Couple of interesting writers, H. P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick
I just have to do some post to these wonderful writers. And these are H. P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick. These two have made a tremendous influence to me and I have to post something about them. So here it goes first H. P. Lovecraft:
H. P. Lovecraft, circa 1934.
H. P. LovecraftFrom Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937) — known as H. P. Lovecraft — was an Americanauthor of horror, fantasy, poetry and science fiction, especially the subgenre known as weird fiction.
Lovecraft’s guiding aesthetic and philosophical principle was what he termed “cosmicism” or “cosmic horror”, the idea that life is incomprehensible to human minds and that the universe is fundamentally inimical to the interests of humankind. As such, his stories express a profound indifference to human beliefs and affairs. Lovecraft is the originator of the Cthulhu Mythos story cycle and the Necronomicon, a fictional magical textbook of rites and forbidden lore.
Although Lovecraft’s readership was limited during his lifetime, his reputation has grown over the decades, and he is now regarded as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century. According to Joyce Carol Oates, an award-winning author, Lovecraft—as with Edgar Allan Poe in the 19th century—has exerted “an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction”. Science fiction and fantasy author Stephen King called Lovecraft “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” King has made it clear in his semi-autobiographical non-fiction book Danse Macabre that Lovecraft was responsible for King’s own fascination with horror and the macabre, and was the single largest figure to influence his fiction writing. Lovecraft’s stories have been adapted into plays, films and games.
Life and career
Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890 in his family home at 194 (later 454) Angell Street in Providence, Rhode Island. (The house was demolished in 1961.) He was the only child of Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a traveling salesman of jewelry and precious metals, and Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, who could trace her ancestry to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631. His parents married when they were in their thirties, unusually late in life for the time period. In 1893, when Lovecraft was three, his father became acutely psychotic in a Chicago hotel room while on a business trip. The elder Lovecraft was taken back to Providence and placed in Butler Hospital, where he remained until his death in 1898. Lovecraft maintained throughout his life that his father had died in a condition of paralysis brought on by “nervous exhaustion” due to over work, but it is now almost certain that the actual cause was paresis due to syphilis. It is unknown whether the younger Lovecraft was ever aware of the actual nature of his father’s illness or its cause, although his mother likely was.
After his father’s hospitalization, Lovecraft was raised by his mother, his two aunts (Lillian Delora Phillips and Annie Emeline Phillips), and his maternal grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, an American businessman. All five resided together in the family home. Lovecraft was a prodigy, reciting poetry at the age of three, and writing complete poems by six. His grandfather encouraged his reading, providing him with classics such as The Arabian Nights, Bulfinch’s Age of Fable, and children’s versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey. His grandfather also stirred the boy’s interest in the weird by telling him his own original tales of Gothic horror.
Lovecraft was frequently ill as a child. Because of his sickly condition, he barely attended school until he was eight years old, and then was withdrawn after a year. He read voraciously during this period and became especially enamored of chemistry and astronomy. He produced several hectographed publications with a limited circulation, beginning in 1899 with The Scientific Gazette. Four years later, he returned to public school at Hope High School (Rhode Island). Beginning in his early life, Lovecraft is believed to have suffered from night terrors, a rare parasomnia; he believed himself to be assaulted at night by horrific “night gaunts”. Much of his later work is thought to have been directly inspired by these terrors. (Indeed, “Night Gaunts” became the subject of a poem he wrote of the same name, in which they were personified as devil-like creatures without faces.)
His grandfather’s death in 1904 greatly affected Lovecraft’s life. Mismanagement of his grandfather’s estate left his family in a poor financial situation, and they were forced to move into much smaller accommodations at 598 (now a duplex at 598-600) Angell Street. In 1908, prior to his high school graduation, he claimed to have suffered what he later described as a “nervous breakdown”, and consequently never received his high school diploma (although he maintained for most of his life that he did graduate). S. T. Joshi suggests in his biography of Lovecraft that a primary cause for this breakdown was his difficulty in higher mathematics, a subject he needed to master to become a professional astronomer.
Lovecraft wrote some fiction as a youth, but from 1908 until 1913, his output was primarily poetry. During that time, he lived a hermit’s existence, having almost no contact with anyone but his mother. This changed when he wrote a letter to The Argosy, a pulp magazine, complaining about the insipidness of the love stories of one of the publication’s writers, Fred Jackson. The ensuing debate in the magazine’s letters column caught the eye of Edward F. Daas, president of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA), who invited Lovecraft to join the organization in 1914. The UAPA reinvigorated Lovecraft and incited him to contribute many poems and essays. In 1917, at the prodding of correspondents, he returned to fiction with more polished stories, such as “The Tomb” and “Dagon“. The latter was his first commercially published work, appearing in W. Paul Cook‘s The Vagrant (November 1919) and Weird Tales in 1923. Around that time, he began to build a huge network of correspondents. His lengthy and frequent missives would make him one of the great letter writers of the century. Among his correspondents were Robert Bloch (Psycho), Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian series).
In 1919, after suffering from hysteria and depression for a long period of time, Lovecraft’s mother was committed to Butler Hospital just as her husband had been. Nevertheless, she wrote frequent letters to Lovecraft, and they remained close until her death on May 24, 1921, the result of complications from gall bladder surgery.
Forbidden knowledge is a central theme in many of Lovecraft’s works. Many of his characters are driven by curiosity or scientific endeavor, and in many of his stories the knowledge they uncover proves Promethean in nature, either filling the seeker with regret for what they have learned, destroying them psychically, or completely destroying the person who holds the knowledge.
Some critics argue that this theme is a reflection of Lovecraft’s contempt of the world around him, causing him to search inwardly for knowledge and inspiration.
Non-human influences on humanity
The beings of Lovecraft’s mythos often have human (or mostly human) servants; Cthulhu, for instance, is worshiped under various names by cults amongst both the Eskimos of Greenland and voodoo circles of Louisiana, and in many other parts of the world.
These worshipers served a useful narrative purpose for Lovecraft. Many beings of the Mythos were too powerful to be defeated by human opponents, and so horrific that direct knowledge of them meant insanity for the victim. When dealing with such beings, Lovecraft needed a way to provide exposition and build tension without bringing the story to a premature end. Human followers gave him a way to reveal information about their “gods” in a diluted form, and also made it possible for his protagonists to win paltry victories. Lovecraft, like his contemporaries, envisioned “savages” as closer to supernatural knowledge unknown to civilized man.
Another recurring theme in Lovecraft’s stories is the idea that descendants in a bloodline can never escape the stain of crimes committed by their forebears, at least if the crimes are atrocious enough. Descendants may be very far removed, both in place and in time (and, indeed, in culpability), from the act itself, and yet, they may be haunted by the revenant past, e.g. “The Rats in the Walls“, “The Lurking Fear“, “Arthur Jermyn“, “The Alchemist“, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth“, “The Doom that Came to Sarnath” and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
Often in Lovecraft’s works the protagonist is not in control of his own actions, or finds it impossible to change course. Many of his characters would be free from danger if they simply managed to run away; however, this possibility either never arises or is somehow curtailed by some outside force, such as in “The Colour Out of Space” and “The Dreams in the Witch House“. Often his characters are subject to a compulsive influence from powerful malevolent or indifferent beings. As with the inevitability of one’s ancestry, eventually even running away, or death itself, provides no safety (“The Thing on the Doorstep“, “The Outsider“, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, etc.). In some cases, this doom is manifest in the entirety of humanity, and no escape is possible (“The Shadow Out of Time“).
Civilization under threat
Lovecraft was familiar with the work of the German conservative-revolutionary theorist Oswald Spengler, whose pessimistic thesis of the decadence of the modern West formed a crucial element in Lovecraft’s overall anti-modern worldview. Spenglerian imagery of cyclical decay is present in particular in At the Mountains of Madness. S. T. Joshi, in H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West, places Spengler at the center of his discussion of Lovecraft’s political and philosophical ideas.
Lovecraft wrote to Clark Ashton Smith in 1927: “It is my belief, and was so long before Spengler put his seal of scholarly proof on it, that our mechanical and industrial age is one of frank decadence“. Lovecraft was also acquainted with the writings of another German philosopher of decadence: Friedrich Nietzsche.
Lovecraft frequently dealt with the idea of civilization struggling against dark, primitive barbarism. In some stories this struggle is at an individual level; many of his protagonists are cultured, highly-educated men who are gradually corrupted by some obscure and feared influence.
In such stories, the “curse” is often a hereditary one, either because of interbreeding with non-humans (e.g., “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” (1920), “The Shadow over Innsmouth” (1931) or through direct magical influence (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward). Physical and mental degradation often come together; this theme of ‘tainted blood’ may represent concerns relating to Lovecraft’s own family history, particularly the death of his father due to what Lovecraft must have suspected to be a syphilitic disorder.
In other tales, an entire society is threatened by barbarism. Sometimes the barbarism comes as an external threat, with a civilized race destroyed in war (e.g., “Polaris“). Sometimes, an isolated pocket of humanity falls into decadence and atavism of its own accord (e.g., “The Lurking Fear“). But most often, such stories involve a civilized culture being gradually undermined by a malevolent underclass influenced by inhuman forces.
There is a lack of analysis as to whether England’s gradual loss of prominence and related conflicts (Boer War, India, World War I) had an influence on Lovecraft’s worldview. It is likely that the “roaring twenties” left Lovecraft disillusioned as he was still obscure and struggling with the basic necessities of daily life, combined with seeing non-Western European immigrants in New York City.
Race, ethnicity, and class
Racism is the most controversial aspect of Lovecraft’s works which “does not endear Lovecraft to the modern reader,” and it comes across through many disparaging remarks against the various non-Anglo-Saxon races and cultures within his work. Lovecraft did not seem to hold all white people in high regard, but rather he held English people, and persons of English descent, above all others. While his racist perspective is undeniable, many critics argue this does not detract from his ability to create compelling philosophical worlds which have inspired many artists and readers. In his published essays, private letters and personal utterances, he argued for a strong color line, for the purpose of preserving race and culture. These arguments occurred through direct statements against different races in his journalistic work and personal correspondence, or perhaps allegorically in his work using non-human races. Reading Lovecraft’s work, his racial attitude was seen as more cultural than biological, showing sympathy to others who assimilated into the western culture and even marrying a Jewish woman whom he viewed as “well assimilated.” While Lovecraft’s racial attitude has been seen as directly influenced by the time, a reflection of the New England society he grew up in, this racism appeared stronger than the popular viewpoints held at that time. Some researchers note that his views failed to change in the face of increased social change of that time.
Risks of a scientific era
At the turn of the 20th century, man’s increased reliance upon science was both opening new worlds and solidifying the manners by which he could understand them. Lovecraft portrays this potential for a growing gap of man’s understanding of the universe as a potential for horror. Most notably in “The Colour Out of Space”, the inability of science to comprehend a contaminated meteorite leads to horror.
In a letter to James F. Morton in 1923, Lovecraft specifically points to Einstein‘s theory on relativity as throwing the world into chaos and making the cosmos a jest. And in a 1929 letter to Woodburn Harris, he speculates that technological comforts risk the collapse of science. Indeed, at a time when men viewed science as limitless and powerful, Lovecraft imagined alternative potential and fearful outcomes. In “The Call of Cthulhu”, Lovecraft’s characters encounter architecture which is “abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours”.Non-Euclidean geometry is the mathematical language and background of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and Lovecraft references it repeatedly in exploring alien archaeology.
Lovecraft’s works are ruled by several distinct pantheons of deities (actually aliens who are worshiped by humans as deities) who are either indifferent or actively hostile to humanity. Lovecraft’s actual philosophy has been termed “cosmic indifferentism” and this is expressed in his fiction. Several of Lovecraft’s stories of the Old Ones (alien beings of the Cthulhu Mythos), propose alternate mythic human origins in contrast to those found in the creation stories of existing religions, expanding on a natural world view. For instance, in Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” it is proposed that humankind was actually created as a slave race by the Old Ones. Protagonist characters in Lovecraft are usually educated men, citing scientific and rationalist evidence to support their non-faith. Herbert West–Reanimator reflects on the atheism common within academic circles. In “The Silver Key“, the character Randolph Carter loses the ability to dream and seeks solace in religion, specifically Congregationalism, but does not find it and ultimately loses faith.
Lovecraft himself adopted the stance of atheism early in his life. In 1932 he wrote in a letter to Robert E. Howard: “All I say is that I think it is damned unlikely that anything like a central cosmic will, a spirit world, or an eternal survival of personality exist. They are the most preposterous and unjustified of all the guesses which can be made about the universe, and I am not enough of a hairsplitter to pretend that I don’t regard them as arrant and negligible moonshine. In theory I am an agnostic, but pending the appearance of radical evidence I must be classed, practically and provisionally, as an atheist.”
Here’s the document about H. P. Lovecraft:
Philip K. Dick
Philip Kindred Dick (December 16, 1928 – March 2, 1982) was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist whose published work is almost entirely in the science fiction genre. Dick explored sociological, political and metaphysical themes in novels dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments, and altered states. In his later works Dick’s thematic focus strongly reflected his personal interest in metaphysics and theology. He often drew upon his own life experiences in addressing the nature of drug abuse, paranoia, schizophrenia, and transcendental experiences in novels such as A Scanner Darkly and VALIS.
The novel The Man in the High Castle bridged the genres of alternate history and science fiction, earning Dick a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, a novel about a celebrity who awakens in a parallel universe where he is unknown, won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel in 1975. “I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards,” Dick wrote of these stories. “In my writing I even question the universe; I wonder out loud if it is real, and I wonder out loud if all of us are real.”
In addition to 44 published novels, Dick wrote approximately 121 short stories, most of which appeared in science fiction magazines during his lifetime. Although Dick spent most of his career as a writer in near-poverty, ten popular films based on his works have been produced, including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, and The Adjustment Bureau. In 2005, Time magazine named Ubik one of the one hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923. In 2007, Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series.
Philip Kindred Dick and his twin sister, Jane Charlotte Dick, were born six weeks prematurely on December 16, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois, to Dorothy Kindred Dick and Joseph Edgar Dick, who worked for the United States Department of Agriculture. The death of Jane, six weeks later on January 26, 1929, profoundly affected Philip’s life, leading to the recurrent motif of the “phantom twin” in his books.
The family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. When Philip turned five, his father was transferred to Reno, Nevada. When Dorothy refused to move, she and Joseph divorced. Both parents fought for custody of Philip, which was awarded to the mother. Dorothy, determined to raise Philip alone, took a job in Washington, D.C., and moved there with her son. Philip was enrolled at John Eaton Elementary School (1936–38), completing the second through fourth grades. His lowest grade was a “C” in Written Composition, although a teacher remarked that he “shows interest and ability in story telling.” He was educated in Quaker schools. In June 1938, Dorothy and Philip returned to California, and it was around this time that he became interested in science fiction. Dick states that, in 1940, at the age of twelve, he read his first science fiction magazine, “Stirring Science Stories”.
Dick attended Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California. He and fellow science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin were members of the same graduating class (1947) but were unknown to each other at the time. After graduation, he briefly attended the University of California, Berkeley, (September 1949 to November 11, 1949) with an honorary dismissal granted January 1, 1950. Dick was an undeclared major and took classes in History, Psychology, Philosophy, and Zoology. Through his studies in Philosophy, he believed that existence is based on the internal-based perception of a human, which does not necessarily correspond to external reality; he described himself as an “a cosmic panentheist,” believing in the universe only as an extension of God. After reading the works of Plato and pondering the possibilities of metaphysical realms, Dick came to the conclusion that, in a certain sense, the world is not entirely real and there is no way to confirm whether it is truly there. This question from his early studies persisted as a theme in many of his novels. Dick dropped out, according to his third wife Anne in her memoir, because of his ongoing anxiety problems. Anne states that he did not like the mandatory ROTC training. At Berkeley, Dick befriended poet Robert Duncan and poet and linguist Jack Spicer, who gave Dick ideas for a Martian language. Dick claimed to have been host of a classical music program on KSMO Radio in 1947.
From 1948 to 1952, Dick worked at Art Music Company, a record store on Telegraph Avenue. In 1955, he and his second wife, Kleo Apostolides, received a visit from the FBI, which they believed to be the result of Kleo’s socialist views and left-wing activities. The couple briefly befriended one of the FBI agents.
Dick was married five times: Jeanette Marlin (May to November 1948), Kleo Apostolides (June 14, 1950 to 1959), Anne Williams Rubinstein (April 1, 1959 to October 1965), Nancy Hackett (July 6, 1966 to 1972), and Leslie (Tessa) Busby (April 18, 1973 to 1977). Dick had three children, Laura Archer (February 25, 1960), Isolde Freya (now Isa Dick Hackett) (March 15, 1967), and Christopher Kenneth (July 25, 1973).
Dick tried to stay off the political scene because of the high societal turmoil from the Vietnam War; however, he did show some anti-Vietnam War and anti-governmental sentiments. In 1968, he joined the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest”, an anti-war pledge to pay no U.S. federal income tax, which resulted in the confiscation of his car by the IRS.
Dick sold his first story in 1951 and wrote full-time from that point. During 1952 his first speculative fiction publications appeared in July and September numbers of Planet Stories, edited by Jack O’Sullivan, and in If and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that fall. His debut novel was Solar Lottery, published in 1955 as half of Ace Double #D-103 alongside The Big Jump by Leigh Brackett. The 1950s were a difficult and impoverished time for Dick. He once said “We couldn’t even pay the late fees on a library book.” He published almost exclusively within the science fiction genre, but dreamed of a career in the mainstream of American literature. During the 1950s he produced a series of non-genre, relatively conventional novels. In 1960 he wrote that he was willing to “take twenty to thirty years to succeed as a literary writer.” The dream of mainstream success formally died in January 1963 when the Scott Meredith Literary Agency returned all of his unsold mainstream novels. Only one of these works, Confessions of a Crap Artist, was published during Dick’s lifetime.
In 1963, Dick won the Hugo Award for The Man in the High Castle. Although he was hailed as a genius in the science fiction world, the mainstream literary world was unappreciative, and he could publish books only through low-paying science fiction publishers such as Ace. Even in his later years, he continued to have financial troubles. In the introduction to the 1980 short story collection The Golden Man, Dick wrote:
- “Several years ago, when I was ill, Heinlein offered his help, anything he could do, and we had never met; he would phone me to cheer me up and see how I was doing. He wanted to buy me an electric typewriter, God bless him—one of the few true gentlemen in this world. I don’t agree with any ideas he puts forth in his writing, but that is neither here nor there. One time when I owed the IRS a lot of money and couldn’t raise it, Heinlein loaned the money to me. I think a great deal of him and his wife; I dedicated a book to them in appreciation. Robert Heinlein is a fine-looking man, very impressive and very military in stance; you can tell he has a military background, even to the haircut. He knows I’m a flipped-out freak and still he helped me and my wife when we were in trouble. That is the best in humanity, there; that is who and what I love.”
In 1972, Dick donated manuscripts, papers and other materials to the Special Collections Library at California State University, Fullerton where they are archived in the Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Collection in the Pollak Library. It was in Fullerton that Philip K. Dick befriended budding science-fiction writers K. W. Jeter, James Blaylock, and Tim Powers. The last novel Dick wrote was The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. It was published shortly after his death in 1982.
Paranormal experiences and mental health issues
On February 20, 1974, while recovering from the effects of sodium pentothal administered for the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth, Dick received a home delivery of Darvon from a young woman. When he opened the door, he was struck by the beauty of the dark-haired girl and was especially drawn to her golden necklace. He asked her about its curious fish-shaped design. “This is a sign used by the early Christians,” she said, and then left. Dick called the symbol the “vesicle pisces”. This name seems to have been based on his conflation of two related symbols, the Christian ichthys symbol (two intersecting arcs delineating a fish in profile) which the woman was wearing, and the vesica piscis.
Dick recounted that as the sun glinted off the gold pendant, the reflection caused the generation of a “pink beam” that mesmerized him. Dick came to believe the beam imparted wisdom and clairvoyance; he also believed it to be intelligent. On one occasion, Dick was startled by a seperate recurrence of the pink beam. It imparted the information to him that his infant son was ill. The Dicks rushed the child to the hospital where Dick’s suspicion and his diagnosis were confirmed.
After the woman’s departure, Dick began experiencing strange hallucinations. Although initially attributing them to his medication, after weeks of hallucinations he considered this explanation implausible. “I experienced an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind, as if I had been insane all my life and suddenly I had become sane,” Dick told Charles Platt.
Throughout February and March 1974, Dick experienced a series of hallucinations, which he referred to as “2-3-74″, shorthand for February–March 1974. Aside from the “pink beam”, Dick described the initial hallucinations as geometric patterns, and, occasionally, brief pictures of Jesus and ancient Rome. As the hallucinations increased in length and frequency, Dick claimed he began to live two parallel lives, one as himself, “Philip K. Dick”, and one as “Thomas”, a Christian persecuted by Romans in the 1st century AD. He referred to the “transcendentally rational mind” as “Zebra”, “God” and “VALIS“. Dick wrote about the experiences, first in the semi-autobiographical novel Radio Free Albemuth and then in VALIS, The Divine Invasion and the unfinished The Owl in Daylight (the VALIS trilogy).
At one point Dick felt that he had been taken over by the spirit of the prophet Elijah. He believed that an episode in his novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said was a detailed retelling of a story from the Biblical Book of Acts, which he had never read. Dick documented and discussed his experiences and faith in a private journal, later published as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick.
Dick had two professional stories published under the pen names Richard Phillipps and Jack Dowland. “Some Kinds Of Life” in Fantastic Universe, October 1953 was published as by Richard Phillipps apparently because “Planet For Transients” was published in the same issue under his own name.
The short story “Orpheus with Clay Feet” was published under the pen name “Jack Dowland”. The protagonist desires to be the muse for fictional author Jack Dowland, considered the greatest science fiction author of the 20th century. In the story, Dowland publishes a short story titled “Orpheus with Clay Feet”, under the pen name “Philip K. Dick”.
The surname Dowland refers to Renaissance composer John Dowland, who is featured in several works. The title Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said directly refers to Dowland’s best-known composition, “Flow My Tears”. In the novel The Divine Invasion, the ‘Linda Fox’ character, created specifically with Linda Ronstadt in mind, is an intergalactically famous singer whose entire body of work consists of recordings of John Dowland compositions. Also, some protagonists in Dick’s short fiction are named ‘Dowland’.
Style and works
“Dick’s third major theme is his fascination with war and his fear and hatred of it. One hardly sees critical mention of it, yet it is as integral to his body of work as oxygen is to water.”—Steven Owen Godersky
Dick’s stories typically focus on the fragile nature of what is “real” and the construction of personal identity. His stories often become surreal fantasies as the main characters slowly discover that their everyday world is actually an illusion constructed by powerful external entities (such as in Ubik), vast political conspiracies, or simply from the vicissitudes of an unreliable narrator. “All of his work starts with the basic assumption that there cannot be one, single, objective reality”, writes science fiction author Charles Platt. “Everything is a matter of perception. The ground is liable to shift under your feet. A protagonist may find himself living out another person’s dream, or he may enter a drug-induced state that actually makes better sense than the real world, or he may cross into a different universe completely.”
Alternate universes and simulacra were common plot devices, with fictional worlds inhabited by common, working people, rather than galactic elites. “There are no heroes in Dick’s books”, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote, “but there are heroics. One is reminded of Dickens: what counts is the honesty, constancy, kindness and patience of ordinary people.” Dick made no secret that much of his thinking and work was heavily influenced by the writings of Carl Jung. The Jungian constructs and models that most concerned Dick seem to be the archetypes of the collective unconscious, group projection/hallucination, synchronicities, and personality theory. Many of Dick’s protagonists overtly analyze reality and their perceptions in Jungian terms (see Lies Inc.), while other times, the themes are so obviously in reference to Jung their usage needs no explanation. Dick’s self-named Exegesis also contained many notes on Jung in relation to theology and mysticism.
Dick identified one major theme of his work as the question, “What constitutes the authentic human being?” In works such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? beings can appear totally human in every respect while lacking soul or compassion, while completely alien beings such as Glimmung in Galactic Pot-Healer may be more humane and complex than Dick’s human characters.
Mental illness was a constant interest of Dick’s, and themes of mental illness permeate his work. The character Jack Bohlen in the 1964 novel Martian Time-Slip is an “ex-schizophrenic”. The novel Clans of the Alphane Moon centers on an entire society made up of descendants of lunatic asylum inmates. In 1965 he wrote the essay titled Schizophrenia and the Book of Changes.
Drug use (including religious, recreational, and abuse) was also a theme in many of Dick’s works, such as A Scanner Darkly and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Dick was a drug user for much of his life. According to a 1975 interview in Rolling Stone, Dick wrote all of his books published before 1970 while on amphetamines. “A Scanner Darkly (1977) was the first complete novel I had written without speed”, said Dick in the interview. He also experimented briefly with psychedelics, but wrote The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, which Rolling Stone dubs “the classic LSD novel of all time”, before he had ever tried them. Despite his heavy amphetamine use, however, Dick later said that doctors had told him that the amphetamines never actually affected him, that his liver had processed them before they reached his brain.
Summing up all these themes in Understanding Philip K. Dick, Eric Carl Link discussed eight themes or ‘ideas and motifs’: Epistemology and the Nature of Reality, Know Thyself, The Android and the Human, Entropy and Pot Healing, The Theodicy Problem, Warfare and Power Politics, The Evolved Human, and ‘Technology, Media, Drugs and Madness’.
Selected worksFor complete bibliography, see Philip K. Dick bibliography.
The Man in the High Castle (1962) is set in an alternate universe in which the United States is ruled by the victorious Axis powers. It is considered a defining novel of the alternate history sub-genre, and is the only Dick novel to win a Hugo Award.
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965) utilizes an array of science fiction concepts and features several layers of reality and unreality. It is also one of Dick’s first works to explore religious themes. The novel takes place in the 21st century, when, under UN authority, mankind has colonized the Solar System‘s every habitable planet and moon. Life is physically daunting and psychologically monotonous for most colonists, so the UN must draft people to go to the colonies. Most entertain themselves using “Perky Pat” dolls and accessories manufactured by Earth-based “P.P. Layouts”. The company also secretly creates “Can-D”, an illegal but widely available hallucinogenic drug allowing the user to “translate” into Perky Pat (if the drug user is a woman) or Pat’s boyfriend, Walt (if the drug user is a man). This recreational use of Can-D allows colonists to experience a few minutes of an idealized life on Earth by participating in a collective hallucination.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) is the story of a bounty hunter policing the local android population. It occurs on a dying, poisoned Earth de-populated of all “successful” humans; the only remaining inhabitants of the planet are people with no prospects off-world. The 1968 story is the literary source of the film Blade Runner (1982). It is both a conflation and an intensification of the pivotally Dickian question, What is real, what is fake? What crucial factor defines humanity as distinctly ‘alive’, versus those merely alive only in their outward appearance?
Ubik (1969) uses extensive networks of psychics and a suspended state after death in creating a state of eroding reality. A group of psychics is sent to investigate a group of rival psychics, but several of them are apparently killed by a saboteur’s bomb. Much of the novel flicks between a number of equally plausible realities; the “real” reality, a state of half-life and psychically manipulated realities. In 2005, Time magazine listed it among the “All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels” published since 1923.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974) concerns Jason Taverner, a television star living in a dystopian near-future police state. After being attacked by an angry ex-girlfriend, Taverner awakens in a dingy Los Angeles hotel room. He still has his money in his wallet, but his identification cards are missing. This is no minor inconvenience, as security checkpoints (manned by “pols” and “nats”, the police and National Guard) are set up throughout the city to stop and arrest anyone without valid ID. Jason at first thinks that he was robbed, but soon discovers that his entire identity has been erased. There is no record of him in any official database, and even his closest associates do not recognize or remember him. For the first time in many years, Jason has no fame or reputation to rely on. He has only his innate charisma to help him as he tries to find out what happened to his past and avoid the attention of the pols. The novel was Dick’s first published novel after years of silence, during which time his critical reputation had grown, and this novel was awarded the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. It is the only Philip K. Dick novel nominated for both a Hugo and for a Nebula Award.
In an essay written two years before dying, Dick described how he learned from his Episcopalian priest that an important scene in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said – involving its other main character, Police General Felix Buckman, the policeman of the title – was very similar to a scene in Acts of the Apostles, a book of the Christian New Testament. Film director Richard Linklater discusses this novel in his film Waking Life, which begins with a scene reminiscent of another Dick novel, Time Out of Joint.
A Scanner Darkly (1977) is a bleak mixture of science fiction and police procedural novels; in its story, an undercover narcotics police detective begins to lose touch with reality after falling victim to the same permanently mind altering drug, Substance D, he was enlisted to help fight. Substance D is instantly addictive, beginning with a pleasant euphoria which is quickly replaced with increasing confusion, hallucinations and eventually total psychosis. In this novel, as with all Dick novels, there is an underlying thread of paranoia and dissociation with multiple realities perceived simultaneously. It was adapted to film by Richard Linklater.
VALIS (1980) is perhaps Dick’s most postmodern and autobiographical novel, examining his own unexplained experiences. It may also be his most academically studied work, and was adapted as an opera by Tod Machover. Later works like the VALIS trilogy were heavily autobiographical, many with “two-three-seventy-four” (2-3-74) references and influences. The word VALIS is the acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System. Later, Dick theorized that VALIS was both a “reality generator” and a means of extraterrestrial communication. A fourth VALIS manuscript, Radio Free Albemuth, although composed in 1976, was posthumously published in 1985. This work is described by the publisher (Arbor House) as “an introduction and key to his magnificent VALIS trilogy.”
Regardless of the feeling that he was somehow experiencing a divine communication, Dick was never fully able to rationalize the events. For the rest of his life, he struggled to comprehend what was occurring, questioning his own sanity and perception of reality. He transcribed what thoughts he could into an eight-thousand-page, one-million-word journal dubbed the Exegesis. From 1974 until his death in 1982, Dick spent many nights writing in this journal. A recurring theme in Exegesis is Dick’s hypothesis that history had been stopped in the 1st century AD., and that “the Empire never ended”. He saw Rome as the pinnacle of materialism and despotism, which, after forcing the Gnostics underground, had kept the population of Earth enslaved to worldly possessions. Dick believed that VALIS had communicated with him, and anonymous others, to induce the impeachment of U.S. President Richard Nixon, whom Dick believed to be the current Emperor of Rome incarnate.
In a 1968 essay titled “Self Portrait”, collected in the 1995 book The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick, Dick reflects on his work and lists which books he feels “might escape World War Three”: Eye in the Sky, The Man in the High Castle, Martian Time-Slip, Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb, The Zap Gun, The Penultimate Truth, The Simulacra, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (which he refers to as “the most vital of them all”), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Ubik. In a 1976 interview, Dick cited A Scanner Darkly as his best work, feeling that he “had finally written a true masterpiece, after 25 years of writing”.
A number of Dick’s stories have been made into films. Dick himself wrote a screenplay for an intended film adaptation of Ubik in 1974, but the film was never made. Many film adaptations have not used Dick’s original titles. When asked why this was, Dick’s ex-wife Tessa said, “Actually, the books rarely carry Phil’s original titles, as the editors usually wrote new titles after reading his manuscripts. Phil often commented that he couldn’t write good titles. If he could, he would have been an advertising writer instead of a novelist.” Films based on Dick’s writing have accumulated a total revenue of over US $1 billion as of 2009.
- Blade Runner (1982), based on Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford. A screenplay had been in the works for years before Scott took the helm, with Dick being extremely critical of all versions. Dick was still apprehensive about how his story would be adapted for the film when the project was finally put into motion. Among other things, he refused to do a novelization of the film. But contrary to his initial reactions, when he was given an opportunity to see some of the special effects sequences of Los Angeles 2019, Dick was amazed that the environment was “exactly as how I’d imagined it!”, though Ridley Scott has mentioned he had never even read the source material. Following the screening, Dick and Scott had a frank but cordial discussion of Blade Runner’s themes and characters, and although they had wildly differing views, Dick fully backed the film from then on, stating that his “life and creative work are justified and completed by Blade Runner.” Dick died from a stroke less than four months before the release of the film.
- Total Recall (1990), based on the short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale“, directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film includes such Dickian elements as the confusion of fantasy and reality, the progression towards more fantastic elements as the story progresses, machines talking back to humans, and the protagonist’s doubts about his own identity.
- Confessions d’un Barjo (1992), titled Barjo in its English-language release, a French film based on Dick’s non-science-fiction novel Confessions of a Crap Artist. Reflecting Dick’s popularity and critical respect in France, a brief science fiction homage is slipped into the film in the form of a TV show.
- Screamers (1995), based on Dick’s short story “Second Variety“, directed by Christian Duguay and starring Peter Weller. The location was altered from a war-devastated Earth to a distant planet. A sequel without Weller, titled Screamers: The Hunting, was released straight to DVD in 2009.
- Minority Report (2002), based on Dick’s short story of “The Minority Report“, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise. The film translates many of Dick’s themes, but changes major plot points and adds an action-adventure framework.
- Dick’s 1953 story “Impostor” has been adapted twice: first in 1962 for the British anthology television series Out of This World and then in 2002 for the movie Impostor, directed by Gary Fleder and starring Gary Sinise, Vincent D’Onofrio and Madeleine Stowe.
- Paycheck (2003), directed by John Woo and starring Ben Affleck, based on Dick’s short story of the same name.
- A Scanner Darkly (2006), directed by Richard Linklater and starring Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, and Robert Downey Jr., based on Dick’s novel of the same name. The film was produced using the process of rotoscoping: it was first shot in live-action and then the live footage was animated over.
- Next (2007), directed by Lee Tamahori and starring Nicolas Cage, loosely based on the short story “The Golden Man“.
- Radio Free Albemuth (2010), directed by John Alan Simon loosely based on the novel “Radio Free Albemuth“.
- The Adjustment Bureau (2011), directed by George Nolfi and starring Matt Damon, loosely based on the short story “Adjustment Team“.
- Total Recall (2012), directed by Len Wiseman and starring Colin Farrell, second film adaptation of the short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale“.
Future films based on Dick’s writing include an animated adaptation of The King of the Elves from Walt Disney Animation Studios, set to be released in the spring of 2016; Radio Free Albemuth, based on Dick’s novel of the same name, which has been completed and is currently awaiting distribution; and a film adaptation of Ubik which, according to Dick’s daughter, Isa Dick Hackett, is in advanced negotiation. Ubik is set to be made into a film by Michel Gondry.
The Terminator series also uses the theme of humanoid assassination machines portrayed in Second Variety. The Halcyon Company, known for developing the Terminator franchise, acquired right of first refusal to film adaptations of the works of Philip K. Dick in 2007. In May 2009, they announced plans for an adaptation of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. It has been reported in 2010 that Ridley Scott will produce an adaptation of The Man in the High Castle for BBC, in the form of a mini-series.
This in-depth program explores Philip K. Dick`s world, a universe full of mysteries and intrigues:
Awesome artists/writers, which we should not forget.