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Anne R. Dick
Tachyon, 288 pages

Search for Philip K. Dick
Anne R. Dick
From 1958 throught 1964, Philip K. Dick wrote many of his most celebrated novels including: The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Martian Time-Slip, Confessions of a Crap Artist, Dr Bloodmoney, We Can Build You, Now Wait For Last Year, and The Simulacra. Anne R. Dick, a fifty-four-year resident of Point Reyes Station, still lives in the house she shared with Philip K. Dick, a house that was featured in many of his books.

Anne R. Dick Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Paul Kincaid

Why are we so interested in the life of Philip K. Dick? Other than H.G. Wells, science fiction writers don't usually attract biographers, and when they do it is usually one book and no more. But Dick has attracted a whole host of biographers, his life has been fictionalized more than once, and we seem ever eager for more. For a writer of, mostly, paperback originals that were never that successful during most of his lifetime, a writer who barely travelled out of California, and someone whose greatest adventure seems to have consisted of finding different ways to fry his brains with drugs, his life seems curiously but enduringly fascinating.

In a sense, this memoir by Dick's third wife is both the first and the most recent of these biographies. It was written immediately after his death in 1982, and the unpublished manuscript was one of the principle sources of those biographers who followed, Gregg Rickman, Laurence Suvin and others. A revised version of the memoir was published in 1993, and now it has been further revised and republished. Because Anne Dick's material went into those biographies that made it into print before her own, what we learn in this book doesn't come as any great surprise. But because of who the author is, it is written with an intimacy and affection that no other biographer could achieve. It is, in short, the most personal and therefore the most moving of all the biographies of Philip K. Dick.

But that still doesn't answer the central question: why? I think Anne Dick comes closest to an answer, perhaps unwittingly, when she says: "His complete oeuvre was a surrealist autobiography. Reality and imagination flicker back and forth in his fiction as it did in his everyday life" (14). She repeats the point a little later when she says: "His novels are an autobiography written in the language of dreams" (47). What we are being offered, what we are searching for in these various biographies, is some clue to the most curious and compelling novels in the entire history of science fiction. Though it has to be said that most of the incidences she cites of Dick appropriating his life into his fiction -- a character given the name of an acquaintance, or taking on aspects of one or more friends -- are fairly standard traits among most writers of fiction.

Anne Dick seems something of an oddity among Dick's wives. She was blonde, already widowed with two children, competent (even during their brief marriage she was creating the highly successful jewellery business she has run ever since), while the other wives tended to be small, dark and dependent. They met in October 1958 when Dick, with his second wife, Kleo, moved to Point Reyes Station where Anne was already living. By the next spring, Dick had divorced Kleo and married Anne; it seems to have been amicable (we only really have Anne's word for this), but something in the abruptness of the transition speaks of his tempestuous character. He was already taking a variety of medications, though how far the taking of drugs was a symptom or a cause of his unpredictable and at times nasty personality is unclear. Certainly the marriage didn't last very long before it started to erupt into sudden and on occasion violent arguments. In these, Anne seems to have given as good as she got, but the instigator was always Dick, often triggered by causes even he could not remember moments later. It is hardly surprising that by 1964 they were divorcing.

The story of the marriage occupies the first third of the book. In the next third she carries the story forward, through years in which she retained some uncertain contact with Dick. She became a villainess in his work and in his imagination, but at the same time she was someone he turned to again and again. He would set out to visit, then find some excuse not to finish the journey. Only towards the end of his life did he actually get to see her again. Yet these were, as ever with Dick, wild years. He married again, twice, and had several affairs; he became ever more dependent on drugs, at one point his home in San Francisco became a refuge for a shifting population of hippies, drug dealers, runaways and minor criminals; he was hospitalized at different times, once following a visit to a Canadian convention he spent time in a mental hospital; he became famous and, finally, achieved financial security (then didn't know what to do with the money and gave lots of it away).

Then, in the final third of the book, Anne Dick turns the clock back to tell the story of his childhood and first two marriages. The famous story of the twin sister who died not long after they were born is related here. It is part of the Dick mythology, mostly because he insisted that it was a key to his psyche, though I suspect that its part in his instability has been exaggerated. He seems to have had a relatively conventional upbringing, and he was a quick witted child, but he appears to have been restless and unfocussed from early in life and I would guess that his instability grew from this as much as from his sister.

As to how much the biography can tell us about the fiction, I remain skeptical. Like any writer, he cannibalized his life and the lives of the people around him, so to point out how much of their marriage went into, for instance, Confessions of a Crap Artist, is no particular revelation. Yet there is some truth in Anne Dick's assertion that his fiction was a surreal autobiography. The years of their marriage were the years in which he wrote most of the mainstream novels that would eventually see publication only after his death. Anne encouraged him in this, through the repeated rejections, and then mentions, in passing, how he would take ideas for mainstream novels and adapt them for the science fictions he was forced to return to, the science fictions that would rapidly make his name. And in this biographical aside, I think, lies the key to the most idiosyncratic and engaging science fiction writer in the history of the genre: Philip K. Dick did not write science fiction. All his novels were mainstream novels, novels about the California of his youth in the 40s and 50s, novels about ordinary working men in the record stores and electrical appliance shops where he himself had worked, novels about this ordinary life distorted through the drug haze and paranoia of his increasingly tortured mental state. And it is this mental state that is the most revealing part of what Anne Dick records with such affection.

Copyright © 2011 by Paul Kincaid

Paul Kincaid is the recipient of the SFRA's Thomas D. Clareson Award for Distinguished Service for 2006. His collection of essays and reviews, What it is we do when we read science fiction is published by Beccon Publications.

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