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Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick
Lawrence Sutin
HarperCollins, 352 pages

Divine Invasions
Lawrence Sutin
Lawrence Sutin, an award-winning memoirist and biographer, has also written Jack and Rochelle: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance, A Postcard Memoir, Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley, and All Is Change: The Two Thousand Year Journey of Buddhism to the West. He is a full professor in the Hamline University Graduate School of Liberal Studies M.F.A. and M.A.L.S. programs. He also teaches in the low-residency M.F.A. program of Vermont College.

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SF Site Review: Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Andy Remic

Harlan Ellison is an idiot. Discuss... So let's get the painful stuff out of the way immediately. Philip K. Dick was a drug-taking, paranoid, wife-beating maniac; or so Lawrence Sutin presents him -- in the nicest way possible. But please, let us qualify these "facts" with more context. Drug-taking -- yes. Mr. Dick did indeed take handfuls of dubious tablets on a regular basis, and had many an interesting hallucinatory episode -- both on and, indeed, off drugs. In fairness, in later life, as he matured, Phil saw the "error of his ways" and according to Sutin denounced drugs as a social evil, whilst still puffing on weed and popping prescription mood stabilisers. But hey, the life of a tortured artist is never a easy ride right? And Mr. Dick, it would appear, was one of the most tortured of them all.

Was Philip K. Dick paranoid? Yes, check and double check, although it would seem that after he was visited in his Orange County home by FBI agents sniffing around possible communist co-conspirators (and Phil did write to a certain Soviet scientist), his house ransacked by person or persons unknown, and his house becoming a meeting place for every lowlife scumlife drug-dealing gun-toting crazeee in downtown LA (or so it seemed) -- well, maybe Dick had a right to be paranoid. After all, just because you can't see them, doesn't mean they're not out to get you -- a common theme in much of Dick's SF.

A wife-beater. Hmm. I had trouble with this aspect of Phil's portrayed character, and I'm sure you can make your own judgements; but it would appear that Phil and third wife Anne used to "fight" and indeed, she appears to have kicked his ass as ably as he kicked hers. I can't say I enjoyed these revelations, but then if you want a man's life laid bare warts and all... well, you're going to get some warts.

And a maniac? Phil went head-to head against Harlan Ellison on, it would seem, several occasions. They began as friends, then became enemies -- and quite vitriolic enemies by all accounts. "Ellison felt that Phil was jealous of his financial success and Hollywood connections" and "Ellison... sent Phil a vituperative termination-of-friendship notice..." So Ellison dumped Dick after "their friendship had grown uneasy?" Ouch. Ellison severed ties with one of the greatest SF writer's of the last hundred years? Maybe it was for the best. After all, I'm not sure I'd want to be the enemy of Harlan Ellison -- with that stubby finger hovering permanently over a direct line to his lawyers and their automatic "sue" button. However, now Ellison is old, and I did kick boxing -- so I could probably kick his ass.

Lawrence Sutin writes with an economic sparseness, and in quite an academic textbook style -- but don't let that put you off because yes, there is a great fondness here, and big dollops of Phil-love do shine through the journalistic text like honey squeezed from a sponge. Sutin, in his analysis and display of Philip K. Dick's life, displays a well-crafted, well-written biography, thoroughly researched and obviously born from fan origins, and yet not afraid to tackle the seedier parts of Dick's narrative. In short, Sutin's appraisal of the man, and the writer, is a wide-lens cinemascope 3D version of a 2D manic-depressive paranoid's low-level cruise through life. After all, how exciting can it be -- being a writer? The dude sits in a room all day hammering his typewriter. Phil Dick ain't no Ernest Hemingway, but with his alien sightings and manic all-night Exegesis scribblings (The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick is published November 2011 by Houghton, Mifflin & Harcourt, 1056 pages), car crashes and a positive harem of interesting wives who wouldn't stand for any of his shit... well, I think Sutin explores not just a side of Philip K. Dick, but a Whole which radiates cool, man. Cool.

To conclude. Reading Divine Invasions is like reading one of Phil's own novels -- and many of his novels are so very, very good. Genius, in fact. If you have any interest in the man who penned Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (filmed as Bladerunner, for those asleep at the back), A Scanner Darkly (a brilliant film with Keanu giving his "best" performance ever), and a myriad of other brilliant offerings, many now adapted for screen, then hunt down a copy of Divine Invasions. If you haven't read any of Dick's works, this is a really good starting point to get a grounding, and inspiration, in where to begin in Dick's superb and masterly library.

Read Divine Invasions. You owe it to Philip K. Dick. You owe it to yourself.

Copyright © 2011 Andy Remic

Andy Remic is a larger-than-life chainsaw warrior, sexual athlete and chef. He has twelve SFF novels published by Orbit, Solaris and Angry Robot. Remic is working on various new projects and threatens he will never stop. He also runs ebook publishers Anarchy Books. Read more at: and

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