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A Scanner Darkly

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  59,076 Ratings  ·  2,048 Reviews
Bob Arctor is a junkie and a drug dealer, both using and selling the mind-altering Substance D. Fred is a law enforcement agent, tasked with bringing Bob down. It sounds like a standard case. The only problem is that Bob and Fred are the same person. Substance D doesn't just alter the mind, it splits it in two, and neither side knows what the other is doing or that it even ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published October 18th 2011 by Mariner Books (first published 1977)
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I used to wonder how Phillip K. Dick came up with all the trippy concepts in his stories until I read A Scanner Darkly. That’s when I realized that the drugs probably had a lot to do with it.

Originally published in 1977 and set in the mid ‘90s, the book tells the story of Bob Arctor. Arctor appears to be just another burned out druggie who lives with a couple of other dopers, and they spend most of their time getting high on Substance D and assorted other drugs. Bob is actually an undercover nar
Jul 29, 2012 Lyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Scanner Darkly can be described as follows: begin with Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, mix in a pinch of The Big Lebowski, a dollop of A Beautiful Mind, a scene from Crime and Punishment, the shadows and penumbra of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, whispered apprehension of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a hint of thirty year in advance anticipation of reality TV, stir in a portion of dystopian science fiction and mix it all together with Philip K. Dick’s weird genius.

Oct 18, 2012 Carol. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: drug users, acid-fantasy
I've started and restarted this review a number of times. With that in mind, I'm going to take a page from mark monday ( and share a multi-perspective review.

The .gif summation:


Recipe for A Scanner Darkly:

1. Take moderate amounts of the drug of your choice (recommend one with highly hallucinogenic and paranoiac qualities)
2. Allow to simmer while reading Less Than Zero
3. Stir in a random amount of a second drug (preferably one with potential for permanent
Jun 28, 2014 Apatt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, pre-80s-sf
My favorite PKD books tend to be those published in the 60s when he was writing wacky fun reality warping sci-fi like Ubik, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep etc. Of his 70s books that I have read Flow My Tears the Policeman Said is my favorite, whereas VALIS I could not (as yet) finish. I think the later PKD novels tend to be more serious and introspective though the weirdness is always present.

A Scanner Darkly is one of his early 70s books and I find it
Aug 28, 2013 Darwin8u rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2014
Be happy NOW, for tomorrow I will be writing.
Take the cash and let the credit GO
I'll write MY review tomorrow.
Let US all be happy.
And play AGAIN.



So, I wrote a review I was really proud of today during lunch. Four or five paragraphs. I liked it a lot. So, I was rather disheartened when my computer froze and I had to do a hard-boot to unfreeze it. Lost everything but the vague outlines of what I wrote. Even those vague outlines seem difficult to grasp right now. I'm kinda demoraliz
The weird and trippy 1970s drug scene in California ala PKD
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
If you were choosing any Hollywood actor to narrate an audiobook of PKD about dope users in Southern California in the early 1970s, who would you choose? Random House Audio got Paul Giamatti to read A Scanner Darkly, and who could better? I tried to distill the vibe of the book in the following passage I assembled on my own. Imagine him reading it if you will:

Hey man, it’s not easy for a doper tryin
Mar 25, 2013 Brad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my second time reading this wonderful novel, and I see no reason to revise any of my initial impressions. It's still very enjoyable... Again. Maybe I have a soft spot in my heart for all those wonderful novels that either deal with the nature of reality, of conscious identity, of drug use, or just plain consequences of one's actions.

Fortunately for me, I've got so many of my favorite themes in one novel. To me, it builds on the success of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and only mildly re
Jan Philipzig
Science fiction classic from 1977 that explores the complex and ultimately deadly interplay between capitalism, surveillance, mental illness and drug addiction, predicting the much more corporate controlled, disciplinary, panoptical, drugged society we live in today. It reveals the absurdity and hypocrisy of what would become known as the "war on drugs," as it uncovers the corporate roots of the whole cynical enterprise.

One of my all-time favorites.
What a great book. I had read other works by Dick (Blade Runner and Flow my Tears, The Policeman Said), which were both good, pleasant reads, nice and compact. Nothing too heavy, not overly deep, but I could sense there was more to this author than that. This book has confirmed my suspicions and exceeded my expectations, and so Philip K. Dick has managed to take me by surprise even when I was expecting to be surprised by this author at some point.

Before reading this book, I had no idea what I wa
I had a whole lot of fun reviewing this...


But there is a serious side:

In the novel, Fred’s mind and brain are regularly tested by police department psychologists, owing to the stress of both maintaining a dual identity, and taking drugs as part of his undercover life. Dick avoids the off-the-shelf cliché’s of ink-blots and electric shocks, as the author describes realistic test scenarios and recognisable neuropsychological tests. Worryingly for Fred, the
I've made it. I have finally reached the summit of the second Library of America collection of Philip K. Dick books, Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s. With my flag firmly planted atop the snow-capped peak of this book I can look back upon two weeks of paranoia, time travel, authoritarian governments and more experimental drugs than you can find outside of a Merck testing lab, with the self-satisfied air of a man who has plumbed the depths of speed-induced psychosis and made it through the othe ...more
Aug 15, 2007 Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Druggies, Friends of Druggies, PKD fans, cyberpunk fans
In this novel there are two types of people, those who are addicted to substance D, and those who haven't tried it yet. Substance D is the ultimate high, and highly addictive. This book is the story of Fred, the narcotics agent, and Bob Arctor, the substance D dealer, who he is investigating. Of course, Fred and Bob Arctor are one person who is having his personality split apart by copious abuse of substance D.

This book is simultaneously hilarious and heart breaking and it is a really excellent
Eddie Watkins
Jul 21, 2008 Eddie Watkins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
I watched the Richard Linklater film version of this again over the weekend, and besides confirming that it's my favorite Dick adaptation it also reminded me how much I love the book. Besides being a perfect exemplification of out-there paranoia (the circular structure really turns the screw on this), like almost every book of his it's also firmly and tangibly rooted in the things and relationships of mundane daily life. This book gives me a paranoia contact high.
David "proud Gleeman in Branwen's adventuring party"
A dark, haunting masterpiece. A Scanner Darkly isn't just a great book, it's an IMPORTANT book!

Phillip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly follows the journey of Bob Arctor, an undercover police officer (code-named "Fred") trying to ingratiate himself into the drug culture in an attempt to bring down the suppliers of Substance D, a highly addictive mind-altering drug that can eventually cause permanent brain damage. Tragically, Arctor himself becomes an addict, first only taking Substance D to earn the tr
Jan 25, 2008 Will rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I like P.K. Dick, but this just plain sucked.

No narrative tension, the writing is awful (I would quote some of it as proof, but I already got rid of my copy), and the most potentially exciting elements of the book (drug subculture and its lingo and take on friendship, multiple identities) are handled with the zest and elegance of a cut-rate rectal exam. Does that analogy even make sense? I don't think so, but neither did this book.

I've heard this was the first book he wrote after he kicked drug
3.5 stars. One of Dick's best novels, this semi autobiographical novel is masterful in its description of drug use and the effect it has on the people taking them. The dialogue between the characters is often very funny and I would find myself laughing at their nonsensical conversations until I remembered that the reason for the funny dialogue was that these people were so messed up on "substance D" that they had become completely psychotic. No one other then PKD could have written this novel an ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes

Edit: November, 2016 (I read this four years ago)

This novel is an expose of the world of druggies. The science fiction elements are simply a platform PKD uses to write a somewhat polemical novel about the destruction of the body and brain from a hypothetical drug which happens to mirror actual drug destruction from addictions.

I am not a fan of consistent constant use of illegal drugs or pain killers, although I am not a teetotaler or against occasional recreational use. I grew up in an abusive
One of the first things I noticed about this book was how quickly I was drawn into this world. Set in 1994 unless you were told or already knew then I highly doubt you'd pick that it was written in 1977. It could have been set today and still I would have believed it. Philip K. Dick was always well ahead of his time and his writing holds up as well now as it did when first written.

This book delves into the murky world of psychedelic drugs and the police trying to stop it but not in a typical cri
The authors note at the end of the novel is really powerful. In it PKD talks about how many people play with drugs and end up paying too high a price for the choice. It's well said and resonates deeply in the context of just having finished this novel. Even if you don't read this, pick it up in a book store and read the authors note at the end. It gives a perspective on drug use that most people haven't considered.

The story itself is fantastically written and wonderfully weird in true PKD style
Feb 19, 2017 Saša rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sjajan sf/cyber triler, prava uzivancija. Preporuka. Mada ne za svakog. :)
May 25, 2012 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So here I thought I was diving into one of the Sci-Fi classics, and I ended up in what seemed like a wild, trippy, R-rated version of That '70's Show. Except, that's not it either. It was a trip, certainly. "What a long strange trip it's been." - The Grateful Dead.

Well, even though I was lost for much of it, I rode with the trip and didn't worry too much about piecing together a coherent plot. I think the audiobook narration helped quite a bit with that; I don't know that I would have enjoyed th
Sean Wilson
Jul 03, 2014 Sean Wilson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
“Everything in life is just for a while.”

Wow. I never thought a Philip K. Dick novel could be so achingly sad. As wonderfully philosophical, paranoid and imaginative as it is, it’s one of the saddest novels you’ll read from the author.

Dick plays down the science fiction to the point where it is grounded in reality. Even the scramble suit sounds convincing, given the masterful technological description by Dick. The California setting is Orwellian due to the character’s living in a world where
Dec 26, 2015 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy-horror, scifi
Substance D (for Death) is a killer. Three men -- Bob Arctor, Jim Barris, and Ernie Luckman -- are roommates in Southern California's suburban Orange County. They are all on drugs, including Arctor, who is also a drug enforcement cop (known as Fred) disguised in a scattersuit that hides his identity.

The trouble is: The drugs have gotten to Arctor to such an extent that he is investigating himself not knowing that the hemispheres of his brain have led to the fragmentation of his identity.

For the
Jun 25, 2013 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, audiobook
This is a very funny book, and simultaneously quite depressing. It is about an undercover narcotics agent who searches for the terrible drug named "Substance D". The drug has the effect of severing the connection between the two brain hemispheres. The victim suffers disorientation, then a split identity, and permanent brain damage.

While Philip Dick is known for his science fiction, this is definitely a different genre entirely. It is really about a drug culture in Los Angeles in the 1970's. The
Matthew Vaughn
I've read a few PKD books and stories over the years and I must say this is now my favorite of his. This was a very good read, dark with interesting characters and nice twists. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Paul Giamatti, and he did a superb job.
Police informant in a dystopic future America begins to fracture his consciousness as he takes increasing quantities of drugs to maintain his cover.

Hm. This is a confused, rather disarticulated book, so I have no problem talking about it in the same manner:

• Like a lot of dystopic futures, this one feels incredibly dated. Dystopias are projected anxieties, and this particular projection of America rapidly losing the drug war is so specific to Dick's personal trauma, and to a specific moment in A
Nov 05, 2015 Chiara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A scanner darkly (o Un oscuro scrutare, come è noto in Italia, anche se personalmente trovo che il titolo avrebbero dovuto lasciarlo in originale, come per il caso di Trainspotting, percitarne uno a caso), viene definito da Wikipedia come uno tra i più bei romanzi trattanti la tossicodipendenza e, secondo me, in questo caso si pecca per difetto. QUESTO LIBRO E' UN CAPOLAVORO.

Dick attraverso l'inchiostro racconta il dramma di un'intera società - comprendente anche lui - che non ha saputo "smetter
Aug 03, 2016 Annie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: let-s-get-high
This is one of the rare occasions I've seen the movie before I read the book (four years previous, in fact). Maybe it's because my auditory and image-based processing sucks and I can barely follow the simplest of movie plots without checking out, but I was extremely pleasantly surprised by the book version.

Admittedly, it's a fairly chaotic plot, but I just remember a blur of random and unattached tedium in the movie (blahblahblah I know it's a Linklater movie and I'm supposed to like it. Nothin
Jun 05, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
Die beiden ersten Romane PKDs, bevor er sich dem vielleicht kommerziellsten Genre der 50er Jahre zuwandte, waren „Gesellschaftsromane“, und mit dem SCANNER verlässt er gegen Ende seiner Karriere nochmals seinen über die Jahrzehnte bevorzugten Tummelplatz und kommt hier weitestgehend ohne die genretypischen SF-Zutaten aus.
Hier begegnet uns der amerikanische Albtraum in Reinkultur als eine Nation, in der Konsum die oberste Bürgerpflicht ist und die Bürger vom Staat so weit nur irgend möglich über
Sarah Anne
I was truly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. The Author's Note at the end was a bit of a shock, though. Truly a fascinating book.
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Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago in 1928 and lived most of his life in California. In 1952, he began writing professionally and proceeded to write numerous novels and short-story collections. He won the Hugo Award for the best novel in 1962 for The Man in the High Castle and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year in 1974 for Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. Philip K. Di ...more
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“Everything in life is just for a while.” 371 likes
“Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.” 129 likes
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