Everyone Needs a Little Dick in Their Lives
Those of us that love books tend to have books and authors that feel like home to us. You all know what I mean, right? You crack open the spine and immediately a sense of “Oh, yes. This is exactly what I was missing,” washes over you. For those of us that are more emotional, just the act of picking up something by a much-loved author can leave us a little choked up.
Philip K Dick is like that for me. I know, I know – his prose is totally hack-ish and he re-uses all the same names, and YES many of his stories carry similar themes, but I think all of that contributes to my love affair with everything that he’s written. I have never read anything by him that I’ve hated, not one single thing. I’m not saying I’ve read everything (I started reading him in high school, when much of his stuff was out of print, still), but I’ve read a goodly amount – enough so that friends who grow interested come to me to figure out where to start. This is a difficult question to answer because what I would recommend for one person is not necessarily what I’d recommend for another. I will never ever recommend Ubik to a PKD neophyte, though. Ever. You gotta build up to that shit, yo.
Anyway, I made a crappy little flowchart a few years ago and decided now was the time to revisit it (as a birthday present to him, or some other dumb thing) because I’ve read more of his stuff since then. Hopefully, this will help some of you find a decent place to start.
Here’s what you should know before diving in:
You start reading almost any novel by Dick and for the first 50-100 pages you’re pretty confused with no idea WTF you’re reading or why you’re digging it so much. Nothing seems to make much sense, and you’re half-tempted to just give up already.
You keep going, though, because there’s just something keeping you reading. Then it happens. The Dick Click. It’s like something in your brain finally figures it out and there’s this “Ohhhhhhhh, shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit” moment. Then you feel kind of stupid for not putting it all together sooner, but it makes you want to start the whole damn book all over again just so that you can marvel at how well he managed to make those pieces fit. Give him a chance. No one likes a quitter, right? Wait for the Dick Click and you’ll get where I’m coming from.
Maybe you’re not up for reading, but still want to celebrate my favourite author’s birthday? THERE ARE SO MANY POSSIBILITIES, ZOMG.
Sonic Youth’s Sister Fellow Bookslut Laura covered this album a few weeks ago for Weekend Listening. Jane Charlotte Dick is the titular sister, Philip Kindred’s fraternal twin who died at only 41 days old. Her memory and the theme of a phantom twin became prevalent in Dick’s later work.
ieatpants’ The Empire Never Ended I forget how I found this, really. I just know that I found it one night on bandcamp (I mean, c’mon, an entire album inspired by PKD?) and listened to it while I read Second Variety (the collection, not the actual story) for the first time. It was the perfect accompaniment. And then I found ieatpants (Brandon) and basically forced him to be my friend. Go listen. Like, right meow.
Japancakes If I Could See Dallas This album features the song “Now Wait for Last Year,” which is a fantastic book (but not on my chart because it’s not a great starting point) and the whole album does a really great job of setting the mood for many of Dick’s works.
There have been a few movie tie-ins, but the only one that is really worth checking out is BOOM! Studios’ Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This comic could be amazing or infuriating, depending on how you approach it. It is a literal graphic adaptation of the novel, in that every single word of prose is included. Like I said, amazing or infuriating (sometimes both). The art is spectacular, though, so it’s worth it for that.
People who know me are probably expecting me to get ranty af right about now (I could write another 2000 words about why I hate Blade Runner, but I’m already a little too wordy). I’m going to keep it in check, though, and just talk about the adaptations I think are worth watching. So there.
Screamers (1995) Based on the short story “Second Variety,” there are a few deviations from the source material (one that bothers me a lot), but for the most part this is a pretty great little film that accurately portrays PKD’s musings on what it means to be human.
A Scanner Darkly (2006) I avoided this movie for years because it’s one of my All Time Favourite Books, and I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing it ruined. It wasn’t ruined, though, it was OUTSTANDING. I’m not the hugest fan of the way the ending was changed, but overall this is an example of how to do a book-to-film adaptation the RIGHT way. All the important stuff is there, the humour and pathos of Dick’s work shine through in a way no other film adaptation has managed. Watch this.
Radio Free Albemuth (2010) Holy shit, you guys. Other than a few minor changes (like, incredibly minor) watching this was exactly like seeing the film from my mind’s eye playing on screen. This might not be the best movie to start with (because it’s heavily autobiographical and incorporates ideas he explored across his entire oeuvre), but once you’re an old hand at Dick, you should appreciate it greatly. VALIS with a short A for lyfe, tho.
For his birthday, I’mma rewatch A Scanner Darkly with a few of my normal drinkalong peeps. Maybe read a short story or two. What about you? Where did the flowchart drop you off? Let me know!