Philip K. Dick (1928-1982)

Philip K. Dick is one of my all-time fave sci-fi writers. He began writing not long after the early Golden Age of sci-fi (Heinlein, Van Vogt, Campbell, etc.) but definitely takes a very different tack in most of his books from those writers as to subject matter.

While Dick usually describes interesting and futuristic technology (I have yet to see a ‘Nitz Commercial‘ but I’m still eagerly waiting) and situations (and in many books, WW2/Cold-War-influenced scenarios) they usually aren’t the focus of the story – they just set the scene. Dick usually zeros in on the human angle – how do people respond to their environment, why do they (sometimes) end up crazy because of it, how do they work together to survive (or against one another to mutual destruction) – and on.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (source material for the Ridley Scott movie Blade Runner) is an intense examination of what it means ‘to be human’, and who can claim that mantle. Despite mental defects (the ‘chickenheads’), internal turmoil and self-doubt (nearly all the main characters, but most notably Deckard) and simply learning one’s true identity (Rachel, Roy Batty and the other replicants to varying degrees) are all tough, long-term struggles that in many ways, none of the characters ultimately understand completely or resolve by the end of the book.

Another great book is The Man in the High Castle – which tells the story of post WW2 America as if the Germans/Japanese won the war, and split the country in half (West Coast to JP; East to DE). A very interesting take on what might happen if America itself became the ‘conqueree’ instead of the usual outcome, and how its citizens and immigrant(s)/administrators from the foreign powers might treat us. To me, this story is much closer to the possible truth than say, Ecotopia (a 1970s novel about the Pacific NW seceding from the USA as if written by a US journalist who visits after the new country has existed for 20+ years and his experiences there) although it also has some distant echoes of Heinlein’s much earlier Sixth Column.

Nowadays, although PKD is no longer with us, his books are (finally!) being almost all reprinted and several large short story collections have also been put back on the shelves. His diverse offspring (PKD had several marriages along the way) have largely taken control of his estate and legacy, and have arguably done a decent job watching out for his legacy onscreen over the past several years. Minority Report was a GREAT fairly recent example of a Dick story put to film.

At the bottom of the Wikipedia PKD article noted above, there is a huge list of great links to other online PKD resources – enjoy!