Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Big Dick

As many of you know from my book reviews, I love the work of the mad literary genius Philip Kindred Dick (1928-1982). And I’m glad to see that he’s finally receiving some of the recognition denied him during his short and troubled life. Interest in his work was most recently reinvigorated by Richard Linklater’s rotorscoped version of Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, which was released last year to great acclaim. Dick spoke about the paranoia that fuels this novel back in 1997 (see the video here).

In the London Times recently, American-born science-fiction writer Lisa Tuttle (The Silver Bough), presently living in Scotland, offered up a retrospective on Dick’s fiction. Her article is particularly insightful, because she knew Dick. As Tuttle writes:
Dick’s great subject was the nature of reality, and how it is shaped by human consciousness. When he began writing in the early 1950s, his obsessions were too weird for main-stream fiction. He was ahead of his time. The Man in the High Castle, his brilliant evocation of a world in which the Allies had lost the Second World War, was appreciated by few outside the world of sci-fi when it appeared in 1962; 30 years later Robert Harris had a bestseller, Fatherland, with a similar theme.

When I met Phil Dick in the spring of 1974, he was living in a small, rented apartment in Fullerton, California, with his fifth wife and their baby, desperately broke and worried that the Internal Revenue Service was out to get him.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said -- his 28th novel -- had just been published to great acclaim, he was one of the greatest science-fiction writers alive, yet he had no money.

This was a shock. His books had shown me that science-fiction could explore inner space just as well as outer, and had made me determined to write it myself. But the life of the man himself could have been a warning against trying to make a living at it.

Things were about to change, however. Dick’s reputation began to spread out beyond his loyal fans in the U.S. and France after interviews in
Rolling Stone and The New Yorker.

John Lennon had read
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (one of Dick’s best, and quite possibly the weirdest book yet written) and wanted to make a film of it. Perhaps, in some alternate universe, Lennon survived to do that, but in our world the big breakthrough was Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie Blade Runner, based on one of Dick’s most popular novels, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
You can read Tuttle’s entire article here.

And speaking of Blade Runner, the excellent documentary The Edge of Blade Runner, from the UK’s Channel 4, is available in full now from Google Video and provides wonderful insight into the adaptation of Dick’s novel to screen. Click here to watch. If you want to learn more about Philip K. Dick, click here to see a BBC Arena documentary, which is again archived at Google Video.


Blogger David Isaak said...

Let me recommend French novelist Emmanuel Carrere's recent biography of Dick-- "I Am Alive and You Are Dead: The Strange Life and Times of Philip K. Dick." Quite a read, and written in a unique style.

Odd how the French seem to understand our most tortured speculative writers. They were the first to declare Poe's genius, and recently Michel Houellebecq (of all people) wrote a fascinating analysis of HP Lovecraft ("HP Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life").

Friday, March 16, 2007 at 11:34:00 AM PDT  

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