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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: SF Masterworks #4
Martian Time-Slip: SF Masterworks #13
A Scanner Darkly: SF Masterworks #20

Philip K. Dick
Orion Millennium

Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago in 1928. While attending UC at Berkeley, he dropped out rather than take ROTC training. There he stayed to write some 36 novels and 5 short story collections. He won the 1962 Hugo for The Man in the High Castle and the 1974 John W. Campbell Award for Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. He died of heart failure caused by a stroke in 1982.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Reading List: Philip K. Dick

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Neil Walsh

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Millennium is an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group in the UK. Their SF Masterworks series saw the reprinting of 24 classic science fiction titles (roughly 2 per month) throughout 1999. It is no accident that Philip K. Dick has more titles than any other single author in the series. Dick was a prolific writer, having published well over 30 novels and countless short stories by the time of his death in 1982, with another 10 or so novels appearing posthumously. And his work has had a deep influence on SF. He is, for example, credited with having set the tone for the Cyberpunk sub-genre years before anyone had even conceived the term. He was, predominantly, a writer of psychological SF, rather than technological. He used science fictional settings for his speculations about the human condition, the nature of reality, and any connections there may or may not be between the two.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Written in 1966, first published in 1968, and the basis for Ridley Scott's 1982 cult classic film Blade Runner, this novel is a disturbing exploration of what really constitutes life, reality and faith. Primarily, it is about a bounty hunter whose job is to track down and "retire" renegade androids which almost perfectly resemble actual human beings.

By now, most have seen the oppressively atmospheric, visually impressive film. But if you haven't read the book, here's your chance. Like most movies based on a novel, there's a lot more going on in the book than comes across on the screen. Personally, I don't think the central message has as much to do with androids and electric animals, slavery and freedom, post-apocalyptic earth, and the hypocrisy of the system, as it does with the theological implications of a faith that is only reinforced by its debunking -- and the ultimate futility of it all. As Rick Deckard, the bounty hunter, discovers by the end of the novel: "Everything is true... Everything anybody has ever thought." But what does it matter?

Martian Time-Slip Martian Time-Slip
First published in 1964, this is recognized as one of Dick's better novels. Although he was certainly a man of vision with consistently brilliant ideas, his writing style is not at all consistent. Sometimes, it seems to me that Dick's writing reads like a translation from another language. Perhaps this aspect contributes to some of the humour in this novel, for it has some very funny moments.

Jack Bohlen is a repairman on a desolate, dry Mars, inhabited by poor colonists and the remnants of the poorer native population, the Bleekmen. Jack's bored wife is addicted to barbiturates. His father is a ruthless land speculator. His neighbour's young son, Manfred, is an autistic with untapped paranormal abilities. His new boss, Arnie Kott, has a virtual monopoly on the available water on Mars. Arnie wants Jack to devise a contraption to communicate with Manfred in order to capitalize on the boy's theoretical ability to glimpse the future.

It's an odd setup, but the payoff is stunning. The same scene in Arnie Kott's dwelling, the same moment in time, is played over and over again, each time shown from a slightly different perspective. Which interpretation of reality is really real? Are any of them? It's a chilling, haunting, beautiful piece of writing.

A Scanner Darkly A Scanner Darkly
This one was first published in 1977, after Dick had either had a severe breakdown or spent a lot of time in communication with superior beings -- take your pick. A Scanner Darkly is certainly the darkest of the 3 PKD titles chosen for the SF Masterworks. It follows the story of Officer Fred, an undercover narcotics agent who is so deeply undercover that even his superiors don't know his street identity, Bob Arctor. Consequently, Fred is given the task of monitoring Bob.

The problem is, Fred/Bob isn't sure which side he is on anymore, since he more than half believes in the drug culture lifestyle he has been living. Furthermore, he is so messed up on a dangerous psychotropic hallucinogen called Substance D, that he is losing touch with... well, everything. The literal scanner of the title (seeing "through a scanner darkly") is a holographic scanner set up in Bob's house. When Fred watches the replay of the scanner tapes, he is soon unable to figure out what Bob is up to, having forgotten he is monitoring himself. The metaphoric scanner of the title is even more sinister. It's a deeply warped, deeply paranoid novel. It's also the most cleanly written of the three.

Copyright © 1999 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.


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