It’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.