ONLY APPARENTLY REAL: The World of Philip K. Dick by Paul Williams

ONLY APPARENTLY REAL: The World of Philip K. Dick

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Philip Kindred Dick published his first sf story (horrendously entitled ""Beyond Lies the Wub"") in 1952. This biography of the man who subseqently became sf's most pyrotechnic stylist--and one of its best-publicized cult figures--has been assembled by Dick's literary executor. ""Assembled"" is the word. Williams intersperses reprinted interviews and quotations from letters to and from PKD with brief biographical anecdotes. While not the full-fledged biography that Williams really should some day write--in his rapport for this notably elusive subject, he is the ideal person for the job--this is nonetheless a glorious first draft, and a must for Dick enthusiasts. The book opens with Williams' famous 1974 Rolling Stone interview with Dick, focused on the 1971 burglary of Dick's California condo. Dick's obsessive but poetic layering of multiple ""realities"" is immediately evident. Were the intruders the Black Panthers? The CIA? Dick's own girlfriend? The people across the street? And why were his files blown apart using a kind of plastic explosive available--in 1971--only to soldiers in the Special Forces? Many questions, no answers: the ideal introduction to a biography of Dick. The few shreds of biography offered are fascinating. Dick, like Elvis, was a survivor-twin; his sister died of dehydration a month after their premature birth; and PKD himself almost died in infancy. He grew up blaming his mother for negligence, and playing fantasy games with this now-imaginary sister. He dropped out of Berkeley because of agoraphobia (remaining defensively anti-academic for the rest of his life); treated for the phobia with prescription amphetamines, Dick became a prolific, driven writer. Science fiction editors such as Donald A. Wollheim and Anthony Boucher bought his work when mainstream publishers dismissed it as uncommercial. The science fiction celebrityhood was a mixed blessing, says Williams. Sf allowed Dick to build an audience for his work (which included John Lennon, who wanted to film The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch), and it encouraged visions of the fantastic--ways of translating Dick's own nightmares of receiving coded messages on cereal boxes into the fictional lives of his characters. On the other hand, the lower payments and pressure for productivity probably made Dick write too much, too fast. There are a few problems. Williams overpraises such final novels as The Transmigration of Timothy Archer; and Valis is surely not the ""first metaphysical picaresque novel""--Don Quixoteis. Nonetheless, he consistently captures PKD's unique personality and vision. On the whole, then, this is a consistently engrossing pastiche of Dickiana--a perhaps suitably disjointed overview of the writer for whom ""doubt,"" says Williams, amounted to ""a creative force.

Pub Date: May 27th, 1986
Publisher: Arbor House