With the exception of a handful of stories, I've only started to read Philip K Dick's work since November of last year. Since then I've read 8 of his books which is saying something since I don't read science fiction too often. That might be because Dick has been said to have explored horrific themes in the guise of sci fi. Most consistently, he made his readers ask: what is reality? What does it mean to be human? Dick's ability to disorient, disturb, and trick his readers in the nightmarish mindscapes of his characters provides scintillating food for thought.

The first book I finished by Dick remains my favorite, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. In the future, interplanetary colonists escape the bleakness of their lives via an illegal drug that allows them to simulate life on Earth before it turned into a burned out wasteland. Along comes Palmer Eldritch, a cyborg industrialist who is rumored to have returned to the solar system with a new drug that is supposedly able to alter the user's reality. Thanks to the U.N. the drug becomes legal and it's allegedly safer. Eldritch offers to replace God by offering salvation through this drug since he claims that people can use it to alter their reality. Anyone who takes it will not only find it difficult to tell when the high ends but they will see random images and incarnations of Eldritch wherever they go. The two protagonists of this story experience the drug in frightening proportions that makes them question their existence and their place in it. The ending isn't exactly reassuring. It is an unsettling story because it reminds us that once you question your own reality then everything falls apart. You can't trust your senses, your memory, or your judgment. If you can't trust anything then you can't function and you start to wonder if survival is worth itthe effort. It's existential paralysis. There was a time in my life when I questioned everything I ever believed in and knew, including the whys, hows, and ifs of my own existence. This tale hits home.

Other books by Dick with horrific themes include A Maze of Death, The Cosmic Puppets, Ubik, Eye in the Sky, as well as several short stories in The Philip K Dick Reader. They explore themes such as the fabric of reality, man's instinct for violence, the role of deity, loss of identity, the definition of humanity, alienation, and paranoia. These are tough concepts to tackle effectively but Dick incorporated them in unusual and thought-provoking ways. Given the visionary quality of his work, their constant references to a higher power, and the helplessness that his characters encounter in an irrational reality, I consider Dick to be a postmodern blend of William Blake and Franz Kafka.

Dick added a new dimension to horror like Poe and Lovecraft. Instead of the terror of insanity or of incomprehensible entities, Dick found an effective means of making us wonder if the reality that we perceive is indeed real. Philip K Dick was a fascinating man. He claimed to have had many spiritual experiences. He was a drug addict, married and divorced five times, and did not start to see commercial success until near the end of his life. He was also extremely paranoid especially around police. Judging from some details I learned from a couple of documentaries, I don't fully blame him. Although I don't understand his perspective most of the time, I don't judge him either. Regardless, he arrested my attention and earned my respect. With the exception of Ray Bradbury, he is the greatest science fiction author I ever encountered.



  • Mark Sieber  
    I went through a heavy Dick period, and I read nearly all of his books. All are at least interesting, and the best of them are utterly brilliant.

    I always thought he was one of the best in SF, but there are others: Alfred Bester, Theodore Sturgeon, Frederik Pohl, Norman Spinrad, Edgar Pangborn, and the best of Robert A. Heinlein. I'm woefully ignorant of most post 1980 science fiction.
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