A Scanner Darkly is a very adult book. Look at the early Philip K Dick works, favourites like Ubik, Time Out of Joint, Dr Blood Money, and Solar Lotte...moreA Scanner Darkly is a very adult book. Look at the early Philip K Dick works, favourites like Ubik, Time Out of Joint, Dr Blood Money, and Solar Lottery - yeah they’re a bit weird and off-kilter from the ‘normal’ sci-fi space romp or techno threat but they’re within legal parameters for books or serials of that era. They are full of wonderful enlightenment in the form of novel ideas but they don’t cut to the quick - some of the concepts and theories and linear extrapolations in these earlier novels are down right embarrassing. But Philip K. Dick has a unique charm, a singular ability - you can look away.
Yes, Philip K. Dick makes you look away - look away from normality, look away from what you know to be the truth. It’s the ultimate suspension of disbelief trip - for in a suspension of disbelief con to work things have to stay mostly normal and you throw a narrative or psychological spanner in the works on top of that. Dick doesn’t even bother with the spanner; he starts off with a handful of blue flowers on the cover of this supposed detective novel.
In many ways, A Scanner Darkly felt early on like a Blade Runner - but A Scanner Darkly was written long before Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and there was none of the ‘was-he or wasn’t-he a replicant’ really played out in the screenplay, so scratch that - it’s just a bizarre coincidence then? Dick teaches us that nothing is a coincidence, nothing happens by pure chance, we are all part of a wonderful psychedelic animal whose every move is pre-deterministic and set in stone. We can’t escape what we allow ourselves to become.
A Scanner Darkly, Pure Dialogue, Pure Set Piece, Pure Routine Philip K Dick’s, A Scanner Darkly is pure dialogue. Pure set piece. Pure routine. This ‘great’ book is the writer’s equivalent of William S. Burroughs’ Junky - simple, clean, straight to the point descriptions about what it’s like to be addicted to some drug (in this case Substance D or ‘Death’ to give it its street name). Robert Arctor lives in this rundown shit-hole with his drug buddies Luckman and Barris. There’s this girl in his life and the authorities are scoping his house. Arctor is part of his own investigation. Of course, there’s a futuristic shimmer of 3D holographic scanners and the identity shrouding scramble suits but these are just a gloss. The book is about drugs and what they do to both sides of the brain, how they tear the man from his chemicals.
I was wondering half way through the book if Hank (Arctor’s bureau boss) was one of the housemates. Whether they were all in on it. That’s how the book makes you feel - it’s sort of like a detective novel but not in the normal sense - you’re not reading who killed who; you’re reading who’s pretending to be who, whose screwing with who’s head and why you can still get it all wrong if you don’t have enough information to process the truth.
You can’t know the truth. The truth is too big; too corporate.
Classic Dick - but the best thing about this book is that it’s funny. All the way through. The trippy banter between the junk buddies is absolutely the best I’ve ever read in a book before. It’s funny. It’s skittish. It’s like you were really there. But in a totally made up world. The world inside Dick’s brain. There’s lots of foul language and it always seems appropriate. It has just the right cadence in the orchestra of the narrative’s exposition. You go, ‘Yeah, that’ll be how junkies talk. They’re real funny. Dumb-asses.’ But you’ll love them. You’ll hope Arctor gets it right, figures it out before it’s too late.
CURRENTLY RE-READING VALIS, but this was my initial (vicious, or empathy-free) review.
"It is about madness, pain, deception, death, obsessive delusory...moreCURRENTLY RE-READING VALIS, but this was my initial (vicious, or empathy-free) review.
"It is about madness, pain, deception, death, obsessive delusory states of mind, cruelty, solitude, imprisonment, and it is a joy to read." quotes The Washington Post on the cover of VALIS. One can only wonder which of Philip K. Dick's books this review blurb was borrowed from. Horselover Fat (a kinky replicant of Philip K. Dick's name) is having woman trouble. He is having money trouble. He is having severe mental health trouble; not a surprise with all the drugs he's swallowing. Sounds like the life of a self-disrespecting writer on planet Earth. But there's a difference. Fat has 'seen the light'. Fat has found God. Or rather God has found Horselover Fat - in the form of a blinding bright pink laser beam of cosmic information. Sounds like a good premise for a good book, right?
VALIS hails from the critically-acclaimed golden era of Philip K Dick's 30-year writing output, alongside his books The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch and A Scanner Darkly. I'd been trying to get hold of a copy of VALIS for a few years already. I finally got a copy and the book is shit. Well, the first 48 pages are truly stagnant, let's say. A brave editor would have insisted VALIS started on the second paragraph of page 48, "Fat had never been locked up before." as that's where the actual story (if you can call it that) seems to begin. It's the same thing with the way Dick confesses early on that Horselover Fat is as an externalised aspect of himself. It breaks the agreement with the reader that he is here to read something truly mind-blowing. Already you've crushed all confidence that Dick can deliver. The book has already failed. Disbelief has been cruelly suspended. Dick is admitting that this isn't an entertainment as are most of his other books. Dick is confessing that he's burnt out. He has nothing more to say. He is over as a human being and as a writer. Spent. A cranky dry husk.
But read on and you'll be further disappointed that the 'story' actually goes nowhere. There's nothing to say other than Philip K. Dick went a bit mad eventually and thought writing it all down would be a good idea for fans of his fiction. Throughout this turgid purgatory of a book, detailed reference is made to Horselover Fat's scientific/ religious 'Exegesis' - this is actually a notebook Philip K. Dick had been adding to for the last ten years as well as writing about 20 books. From the examples delivered here, one can only estimate how utterly tedious that 8,000 page tome is gonna be.
Both are a criminal case of the writer getting in the way of his writing - it's about too much thought going into what is usually (or so it seems for Dick) a truly spontaneous, creative process. Let's just say Dick is lucky VALIS is not this reviewer's first experience of his writing style or many great books would have been needlessly neglected. Looking at the (familiar) cover art again, I remember now that I'd tried to read this unforgivably boring book about 15 years ago and didn't get very far into it back then. I got further this time but the work hasn't mellowed with age, it's just got more painful. As a side project I'd recently thumbed through Emmanuel Carrere's I Am Alive And You Are Dead : A Journey Into The Mind Of Philip K. Dick, and was far more entertained by that external rendering of Dick's fateful life than VALIS' internal outpouring from the horse's mouth (so to speak). But there are (with classic PKD irony) a couple of laughs here and there along the way in this dire tale of a human life gone wrong hence this charitable score.(less)
Ubik is a brilliant book mixing horror with humour in such a deep and poignant way. What I was most inspired by were the chapter headings, those littl...moreUbik is a brilliant book mixing horror with humour in such a deep and poignant way. What I was most inspired by were the chapter headings, those little UBIKverts - this was a concept I butchered for self-marketing purposes back in the Hertzan Chimera daze:
UBIQUITOUSLY, HERTZAN CHIMERA
Hertzan Chimera Vaseline The best way to ask for vaseline is to sing out Hertzan Chimera. Made from select goose grease, morons, slow-aged for perfect smoothness, Hertzan Chimera is the nation's number-one choice in vaseline. Made in Oxford.
Hertzan Chimera Instant Breakfast Instant Hertzan Chimera has all the fresh flavour of just-cooked breakfast. Your husband will say, Christ, Janie, I used to think your breakfast was only so-so. But now, wow! Safe when taken as directed.
Hertzan Chimera Bowel Cleaner Can't make the auditions, Janie; bowels all jammed up? I'll fix you, Hertzan Chimera! Hertzan Chimera drops you back in the thick of things fast. Taken as directed, Hertzan Chimera speeds relief to your bowels. Remember: Hertzan Chimera is only seconds away. Avoid prolonged use.
Hertzan Chimera Spray-on Condoms Perk up pouting household encounters with new miracle Hertzan Chimera, the easy-to-apply, extra-shiny, non-stick plastic coating. Saves endless unrolling and nail rippage, glides you right into the sweetspot. Entirely harmless if used as directed.
Hertzan Chimera Meditation Taken as directed, Hertzan Chimera provides uninterrupted nirvana without morning-after drooling. You are refreshed, ready to tackle all those little annoying problems facing you. Do not exceed recommended dosage.
Hertzan Chimera Melons Has a meat diet taken you out of the swim? Ten-day Hertzan Chimera spray or Hertzan Chimera roll-on ends worry of offending the Vegan, brings you back where the happening is. Safe when used as directed in a conscientious program of political correctness.
Hertzan Chimera Career Treats Pop tasty Hertzan Chimera into your toaster, made only from fresh prospects and healthful all-consuming optimism. Hertzan Chimera makes careers a feast, puts zing into your thing! Safe when interviewed as directed.
Time Out of Joint comes from that golden era of Dick output that contained such ‘classics’ as Eye in the Sky, The Man Who Japed and, (my favourite) So...moreTime Out of Joint comes from that golden era of Dick output that contained such ‘classics’ as Eye in the Sky, The Man Who Japed and, (my favourite) Solar Lottery. These early works, stripped of the drug abuse elements of the author’s final books and copyrighted from the late 1950s onwards, remind one of more innocent times after the second world war. Tinged with Cold War paranoia - there’s a real touch of the early shorts of Kurt Vonnegut in their structure and use of language and domestic situation.
Ragel Gumm earns a living playing the Where Will The Little Green Man Be Next contest in the national newspaper. He plays every day, deciphering the cryptic clue and honing his pattern finding skills to a fine art. He has won every day for the last two years. As you can imagine, he has become something of a celebrity. He starts to suspect that his perfect world where winning is all the keeps the world happy is under threat, he sees things no human should as the very fabric of space and time starts to tatter around the edges giving him glimpses of other past-lives, other universes, other times.
Philip K Dick’s, Gumm finds artefacts from times no longer about places that never were. With the help of his brother-in-law, Victor Nielson, Ragel Gumm hatches a brilliant plot to find out the truth about his quaint little 1950s’ town but what he discovers is beyond his most twisted dreams - a place where sanity itself is stretched to snapping point.
Reminding one ever so much of The Truman Show (and you can imagine there was a whole lot of inspiration from Dick’s cold war novel reformatted for family viewing) this is a great page-turner.(less)
In the future there’s nothing more important the board game ‘Bluff’. A great war with the Vugs, an alien race from the planet Titan, has seriously dec...moreIn the future there’s nothing more important the board game ‘Bluff’. A great war with the Vugs, an alien race from the planet Titan, has seriously decimated the human race. Mankind finds a way to win a decisive victory against the Vugs, but at the cost of infertility throughout the majority of those few humans who survive the conflict. There really are no more than a few thousand Americans left on the planet. They spend most of their time playing Bluff, those that have no psi-ability - psis are banned from playing Bluff for obvious reasons. If the Vug-Human police alliance finds any psi’c playing Bluff, they’re banned for life. But that’s not the basis for the story.
The political backdrop is the truly alien part of the book. The Vugs haven’t really lost; they’ve just allowed mankind to continue on. They are the true rulers of the planet. They control the space around planet Earth. They control what makes the remaining populace tick. Bluff is the drug they use to control mankind.
Philip K Dick was a true innovator and seer of the future. He foresaw how control of a basically-addictive populace could be achieved in a number of ways; in his book A Scanner Darkly, it’s substance D; in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, it’s Mercerism; here it’s a simple board game.
But why ban the psychics from the game? Isn’t it obvious? The game’s a Monopoly / poker hybrid. Very simple rule set. Try to cheat, that’s the best way to victory. Bluff by name. Bluff by nature. In common-or-garden Monopoly you roll your dice, you move your piece. Bluff’s poker-like overlay ensures that your opponent never knows whether the move you’ve made is a true move or a fake move to increase your score. Call your opponent’s bluff at your peril - they could be leading you down a debt-painted garden path.
In true Philip K Dick fashion, the world is treated like a parallel world. Written in 1963, the book harkens back to a time not unlike the end of the Second World War. Or maybe that’s just the particular twist my mind put on it whilst reading. It felt like the 1950s. Of course all domestic appliances have Rushmore effects that allow you to communicate with them, of course the cars fly; of course they have heat-needles (lasers). It felt like a place of hope. If only we could see the ‘big picture’. But Dick only shows us that late in the novel, though hints at the true intentions of the Vugs are there for the astute PKD fan to at least guess at early on.
Solar Lottery was Philip K. Dick’s first novel, published back in the mid-1950s before the psychedelic drugs he became addicted to plagued his work. H...moreSolar Lottery was Philip K. Dick’s first novel, published back in the mid-1950s before the psychedelic drugs he became addicted to plagued his work. He has used similar threads in several works, the dehumanisation of contests and lotteries. Were it not for the futuristic setting, this could so easily have seen Dick writing riveting novels of social horrors - if only he hadn’t sided with Donald A. Wollheim at Ace Books.
Philip K Dick could have been one of the greats - a true mass-market writer of contemporary literature showing horrors that none of us thought possible. Unfortunately, this wonderfully gifted writer ended up in the sci-fi ghetto ready to be forgotten, were it not for Hollywood.
I don’t remember Solar Lottery being this action packed, this heart thumping alive or this trippy when I first read it nearly 10 years ago. I am lying here in my bed, my frantically scrolling eyes riveted to the mad rush of words - the script, the mood. The broken-linear-extrapolative future is so truly contemporary - how on earth could the average reader of 1950s’ sci-fi have coped with this crazy dash through the lives and minds of those with such an overpowering political persuasion? It must have seemed like some berserker had taken a break from the battle to jot down a few hundred emotionally poisoned pages.
What are Ted and Peggy Barton doing in Millgate, VA? Does the place even exist?
Well, it exists in some half-forgotten form; it certainly doesn’t exist...moreWhat are Ted and Peggy Barton doing in Millgate, VA? Does the place even exist?
Well, it exists in some half-forgotten form; it certainly doesn’t exist in the form that Ted Barton remembers. On his arrival in Millgate, he spends the first few hours looking for shops that no longer exist on streets that no longer exist, parks that no longer exist and people who no longer exist - not people who have died, but people who have never lived. There’s strong speculation from the inhabitants of Millgate that Ted Barton has actually arrived in the wrong town.
The Cosmic Puppets, Rats, Children and Thematic Ponderings What is theme of The Cosmic Puppets? Is it really about the magical power of children to invent (and perpetuate) worlds of their own creation? Is it resurrection of a childhood innocence destroyed by the rigors (and prejudices) of adult life?
Early on throughout the narrative, misdirection from the horror that lies ahead take shape in the form of innocent children sculpting clay into figures, annoying flies and bees on one side, malevolent spider webs on the other. How these are relevant to the later narrative is truly nauseating. Rats, remember those little beauties for when you’re reading the book, they play a pivotal (and truly gruesome) role.
Gruesome? But isn’t Philip K. Dick the proverbial soft sci-fi writer? A theoretical thinker of a writer, who explores alternative realities that are flavoured with drug-induced imagery, and overladen with deistic investigation? Not in this one, it’s a nasty book in many ways.
There are five key figures in Philip K. Dick’s, The Cosmic Puppets:
The Town of Millgate It took a long and convoluted series of mishaps to enable Ted Barton’s entry into Millgate and it will take a lot more concerted efforts before he is ever allowed to leave. Millgate is a place Ted Barton remembers so well because he was born there, spending the first nine years of his life in this sleepy backwater. It holds many memories for him, and this is the key to later narrative unravellings.
No one in Millgate believes Barton’s implausible story, and the more he gets the layout of the town wrong (like where is the park he remembers playing on as a kid but the inhabitants of Millgate swear never existed?) the less likely his Prodigal Son of Millgate scenario becomes. Ted Barton resorts to archival research of Millgate at the local newspaper where he discovers that a child bearing his name died at the age of nine of scarlet fever on the date the real Ted Barton left the town.
The Children of Millgate Mary Meade controls the moths and bees. Peter Schilling controls the spiders and the golems. Are they really two sides of an intergalactic civil war?
Doctor Meade, Mary’s Father Doctor Meade looks after the health of the Millgatians - because this is such a weird and invented alien town, I feel justified with my invention of Millgatians to describe the ’sleeping’ inhabitants of this wild-ride town. It’s not that they’re really sleeping, either, it’s more like their covered in dust, ripe for a Spring clean, like the whole town. Like there’s a more real town underneath the old crumbled unreal one.
It’s Dr Meade who, in the dying throes of the novel, brings Millgate to the edge of oblivion or salvation, an intergalactic relevance neither he nor the children nor Ted Barton himself could have possibly imagined.
The Wanderers The Wanderers, spectral entities who wander through the walls and doors of Millgate, their eyes squeezed shut, are the old inhabitants of Millgate who have been struggling to in vain for 18 years to map out the old town as it was before ‘the change’.
The Valley of Millgate The valley, in which Millgate resides, is formed by two enormous galactic beings, the bright and the dark, the yin and the yang of universal power. This revelation in the later stages of the novel is not something many readers will be able to comprehend - it’s just too out there, too outlandish, too cosmic.
Even the rays of the Millgate sun shudder away in shame. But it proves the genius of Dick that he gets away with it and the narrative concludes intact.
The Cosmic Puppets is a throwback to happier times, for Dick, whose childhood clearly holds fonder memories for him than the drug-addled gutter-existence of the writer’s life he was living at the time and for the next 20 years, rejected by the mainstream (his non sci-fi novels were published posthumously), ripped off by publishers who could have offered ten times the advances had they seen the genius of Philip K Dick earlier on.
The Cosmic Puppets Discomforts It would be an injustice to even suggest that Philip K. Dick’s writing was blatantly paedophiliac in nature but a hell of a lot of pert, young girls inhabit Dick’s invented worlds. He clearly had a thing for the young girls. Looking back at even a mainstream a novel like Mary And The Giant, we see the Joe Schilling character leering over the schoolgirls in their uniforms.
And however unjustified the observation, there’s a specific scene in The Cosmic Puppets where Mary strips off and smears oil over her naked girl body to ‘appease a captured golem and not freak it out’ that is so over-the-top voyeuristic as to be the closest Dick has ever come to pushing beyond the veil of good taste. There are those reading this who’d say that to suggest Philip K. Dick was a paedo was tantamount to blasphemy, and may be even libellous, but if you think that, you may just be in denial of the evidence there lurking within his body of work.
Of course Dick’s not a paedo, any sane reviewer would have to come to that conclusion. But clearly, Dick was creating invented worlds where ‘normal’ 1950s’ morality was stretched to the theoretical limit. And not only in matters of morality does Dick try to stretch out the boundaries of the acceptable.
His representation of the schizophrenic night-and-day of the nature beast that haunts the valley of Millgate is another of his great attempts to universe-straddling entities with atoms the size of stars. Plus, I’m not sure of the actual connection but Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke’s roaming night/ day nature beast seems to be a direct lift from the mid section of this book, it’s stunningly accurate visual translation of the imagery in The Cosmic Puppets. Maybe it’s just a latent Gaia vibe, but personally, as I read the Dick words, I saw the Miyazaki scene of the grotesque beast flopping greasily over the hills, destroying and decaying the landscape as it moved. Maybe (as in all this subjective analysis, it’s just me)…
I love Philip K. Dick’s earlier books - the more domestic, Twilight Zone or harmlessly sci-fi works. I loved Solar Lottery, I loved The Game Players of Titan, and I now love The Cosmic Puppets (late 1950s’ copyright, all three). It’s a short novel (140 pages - approximately 40- to 50,000 words) but one that every lover of horror should read, yeah, I did say horror.
This is a proper small-town horror novel with some good bits of quite spaced out sci-fi in it. There are some scenes in the book that are just too gruesome and the revelatory finalé is perfect PKD at his best. It is recommended reading for all lovers of such genre-straddling goodness.
Mary Ann Reynolds is just emerging from her chrysalis of childhood to face the reality of 1950s' California. Her home is Pacific Park, a sleepy town i...moreMary Ann Reynolds is just emerging from her chrysalis of childhood to face the reality of 1950s' California. Her home is Pacific Park, a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere. Her new acquaintances, Joseph Schilling who owns the new record store, Paul Nitz who plays piano at the Lazy Wren Club, black blues singer Carleton Tweany, her loser fiancé Dave Gordon and a host of other kooky weirdoes and freaks are about to help Mary Anne Reynolds discover who she really is.
Had any other writer, treating the 1950s in such a mellow chilled out fashion, written Mary And The Giant, I'd have gone 'Yaaaaah', and given it an average score for the sort of storybook it is. Yes, the characters are rich and varied, and the narrative's interesting without being too formalised, and the writing has moments of brilliance. But there's no one great thing that really draws you in. Sure Mary Anne's a bit weird but there's been many a book about psychologically damaged characters over the last 200 years, right? It's an empty book in many ways and in others it just goes beyond the pale. Let me explain...
This is a mainstream book by the science fiction author Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner, Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly are a few movie adaptations of his writing). Dick was renowned for his numerous science fiction books and short stories. Over a period of 20 years he was a prolific writing machine. He also wrote a number of mainstream novels but only one, Confessions Of A Crap Artist was ever published in his lifetime. Now, I've said it before and I'll say it again. Philip K. Dick is not a science fiction writer. I don't care how much anger you put into your retort - it's just water off a duck's back. A better way to describe Dick may be to say that he is a 'temporal location manager for biographical anecdotes of social concern'. Well, what does that mean?
Take his handling of the racial tensions in 1950s' America. Take his handling of the effects of drugs on otherwise normal human beings. We all know, or at least we should be now, that Philip K. Dick had a drug problem. Was he schizophrenic, as some writers have speculated?
Let's look at his female central character, Mary Anne Reynolds. You read enough Dick fiction (I think I've read over half of published output) and you see this singular, strong female lead in all Dick fiction. She's wrong somehow, broken, damaged beyond repair. She's always beautifully young (maybe schoolgirl young) and she's always got pert breasts and she's always a delightful person on the surface but totally bonkers once you scratch down a little. There's always this impression that the girl just doesn't belong. She can't hold down a job and she is totally (terrifyingly) spontaneous in everything she does. Dick says it in summary, later in the book, "Someday, in a hundred years, her world might exist." And then it hit home like a freight train.
Mary Anne Reynolds (like most other Dick girls) is a replicant from the future. It's just the way she reacts to social situations with painful naiveté while at other times she's a domineering bitch. Obviously for the former she has no recorded memories on which to fall back for guidance and the latter she's shooting someone else's psychological bullets from her gun. Mary Anne Reynolds is indeed a jarring character that has slipped out of some alternative universe and is struggling to cope in our alien environment. But there's more. And this revelation happened within the first few paragraphs.
One of my all-time-favourite Dick books is an early one called The Game Players Of Titan, which is about a postwar world where the real estate poker/ monopoly game 'Bluff' is the latest global craze among those who survived the war with the Vugs, and key characters from that book are presented here without their sci-fi trappings. It's an odd realisation but it works. I kept waiting for the Earth stomping Vugs to arrive. And it added a surreal sense of unease as the cold-hearted narrative unfurls.
I wouldn't say I loved this book as much as, say, A Scanner Darkly which was the most mainstream Dick book I'd read up to this point, but I did enjoy it greatly for this alternative-universe frisson of shock and realisation. (less)
I'm rating this 5***** because this was my first foray into editing/publishing and it was great fun - there are some really strong non-mainstream writ...moreI'm rating this 5***** because this was my first foray into editing/publishing and it was great fun - there are some really strong non-mainstream writers out there who can get their calloused hands round the throat of a theme and really throttle all the goodness from it.(less)
5***** again - this was a difficult second antho, the first was all grand-guignol and then came this depressive downer. Thanks guys, you all deserve s...more5***** again - this was a difficult second antho, the first was all grand-guignol and then came this depressive downer. Thanks guys, you all deserve some sort of reward.(less)
the 'thing from another place', vaz, dog people, the van, feathers (gaggin' on just the thought of it) ... I mean w.t.f. is this book all about? The c...morethe 'thing from another place', vaz, dog people, the van, feathers (gaggin' on just the thought of it) ... I mean w.t.f. is this book all about? The craziest trip round manchester you'll ever need. Totally, totally insane and jizzmongous.