Philip K. Dick

In May 2010, the Queer Reader’s suggested book was The Man in the high castle by Philip K. Dick or any of his other novels.  This was the first meeting that I attended, and I recall being impressed by the easy flow of discussion (regardless of whether attendees had read the suggested novel or not), and a general good mood. Neil was the discussion leader, and here are his notes:

Welcome to the weird world of PKD. Not talked about at the Sci Fi Night last year, so I felt he needed to be read and discussed. 

Had twin sister who died at age 5 weeks. The image of a twin or second linked person is used often in his stories.

Sold first short story 1951. Throughout early 1950’s sold dozens of stories to make money. These early stories were written very quickly, often 4 or 5 a month, as they didn’t pay that well.

Published in pulp magazines such as
Amazing, Astounding, Beyond Fantasy Fiction, Fantastic, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Planet Stories, If, Galaxy, Imagination, Space Science Fiction, Fantastic Story Magazine, Future, Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy, Fantasy Fiction, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Fantastic Universe, Time To Come, Science Fiction Quarterly, Startling Stories, Orbit Science Fiction, Science Fiction Adventures, Science Fiction Stories, Satellite Science Fiction, Imaginative Tales, Worlds of Tomorrow.
Dozens of mags. Very popular 1950’s Sci fi novels not so popular then in US.

Due to McCarthyism (Joseph McCarthy Wisconsin senator) a lot of PKD’s short stories and early novels were to do with themes of differences – he showed aliens that weren’t as bad as we might think, and really weren’t very different from us.
1955 visit from FBI for left-wing activities.

It was also a time of great optimism about the future and possibilities. Due to technologies almost anything seemed possible in sci fi and many sci fi writers including PKD thought that before long space travel throughout the solar system and colonization of the planets would be common-place. Some of his short stories are wonderful because of this optimism.

His stories would usually have some unexpected twist or turn, something that his later novels were famous for. Most of his stories have an ending that while they may not be Disney happy, none the less give some hope for the future.

By the late 1950’s he was publishing novels and producing them at a great pace. Reportedly most of his books were published from one draft, and unfortunately this often shows. I feel some of his novels could have been even better with some editing.

One of his great themes is “what is human?”. What makes us different from animals and androids (very clear in Androids dream). Because of this I like to think of him as a philosopher as much as a sci fi writer.

Most of his characters are ordinary people, who discover their abilities.

Used lots of apocalyptic worlds – fear from 1950’s I imagine.

Also leaves reader often with more questions than answers – philosophizing – he’s admitting he doesn’t have the answers to the world, but also searching for a better world for him to fit in to.

Altered universes. Unlike a lot of sci fi writers PKD’s worlds were all different – no repetition of character or technology. Amazing he could do this and still be so prolific.

Drug use – long term use of amphetamines and others. Must have contributed to unordered nature of stories. Some clearer than others, particularly early stories.

Was married and divorced 5 times, 3 kids.

Had halucinationary experience 1974, basis of next 3 books.

Wrote 6 main-stream novels also, one of which was published in his life-time

The Man in the high Castle 1962

Tagomi – trade mission in SF
Robert Childan – owner of shop, adopts japans manners, way of speech and thought, due to contact with Japanese customers.
Baynes – Rudolf wegener – warns Japanese of plan to bomb japan by germans
Juliana Frink – meets Joe (assassin to kill author) and travels to high castle Abendsen
Frank Frink and Ed – start jewellery business
Hugo Reiss – reich consul sf

Lots of story lines, takes a while to work out what’s going on, but in end makes sense. More accessible than most of his other novels.

i-ching wrote the grasshopper lies heavy

counterfeit stock in shop, counterfeit world – i-ching reveals this, that our world is more real

Tagomi – brief vision of alternative sf

Intentioned to have sequel , therefore no complete ending. PKD found too confronting to write.
I don’t mind ending leaves i-ching and possibilities of what this means up to reader.

Read out to group “The eyes have it” vol 3 short stories.
Not typical PKD story, but short, a bit old fashioned and I like the last line!

Philip K. Dick

Born Chicago 1928, died California 1982
“From the very outset, Dick wrote as if the commercial conventions of the sf genre did not exist. Even the one-punch gimmick stories are Dickian gimmicks. From the beginning, Dick was reinventing science fiction, turning it into a literary instrument for his own concerns, and yes, obsessions.”  Norman Spinrod 1986

Some of the more prominent PKD novels.

The man in the high castle (1962)
An alternate history set in 1962 where WWII had a different outcome. Japan controls the Pacific and Western USA, while Germany controls Eastern USA and Europe. 6 main plotlines intertwine showing life in this world from different perspectives, leading to a confrontation with “the man in the high castle” who has published a book which is very similar to our version of WWII. Why has this happened?

Martian time-slip (1964)
Emigrants to Mars come to terms with life away from Earth. A few “time slips” along the way make the story at times confusing.

Dr Bloodmoney, or how we got along after the bomb (1965)
7 years after a nuclear accident that has affected the world, a group of people manage to eke out life in rural California. But something is about to alter their semi-comfortable existence.

The three stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965)
One of the weirdest of PKD’s books. On Mars depressed colonists use drugs such as Can-D and Chew-Z with surprising results.

Do androids dream of electric sheep? (1968)
About EMPATHY and ENTROPY. Bounty hunter Rick Deckard retires (kills) androids while living on a futuristic post-war earth enveloped in dust and decaying. While he contemplates how humans relate to androids and animals, how androids relate to humans, the world is crumbling around him (becoming kibble).

Ubik (1969)
Glen Runciter and his dead wife, kept in cryonic suspension, operate a company employing people with psychic abilities. This is big business, but who else wants in on this? A number of reality shifts and the introduction of a product called ubik (ubiquity) that helps restore half-dead people, means this is one of PKD’s most unsettling rides.

Flow my tears, the policeman said (1974)
Jason Taverner, a famous tv star, suddenly finds that nobody recognises him. Is he in a parallel universe?

A scanner darkly (1977)
Bob Arctor, an undercover cop, starts using Substance D to infiltrate the drug world of LA. He soon becomes addicted and finds it hard to remember who he really is. Is there a way to escape back to his previous life? This is a semi-autobiographical novel based on PKD’s experiences with drugs in the 1960’s.

Novels written by PKD

Written Title Published
1950 Gather Yourselves Together* 1994
1952 Voices from the Street* 2007
1953 Vulcan’s Hammer 1960
1953 Dr. Futurity 1960
1953 The Cosmic Puppets 1957
1954 Solar Lottery 1955
1954 Mary and the Giant* 1987
1954 The World Jones Made 1956
1955 Eye in the Sky 1957
1955 The Man Who Japed 1956
1956 A Time for George Stavros Lost
1956 Pilgrim on the Hill Lost
1956 The Broken Bubble* 1988
1957 Puttering About in a Small Land* 1985
1958 Nicholas and the Higs Lost
1958 Time Out of Joint 1959
1958 In Milton Lumky Territory* 1985
1959 Confessions of a Crap Artist* 1975
1960 The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike* 1982
1960 Humpty Dumpty in Oakland* 1986
1961 The Man in the High Castle 1962
1962 We Can Build You 1972
1962 Martian Time-Slip 1964
1963 Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb 1965
1963 The Game-Players of Titan 1963
1963 The Simulacra 1964
1963 The Crack in Space 1966
1963 Now Wait for Last Year 1966
1964 Clans of the Alphane Moon 1964
1964 The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch 1965
1964 The Zap Gun 1967
1964 The Penultimate Truth 1964
1964 Deus Irae (with Roger Zelazny) 1976
1964 The Unteleported Man (as Lies, Inc.) 1966
1965 The Ganymede Takeover (with Ray F. Nelson) 1967
1965 Counter-Clock World 1967
1966 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 1968
1966 Nick and the Glimmung (kid’s SciFi) 1988
1966 Ubik 1969
1968 Galactic Pot-Healer 1969
1968 A Maze of Death 1970
1969 Our Friends from Frolix 8 1970
1970 Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said 1974
1973 A Scanner Darkly 1977
1976 Radio Free Albemuth 1985
1978 VALIS 1981
1980 The Divine Invasion 1981
1981 The Transmigration of Timothy Archer 1982

“Paranoia, in some respects, I think is a modern-day development of an ancient, archaic sense that animals still have – quarry-type animals – that they’re being watched ….. I say paranoia is an atavistic sense. It’s a lingering sense, that we had long ago, when we were – our ancestors were – very vulnerable to predators, and this sense tells them they’re being watched. And they’re being watched probably by something that’s going to get them…..

And often my characters have this feeling.

But what really I’ve done is, I have atavised their society. That although it’s set in the future, in many ways they’re living –there is a retrogressive quality in their lives, you know? They’re living like our ancestors did. I mean, the hardware is in the future, the scenery’s in the future, but the situations are really from the past.”   PKD 1974

PKD wrote 121 short stories. Most were published in pulp sci fi magazines of the early 1950’s.

Films that were based on PKD novels and short stories.

Film                                       Year        Source Material                                             Year   Type
Blade Runner                       1982        Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?        1968   Novel
Total Recall                          1990        We Can Remember It For You Wholesale   1966   Short Story
Confessions d’un Barjo      1992       Confessions of a Crap Artist                         1975   Novel
Screamers                             1995        Second Variety                                                 1953   Short Story
Minority Report                  2002        The Minority Report                                       1956   Short Story
Impostor                              2002        Impostor                                                             1953   Short Story
Paycheck                             2003        Paycheck                                                            1953   Short Story
A Scanner Darkly               2006       A Scanner Darkly                                              1977   Novel
Next                                      2007       The Golden Man                                                1954   Short Story
Radio Free Albemuth         2008       Radio Free Albemuth                                        1976   Novel
King Of The Elves              2012       The King Of The Elves                                     1953  Short Story

“I used to believe the universe was basically hostile. And that I was misplaced I it, I was different from it…fashioned in some other universe and placed here, you see. So that it zigged while I zagged. And that it had singled me out only because there was something weird about me. I didn’t really groove with the universe.

I had a lot of faith that the universe would discover just how different I was from it. My only suspicion about it was that it would find out the truth about me, and its reaction would be perfectly normal: it would get me. I didn’t feel that it was malevolent, just perceptive. And there’s nothing worse than a perceptive universe if there’s something weird about you.

But this year I realised that that’s not true. That the universe is perceptive, but it’s friendly… I just don’t feel that I’m different from the universe anymore.”
PKD 1974


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