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Book Review – Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K Dick by Lawrence Sutin

February 23, 2010 Leave a comment

There are but two books in the world that I have used so often that they literally fell apart and had to be replaced. The first is the I Ching, and the second is Lawrence Sutin’s biography of Philip K Dick, Divine Invasions. It is not going too far to say that this book is an essential tool for any would-be PKD scholar. Over the past decade, it has become my habit, whenever I re-read one of PKD’s novels, to also read the accompanying section in Divine Invasions alongside. For me now, the most essential part of this book is Sutin’s ‘Chronological Survey and Guide’ which serves as a primer for each of the 59 (that’s right, 59) books PKD wrote in his life (many of these have been lost). This section of the biography is worth the price of entry alone, for here one can discover some fascinating PKD trivia, such as some of his excreble original titles for his novels. (One of the alternate names for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was The Killers Are Among Us! Cried Rick Deckard to the Special Man. No joke. Apparently.)

But of course the main part of Divine Invasions is the biography itself, which covers the 52 or so years of PKD’s life in fairly even detail. My only complaint here is that I wish the biography was longer, much longer. I don’t suppose we’re ever going to get a 1000 page PKD biography, but if we did, then it should be Lawrence Sutin to write it. He seems to have done an excellent job of interviewing various people who knew (many of whom were married to) PKD. His style is light and irreverent, and he always portrays PKD’s life as the rollercoaster ride it must have been. In other words, he gets it right.

Divine Invasions isn’t the best biography I’ve ever read. That distinction goes to Julie Phillips’ James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice B Sheldon. But it’s the best biography on PKD I’ve read by a considerable margin. While there have been other biographies, none are widely available. For instance, Gregg Rickman published a biography called To The High Castle (which was to be part one of  two volumes), but it is long out of print and almost impossible to find for a reasonable price. Emmanuel Carrerre’s I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K Dick is interesting, but lacks the academic rigour of Sutin’s book. Tessa Dick’s Remembering Firebright casts a personal light on part of PKD’s life, but it lacks Sutin’s scope. And Anne Dick’s Search for Philip K Dick has also been languishing out of print for many years now (although this recently been remedied with the book’s re-release – my copy is currently enroute). Another memoir, A Family Darkly: The Final Passions of Philip K Dick was supposed to be released a couple of years ago, but it was withdrawn before publication at the request of the Philip K Dick Trust. Finally, there was supposed to be a new biography of PKD by a guy called Darryl Mason released in 2006 or so, but it never materialised. In this void, Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K Dick has been the Philip K Dick biography, and I’m not expecting that to change anytime soon.

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