Home > Book Reviews, Philip K. Dick > Book Review – What If Our World Is Their Heaven?

Book Review – What If Our World Is Their Heaven?

Reading this book – which is basically a transcript of a long interview with Philip K. Dick – is like catching up with an old friend. These interviews, which were recorded by Gwen Lee, have the distinction of being the last interviews in Philip K. Dick’s life. That’s this book’s first claim to fame. The interviews were recorded in January 1982, just six weeks before PKD’s untimely death. That’s strange, because according to the blurb on the back of this edition, the interviews took place from November 1982 onwards. It’s a typo, obviously, but definitely a phildickian one. I have been meaning to get this book ever since it was first released, but it wasn’t that high on my list of priorities. Having now read What If Our World Is Their Heaven?, I have satisfied my curiosity, but I don’t really feel like I’ve learned much that I didn’t already know about PKD.

This book’s second claim to fame is that it contains pretty much the only discussion on PKD’s unwritten SF novel The Owl In Daylight. Owl would have been an interesting novel, had PKD lived to write it. It was to be a story about first contact between an alien species and our own. The catch is that the aliens are totally deaf (and yet regard our music as heavenly) and we are ‘deaf’ to their sense of colour. The novel was to be a Faustian tale involving biochip technology (and apparently nanotechnology) as well as a hack composer who becomes a genuis. I’m not doing a good job of describing it here. If you want to know about Owl, then you need to read this book.

Much of the rest of What If Our World Is Their Heaven? deals with PKD’s reactions to what he had been shown of the then soon to be released Blade Runner. PKD had a love/hate relationship with the filmmakers, but he is in ‘love’ mode here. His description of Blade Runner‘s beginning reminds me how powerfully it affected me when I first saw it. This section is interesting, because it’s a great shame that PKD died before the film was released. There’s a real ‘sense of wonder’ about PKD here; he’s bewildered that someone could go to so much effort to flesh out one of his novels like this. If you are interested in Blade Runner, you will appreciate these details.

Other topics in this book include PKD’s ‘Exegesis,’ the experience of ‘2-3-74’ and discussion about the book that turned out to be PKD’s last, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. I am an ardent supporter of TTA, and thus I was interested to read that PKD had found the book extremely difficult to write, and that he questioned its value. There’s an interesting point to be made here. When we think about the lives of dead people, we tend to want a ‘beginning, middle and end.’ TTA is such a beautiful novel that it seems an ideal final testament to PKD’s life, and yet here we have the man himself, six weeks before the stroke that would kill him, planning another book and working himself into the ground. And he knows it. One wants to scream out across these pages: “STOP IT, PHIL! JUST RELAX! DON’T THINK ABOUT WRITING!” But, of course, it’s too late. Philip K. Dick died on March 2, 1982, which is now twenty six years ago. I was born six months before his death, and those 26 years certainly seem like a long time to me. To put PKD’s life into perspective, another great writer, J. G. Ballard, was born only two years later (in 1930) and is only now seeming to be on his last legs due to prostate cancer. PKD fans tend to have accepted the master’s death by now, but this book brings it back into shocking focus.

There’s a lot of PKD’s personality here: his sense of humour, his flirtatious nature, his wide-reaching imagination and extraordinary intelligence. What we find here is a literary genius at work, albeit slaving away at a doomed task. I’ve often felt that PKD threw away enough ideas for someone to make their own career out of. I doubt that anyone will ever be able to reproduce The Owl in Daylight from these conversations (even if they had permission), but this stuff sure is instructive. PKD often spoke about the information he felt was being fired into his brain. Well, he spent a fair bit of time firing information into the brains of those around him.

I’ve talked myself around. I started off trying to say that What If Our World Is Their Heaven? wasn’t worth the bother, but now I’m not sure I agree with my own assertion. I will need to re-read this carefully. The only real downside to this book is it’s length. It’s been padded with wide margins and a large font, as well as blank pages, a foreword, an introduction, and a fairly redundant bibliography, and it’s still only two hundred pages. But it’s worth it all the same. This is hardly an essential PKD book for everyday readers (I would rate Paul Williams’ book of interviews, Only Apparently Real, ahead of this one) but it’s an essential book for the hardcore PKD fan.

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  1. busby777
    June 7, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Thanx for htis thoughtful review. I haven’t read Final Conversations, but I have written The Owl in daylight.
    ~~ Tessa Dick
    ~~~~

  2. guysalvidge
    June 7, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Hi Tessa. Any chance of it being published anytime soon? I’d love to read it.

    Cheers

    Guy

  3. busby777
    June 8, 2009 at 1:10 am

    guy, thanx for asking — it’s available on amazon –just search books for tesa dick, and you’ll find about 6 of my books
    ~~ Tessa
    ~~~

  4. busby777
    June 8, 2009 at 1:10 am

    dang typo — search for tessa dick, not tesa — oopsie
    ~~~

  5. guysalvidge
    June 8, 2009 at 8:55 am

    I had a look. I’m impressed, Tessa! I had no idea that The Owl in Daylight had been written, not to mention your other works. I will have to check them out.

  6. guysalvidge
    June 8, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Damn, Amazon shipping is both slow and expensive to Australia (where I live). Are there other ways of obtaining your books?

  7. busby777
    June 8, 2009 at 9:49 am

    thanx, guy!
    I will sell you a signed copy (I have two left), but the postage to Australia from here in Calif, US, is $12.95
    — please contact me privately
    tuffy777 at gmail dot com
    ~~ Tessa
    ~~~

  8. October 2, 2015 at 12:24 am

    Wow. Of course in the interim Tessa withdrew her book from the market I believe… I recently went back and read the short story on which Minority Report was based… I was shocked when I realized when it first came out… think it was 51! A long time ago now… Blade Runner is one of those films I come back and can watch again and again… not many films like that. PKD’s stuff is quite amazing… the idea in back of Minority Report is quite simply strange. The ‘precogs’ in the story- I wondered if his story mentioned their origins (it doesnt really)- but deciphering their ‘gibberish’- though PKD kind of glosses over the difficulties of translation- would seem something of a ‘herculean’ task if not impossible. Thats ok the story itself is pretty far out there so this is actually a minor element… another thing I discovered was the book on which Blade Runner was based- Do Androids etc.- PKD got next to nothing for the book. He was paid something like $1250. Yes one thousand two hundred and fifty dollars…

    • October 2, 2015 at 12:16 pm

      Just to clarify: The withdrawal of one of my 8 books from the market had nothing to do with Doris and Gwen. They were friends.

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