The story of the roboticists who created a fully functioning android replica of renowned writer Philip K. Dick.
Dufty was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Memphis when he was introduced to a group of doctorate students and researchers working on an unusual project in artificial intelligence and robotics: creating an android to look, sound and act exactly like Dick. Now a senior research officer at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the author follows the story of the android’s creation, from how it began as separate software and robotic projects, to its untimely finish when it was lost in transit by an airline, never to be seen again. Physically, the android had cameras and microphones for its eyes and ears, inside a molded skeleton covered with tiny gears (to emulate speech and facial expressions). Its skin was made of Frubber—a lightweight, pliant plastic—sculpted into the living image of the author. Inside the android’s head was a powerful computer system that could process audio and visual input and then formulate spoken responses based on Dick’s writing and interviews he gave throughout his life. Much of the book centers on the development of the android itself, a highly technical story that Dufty manages to make intriguing and accessible to less tech-savvy readers, but he often gets sidetracked by other ideas or stories. Some digressions are relevant and interesting—e.g., the section on the Turing test, which examines a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior and addresses the question of whether the Philip K. Dick replica could actually think for itself. Other anecdotes, however—e.g., a tedious description of the difficulties the robotics team had renting a truck to move the android and its accouterments—slow the narrative momentum.
Twenty-one stories culled from Dick's (1928–82) considerable output; all have appeared in collections before, if only in the five-volume Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick (1986). Although the basis for the current selection isn't clear, the timing coincides with the release of yet another movie based on his work. Both “Beyond Lies the Wub,” Dick's first published story, and “Roog,” his first sale, appear. Most of the stories reflect Dick's dearest obsessions, “What is real?” or “What is human?,” sometimes both at once. For Dick, reality might be adjusted at any moment: by the government, drugs, psychiatrists, aliens, or god. Angels could be vampires. Memories are at best unreliable, more likely false, or lost altogether. Machines, once activated, can’t be shut off, and overthrow humanity. Changelings remain unaware of their real identity: robots assume they're human; an assassin knows nothing of the bomb he carries. Four tales here have been made into movies, if not altogether recognizably: “Second Variety” became Screamers; “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” developed, via Piers Anthony, into Arnold Schwarzenegger's Total Recall; “Imposter,” spelled correctly, is Impostor; and the recent adaptation of “The Minority Report” stars Tom Cruise. Was Dick then a prophet, clairvoyantly writing outlines for future movie moguls? No. But it's curious how aptly today's world reflects the concepts that tormented and fascinated the author: paranoia, shifting realities, pulp culture, and machines.
These are not, for the most part, outstanding stories, but the worlds of this fevered imagination have become our luridly inescapable reality.
A marrow-freezing morality play set in a 1994 California. The central fact of life is drugs: every hard drug in the current lexicon plus Substance D—"Death" to its friends—which progressively impairs coordination between the brain's two hemispheres. The hero is an addict, a nark engaged in surreptitious electronic "scanning" of himself and friends, and—it slowly becomes clear—a patsy in some dreadful hidden game. Dick has bitten off an awful lot here. Much of the straightforward narration is theatrically bad, yet dialogue and internal monologue carry a cruel (and cruelly funny) conviction. And the larger plot is brilliantly hinged upon a consciousness split by two insanities: the Kafkaesque charade of secret self-surveillance and the terrible advance of irreversible brain damage. Flawed, almost too grim to take, but stunningly realized.
A dyspeptic dystopian’s mad secret notebooks, imposing order—at least of a kind—on a chaotic world.
“The majority of these writings…are neither familiar nor wholly lucid nor, largely, elegant,” write editors Lethem and Jackson. That’s exactly right. But it is a measure of the esteem in which the late science-fiction novelist Philip K. Dick is held in the literary world that Lethem and Jackson could be brought into this vast disorder—a project, in its own way, rather like the frankensteining of David Foster Wallace’s Pale King, and with many of the same conditions present: a vastness of notes, a hint of a complete system (in this case, partially imposed by a previous editor) and the impossibility of that completeness without much posthumous help. And that complete system is surpassing strange. Dick writes of a critical moment in 1974, “at the initial height of the ‘Holy Other’ pouring into me, when I saw the universe as it is, I saw as the active agent, a gold and red illuminated-letter like plasmatic entity from the future, arranging bits and pieces here: arranging what time drove forward.” Very well, then. That entity—perhaps, the editors whisper, a manifestation of epilepsy, though perhaps not—seems to have confirmed Dick’s suspicion, which lies at the heart of so much of his work, that the world we inhabit is an elaborate ruse and that any freedom we have is illusory: “We are being fed a spurious reality”; “one cannot sense that reality is somehow insubstantial unless somehow, unconsciously, one is comparing or contrasting that reality with a kind of hyper-reality; otherwise the intuition makes no sense.” A blend of diary, notebook, ledger, blotter and back-of-envelope scribbles, Dick’s “exegesis” of that reality ranges from sublime philosophizing (“Our sin is self-centered monocamerality”) to chronicling (among other things, Richard Nixon’s last days in office) to strange ranting. In short, it’s in perfect keeping with his body of work at large.
Fascinating and unsettling. Still, at more than 900 pages, this will test the mettle—and the stamina—of even the most devoted of Dick fans.
Far from the cyberpunk razzmatazz that earned Dick fame (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,1968, etc.), this heretofore unpublished 1953 novel is an apprentice work of social realism.
Stuart Hadley mopes. Despite his pretty wife and pretty baby (hey, he’s pretty pretty himself), Hadley throbs from his wingtips to his Wildrooted hair with ’50s existential angst, the same mind-freak that afflicted characters in Ray Bradbury stories and Rod Serling TV shows. He’s an Ike-era prole, a Philco salesman at Modern TV who gets beat up in a bar fight by goons calling him “a Red.” He isn’t really, despite a flirtation with progressive presidential candidate Henry Wallace, but Hadley’s hip enough to see the American Dream as a con. Sure, he fantasizes about success, a swinging pad with “modern prints on the walls, cushions on the floor, Chinese mats, Bartok playing in the background on a custom-built phonograph,” but he’s stuck in a drab marriage to Ellen, “a ripe moist melon within panes of glass.” Itchy for deliverance, Hadley strays with Sartre-spouting bohemian Marsha, editor of Succubus, a sort of Jungian-fascist magazine cluttered with anti-Semitic editorials and artsy photographs. Very strange. But no stranger than Marsha’s squeeze, Theodore Beckheim, a black Billy-Graham-meets-Ayn-Rand evangelist who’s convincing San Francisco that the End Times are nigh. Enthralled with Beckheim, Hadley ditches his left-wing pals from high school, the Golds (too Jewish!), and his Donna Reed-ish sister and her go-getter hubby (too bourgeois!). A Dark Night of the Soul ensues before Hadley wakes up (a changed man!) and returns to his wife’s arms.
An overwritten and too-long period piece that serves as a reminder of just how strange the ’50s could be.
Dick's death a little over a week ago may mean that this will be his last published novel; and, ironically, it is the one in which he most completely abandons sciencefiction for mainstream theological writing. At the center of this hardworking, emotional, doleful drama—"a fictionalized biography of Bishop Pike of California"—is charismatic Bishop Tim Archer, a man of compulsive beliefs and singleminded enthusiasms. Viewed through the eyes of narrator/daughter-in-law Angel, Tim becomes involved with ailing, unstable, barbiturate-addict Kirstin (of whom Tim's son Jeff is also secretly enamored). And when some new pre-Christian documents come to light, Tim and Kirstin leave for Paris to pore over the translations—whence it emerges that the (c. 200 B.C.) documents incorporate sayings attributed to Jesus. . . plus (after John Allegro) proof of a sacred mushroom cult. So Tim's faith in Jesus-as-Messiah soon crumbles—and he becomes further undone when son Jeff (unable to cope with his incestuously-guilty feelings) kills himself: Tim and Kirstin will eventually claim that Jeff is signaling to them from the spirit world. Tim resigns from the church to join a think tank. Kirstin, while editing a dreadful book about Jeff's other-worldly activities, follows Jeff to suicide when she learns that she has cancer. And finally, shocked and distraught, Tim abandons mysticism, heading for Israel in search of the magic mushrooms, only to die in the desert. . . whereupon Kristin's likable, crazy son Bill announces that Tim's spirit has returned to share his (Bill's) brain. Thoughtful, elegantly constructed work, with lots of erudite conversations in the Dick manner—and though the characters remain shadows against their tangled, gloom & doom, religious/mystical backdrop, curious readers who recall Pike's mysterious career should find this a quietly stimulating, if thoroughly depressing, reconstruction.
Another of Mr. Dick's staggeringly complex futuramas in which a group of "anti-talents" (they negate telepathic and precognitive abilities) are caught up in an explosion, slowly taken back in time to 1939 and spend an amazing amount of energy trying to figure out if they're alive or dead and/or if there is a clever saboteur in their midst. Ubik stands for ubiquitous. . . and Excedrin headache number 99.
The diffidence of the title is appropriate: this is a subtle, minimalist portrait of two American couples circa 1953 by the late Dick—a writer best known for his sardonic, pyrotechnic science fiction. Only the second of his early realistic novels to see print (Confessions of a Crap Artist appeared in 1975), this is set in postwar southern California, with excellent flashbacks to a Forties milieu of around-the-clock defense plants and the dogged, weary workers who staffed them. Dick's central characters, Roger and Virginia Lindahl, have gravitated to California from wartime Washington, D.C. Rootless and ill-matched, they stay shakily together until their small son's enrollment in a private school creates a crisis. Dick, whose message throughout his career had to do with the dangers of totalitarianism (seen by him in a thousand guises), once said the menace lurked even in private relationships—whenever "someone. . .is more powerful than you." Perhaps this conviction inspired his focus on the shifting balance of power in the marriage of Roger and Virginia Lindahl. Roger is an Arkansas farm boy, a drifter and dreamer who has already abandoned one family and who sticks with Virginia after the war only because his overbearing, Boston-bred mother-in-law sets him up in his own TV sales and repair shop. His all-too-poised wife Virginia, on the other hand, is a soi disant aristocrat involved in "therapeutic dance," unconsciously hostile not only to Roger but also to her small son. When Roger and Virginia meet another couple with children in this son's private school—uptight Chic Bonner and his slatternly but rather appealing wife Liz—both couples begin to disintegrate. Though Dick never quite brings off Roger Lindahl (he emerges as likeable but too habitually cerebral to be convincing as an uneducated "natural"), he nonetheless writes perceptively of his California setting. If published when written during the 1950's, chances are that this distinctly uncommercial character study would have sunk without a trace. Its strongest appeal in 1985 is likely to be its sketchy but memorable re-creation of the real ambiance of the war and postwar years—an era that popular myth has already eroded into a series of "Happy Days" clichâ€šs.
Another—and perhaps the best—of the late Dick's heretofore unpublished mainstream novels: the simple, searing tale of a small-town girl trying to battle her way out of a straitjacketed existence. It's California in the early 50's. Twenty-year-old Mary Anne Reynolds lives in the small town of Pacific Park, works in a warehouse, is browbeaten by her drunken, abusive father—and naturally hates her existence. The only kicks she gets in life are by going down to the black district of town and listening to jazz in a rundown club. There, through a white pianist (a kindly, spaced-out beatnik named Paul Nitz), she meets an enormous black singer named Carlton B. Tweany, a kind of Paul Robeson of Pacific Park. She throws herself at him and they become lovers, but the laconic Tweany can't stand Mary Anne's continual quest for meaning in life, and soon takes up with a 1950's version of a groupie. Mary's next lover is Joseph Schilling, the 58-year-old owner of the classical-record shop where she has now gone to work. Schilling is besotted with Mary and teaches her about music and the music scene (there's a tour de force description of a San Francisco party full of nearly insane audiophiles), but even he can't hold her for long: in the end, she makes an unlikely marriage to Paul Nitz—and Dick actually allows her a quite un-Dickian modicum of happiness, however temporary. Yet another posthumous novel that should put to rest old claims that Dick was not a stylist—he was, and an elegant one. And it's wonderful here that Mary Anne is not brilliant, or a great beauty—but that Dick makes her quiet strength come absolutely alive. It's a pity it took 30 years for his novel to see the light of day.
The pace is furious, the plotting tortuous in this tale of a famous TV. performer who wakes up one day in a dingy hotel room to find that no one remembers him. The unraveling is more interesting than the premise, involving the ultimate hallucinogen — a drug that actualizes the "irreal." As confusing as it sounds, but nonetheless intriguing.
This unpublished (c. 1976) semi-autobiographical novel, like The Divine Invasion (1981) and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982), presents Dick (1928-82) in his latter-day role as a religious explicator; and formulates, in science-fictional guise, his notions on the identity and purpose of God—all set against the familiar Dick backdrop of creeping fascism, thought control and governmental paranoia. At the end of the 1960's, Ferris F. Fremont, having arranged the murder of all his political opponents, becomes President. Embodying Reagan's charisma, Nixon's deviousness, and Joe McCarthy's compulsive pursuit of nonexistent subversive conspiracies, Fremont is enormously popular; thanks to his overtly fascist stance, even the Russians are won over. Meanwhile, obscure record-store clerk Nicholas Brady moulders away in Berkeley—until he starts receiving dream-messages from a super-being out in space, Valis (Vast Active Living Intelligence System), via an ancient alien satellite, Radio Free Albemuth; Valis guides Nicholas to change his life-style and actively oppose the Fremont regime. However, Fremont has organized a secret police force aimed at eliminating the mysterious "Aramchek" conspiracy—and they soon close in on Nicholas and his sf-writer friend, Philip K. Dick. Valis is, of course, God, and has been trying to help the oppressed people of Earth since Roman times. But this new effort by Valis is doomed: Fremont discovers Valis' Aramchek identity; the Russians destroy the Albemuth satellite; and Nicholas is shot by the secret police. Well-constructed, absorbing at first, later somberly single-minded: a bleak and utterly depressing statement.
A hardworking but meandering and mercilessly padded yam, with previous appearances as a serial (1965-66) and a mass-market paperback (1967). In Dick's 21st century, the arms race still continues: weapons designers (Lava Powderdry of the West, Lilo Topchev of the East) drug themselves into trance states, wherein they produce designs for fantastic small-scale weapons—which are built but then "plowshared," turned into innocuous consumer items of dubious utility. Only when several alien satellites arrive to hover menacingly over the Earth are Lars and Lilo revealed as frauds: the "weapons" they supposedly designed are actually comic book material stolen from the brain of the creator of The Blue Cephalopod Man from Titan! And when it turns out that the aliens are slavers, the only way to defeat them is to tempt them with a child's toy that develops the player's empathy. . . and thus renders slave-taking notions untenable. The ironic tone helps a little—but all in all this is a thin, sluggish, and chat-heavy nonentity: for fans only.
Has old pro Dick seen The Light? There've been sf novels with religious themes before (e.g., Blish's A Case of Conscience, Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, Zelazny's Lord of Light), but none as relentlessly theological in tone, texture, and import as this. God ("Yah"), booted off Earth by the Romans, has taken up residence on a remote methane-snow planet. And when squatters from Earth arrive, Yah decides it's time to make a comeback as his own Messiah. So he contacts dome-dweller Herb Asher (who agrees to claim God's paternity); impregnates ailing neighbor Rybys Romney; and journeys to Earth in the latter's womb—a necessary subterfuge, since Earth is controlled by the Belial-inspired Christian-Islamic church and the Scientific Legate, with computer Big Noodle keeping tabs on everyone. Thus reborn on Earth as Emmanuel, Yah is helped by Elias Tate (who's Elijah reincarnated) and by girl-of-mystery Zina (who turns out to be the living embodiment of the Torah) to recover his powers and challenge Belial for the supremacy. With profuse, muddled plotting in the Dick manner—though without any of the usual Dick playfulness—this is destined, perhaps, to be pored over in seminaries; but it's far, far too heavy to attract many mainstream sf readers.
A group of baldly hostile "misfits" on planet Delmak-O seem to be outward (or inward or merely sideways) bound. And even electrically transmitted prayers to the real Deity in all His manifestations are short circuited. While on bleak Delmak-O there are tiny buildings that roam about with cannon, bees that point cameras and flies that play Granada, while the group of thirteen continue their murders and cogitations, and Seth, the protagonist, opts for eternal silence once he's learned the score. Psycho-theo-logistics, cloudy with conundrums, but it holds one.
Like last year's Mary and the Giant, yet another haunting mainstream novel unpublished during Dick's lifetime. Once again, the setting is California during the 50's. The protagonist is popular San Francisco disc jockey Jim Briskin, who does everything from rock to classical on station KOIF, but gets sick and tired of announcing inane commercials for Looney Luke's Used Cars, says so on the air, and is given a one-month suspension by his irate boss. Jim then begins trying to woo back his lovely, alcoholic ex-wife Pat Grayson, who had divorced him when she found out he was sterile, and is now engaged to the shallow station manager at KOIF. Except that meanwhile Pat has gotten drunk and seduced poor Art Emmanuel—a teen-ager with a pregnant teen-age wife (both of them are fans of Jim's)—who refuses to stop at a one-night stand, blackening Pat's eye when she wants to back out of the relationship. By the time Jim rescues her from a motel on the outskirts of town, Pat is a suicidal wreck. Hovering around the edges of this mainstream plot—a kind of Dickian joke—is a weird group of kids, members of a science fiction-fan club called The Beings from Earth, who have hooked up with a truly weird paranoid named Ludwig Grimmelman, who wants to cleanse the world with fire and violence. Dick is never quite able to bring the two plots together; Grimmelman and his charges merely fade out of the action. But Pat and Jim's bittersweet reconciliation—a story of epic forgiveness—makes for a dramatic and even suspenseful close. Basically a love story, then—quirky, alternately hopeful and bleak, sad and funny, quintessentially Philip K. Dick—with a less successful stab at social issues like juvenile deliquency, teen-age pregnancy, and the like.
Mr. Dick's hero Deckard lives in a dying world where animals are a status symbol; you can dial an emotion to fit a mood and the Voigt-Kampff test for telling an android from its human counterpart appears to have become fallible. It's an empathy test...how would you respond to a purse made of homo sapiens baby hide? But it also seems that schizoids fit the android psychological (?) make-up. A problem for Deckard since he's an android bounty-hunter who only pauses long enough to go to bed with one of them. Even electric sheep could find greener pastures.
The teratological curiosity of the American reading public, whetted and abetted by the press, could have made this novel a sure best seller. Consider the premises upon which Mr. Dick bases his book. They are fascinating: What if the Axis powers had won World War II? What if Germany and Japan had divided after conquering in 1947...Capitulation Day it is called? He takes the hypothesis one step further. It is fifteen years later... 1962. Africa is a "huge empty ruin" sacrificed to Nazi Medicare. The Mediterranean sea has been entirely drained, converted to tillable land. The "blond queens", the "near men" of the Gestapo have found a new use for the big toe. San Francisco is occupied by the Japanese. Old Adolph is in some sanitarium with syphilis of the brain and Martin Borman, heretofore the top man, has just died leaving the Axis powers with a choice among Goebbels, Heydrich, Goehring von Schirach and a couple of other cuties. How did the author turn this projected cosmos into a hinterland where only confusion and boredom reside for the reader? The Man in the High Castle is overpeopled, spattered with telegraphic dialogue simply absurd (A Japanese suicide says to his Colt .22 "Cough up arcane secret".) Finally, there is riddled throughout a quasi-mystique, a pseudo-religious leit motif relating to an Eastern machine that answers questions when asked. This one could be pushed solely on subject-matter. But it will disappoint greatly.
A selection of previously unpublished, or obscurely published, autobiographical sketches, SF musings, philosophical essays, speeches, and journal excerpts. Though he was sadly neglected in life, Dick's (1928-82) reputation has grown significantly since his death. Sutin, author of a Dick biography (Divine Invasions, 1989), breaks this book into six sections, three of which deal directly with Dick's main preoccupation, science fiction. Particularly noteworthy are Dick's descriptions of the sense of community among SF writers: The late Robert A. Heinlein, for instance, went out of his way to assist Dick financially (though prolific, Dick was chronically broke), despite the fact that his own political ideology was diametrically opposed to that of his beneficiary. Also appearing are two chapters of a proposed sequel to Dick's successful alternate-world novel in which the Axis powers win WW II, The Man in the High Castle (1962); it was abandoned, according to Sutin, because he could no longer bear to involve himself with the repugnant Nazi mentality. The third SF section, on plot proposals (e.g., "Plot Idea for Mission: Impossible") could have been omitted. The selected essays and speeches offer insight into the two questions that haunted Dick throughout his career: What is reality? What is human? The final section comprises excerpts from the Exegesis, Dick's journal, in which he struggled to come to terms with, and make sense of, some shattering — mystical? religious? chemical? — experiences that beset him in March and April 1974. These are difficult, often incoherent pieces, and they should have been preserved for a separate volume. Best of all is the volume's opening autobiographical section, which highlights the questing intelligence and generous spirit of this severely troubled, sometimes inspired writer. Dick will be remembered for his flawed, often brilliant novels, but the writings collected here offer a broader picture of the artist. It's a satisfying picture, but Dick deserves more authoritative, less worshipful editing than he receives from Sutin.