Glenn Russell's Reviews > A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
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it was amazing




“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 animation in creating a blockbuster film based on the novel.

In his Author's Note to A Scanner Darkly, PKD lists fifteen of the people he loved who lost life or sanity during those outrageous years. He also reveals something extremely personal to his readers: he is not in the novel, he is the novel. Intrigued? You should be. Here are ten hits of what this unique, drug-centered classic is all about:

1. Freak-Out: The opening scene features doper Jerry Fabin in a frantic battle with thousands of aphid bugs infesting his hair and every inch of his body. Unfortunately, Jerry is fighting a losing battle - even standing under hot water in the shower ten hours a day doesn't help. After suffering one particularly severe attack, Jerry admits defeat and is admitted into Number Three Federal Clinic. The psychic meltdown of Jerry Fabin is a haunting reminder to all of Jerry's friends of what can happen with too much dope, a reminder coating every page of the novel like a thick syrup.

2. Drugs and More Drugs: In addition to hash, heroin, cocaine, mescaline, LSD, speed and other familiar names on the list, there is the new prima numero uno drug of choice, Substance D aka Death or Slow Death. Among its many side effects is the risk of split brain phenomenon, where a user will develop two identities and have one side of their brain talk to the other as if two different people in conversation. And cut with bad ingredients, in a matter of months, Substance D can cause a sixteen year old girl to look like a scraggly old lady with grey hair falling out. But the supercharged high produced outweighs the possible side effects by far. Oh, wow!



3. The Setting: Sprawling air-conditioned Southern California nightmare, an unending repetition of McDonald hamburger stands, strip malls, gas stations and freeways. Main character Robert Arctor reflects: "They (McDonald's) had by now, according to their sign, sold the same original burger fifty billion times. He wondered if it was to the same person. Life in Anaheim, California, was a commercial for itself, endlessly replayed. Nothing changed; it just spread out father in the form of neon ooze."

4. War: It's straights vs. dopers since the dopers can't stomach the air conditioned nightmare and just want to turn on and drop out but the straights think all the neon ooze is as American as grandma and apple pie. And those straights include fully armed Birchers and Minutemen, city police and federal police, army forces and unidentified forces. If you are a doper and caught off guard, you will quickly be eliminated via jail or bullet or even worse, a federal clinic. In this war, the straights don't take any prisoners since, for them, dopers are disgusting filth, not even on the level of mangy dogs.

5. Scramble Suits: An underground cop will report gathered information wearing a futuristic scramble suit, a full body, head to toe covering, a piece of technological magic, rendering the wearer a vague blur. The police chief receiving this information will also wear a scramble suit. Thus concealment and secrecy are maintained on all levels.



6. Surveillance: In this futuristic world the police possess powerful technology to spy on dopers in all sorts of ways, including scanners that can zoom in and out in 3-D. Feeling paranoid? There might be good reason - smile, you are on candid camera.

7. Robert Arctor, One: Bob was once a straight, living with his wife and two little girls out in their three bedroom house, working as an investigator for an insurance company, but one day Bob hit his head in the kitchen and all instantly came clear in a flash: his entire life was a sham, nothing but a deadly routine and he hated all of it. Soon thereafter Bob gets a divorce and shifts into the doper life.

8. Robert Arctor, Two: To support his drug habit and live in his now rundown doper house, Bob takes on the job of undercover narcotics agent. The drug world, Arctor recognizes, is a murky world were dopers work for the cops and cops posing as dopers get hooked on dope and might even become full-time dealers. And Robert Arctor gets hooked on a bunch of dope, most notably on Substance D. Arctor escaped his drab, humdrum, straight family life but can he be sure his new doper life will turn out to be any better?

9 Robert Arctor, Three: Bob reports to his boss Hank in his scramble suit where he assumes name and identity as Frank. But, then, Bob has to deal with the crazy effects of Substance D causing his personality and identity to split in two. Oh, my spacey hallucinations! - an undercover agent living two lives with two different names experiencing split brain phenomenon. A custom-made phenomenon for the one and only PKD.

10. Dopers Friends: We are provided detailed glimpses into the inner and social lives of the two doper dudes living at Bob's house: supercool Ernie Luckman and supersmart Jim Barris. There is also Arctor's heartthrob - young, superfoxy Donna Hawthorne. Hey, wait a toker minute. Is Luckman or Barris or Donna what they appear to be? How many of them are also living a double life? As noted above, the drug world is a murky world. And that includes government agencies more than happy to slide into a sinister double life to achieve their goals. Read all about it. Remember PKD IS this novel. What a trip.



“The tragedy in his life already existed. To love an atmospheric spirit. That was the real sorrow. Hopelessness itself. Nowhere on the printed page, nowhere in the annals of man, would her name appear: no local habitation, no name. There are girls like that, he thought, and those you love most, the ones where there is no hope because it has eluded you at the very moment you close your hands around it.”
― Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 31, 2017 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-27 of 27 (27 new)

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message 1: by William (new)

William “The tragedy in his life already existed. To love an atmospheric spirit. That was the real sorrow. Hopelessness itself. Nowhere on the printed page, nowhere in the annals of man, would her name appear: no local habitation, no name. There are girls like that, he thought, and those you love most, the ones where there is no hope because it has eluded you at the very moment you close your hands around it.”

Sublime. Thank you for the review!


message 2: by Glenn (last edited Aug 31, 2017 05:35PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Glenn Russell William wrote: "“The tragedy in his life already existed. To love an atmospheric spirit. That was the real sorrow. Hopelessness itself. Nowhere on the printed page, nowhere in the annals of man, would her name app..."

Thanks, William. As I am quite sure you know, this is one mind-blowing novel.


message 3: by Glenn (last edited Sep 01, 2017 02:53AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Glenn Russell Jean-Paul wrote: "Nice to see you back, Glenn, with a mind-altering review!"

Thanks, Jean-Paul. I found some time yesterday to write this review of PKD's wild novel while visiting family in Portland, Oregon. I fly cross-country to Philadelphia today and look forward to lots of good exchanges here on Goodreads on my return.


Bukk As usual, another great PKD review.


message 5: by Glenn (last edited Sep 02, 2017 12:10PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Glenn Russell Bukk wrote: "As usual, another great PKD review."

Thanks, Bukk!

PKD - such a powerful imagination; such an inspiring author. The more I read of him, the more I want to read.


message 6: by Jose (new)

Jose Moa Wonderful review Glenn


Glenn Russell Jose wrote: "Wonderful review Glenn"

Thanks so much, Jose! Glad you enjoyed my review. Philip K. Dick is truly special and I attempt to be as faithful to his vision as possible. Plus I have fun doing my write-up.


message 8: by RB (new) - rated it 4 stars

RB "Remember PKD IS this novel. What a trip."
You nailed it. Not only do the characters in this book talk the way real abusers of stimulants speak, it is also quite clearly Dick trapped in there. Terrific review Glenn


Glenn Russell RB wrote: ""Remember PKD IS this novel. What a trip."
You nailed it. Not only do the characters in this book talk the way real abusers of stimulants speak, it is also quite clearly Dick trapped in there. Terr..."


Thanks, RB! I agree - this is PKD from first page to last. In many respects, the novel reads like a confession.


message 10: by P.E. (new) - rated it 4 stars

P.E. These pictures.... What a blast. To say nothing of the quote capping it...


message 11: by Joshua (new)

Joshua Cain PKD found a way of nudging us (those) sleepers gently enough to stir without being preachy.
You're doing a grand job of perpetuating his nudging, Glenn.
Quite unnerving slash nerving how you pop up in the most ( . . ) places.


Glenn Russell Joshua wrote: "PKD found a way of nudging us (those) sleepers gently enough to stir without being preachy.
You're doing a grand job of perpetuating his nudging, Glenn.
Quite unnerving slash nerving how you pop up..."


Hey, Joshua, so glad you enjoyed my review. PKD is a trip! I've taken 15 so far and plan to hop aboard again, probably this summer, my prime time to read CRAZY novels.


message 13: by Joshua (new)

Joshua Cain I wonder if you have found victor pelevin yet?
yes, hot weather is congruous with madness.


message 14: by Joshua (new)

Joshua Cain wonder-solved and unsurprised.
You are ubik.


message 15: by Glenn (last edited Feb 22, 2019 02:55PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Glenn Russell Joshua wrote: "I wonder if you have found victor pelevin yet?
yes, hot weather is congruous with madness."


Yes! - such a cool Moscow dude. I read and reviewed 3 VP novels: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list...


Glenn Russell Joshua wrote: "wonder-solved and unsurprised.
You are ubik."


Ha! Thanks a bunch!! Really enjoyed PKD's Ubik


Dustin Thank you for the thoughtful invite, my friend. Reading it reminded me just how diabolical that novel was, and my fondness for it makes me want to experience it all over again. Have you seen tbe film? I never did, despite being curious.;)


message 18: by Glenn (last edited May 11, 2019 09:39AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Glenn Russell Dustin wrote: "Thank you for the thoughtful invite, my friend. Reading it reminded me just how diabolical that novel was, and my fondness for it makes me want to experience it all over again. Have you seen tbe fi..."

You are certainly most welcome, Dustin. I must say, this review was one of my favorites to write - there is so much going on in the novel that speaks to America in the 1960 and still speaks to our current day world.

Yes, about 10 years ago I saw that excellent film with its creative digital animation not in a theater but as a VCR video. I recall watching it a couple of times while I was exercising (something I did a lot of back then).


Dustin Yes, a lot taking place on and beneath the surface. I think it's as relevant today as it was then, if not more so.:)

Wow, VCR. That takes you back. Was it a theatrical release, do you know?


message 20: by Glenn (last edited May 11, 2019 04:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Glenn Russell Dustin wrote: "Yes, a lot taking place on and beneath the surface. I think it's as relevant today as it was then, if not more so.:)

Wow, VCR. That takes you back. Was it a theatrical release, do you know?"


Yes, yes, recognizing the Methland phenomenon and all the Oyxcontiin addiction, especially across small town USA, - this PKD novel is more relevant today than back in the 70s when PKD wrote it.

Like most everyone else, my local video store transitioned from VCRs to DVD disks. On reflection, since this film was released in 2006, probably I rented a DVD. I don't recall any special release in any way - just one of the "regulars" on the shelf.


message 21: by Dustin (last edited May 11, 2019 04:19PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dustin In a lot of ways, PDK (and a handful of other science fiction writers from that era and as early as the 1930's and 40's,) were wise beyond their years. They badically prophetic, particularly regarding technological advances (just look at the original Star Trek,) and sociology. The Meth and Oxy pandemic is a prime example.

Oh, really? I thought the film was a bit older than that.


Glenn Russell Dustin wrote:

I thought the film was a bit older than that. ---------------- Good catch! I meant to write 2006 not 2016. I went back and edited my previous message.



Dustin You must have meant 2006.:)
https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0405296/


Glenn Russell Dustin wrote: "You must have meant 2006.:)
https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0405296/"


As per my above message, I most certainly did mean 2006. Thanks, Dustin! I attempt to make my reviews (and comments) as accurate as possible. Always appreciate anybody who catches an error of any sort, even a typing error.


Dustin No problem. I knew it had to be older because I read the novel (movie tie-in version,) prior to 2008, but like I said, I've yet to see it. Definely would like to rectify that, sooner rather than later.

Sure. Likewise if you ever catch any errors in any of my reviews.


Britton Summers Fantastic review of, in my opinion, PKD's best novel. It's such a change in tone from his other work, as much as I enjoy those.


Glenn Russell Britton wrote: "Fantastic review of, in my opinion, PKD's best novel. It's such a change in tone from his other work, as much as I enjoy those."

Thanks so much, Britton. It is wonderful that you have connected personally with this PKD classic. I agree - as good as his other novels, A Scanner Darkly is in a class of its own.


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