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A Scanner Darkly

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  95,894 ratings  ·  3,296 reviews
Substance D is not known as Death for nothing. It is the most toxic drug ever to find its way on to the streets of LA. It destroys the links between the brain's two hemispheres, causing, first, disorientation and then complete and irreversible brain damage.

The undercover narcotics agent who calls himself Bob Arctor is desperate to discover the ultimate source of supply. Bu
Kindle Edition, 307 pages
Published October 18th 2011 by Mariner Books (first published January 1977)
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Jul 29, 2012 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.

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
Glenn Russell
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

“I have seen myself backward.”
― Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick's searing, hyperrealist tale of a specific time (late 1960s), a specific place (California), and a specific mentality (seek maximum happiness now since tomorrow you might die) set in 1994, enough in the near future for the author to inject massive doses of his signature wild imagination into the mix. As most readers will know, director Richard Linklater employed distinctive digital technology and an
Michael Finocchiaro
This was a fascinating story (if somewhat terrifying) about LA in the 90s (seen from the 70s) and the future is grim. In a lot of ways, PKD's predictions have not bourne out: we don't have scattersuits and no one was using cassette tapes anymore because of the CD. However, the long-term effects of hard drug use are not that off mark. I suspect that Substance D (or "death" as it is known on the street) would today be some kind of crystal meth like Heisenberg's on Breaking Bad, but ingestible with ...more

In 1971, Philip K Dick's fourth wife, Nancy, left him and took their little daughter with her. Dick was left alone in a four-bedroom house in Santa Venetia, ‘in a state of complete desolation and despair, and suicidally depressed’, as he later put it. In an attempt to surround himself with life and activity, he turned the property into a kind of open house for what he called ‘street people’ – drug-users that he knew through his amphetamine habit, although many of them were on much harder drugs t
Oct 18, 2012 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
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
Manuel Antão
Jul 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, 1997
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Who am I? : "A Scanner Darkly" by Philip K. Dick

I'm a big Pynchon fan, too, so don't get me wrong here, but it seems to me like the main difference between Dick's writing style and Pynchon's--or at least, the difference that mostly accounts for Dick being treated as a "pulp" author with some interesting ideas whereas Pynchon is considered a major "literary" figure--is simply that Dick tends to write in crisp, straightforward sentences
Re-read 5/15/19:
I'm continually surprised, now with my third read, how much fun I have with this novel. How much fun I have with the bugs. Or how much fun I have with the missing gears on the bike. Or how much fun I have with Bob, Fred, or whoever the hell the main character is. :) By the end, he is entirely nameless.

Freaky cool.

I think, more than anything, I love the philosophy that is snuck in at random moments or explored in long stretches without a direct reference. PKD's afterward is very
Paul O'Neill
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
God, how dark it is here, and totally silent. Nothing but me lives in this vacuum…

Philip K. Dick’s darkly atmospheric novel about drug culture and how drugs affect society is a well written, impactful story. It’s a realistic view of how drugs affect the mind and relationships.

The story follows the character of Bob and his friends, who are both using and selling a mind-bending drug called Substance D. We also follow Fred, a cop who works for a form of drug bust squad. The hook is that Bob and Fr
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

Not even February and I’m already behind on 2018’s reviews. Good thing I didn’t tell myself I’d lose weight! The one thing I have always told myself is I need to read a Philip K. Dick story. Imagine my surprise when I cued this one up on the ol’ Fiat’s Bluetooth and heard that it was written by Philip K. Dick. I’m not sure one book can be a quantifier for his entire set of works, but in the immortal words of Larry David, this was . . .
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
J.L.   Sutton
Mar 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We are exchanging too much passive life for the reality outside us.

There were a couple of times when I felt that A Scanner Darkly, a story about an undercover narc agent who narcs on himself before being sent to rehab, should have been one of PK Dick's short stories. However, just when I thought PKD had played out his hand, the scene would change and we would return to one of Dick's central tenets in a new way: how do we know what is real. That is followed by characters trying both to figure out
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 other si ...more
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars rounded to 4 after the epilogue.

One day I figure out all of a Philip K. Dick novel. Ah, who am I kidding, lol. Truthfully, I like the challenge. Love the ideas. The guy was brilliant. But let me tell you, some of the situations and conversations I experienced in this book could possibly be the wildest I’ve come across – since reading my last Dick novel. In an epilogue, he offers his reason for writing A Scanner Darkly. It is poignant to say the least. He adds that there is no moral to
Jun 28, 2014 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
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
Vicky "phenkos"
Aug 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
Philip K. Dick's work has had a tremendous influence on me. Although I don't read much sci-fi these days, any time I go back to one of Dick's books, I feel as if I retreat into an enclosed space deep inside me - a space that I recognise and cherish, yet sometimes lose or forget.

Finding oneself - losing onself...

A Scanner Darkly is probably not the best known of Dick's works. It lacks the brilliance of Do Androids or the depressive atmosphere of Three Stigmata. Yet, it offers a sneak peek in Dic

I've been planning to re-review this book, but it seems that a lot of people really enjoy the old review...but I do hope that you guys can enjoy this new review, because I feel that I scratched the surface when I did my first review on this book.

I'm not easily impressed when it comes to science fiction. I love the genre, yet I hate where the genre has gone, either becoming rip offs of older, superior material, or YA romps that focus on teenage drama rather than the ideas that ma
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.
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
Aug 15, 2007 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
aPriL does feral sometimes
Edit: August, 2019 November, 2016 (I read this the first time four years ago, so, re-read re-write review below)

'A Scanner Darkly' by Philip K. Dick is a barely disguised expose of the world of druggies. The science fiction elements in the fictional plot are simply a platform PKD uses to write what is basically a polemical novel about the destruction of the body and brain from a hypothetical drug, Substance "D". The drug happens to mirror actual drug destruction from addictions.

I liked the boo
Pam Baddeley
May 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
This book, published in 1977 but set in an early 1990s California, falls into the SF category because of some of its trappings which, even now, have not come about, such as scramble suits which allow undercover agents to report to their bosses in person with both participants unable to see the true appearance of the wearer. This leads to an almost laughable situation in which the main character, Bob Arctor, who works for an anti-narcotics unit in Orange County is ordered to keep himself under re ...more
Eddie Watkins
Jul 21, 2008 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. ...more
Apr 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
2020 view
SF Masterworks 20
: A dystopian world where one half of society spends nearly all their time acquiring and using drugs, especially Substance D, the most toxic, addictive and lethal(!) drug ever. Deep undercover police 'Fred' whose identity is secret even from the police, is startled to find that the next person he has to investigate is his own undercover self!

In a world where there are countless undercover officers, paid narcs and multitudes on the verge of Substance D derangement or dea
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
J.K. Grice
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I read this years before it ever became a movie (which I have not seen) and I thought A SCANNER DARKLY was both funny and thought provoking. I would read this book again.
Nov 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
Written in the 70s and set in the 90s this is Dick’s semi-autobiographical description of drug use, abuse and addiction. It’s set in Orange County in California. The main protagonist is Bob Arctor, who lives with a group of drug users. Arctor is also an undercover police agent called Fred. Also central in this book is a drug called substance D (a new, very addictive drug also called D and Slow Death) and Fred is tasked with trying to find a way to the suppliers. Fred/Bob become increasingly blur ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: correct page count ISBN 9780547572178 1 19 Jan 31, 2018 07:00AM  
Science Fiction A...: * A Scanner Darkly - Tony's Pick 14 39 Sep 20, 2016 09:54AM  
St. Anne's Readin...: Scanner Darkly 05/07/2016 1 5 May 10, 2016 07:21AM  

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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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