Philip K Dick – The Top Ten SF Novels
It’s taken me ten years. I’ve read each of Philip K Dick’s 34 science fiction novels at least once and as many as four or five times. Now I’ve finally ready to declare my top ten, in ranked order to boot! This is an entirely subjective list, of course. Feel free to add your own top ten PKD SF novels in the comments below.
A note on inclusions and exclusions. Given that I am limiting myself to PKD’s science fiction novels here, I am excluding novels that I would probably consider to be in the top ten overall, but aren’t science fiction (namely The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, but maybe Confessions of a Crap Artist too). I am excluding Nick and the Glimmung on the basis that it is a children’s science fiction novel, and not a particularly successful work overall.
Without further ado, here’s my top ten in ascending order of merit. All 10 of these novels are part of Gollancz’s SF Masterworks series:
10. Doctor Bloodmoney, Or How We Got Along After the Bomb
This novel features probably the strangest after-the-bomb narrative you’ll ever come across. A weird pastoral fantasy with a huge cast of characters, it is somewhat less than the sum of its parts.
9. Time Out of Joint
The first memorable novel of PKD’s career, and his only novel of the fifties to retain much of its relevance today. Aside from the last sixty or so pages, this is genius.
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
A fast-moving, spartan police thriller forever immortalised by Blade Runner. It’s got some weird stuff in it (Mercerism?), but it’s a sheer pleasure to read. An effective piece of intelligent entertainment.
Most people would have VALIS higher in their top ten than this. It’s certainly among PKD’s most important novels, but here, I believe, the material got away from him.
6. Now Wait for Last Year
The quintessential PKD novel. Time travel, illicit drugs, an alien invasion and an ailing world leader (actually, several of them the same, and they’re all based on Benito Mussolini). What’s not to like?
5. A Scanner Darkly
PKD’s anti-drug novel is not only a vicious indictment of the sixties drug culture, but it’s also one of the most moving works he would produce in his lifetime. And there’s plenty of laughs along the way, even if it is gallows humour.
4. The Man in the High Castle
Sombre, slow moving, sedate…but about the Japanese and Nazis having won WWII. This is a classic that will be remembered long after the rest of us have been forgotten.
3. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Widely regarded as PKD’s best novel, it’s hard to dispute that this is the pinnacle of the man’s career. Try making a film out of this.
Aside from the first 70 pages, Ubik is the best thing PKD ever wrote. He just needed to edit it properly, which he never did. But the rest is so brilliant that all objections fade away.
1. Martian Time-Slip
A controversial choice for No. 1 perhaps, but for me this is the best thing PKD wrote. It doesn’t hurt that it was the book that turned me on to the great man in the first place. A number of scenes will haunt me forever.