darkness and light. Theological issues are paramount also in the novelette "Faith of Our Fathers" (1967) and in Our Friends From Frolix 8 (written 1968-9; 1970), the composition of which is illuminated by Outline for Our Friends from Frolix 8 (written 1968; 1989 chap).As the 1970s began, theology gradually segued in PKD's own life into episodes of paranoia and epiphany, climaxing in a religious experience in March 1974 which he spent much of the rest of his life analysing in the form of an "Exegesis", of which a small, integral portion has been published as Cosmogony and Cosmology (written 1978; 1987 chap UK); a large selection from this material has been assembled as In Pursuit of VALIS: Selections from the Exegesis (1991). The Selected Letters of Philip K.Dick: 1972-1973 (coll 1993), The Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick: 1974 (coll 1991) andThe Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick: 1975-76 (coll 1992) focus on the same material; further volumes are projected.And, after 20 years, the stream of novels became intermittent. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (written 1970-73; 1974), which won the JOHN W. CAMPBELL MEMORIAL AWARD, mainly retreads old ground. It was followed by a rather unsatisfactory collaboration with Roger ZELAZNY, Deus Irae (written 1964-75; fixup 1976). Radio Free Albemuth (written 1976; 1985), which began to deal in "healthy" fictional terms with the Exegesis material, was published only after PKD's death.This latter novel is, in any case, a kind of draft of the finest book of PKD's last years, VALIS (written 1978; 1981), a fragile but deeply valiant self-analysis - he is two characters in the novel, a man who is mad and a man who is not - conducted within the framework of a longing search for the structure of meaning, the Vast Active Living Intelligence System. The Divine Invasion (written 1980; 1981) and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (written 1981; 1982), which were assembled with their predecessor as The VALIS Trilogy (omni 1989), share obsessional search-patterns but little else. They were the books of a finished writer, in every sense.The earlier PKD often lost control of his material in ideative mazes and, sidetracked, was unable to find any resolution; but, when he found the tale within his grasp, he was brilliantly inventive, gaining access to imaginative realms which no other writer of sf had reached. His sympathy for the plight of his characters - often far-from-heroic, small, ordinary people trapped in difficult existential circumstances - was unfailing, and his work had a human interest absent from that of writers engaged by complexity and convolution for their own sake. Even the most perilous metaphysical terrors of his finest novels wore a complaining, vulnerable, human face. In all his work he was astonishingly intimate, self-exposed, and very dangerous. He was the funniest sf writer of his time, and perhaps the most terrifying. His dreads were our own, spoken as we could not have spoken them.
   BS/JC
   Other works: The Ganymede Takeover (written 1964-6; 1967) with Ray (R.F.) NELSON; The Preserving Machine (written 1953-66; coll 1969; with 1 story dropped 1971 UK); The Best of Philip K. Dick (written 1952-73; coll 1977) ed John BRUNNER; A Letter from Philip K. Dick (written 1960; 1983 chap); Nazism and the High Castle (written 1964?; 1964 Niekas; 1987 chap dos), published with Schizophrenia and the Book of Changes (written 1965?; 1965 Niekas; 1987 chap dos); We Can Remember it for You Wholesale (written 1965; 1966 FSF; 1990 chap), filmed as TOTAL RECALL (1990); Nick and the Glimmung (written 1966; 1988 UK), for children; Warning: We Are Your Police (written 1967; 1985 chap); The Golden Man (written 1952-73; coll 1980); The Dark-Haired Girl (written 1972-5; coll 1988), mostly nonfiction; Ubik: The Screenplay (written 1974; 1985).
   About the author: The literature on PKD is enormous and daily growing. Here are a few representative volumes: Philip K. Dick: Electric Shepherd (anth 1975) ed Bruce GILLESPIE; Science-Fiction Studies, Mar 1975 and July 1988, 2 special issues devoted to PKD; The Novels of Philip K. Dick (1984) by Kim Stanley ROBINSON; Only Apparently Real: The World of Philip K. Dick (1986) by Paul WILLIAMS; Mind in Motion: The Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick (1987) by Patricia WARRICK; To the High Castle: Philip K. Dick: A Life 1928-1962 (1989) by Gregg Rickman; Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (1989) by Lawrence Sutin, perhaps the most clear-sighted of the biographical studies; Philip Kindred Dick, Metaphysical Conjurer: A Working Bibliography (latest edn 1990) by Gordon BENSON Jr and Phil STEPHENSEN-PAYNE.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.


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