My 3 Favorite Philip K. Dick Novels

I’ve been catching up with some PKD novels I’ve never read, mostly minor books that rarely get discussed, like VULCAN’S HAMMER. I enjoy pretty much every one of his novels I’ve read, even the minor ones or obscure ones no one much discusses.

I could work up a top ten list, but now that PKD is becoming a superstar (as opposed to a cult figure), these are the three new fans need to read to get just how good his books can be.

#3 THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE

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While this is treated as a great alternative history science fiction tale, what’s most significant for a PKD fan is how it is the maturation of PKD’s paranoia and sense of reality. The Nazi/Japanese material might fit in the FATHERLAND spy genre, but it’s the life under totalitarian rule that is the best part of this. PKD’s paranoia and his hatred for Nazism and how all-powerful government impinges on the individual’s sense of reality. The Nazis and Japanese have divvied up the US, and instead of battle scenes or a focus on Hitler (and his syphillis) OR a ‘regular family’ under Nazism, PKD focuses on someone like himself–an outsider already, reduced to wondering if this novel about a U.S. that helped BEAT the Nazis might, somehow, be the truth.

#2 DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP

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I should’ve reduced the size of this. But I’m still sick, so fuck it.

You could film DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP, sticking to it closely, and many people would say, “There are a couple of things that reminded me of BLADE RUNNER. Sorta.” The script process that led to BR is long and tortuous, but to me the key failing is in the perception of the androids. PKD said he saw them as beneath humanity, where Ridley Scott saw them as sad Supermen.

Dick was inspired to write about what makes people human by reading about a Nazi soldier complaining about the cries of starving kids in the Polish ghetto or a concentration camp. How could a human being complain about being kept awake by the cries of kids you were in the process of exterminating?

Scott, on the other hand, saw the replicants as misunderstood, clutzy special needs kids, who just wanna live. It’s a significant difference.

The plot–Rick Dekkard has to retire some runaway androids–is the same in both, but they are treated in wildly different ways. The city of the novel is emptied out, dry, with unoccupied skyscrapers. The religious and ‘mood organ’ elements, so important in the book, are not touched on in the movie; the artificial animals that motivate Dekkard in the book are just details in the movie.

I’d love to see a straight(er) adaptation of this book.

#1 UBIK

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A book about altered perception of reality that just doesn’t show you someone in that state, but puts YOU in that state, questioning the reality you thought you’d been reading about.

A masterpiece.

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