Reading PKD

phil_dick.jpgIt’s exciting when writers you admire get a write-up in the NYTimes. In this case, it’s almost a belated obit. Charles McGrath does a nice job of paying homage to Philip K. Dick. Like the Times’ obituary for Vonnegut, this hits me in an especially sensitive spot because Philip K. Dick is a very influential writer for me. I discovered him through the movie BladeRunner and have read I don’t know how many of his books. I try to space them out lest I finish all of them and have no new books to pick up. I reread him several times a year and have two short stories which, while not sci-fi related at all, include scenes which are heavily, heavily influenced (no, not plagiarized, I didn’t go that far) by Mr. Dick’s writing in “The World Jones Made.”
Mr. McGrath rightly touches on Mr. Dick’s obsession with reality, divinity and authenticity. He ignores the author’s politics for the most part, which is unfortunate, because Mr. Dick’s writing was especially timely in an era of governmental distrust of the populace, popular disconnection from government, and general abuse of power for short-term, banal gain. His writing included political elements, responded to the era he lived in (Viet Nam, Nixon, political assassinations de jour), and offered very little in the way of remedy. That’s a good thing. He was descriptive, not prescriptive in his political writing (possibly due to his paranoia causing him to see no solutions other than death/divinity), and that’s what I’m trying to do right now in my current work in progress.
Overall, a wonderful, touching tribute to one of my favorites. Its conclusion:

The books aren’t just trippy, though. The best of them are visionary or surreal in a way that American literature, so rooted in reality and observation, seldom is. Critics have often compared Mr. Dick to Borges, Kafka, Calvino. To come up with an American analogue you have to think of someone like Emerson, but nobody would ever dream of looking to him for movie ideas. Emerson was all brain, no pulp.*

*Note: not to take away from Mr. Dick’s talents as an author, but Mr. McGrath’s argument that it’s hard to come up with an American analogue to Mr. Dick is to ignore the talents of authors like Steven Erickson whose surrealism moves in a direction clearly inspired by Mr. Dick but which explores its own unique territory. I’d also mention Mr. Pynchon in any discussion of exploration of reality/divinity/politics.

6 thoughts on “Reading PKD

  1. I’ve read a couple of Philip K. Dick’s short stories, and I know that a couple movies have been made from them. He’s one of those phenom writers that seemed to pull stories out of thin air. He leaves quite a body of work behind him. I’m no expert, but his work is fun to read–and the imagination!

  2. Ah, I am also a PKD fan, being the flipped-out-freak I am. I got started on him through “Man in the High Castle” and went from there. I find that I have a lot of fears and interests in common with him, from governments that have no solutions to women with long dark hair (heh).

  3. I read Do Androids dream of electric sheep about a year ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, and am currently working my way through a collection of his short stories, good stuff. Some of it’s a bit weird, but on the whole I’m really enjoying it.

  4. The great thing about Philip Dick’s short stories is that they provide a really great lens onto the growth of a writer. He was incredibly prolific (thanks to speed he popped by the handful) and some of his earlier short stories are, in my opinion, kind of amateurish. But as the years went by and he moved into novels his writing grew with his vision and his purpose. Early short stories were to make a buck. Later on he had grander visions. It’s one of the reasons I think he’s a good writer to read because you can see how he reused certain themes, even certain plots, and how they became more developed as he matured.

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