This Friday, Columbia will release Total Recall, a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger film with the same name, the latest in a long line of movies based on the stories by science fiction author Philip K. Dick.
Born prematurely on Dec. 16, 1928, along with a twin sister, Dick's life was off to a difficult start. Shortly after their birth, the twins were rushed to the hospital, where his sister, Jane, died. Her death would haunt the writer, providing a basis for his unusual blend of speculative fiction.
Read more Philip K. Dick books.
A key theme in Dick’s works follows the idea that the world as we know it isn’t real. This idea makes for very good stories and is frequently a major point in the films based on or loosely inspired by Dick’s stories. In the 1940s, while he was still in high school, Dick began writing science fiction stories, selling his first, “Roog,” in 1951 after he dropped out of college. This began a stretch of stories throughout the early 1950s, and by 1955, Dick had sold his first novel, but his short story period contains a number of notable adaptations:
Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, 1982
By the late 1950s and throughout the ’70s, Dick turned his attention to writing novels. In 1968, his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was released by Doubleday, where a detective tasked with destroying unauthorized humanoid androids. The novel was optioned early on for film treatment, but it wasn't until 1981 that the novel was adapted into the movie Blade Runner, directed by Scott. Dick was unconvinced by the quality of the film, until he was invited to watch a special effects reel in November 1981. He came away from the screening impressed, but would unfortunately never see the final product. On Feb. 18, 1982, Dick suffered from a stroke, and died on March 2, leaving behind an impressive catalog of stories.
Total Recall, directed by Paul Verhoeven, 1990
“We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction's April 1966 issue, where Douglas Quail wants to go on a trip to Mars. Because he's unable to afford a real trip, he goes to Rekall Inc. for memory implants and discovers that he's actually an undercover sleeper agent. The story was first optioned for film treatment in 1977, but wasn’t adapted as Total Recall until 1990, directed by Verhoeven.
Screamers, directed by Christan Duguay, 1995
“Second Variety” was published in the May issue of Space Science Fiction magazine. War has continued between the Soviet Union and the United States, and self-replicating robots are deployed in the conflict, some taking on the appearance of humans. The story was optioned for film treatment in 1979, and directed by Duguay as Screamers. It was released in 1995 and may have provided some inspiration for other productions, such as the SyFy channel show, Battlestar Galactica.
Impostor, directed by Gary Fleder, 2002
Dick’s 1953 short story “Impostor” was first published in the June issue of Astounding magazine. The story follows Spence Olham after he's accused of being a robotic double agent on a mission to break Earth's defenses in an interstellar conflict. The story was originally adapted for the TV show Out of This World, before it was picked up by director Fleder in 2002 as the basis for the film Impostor.
Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg, 2002
In January 1956, “The Minority Report” was published in the magazine Fantastic Universe. In the future, crimes are predicted by three mutated humans, and a specialized police force is tasked with apprehending criminals before they can commit their crimes. John Anderton, who oversees the Precrime unit, discovers that he himself is predicted to murder someone, and goes on the run to try and clear his name. The story was originally picked up to become a sequel for another Dick adaptation, Total Recall, but instead was later filmed by Spielberg and released as Minority Report in 2002, with some substantial changes to the story.
Paycheck, directed by John Woo, 2003
Joining “Impostor” in June 1953 was “Paycheck,” which appeared in the magazine Imagination. A worker named Jennings is contracted for a project for which he agrees to have his memory erased upon its completion. Once finished, he finds that he foregoes his compensation, and goes on the run to try and figure out what he was working on. In 2003, the story was picked up by director Woo, starring Ben Affleck.
A Scanner Darkly, directed by Richard Linklater, 2006
Dick's somewhat autobiographical novel A Scanner Darkly was inspired largely by his own experiences in the drug and counter-culture of the ’70s. Published in 1977, the book follows an undercover police officer who's caught between his official duties and his life as a drug user. The novel was adapted in 2006 by Linklater as an animated film under the same title.
Next, directed by Lee Tamahori, 2007
Published in the April 1954 edition of IF magazine, “The Golden Man” depicts a future where humanity has survived into a post-apocalyptic existence, where mutants are hunted down and killed. One, Cris, can see into the future, and is captured but not killed off. The story was very loosely adapted into the 2007 film, Next, directed by Tamahori.
Radio Free Albemuth, directed by John Alan Simon, 2010
Published in 1985, several years after Dick's death, Radio Free Albemuth was originally written in 1976, coming out of another novel project that he had underway. The original project was scrapped and rewritten into another novel, VALIS, which was published in 1981. This alternate history novel features a fictional version of Dick. The novel was adapted in 2007 by Simon and released in 2010.
Adjustment Bureau, directed by George Nolfi, 2011
“The Adjustment Team” was published in the September/October issue of Orbit Science Fiction. In this story, a real estate salesman named Ed Fletcher finds himself in a strange situation and is pursued by men in white robes, only to discover that human existence is continually “adjusted.” In 2011, the story was adapted into a film called The Adjustment Bureau, directed by Nolfi.
Total Recall, directed by Len Wiseman, 2012
The latest adaptation of a Dick story is a remake of the 1990 film Total Recall, based on “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” and is out this week. Directed by Wiseman, it stars Colin Farrell as Douglas Quaid. Will it outshine the first classic? We can’t wait to see.