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by Bamber Gascoigne

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Philip K(indred) Dick (1928-1982)


American science fiction writer, whose imaginative treatment of clichés of the genre – time travel, the existence of alternative worlds – has influenced deeply popular culture. For most of his career, Dick lived in poverty, although he was prolific and wrote 112 short stories and over 30 novels. Things got even worse when he ruined his health by heavy use of psychedelics. In March 1974 the writer claimed to have been contacted by an extraterrestrial force, a "beam of pink light" theoretically originating from a satellite he came to call VALIS: Vast Active Living Intelligence System.

"He would die, and presently they would realize their mistake. Perhaps at some other time, when there was no war, men might not act this way, hurrying an individual to his death because they were afraid. Everyone was frightened, everyone was willing to sacrifice the individual because of the group fear." (from the short story 'Imposter')

Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Joseph Edgar Dick, a Federal Government employee, and Dorothy Kindred. His twin sister Jane died just a few weeks after the birth, and his parents divorced when he was four. The family moved to California when he was young. He attended Berkeley High School and studied from 1945 to 1946 at the University of California at Berkeley. He operated a record store and worked as a disk jockey for the KSMO radio station. During these years Dick began to write science fiction stories and sold his first tale in 1952 to Planet Stories. One of Dick's tales from this period, 'Paycheck', was filmed in 2003 by John Woo, starring Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman. Dick also composed over half-a-dozen mainstream novels without much success. Frustrated by this inattention he turned to science fiction, a genre which he found ideal for his philosophical speculations.

"Hendricks glanced down. The boy was strange, saying very little. Withdrawn. But that was the way they were, the children who had survived. Quiet. Stoic. A strange kind of fatalism gripped them. Nothing came as a surprise. They accepted anything that came along. There was no longer any normal, any natural course of things, moral or physical, for them to expect. Custom, habit, all the determining forces of learning were gone; only brute experience remained." (from the short story 'Second Variety', 1953)

At the age of 27, Dick finally found a publisher. Between the years 1955 and 1970 he wrote an average of two paperback novels a year and more than one hundred short stories in such magazines as Galaxy, Amazing, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Worlds of If. Among his publishers was Ace Books. However, he also had time to romantic affairs, he read books from the Bhagavad-Gita to Carl Jung, and spent time in the company of beatniks and hippies. Dick's first published novel was Solar Lottery (1955). It was set on an Earth of the twenty-third century where democracy is replaced by lottery which decides people's place in society. Eventually lottery is revealed as a front for secret rulers of the world. With his second wife, Kleo, he moved to west Marin , where he met Anne Rubenstein, the widow of a San Francisco poet. They married in 1959 and divorced five years later. However, during this period Dick wrote some of his best novels. "He was quite different with each person," Anne R. Dick recalled in an interview. "He had this enormous gift of empathy, and he used it to woo and please and control."

As a writer Dick gained first recognition with The Man in the High Castle (1962), an alternate universe story and a novel within the novel, where Germany and Japan have won the World War II and jointly occupy the United States. A disillusioned writer, Hawthorne Abendse, has produced a novel speculating what would happen if the Allies had won the war. I-Ching exists in this reality, too, and reveals that it is not the real world. Mr Tagomi of the Japanese Trade Mission, consults his I Ching constantly, and is transported into our reality. Martian Time-Slip (1964) was set in forgotten Mars, where scarce water supplies are controlled by the head of the plumbers' union. The Bleekmen are hated aliens, with whom the colonists try to live alongside. An autistic Martian boy, Manfered Steiner, controls the future, he can "make it come out the worst possible way because that's what seems natural to him, that's how he sees reality."

The characters of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965) are at the mercy of a cruel demiurge. A man returns from a distant galaxy with a new drug, Chew-Z, that allows people to slip into vast virtual-reality worlds of their own devising. But there are side effects with the drug: Paul Eldritch can enter into everyone's private reality. Also another drug, Can-D, is in in wide use, it gives dreams of world where all is permitted. At the end of the novel Dick made his own choice: "I saw enough in the future not to ever give up, even if I'm the only one who doesn't succumb, who's still keeping the old way alive, the pre-Palmer Eldritch way. It's nothing more than faith in powers implanted in me from the start which I can – in the end – draw on and beat him with." Ubik (1969) the dead come back to invade the realities of the living. Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (1974) was also adapted into stage by Linda Hartinian in New York and won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. A Scanner Darkly (1977) followed the decline of a high-tech undercover agent, Bob Arctor, and drew a disillusioned picture of a future drug culture. At the centre of the story is a highly volatile drug called Substance D – or Death.

Most of Dick's fiction was set in California. He draw ideas from Buddhism, Kabbalism, Gnosticism, Taoism, used the typical science fiction elements with robots, space ships, ESP, and extraterrestrials. Often the viewpoint switches between several characters. In his article 'Man, Android and Machine' Dick wrote about sly and cruel creatures among us, whose "handshake is the grip of death, and their smile has the coldness of the grave." (in Science Fiction at Large, ed. by Peter Nicholls, 1976) With his paranoid view of reality, Dick's work has revealed the threads behind technological inventions.

Dick's fear of political or social repression was not mere illusion: the writer was under scrutiny by the FBI and Air Force intelligence for his connection to the American Communist party and his opposition to the Vietnam War. Several of his novels dealt with theme of alternate world and manipulation of the reality. In the late 1960s and especially 1970s the drug aspect and theology began to dominate the narration. After a break-in at his house in San Rafael, Dick went to Vancouver for a period. Dick began to believe in 1974 that inside him was a part a reborn ancient personage, Simon Magus, the Gnostic. Dick was married five times and had three children. His papers are collected at the California State University in Fullerton. Dick's posthumous reputation has not shown signs of decline.

The traumatic encounter with the 'beam of pink light', led Dick to write a diary known as the 'Exegesis'. He continued his self-examination in the trilogy Valis (1981), an analysis of a man who is mad and another who is not, The Divine Invasion (1981), and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982). Dick died of a stroke on March 2, 1982, just a few months before the film Blade Runner, based on his Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), was released. The blockbuster film Total Recal from 1990 was based on the story 'We Can Remember It for You Wholesale' and also led to a cable TV series. In the story many humans have left the planet. Rick Deckard hunts androids who have been imported to the planet from Mars. His chief wish to be able to afford to purchase and care for an artificial sheep.

"For Dick, the real question was not whether mankind's creations would turn against us. He seems to have believed that the existence of nuclear weapons proved they already had. Most of his novels take place in a world rising out of the ashes of nuclear war. His main fascination was the likelihood that technology would lead to the disappearance of the very frontier between what mankind creates and what mankind is." (Richard Bernstein in The New York Times, November 3, 1991)

Blade Runner was directed by Ridley Scott, starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauger, and Daryl Hannah. Scott had achieved fame with Alien (1979) and stated before his new project that he had not read the novel. Dick was afraid that the director would make a movie with the spirit of "eat lead, robot!" in which he was wrong in this particular case. Dick did not expect much from Hollywood and told in an interview in 1980: "You would have to kill me and prop me up in the seat of my car with a smile printed on my face to get me to go near Hollywood." Blade Runner was set in Los Angeles AD 2019, where a licenced-to-kill policeman tracks down and destroys a group of intelligent robots who have returned to Earth. But is the police also an android? The film did not do well at the box office, and the studio insisted on a happy ending. Directors original cut, which different ending and without much voice-over narration, was released in 1991. Dick's novel covers one "marathon" day in the life of Rick Deckard. The second plot, removed from the film, deals with John Isidore, who seeks a messiah called Mercer and falls in love with an outlaw android. In wilderness with Mercer Deckard learns to love an electronic toad, but Isidore learns that Mercer is a fraud.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was Philip K. Dick's reworking of his at that time unpublished novel, We Can Built You (1972), about a schizophrenic woman who builds androids because they, like herself, cannot feel love or empathy... Patricia Warrick observed that the novel "evolved from his insight that a man takes on the very qualities of the evil he fears and hates when he goes to war with his enemy to destroy the evil. When man fights and kills, he destroys himself spiritually."' (from Novels into Film by John C. Tibbets and James M. Welsh, 1999) Other film adaptations include Confessions d'un Barjo (1993), dir. by Jerome Bolvin, Screamers (1995), directed by by Chriastian Duduay, based on the short story 'Second Variety', Impostor (2002), dir. by Gary Fleder, starring Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, Vincent D'onofrio, and Minority Report (2002), directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise. Spielberg's intelligent adaptation of Dick's short story with the same title from 1956 dealt with the author's favorite themes – free will and the nature of reality. Cruise plays John Anderton, a member of an élite squad known as Pre-Crime, which tries to prevent murders by arresting people before they commit the crime. Anderton lives a double-life and due his family tragedy he is soon hunted as a potential murderer.

For further reading: Philip K. Dick, Electric Shepherd, ed. by B. Gillespie (1975); PKD: A Philip K. Dick Bibliography by D. Levack (1981); Philip K. Dick, ed. by J.D. Olander and M.H. Greenberg (1983): Philip K. Dick: In His Own Words by G. Rickmann (1983); The Novels of Philip K. Dick by Kim Stanley Robinson (1984); Only Apparently Real by Paul Williams (1986); Mind in Motion by Patricia Warrick (1987); To the High Castle by Gregg Rickmann (1989); Divine Invasions by Lawrence Sutin (1989); Philip Kindred Dick, Metaphysical Conjurer: A Working Bibliography by Gordon Benson (1990-); Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Elerctric Sheep?, ed. by Judith B. Kerman (1991); Trillion Year of Spree by Brian Aldiss & David Wingrove (2001); The Search for Philip K. Dick by Anne R. Dick (2010) - Suom.: Kirjailijalta on myös suomennettu mm. Jumalan kahdeksan sormea ja Hämärän vartija - Note: Michael Bishop's novel The Secret Ascension: Philip K. Dick Is Dead, Alas is a hommage to the author. 

Selected bibliography:

  • 'Second Variety,' 1953
    - Film: Screamers (1995), dir. by Chriastian Duduay, starring Peter Weller, Roy Dupuis, Jennifer Rubin
  • 'Paycheck,' 1953
    - Film: Paycheck (2003), dir. by John Woo, starring Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman, Aaron Eckhart
  • 'Impostor,' 1953
    - Film: Impostor (2002), dir. Gary Fleder, starring Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tony Shalhoub
  • 'The Cosmic Poachers,' 1953 (aka Burglar)
    - Silmukka: kuunnelma kapteeni Shuren matkoista menneisyyteen (radio play, translated into Finnish by Atro Lahtela, 1995)
  • 'The Commuter,' 1953
    - Kotimatka: kuunnelma Bobista, Laurasta ja ajan esiin tunkemasta Macondosta (radio play, translated into Finnish by Atro Lahtela, 1995)
  • 'The King of the Elves,' 1953 (aka Shadrach Jones and the Elves)
    - Film: King of Elves (2012), prod. Electric Shepherd Productions, Walt Disney Animation Studios, dir. Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker
  • 'Adjustment Team,' 1954
    - Film: Adjustment Team (2010), prod. Electric Shepherd Productions, Media Rights Capital, Universal Pictures, dir. George Nolfi, starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt
  • 'The World She Wanted,' 1954
    - Mun maailma: kuunnelma Allisonista ottamassa Larryn maailma hallintaansa (radio play, translated into Finnish by Atro Lahtela, 1995)
  • 'Sales Pitch,' 1954
    - Myyntitykki: kuunnelma (radio play, translated into Finnish by Atro Lahtela, 1995)
  • Handfull of Darkness, 1955
  • Solar Lottery / World of Change, 1955
  • The World Jones Made, 1956
    - Maailma jonka Jones teki (transl. into Finnish by Jorma-Veikko Sappinen, 1991)
  • 'The Minority Report,' 1956
    - Film 2002, dir. Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow, Samantha Morton, Kathryn Morris, Steve Harris
  • The Man Who Japed, 1956
  • Eye in the Sky, 1956
    - Jumalan kahdeksan sormea (transl. into Finnish by Pekka Markkula, 1980)
  • The Variable Man, 1957
  • The Cosmic Puppets, 1957
  • Time Out of Joint, 1959
    - On aika sijoiltaan (transl. into Finnish by J. Pekka Mäkelä, 1996)
  • 'Recall Mechanism,' 1959
    - Mahdoton terapia: kuunnelma Paul Sharpia riivaavasta korkean paikan kammosta (radio play, translated into Finnish by Atro Lahtela, 1995)
  • Dr. Futurity, 1960
  • Vulcan's Hammer, 1960
  • The Man in the High Castle, 1962
    - Oraakkelin kirja (transl. into Finnish by Matti Rosvall, 1992)
  • The Man in the High Castle, 1963
  • Martian Time Slip, 1964
    - Mars on meidän (transl. into Finnish by Matti Rosvall, 1993)
  • The Simulacra, 1964
    - Simulantit (transl. into Finnish by J. Pekka Mäkelä, 1999)
  • The Penultimate Truth, 1964
  • Clans of the Alphane Moon, 1964
    - Alfan kuun klaanit (transl. into Finnish by J. Pekka Mäkelä, 2005)
  • TThe Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, 1965
    - Palmer Eldrich - kolmesti merkitty mies 1965 (transl. into Finnish by Arvi Tamminen, 2002)
  • Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb, 1965
    - Tohtori Veriraha (transl. into Finnish by J. Pekka Mäkelä, 2010)
  • 'We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,' 1966
    - Filmed as Total Recall (1990), dir. by Paul Verhoeven, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone
  • The Crack in Space (Cantata-140), 1966
  • Now Wait for Last Year, 1966
    - Varro vain viime vuotta (transl. into Finnish by J. Pekka Mäkelä, 2001)
  • The Unteleported Man / Lies, Inc., 1966
    - Lies Inc. (transl. into Finnishy by Arvi Tamminen, 1995)
  • Counter-Clock World, 1967
    - Haudasta kohtuun (transl. into Finnish by by J. Pekka Mäkelä, 1997)
  • The Zap Gun, 1967
  • The Ganymede Takeover, 1967
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, 1968 (also published as Blade Runner in 1982)
    - Palkkionmetsästäjä (transl. into Finnish by Kari Nenonen, 1989)
    - Films: Blade Runner (1982), dir. by Ridley Scott, adapted by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples; Blade Runner: The Director's Cut (1992), dir. by Ridley Scott, adapted by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples
  • The Preserving Machine, 1969
  • Ubik, 1969
    - Ubik (transl. into Finnish by Matti Rosvall, 1994)
  • Galactic Pot-Healer, 1969
    - Ruukunkorjaaja (transl. into Finnish by J. Pekka Mäkelä, 2003)
  • A Maze of Death, 1970
  • Our Friends from Frolix 8, 1970
  • The Philip K. Dick Omnibus, 1970
  • We Can Built You, 1972
    - Rakennamme sinut (transl. into Finnish by J. Pekka Mäkelä, 1998)
  • The Book of Philip K. Dick / The Turning Wheel and Other Stories, 1973
  • Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, 1974
    - Anna kyynelten tulla, pyysi poliisi (transl. into Finnish by Matti Rosvall, 1993)
  • Deus Irae, 1976 (with Roger Zelazny)
  • A Scanner Darkly, 1977
    - Hämärän vartija (transl. into Finnish by Markku Salo, 1990)
    - Film in 2006, dir. by Richard Linklater, starring Keanu Reeves, Mitch Baker, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson
  • The Best of Philip K. Dick, 1977
  • Confessions of a Crap Artist, 1978
    - Film: Confessions d'un Barjo (1992), dir. by Jerome Bolvin, starring: Anne Brochet, Richard Bohringer, Hippolyte Girardot
  • The Golden Man, 1980
  • Valis, 1981
    - Valis transl. into Finnish by Matti Rosvall, 1995)
  • The Divine Invasion, 1981
    - Jumalan pojan paluu (transl. into Finnish by J. Pekka Mäkelä, 2004)
  • The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, 1982
    - Timothy Archerin sielunvaellus (transl. into Finnish by J. Pekka Mäkelä, 1997)
  • Valis Regained, 1982 (unfinished)
  • The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, 1984
  • Robots, Androids, and Mechanical Oddities: The Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick, 1985
  • I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon, 1985
  • Radio Free Albemuth, 1985
  • In Milton Lumky Territory, 1985
  • Warning: We Are Your Police, 1985
  • Puttering About in a Small Land, 1985
  • Humpty Dumpty in Oakland, 1986
  • The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick Volume 1, 1987
    - Mahdoton planeetta (transl. into Finnish by Kristiina Drews, 1990)
  • Mary and the Giant, 1987
  • Nazism and The High Castle, 1987
  • Schizophrenia and the Book of Changes, 1987 (ed. Paul Williams)
  • Beyond Lies the Wub, 1987
  • Second Variety, 1987 (includes the short story 'Second Variety')
  • The Father-Thing, 1987
  • The Days of Perky Pat, 1987
  • The Little Black Box, 1987
  • The Broken Bubble, 1988
  • Nick and the Glimmung, 1988
  • The Dark Haired Girl, 1988
  • The Valis Trilogy, 1989
  • We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, 1990
  • Paycheck and 24 Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick, 2003
  • The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, 1-2, 2011-2012 (edited by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem)

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