Mrs. Sandmich bought me a Kobo at the going-out-of-business sale at Borders. I was rather unenthused, until I got the idea that my primary ‘shopping’ site for intellectual content, PirateBay.org, might have some content that I could put onto the device. It wasn’t long before I had sucked down my primary target, a handful of Phillip K. Dick novels.
This post has actually been sitting in the ol’ draft bin for quite some time and the Kobo has been dead for more than a year now at this point, but since a buddy of mine expressed a possible interest in some PKD novels, I figured I’d finally wrap this thing up. Below is are my brief thoughts on various PKD novels, but I should point out that there are many that I have not read, and will probably not get around to reading.
- The Simulcara. John Derbyshire had once written that short stories are the natural format for sci-fi which I’ve found to be true. Coming up with one clever idea is hard enough, but coming up with enough clever ideas to pad out a whole novel is a bit of a challenge. In this effort Dick gets around the restrictions by basically going ‘Pulp Fiction’ and cramming the novel with a bunch of short stories that eventually intertwine. The only downside is the ridiculous number of characters, but it is one of the few PKD novels that doesn’t go off the rails into la-la land towards the end. It’s interesting too in that it pokes fun at various tropes that he uses in his other novels.
- Lies, Inc. This was a particularly egregious example of a PKD book straying far ‘off the plantation’ since it spends basically the back half of the book leaving the reader ungrounded to anything that happened earlier. Late in the book Dick uses a literary device to provide a back story to the current events which in themselves make little sense, but by then it’s too late. Right when the rubber was hitting the road I turned to the next chapter hoping to see the novel finally form into some sort of coherent mess only to see “About Phillip K. Dick”. Huh? It turns out the novel was originally presented as two parts and then a bunch of extraneous material that was near and dear to Dick was stuffed in as well. Needless to say, it reads exactly as it sounds. One interesting tidbit was that a pinch hitting author had to be brought in for one of the original reissues because some of the original pages were missing (I get the impression that the full version of the novel was the last thing published with Dick’s name on it); that poor dude, it’d be like trying to graft a outboard boat motor onto a motorcycle.
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (i.e. Blade Runner). I’d once heard that if anyone had read the novel, that they would know that Decker in Blade Runner was a replicant. I can firmly say that anyone who says that is full of themselves. By the end of the novel it’s gets hard to tell if Decker even actually exists, let alone if he’s a replicant.
- Our Friends from Folix 8. While The Simulcara may be my favorite of the bunch, I have a soft spot for this one even though it’s chock full of typical PKD devices. Since the story revolves around efforts to bring down a corrupt government run by tyrannical, above-the-law elites, you may see why it has appeal to me.
- A Scanner Darkly. A cautionary tale against drug abuse, this story is basically a retelling of some of PKD’s own experiences with a slightly futuristic spin. The last few overly introspective chapters should have been trimmed down though; I found myself skipping whole paragraphs lest I fall asleep while reading it. (The movie adaptation is notable for making the mistake of sticking very close to the text of the novel).
- Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said. Essentially a tear down on celebrity status, the few good sci-fi ideas (different grades of genetically engineered humans, drugs which allow a person to bend reality) sadly are only briefly touched upon.
- The Crack in Space. One of his better efforts at time travel/alternate reality stories.
- The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. There was a lot to like in this story about an intergalactic villain (Eldritch) and not very altruistic businessman’s efforts to thwart him; but by the end I couldn’t help but think that the story might have been better told by someone else.
- Time out of Joint. A good example of PKD’s novels which view the future from a 50’s “present” and follows a man who is trying to unravel a world in which he may be being manipulated. This novel’s most notable point is that since a lot of PKD novels become unglued towards the end, the ending of this novel is pretty much a mystery right up until the end.
- Ubik. Another novel where PKD uses a futuristic literary device to allow him to write about a past about which he is more familiar. Although by this point, nonsensical story lines had become familiar to me in PKD’s novels, this one went on for far too long and it probably should have been edited down to a short story.
- The Man in the High Castle. A clever story that revolves around an alternate history where the U.S. never entered WWII and the Axis powers are hunting down a man who wrote a story about an alternate history where the Americans did enter WWII and the Axis powers lost. It’s a very good take-down of this Pat Buchanan novel, though written several decades earlier. It must be said though, that the novel really isn’t sci-fi.
Notable short stories:
- Minority Report. It’s interesting that the awful movie reversed the plot of this great conservative law and order story into a liberal mess of ‘release all prisoners now’ gobbledygook.
- Pay Check. John Woo directed the movie which is about the only thing that I can fault it for. This adaptation sticks pretty close to the excellent short story and actually improves upon it.
- We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (i.e. Total Recall). The short story is good (and rather short for even a short story), but if someone didn’t know that the movies were based off of it, only the most careful reading would reveal that fact.
A final note, although some may find PKD tropes (perverted old men, mind altering drug use, poor editing, etc.) annoying, none is worse than when he goes on page-long rants in German. If you encounter these, just skip them as he rarely explains what it means; I guess he expects his readers to be fluent in it.