Tuesday, October 23, 2007


By Keith Giles

What is reality? What makes us human? If your life were an illusion, how would you know it? If your perception of reality was wrong, would that change reality, or you?

These are just some of the questions posed by sci-fi author Philip K. Dick in his numerous novels and short stories. Themes of fractured reality, insanity, and personal identity permeate his writings which include "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" which became the basis for the film, "Blade Runner".

My initial introduction to the work of Philip K. Dick was through Ridley Scott's cinematic interpretation of his "…Electric Sheep?" and after reading the actual book I fell in love with his writing. "Flow My Tears The Policeman Said" was the second Dick book I managed to pick up, and it remains my favorite, followed closely by "Sheep" and "The Man Who Japed", and most recently "Ubik".

There is an unused sequence in the "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" novel where Deckard is arrested by another San Francisco police officer and taken to another police station run by androids who retire humans. It's a wonderful turn of the tables on the world that Deckard lives in and further brings into question what is real and who is human in the story.
Another great concept that runs throughout this book is the religion he introduces known as "Mercerism" which centers around an empathy box which believers can grasp the handles of and be transported (virual reality?) to a great hill where Mercer (their messiah) attempts to climb a large hillside while being pelted with stones. With every impact to Mercer's body those who grasp the handles of the empathy box experience his pain and empathize with his continual struggle to mount the hill. No one ever manages to hold on to the handles very long and no one knows for sure if he ever really reaches the top, but the concept of suffering and sharing in the sufferings of the messiah known as Mercer are fascinating to consider.
Dick himself was intrigued by the idea of God and spirituality, often personally experiencing visions from angels and many other drug-induced delusions that may have been fed by his own paranoia and mental illness.
His eight thousand page, one million world journal known as "The Exegesis" chronicles his own personal spiritual experience and is on file at CalState Fullerton. You can read more about this work here:

"Flow My Tears" is my favorite of all of Dick's novels I've read so far because it is his most well-written, having won the John W. Campbell Award in 1975 and nominated that same year for a Nebula Award and a Hugo Award. The story revolves around a wildly popular television star named Jason Taverner who wakes up one morning to discover that no one knows him. What happened to his celebrity? Has the world changed? Did he imagine his life of fame and fortune? How can anyone erase someone with a face and a name recognized worldwide? It's a well-written novel that employs the best of Dick's trademark elements.

"The Man Who Japed" deals with a society obsessed with enforced morality and a man who almost unconsciously desecrates a patriotic monument on the eve of assuming the most powerful media position on the planet. The main character is believable, funny and probably one of the most relatable personalities in any of his novels.

After I read "The Man Who Japed" the first time I considered working up a script for producing it as a graphic novel since it seemed ripe for a modernization and contained enough action and humor to hold any audience sway.

"Ubik" is another great book that suffers slightly from a longer than necessary build up and an unsatisfying end, but the potency of the ideas it contains and the frequency of those brilliant flashes makes it worth the effort. It would make a wonderful film, especially if the action started sooner and the ending were more fully realized.

Not every book by Dick is as satisfying these. For me, the often praised "A Scanner Darkly" was largely unreadable. I have attempted to get through it twice now and it just doesn't gain traction the way his other books do, although the premise is fascinating. Perhaps the movie version will be more palatable?

For the most part Hollywood has butchered Dick's work. Of the nine films based on Dick's novels and short stories, only "Blade Runner" comes close to providing a true sense of the source material while providing an entertaining piece of cinematic art.
"A Scanner Darkly" is probably the most spot-on book-to-screen adaptation of a Dick novel, but the entertainment factor is lacking. It does provide a much more accessible entry-point for this very personal story of drug addiction and its deadly consequences.
"Minority Report" is one of the most offensive treatments of a Dickian concept on film. Spielberg invents a plot point that defies logic and sets up the entire story based on something that could never happen given the rules of this world he creates for us. If you can unplug your brain and enjoy the action scenes and special effects it's slightly entertaining, except for the laugh-out-loud stupidity of handing a criminal's wife his loaded service weapon and his eyeballs as a parting gift. Especially since that eyeball is still keyed into the optical security system of the prison where you're holding that same husband. It's like handing the keys to the prison to the wife and making sure she's armed at the same time. Ludicrous.

To fully experience the genius of Philip K. Dick one must explore the novels and the short stories he authored first-hand. The short story collections "Minority Report" (where you can read the actual story as Dick intended it) and "The Eye of The Sybil" are both excellent places to start your journey into the world of PKD.

I have yet to fully explore every novel or story written by Philip K. Dick but he remains my all-time favorite science fiction author.

Philip K. Dick, I love you.

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