Archive for the ‘Philip K. Dick’ Category

Four of my PKD reviews see the light of day (again!) in Big Sky #3

August 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Well, this is gratifying. I wrote an awful lot of reviews on the novels of Philip K. Dick from 2009-2011 and published them on this blog. For a long time it seemed I was writing in a vacuum, but in 2012 all 40,000+ words were collected in Bruce Gillespie’s SF Commentary 83, for which I was (and am) very grateful to Bruce, that pioneer of PKD studies. 

Some months ago I was contacted by Peter Young, who said he’d like to include some of my PKD reviews in a fanzine he was compiling for the upcoming Loncon 3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention. Sure, go ahead, I said, and promptly forgot about the whole thing. Today I received an email from Peter informing me that the fanzine, or rather two of them, Big Sky #3 and Big Sky #4, were now available on efanzines, the same website where Bruce publishes SF Commentary. This afternoon I’ve downloaded the fanzines and they look utterly amazing. Even better, the fanzines feature reviews on every single SF Masterwork (published by Orion starting in 1999). If you are even remotely interested in SF, then I suggest you get thee to efanzines immediately and download this amazing resource. Thank you so much to Peter Young for his labour of love in producing this project. It makes me feel like I wasn’t writing in a vacuum after all, and surely that’s the goal of any writing project. 

A Farewell to Science Fiction

December 2, 2013 6 comments


It is said, jokingly, that the Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve. It was certainly that way for me. At that age I devoured anything in the genre I could get my hands on, most of which came from the library at the high school I attended in Craigie (sadly now demolished, both library and school). Golden Age SF it was too, much of it from the fifties. I would read anything, but I was particularly fond of those old stagehorses Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. I liked the Foundation series, including the later reboots that had been published in the eighties. My favourite was Foundation’s Edge. But it was Clarke that held my attention longest, in books like Rendezvous with Rama, Childhood’s End and A Fall of Moondust. There was the occasional newer title on offer at the school library, like Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep. I loved that too. I didn’t exclusively read SF. I was and still am a voracious reader, but I loved the genre above any other. I say this with a tinge of sadness now. My first attempts at novel writing were informed by the above writers and their newer counterparts, such as Stephen Baxter. I had a whole novel, my second, that was essentially a Baxter rip-off.

My obsession with SF continued into my late teens and beyond, far beyond the age of twelve. By my late teens I was starting to map out the history of the genre in my mind. I was an expert on fifties and sixties SF and here I had recourse to that fat, blue brick of a book, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. I would pore over it for hours and then digitally dash off to abebooks, as it was then at the turn of the millennium, to make my purchases. Not only that, but I used to go on what I termed ‘book jaunts’ around the secondhand bookstores of Perth, often taking in four or five stores in a carefully-planned trip. I was a young man obsessed, but it was an obsession that had already passed its zenith. Like a jaded, restless lover, it took more and more to satisfy me.

By the age of twenty, three important things had happened that would prolong my involvement in the genre for a few more years. The first had occurred in 1999, at Angus & Robertson bookstore at Whitfords City Shopping Centre. I had been hovering over the SF and Fantasy section (more on these sections later) not much liking what was on offer. I was on the verge of buying another Baxter novel, Titan, a book which, as it turned out, I’d never read. What drew my attention instead was the very first volume in the Millennium Masterworks series from English publisher Orion. The book was Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. It had a beautiful cover and thus I bought it. Haldeman didn’t make any particular impression on me, although I did enjoy the book, but some of the books that followed in this series impressed me greatly. I adored Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination and Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, books I’d heard of but never read, but it was the thirteenth volume in the series, Philip K. Dick’s Martian Time-Slip, which had the profoundest impact. Upon reading that, I fell into a reading delirium that lasted many years and was only to be extinguished for a lack of further fuel. That was after I’d read every word by and about PKD, and that meant an awful lot. In truth, that delirium lasted throughout my twenties and has only really fully abated now, at age thirty-two. There were other writers I loved too, but these tended to be writers who had started in SF and ended up writing something else, such as J. G. Ballard.

The second important thing that happened was that I came into email contact with SF writer Barry N. Malzberg. I’d stumbled upon a Malzberg blog run by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, now a renowned SF writer in his own right, and to my surprise received an email from Malzberg himself in response to a forum post I had written. I had read several of Malzberg’s novels and would end up reading virtually all of them. Over the course of an email correspondence that lasted about a year, Malzberg educated me on some of the lesser lights of SF or those I’d neglected to read, such as Cyril Kornbluth, James Tiptree Jr. and Malzberg’s personal favourite, Mark Clifton. Malzberg ended up sending me signed copies of several of his books. My two prized possessions in this regard are signed and dedicated copies of Malzberg’s book of essays on the genre, The Engines of the Night, and his then recently-released newest (and best) collection, In The Stone House. Malzberg was even kind enough to read and respond to a short story I was working on at the time, which he praised voluminously. This was right at the time of the 9/11 attacks and Malzberg lived close enough, in New Jersey, to witness the carnage firsthand. Another writer, Malzberg’s friend Carter Scholz, narrowly missed out on being on one of the ill-fated planes and was thus ‘consigned to life’, Malzberg told me. About my story, he’d have a word with David Pringle of Interzone and off I’d go.  I was  of course ecstatic. I sent the story off but nothing ever came of it, not even a rejection letter.

The final important thing that prolonged my involvement with SF was that I’d managed to get a job at Supernova Books, a F&SF bookstore on William Street in central Perth. I had my job interview on my twentieth birthday and my recollections of that time are recorded here. I worked at Supernova for around two years, but although I didn’t quite know it yet, I’d already fallen out of love with the genre. I had loved the New Wave of the sixties, yes, but not so much what came after. I probably read less SF in those two years working at Supernova than in the two years preceding. There were exceptions, like Jeff Vandermeer and his magnificentCity of Saints and Madmen, but these were few and far between.  I walked out of Supernova for the last time in 2003, at age twenty-two, its owner as it turned out with only months to live.

I did read SF in my twenties, but it tended to be by writers who had moved onto other genres. Since 2008 I have kept detailed records of every book I’ve read and the stats display my dwindling interest. In 2008 I read sixteen books that could be termed science fiction, but many of them were PKD re-reads. In 2009 that number was two (including Vandermeer’s wonderful Finch, which I think is still his most recent novel). By 2009, I’d finally found other genres and other writers to sustain me. Raymond Chandler opened up the world of crime fiction to me and Harry Crews introduced me to southern Gothic. By 2010 I had discovered local small publishers like Twelfth Planet Press but I still only managed ten SF books read for the year if you exclude PKD. In 2011 it was eleven, but that included Australian writers like Paul Haines and Kaaron Warren who’d be better classified as writers of horror. In the past two years, me reading SF has been very much the exception and not the rule. In 2012 I enjoyed China Mieville’s The City and the City (a book which owes at least as much to crime as it does to SF) and Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (alternate history and only SF in some people’s estimation), but little else. This year I’ve barely dabbled in the genre at all. My affair with SF is over.

None of this would matter greatly to me if not for one salient point: reading informs writing. The things I write, I’ve learned, lag years behind the things I read. I stopped reading SF years before I could stop writing it. All ten novels I’ve written, the last three of which have been published, are SF. I’ve only been able to make the break in my newest novel, Dan: A Cautionary Tale. In part the decision to stop writing SF has been a mercenary one. I might not have liked what I saw in the F&SF section at Angus & Robertson in 1999, but over the past 14 years the amount of SF in F&SF has dwindled to a trickle. For years this has been the realm of the fat fantasy series punctuated by the occasional SF title by someone like John Scalzi, whom I’ve neglected to read. Recently I saw, for the first time, one such section named, finally, Fantasy. At another store, SF had been relegated to one lonely, half-sized shelf, and even that was mostly taken up by Stars Wars and Doctor Who spin-offs. SF writing might not be dead, but it’s very ill. Meanwhile, I can’t help but notice the burgeoning world of crime fiction in all its guises.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had some success in publishing short fiction. These stories have for the most part been SF/crime crossovers (my ‘Tyler Bramble’ series) but they barely tip their hat to the genre. The newest of these, “A Void”, is not really recognisable as SF even though it is certainly reminiscent of the mindfuckery of PKD. The stories and novels I plan to write in 2014 and beyond will be crossovers between crime and literary fiction.

So I’m finally jumping ship. Farewell, science fiction. Our affair is at its end.

Book Review – The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike

August 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Philip K. Dick’s mainstream novels, all but one of which remained unpublished until after his death in 1982, are normally regarded as the poor cousins of his science fiction works. To an extent this attitude is justified, but some of his mainstream novels are better than he is normally given credit for. At the time they were written, in the 50s and the early 60s, these novels were seen as too strange and too bleak to be publishable (and too poorly titled: The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike; really, Phil?) But I for one find a lot to like in some of these novels, especially the later ones. Humpty Dumpty in Oakland is a fine work, even if it is very despairing, and so is The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike (henceforth Teeth).

This must be the second time I’ve read Teeth and the first was a decade ago, so I didn’t remember a lot about it except that it was really depressing. Well, it’s still depressing but not poorly written despite PKD’s sometimes clunky sentence structure. What I noticed this time around was that the book is primarily about the treacherous landscape of gender politics long after WWII but long before second wave feminism. It’s a book about the anxieties of masculinity and the manifold ways that men try to subjugate women: through keeping them jobless in the home; through defining success almost exclusively in career terms; through violence and, if worst comes to worst, through rape. There are some harrowing scenes, but PKD handles this dark material far more adroitly than he had done in the earlier Voices from the Street. In short, I think Teeth is due for some rehabilitation as a serious work not entirely dissimilar to Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road.

PKD almost always used a shifting third person point of view in his novels, and Teeth is no exception. Written when the young (31) PKD had had some minor publishing success in the ghetto of science fiction but none at all in the wider marketplace, the novel mirrors many aspects of PKD’s life at the time in Marin County, California, alongside third wife Anne (who would write of these years in her excellent memoir Search for Philip K. Dick 1928-1982). Here our main characters are two married (but, crucially, childless) couples by the names of Leo and Janet Runcible and Walt and Sherry Dombrosio. According to Anne, these characters are based on real people who lived in Marin County at the time of the novel’s composition. Anne and Phil’s scholarly disagreement over whether Neanderthals were meat-eaters or vegetarians (Phil contended, wrongly, that they were vegetarians) even managed to worm its way into Teeth.

PKD had this way, even in his supposedly straight-laced mainstream novels, of marrying seemingly unrelated elements into a bizarre but cohesive whole. Only PKD could produce a novel that is on one hand about the angst experienced in childless families, and on the other about a hare-brained scheme to fabricate a Neanderthal finding on US soil as a way of getting back at a hated neighbour, and have it make some kind of sense. Teeth weaves together disparate plot strands into a strange but oddly beautiful fabric, including: what it was like for a man to happily work for an advertising company until his wife gets it into her head that she wants a job there too; what it was like to be a Jew, and a relatively successful businessman, in mildly anti-Semitic America; semi-scholarly debate about the origins of the species; the problems of the water supply in Marin County and what fate might have befallen the area’s earliest White inhabitants. And it makes sense. Teeth is not a nice novel by any means, and it paints a gloomy picture of human relations on a number of levels, but it’s a fine novel all the same.

Book Review – Precious Artifacts: A Philip K. Dick Bibliography by Henri Wintz and David Hyde

July 29, 2012 2 comments

Precious: Artifiacts: A Philip K. Dick Bibliography is another worthy contribution to the world of PKD appreciation from the mind of David Hyde, a.k.a. Lord Running Clam. Hyde has a long history in the world of PKD fandom;  in recent years he ran the inaugural Philip K Dick Festival in 2010, and he published the essential Pink Beam: A Philip K. Dick Companion. This time he’s teamed up with Henri Wintz, PKD collector extraordinaire and the brains behind the Philip K. Dick Bookshelf to produce the first bibliography of PKD’s novels in more than fifteen years. Not just a book for those who actually buy and sell PKD books for profit, Precious Artifacts is in fact another long love letter to that greatest and most humane of twentieth century writers: Philip K. Dick.

PKD produced a LOT of novels in his relatively brief lifetime: 37 novels that have been deemed science fiction, 9 that have been deemed mainstream (only one of these, Confessions of a Crap Artist, was published during the author’s lifetime) plus a handful of lost novels. For information on these lost novels, refer to Lawrence Sutin’s essential biography: Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick. But if you’re after information on the various editions of the 46 novels published in the US and UK with the name Philip K. Dick on the cover, as well as the numerous novel collections and various versions and titles that have existed over the years, then you’ve certainly come to the right place. Wintz and Hyde know what other resources exist in the world of PKD appreciation, so they don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Precious Artifacts is a worthy and worthwhile addition to your PKD collection, however large or small that might be.

This book is a labour of love, and it’s full of the kind of meticulous detail that only a true aficionado (or a pair of them) could produce. Precious Artifacts contains a number of supplementary essays, all of which are worth reading. There’s a Foreword, two Introductions, Collector’s Notes, essays on collecting signed editions of PKD novels and cover art, a brief Biography, a Guide to the Collectible Editions, a Glossary, and a Chronology of PKD’s publications. The last of these, the Chronology, I found especially useful given that it is helpfully provided in table form, although personally I’d like to see the lost novels listed here as well.

Those items are just the trimmings, however; the main course is more than 100 pages of bibliographic information on more than 50 publications. The first thing I noticed is that the layout of the pages is exquisite and, even better, the covers are reproduced in full colour. ALL of them. As mentioned before, the novels are separated into sections for Science Fiction Novels and Mainstream novels, and there are also sections dedicated to Story Collections and Non-Fiction. Personally I would have preferred to see each section organised by order of composition, rather than alphabetically, but that’s a small quibble. Rather than attempt to explain the way these pages are laid out, here’s a graphic I stole from David Gill’s Total Dick-Head blog (it’s okay; he stole it from the website):

What we have here is a wealth of bibliographical information on the US and UK editions, all presented in an easy to read format. Wintz and Hyde cannot be praised highly enough for producing this. I predict that in the future Precious Artifacts will be just as important a resource for the budding PKD acolyte as Sutin’s biography. Why? Because you can figure out what you want to collect in advance, dammit. When I started collecting PKD in 1999, I was limited to the three UK Millennium Masterworks editions that existed at that time, US Vintages editions of several other titles, and crusty old paperbacks of the rest. If I was starting my PKD adventure now, I’d use Precious Artifacts to decide which set of PKD novels I’d like to own, partly on the basis of cover art, but also on which publishers have complete or nearly complete lines of PKD, not to mention cost. I’ve never liked the covers of the Vintage editions (some of them, like The Man in the High Castle, are just awful) and I’ve always preferred Chris Moore’s UK covers, but maybe now I’d just collect the brand new Mariner editions, a line which even includes the one PKD novel I don’t own and have never read: Gather Yourselves Together. But that’s just me. Maybe you have tons of cash and you want to collect first editions? Precious Artifacts can help you. Maybe you’ve lucked upon what you believe to be a rare edition of a PKD novel that you’re weighing up whether to keep or sell? Precious Artifacts can help you. Incidentally, my one experience of happening upon a relatively valuable edition of a PKD novel is the Rapp and Whiting hardcover of Ubik, which I spied in a secondhand bookstore for $7 a decade or so back. I sold the book on ebay a few years ago for about $100, which Precious Artifacts tells me might not have been too bad a price. Had it been a first edition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, however…

Virtually all of PKD’s work is in print at the present time; we are at a high water mark in his popularity. What, if anything, is out of print? Deus Irae (which was written in collaboration with Roger Zelazny) doesn’t appear to have had a UK edition in a long time. In the UK, three of PKD’s weaker novels have been relegated to Three Early Novels, although they remain individually in print in the US. PKD’s only novel for children, Nick and the Glimmung, was reissued by Subterranean Press in 2008 after its long obscurity, and the same can be said for PKD’s only published dramatic work: Ubik: A Screenplay. There’s the odd PKD novel that has undergone a name change, such as The Crack in Space, which is now known as Cantata-140 in the UK, and The Unteleported Man which now goes by the title of Lies Inc. As far as I can see, the only one of PKD’s science fiction novels to be out of print in 2012 is his collaboration with Ray Nelson, The Ganymede Takeover. I knew all of the above already, from more than a decade of ferreting around on the internet and in the pages of various volumes that include bibliographic elements but are not fully-fledged bibliographies. The point I’m trying to make here is that the budding PKD collector can save all of that time and effort by referring to this precious artifact, Precious Artifacts.

There’s more. Over the years several companies have decided, for whatever reason, to gather some of PKD’s novels together, most notably in the recent Library of America editions. All of that information is contained here. Once you’ve collected PKD’s science fiction novels, you’ll probably want to collect and read the almost-all-never-published-during-his-lifetime mainstream novels. You might decide, as I did, that Gollancz’s covers are the most handsome, but then there’s the problem of not all of the mainstream novels being available in this line. US publisher Tor can bridge the gap, but then you’ll end up as I have with some mainstream novels in Gollancz and others in Tor. That most elusive of PKD novels, Gather Yourselves Together, has just been reissued by Mariner (and I guess I’d better get myself a copy, even though it’s reputed to be virtually unreadable), and then there’s the problem of The Broken Bubble, which isn’t available in Gollancz OR Tor and would presumably be out of print at the time of this writing. In that case, the 1991 Paladin edition is probably the cheapest option. As I’ve tried to illustrate here, these are some of the problems that face the PKD collector, especially collectors like me who desire order in the form of uniform editions (but with stimulating cover art, which rules out Mariner). Here, again, Precious Artifacts will be your guide.

Then there’s the Story Collections, and it doesn’t get any less perplexing there either. You’re collecting PKD, so you might as well grab the Collected Stories, right? How complicated can it be? Well, pretty complicated. Refer to pages 116-119 for the details. But hey, Subterranean Press are bringing out several volumes of their ‘Complete Stories’, aren’t they? Unfortunately those editions aren’t without their problems either. You might end up going back to the original collections, as I have done, and there again Precious Artifacts can show you the best way to go about it.

Finally there’s Non Fiction. Item #1 is a strange and beautiful volume called The Dark Haired Girl, which I happen to own. Some of the best of that book, however, is collected in the even more useful The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings, which doesn’t appear to have been reprinted since 1996. If you wanted to dip into the (in)famous Exegesis, you used to have to track down an obscure publication called In Pursuit of VALIS: Selections from the Exegesis, but now you can have the extended edition from Harcourt: The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. And then there’s the Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick  from Underwood-Miller, in six volumes. Published over fifteen years. Most of which are now out of print. Sigh. Such is the life of the PKD collector! Imagine how we fared before Precious Artifacts: A Philip K. Dick Bibliography came along to light our path.

You can purchase your copy from Amazon here – you’ll be glad you did.

Book Review – The Twisted Worlds of Philip K Dick by Umberto Rossi

Umberto Rossi’s The Twisted Worlds of Philip K Dick: A Reading of Twenty Ontologically Uncertain Novels (henceforth TW) is a welcome breath of fresh air in the world of PKD criticism, after a number of critical works that have failed to satisfy hardcore fans for various reasons. Rossi never tries to shoehorn PKD’s work into any particular theory, other than in demonstrating that the writer’s work is dominated by the condition of ‘ontological uncertainty’: that is, uncertain states of being. Rossi’s text provides fans of PKD’s work with a knowledgeable and detailed study of twenty novels, arranged thematically, not chronologically (although it is true that there is a degree of overlap anyway). I found the style of TW admirable in that it is highly readable without being fannish, and exhaustive without being tedious. Furthermore, Rossi sheds light onto a number of underappreciated PKD novels, as we shall soon see.

One of the great strengths of Rossi’s work is that he is well versed in what has gone before in the world of PKD criticism. Thus there is extensive reference to critical works by the likes of Kim Stanley Robinson, Darko Suvin, Frederic Jameson and others,  references to biographical texts by Lawrence Sutin and Gregg Rickman, and reference to the author’s letters. In short, Rossi knows his subject inside out, which has not always been the case in previous studies of this writer. Rossi also utilises Jonathan Lethem’s concept of ‘Finite Subjective Realities’  (FSRs) from his novel Amnesia Moon  in explaining PKD’s craft. As Rossi explains in his introduction, PKD’s novels are peculiar in that they blur inner worlds (idios kosmos) with so-called reality (koinos kosmos) with often startling results. Furthermore, Rossi explains how PKD deployed what Thomas Disch dubbed ‘The Game of the Rat’, in which the author frequently changed the rules of the fictional game, not only destabilising reality but also set genre distinctions using frequent ‘shunts.’

Chapter One starts us off with two rarely discussed works by PKD, The Cosmic Puppets and The Game-Players of Titan, the former of which Rossi asserts to be an important, if early work. In part this is because here, in PKD’s earliest work, we find evidence of a dual godhead, represented by Ormazd and Ahriman, which can be seen as a reinterpretation of the Zoroastrian tradition. Rossi also shows how PKD uses a ‘shunt’ to shift the narrative from a mystery/paranoia mode to outright fantasy. Far from being unimportant, it is Rossi’s contention that the novel is a key work. The same cannot be said for The Game-Players of Titan, written during PKD’s creative burst in the early sixties, but Rossi’s discussion does shed light on PKD’s genre  ‘shunt’ technique, which he uses extensively in this minor novel, stacking the deck in the Game of the Rat so as to leave the reader utterly bewildered. Rossi helpfully includes the first of many tables he uses to illustrate the use of genre shunts in the novel.

Chapter Two discusses two early novels that have long been regarded as critical in PKD’s ouevre, Eye in the Sky and Time Out of Joint. The former of these, written in 1955, displays a full blown ‘ontologically uncertain’ environment in that the characters who are knocked unconscious by the Belmont Bevatron inhabit each other’s idios kosmos as though it were the koinos kosmos. Here, for the first time, PKD deployed the basic narrative strategy that he would repeat again and again over the course of his career. Rossi uses Lem’s concept of Finite Subjective Realities to explain PKD’s methodology in Eye in the Sky. Time Out of Joint is somewhat different in that it deploys a very significant genre shunt around three quarters of the way through the narrative, shifting us from paranoia/mystery to fullblown science fiction. Rossi discusses the troubling issue of the disappearing soft-drink stand at length, which can’t be explained within the framework offered in the latter part of the novel (that is, that Ragle Gumm’s environment is being physically, not virtually, simulated).

Chapter Three is devoted to The Man in the High Castle, although it does begin with a brief discussion of Confessions of a Crap Artist, the only one of PKD’s mainstream novels to be published in his lifetime. Castle deploys a somewhat different narrative strategy to that of PKD’s other SF novels, namely alternate history, as a means of creating ontological uncertainty. But as Rossi explains, PKD adds layers of complexity not normally associated with this genre in the form of the novel-within-the-novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, in which the Allies, not the Axis, won WWII. The role that the Chinese oracle, the I Ching, plays is also discussed, especially insofar as PKD claimed that he used the oracle in plotting his novel. Lastly, the presence of a multitude of fakes in Castle creates still another layer of ontological uncertainty, as the reader is never sure who or what anyone in the novel ‘really’ is.

Chapter Four discusses three novels, Martian Time-Slip, Dr Bloodmoney and Clans of the Alphane Moon, all of which use mental illness as a way of projecting ontological uncertainty into the texts. Rossi discusses PKD’s multiple viewpoint method, which found its high point here in his novels of the early sixties. He explains that in Martian Time-Slip PKD pitted the idios kosmos of many different characters against each other, some of whom are suffering from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia (Jack Bohlen) or autism (Manfred Steiner). The fact that PKD’s Mars seems very much like sixties California is also addressed. Time travel is used as another means of creating ontological uncertainty, but not in as full-blown a fashion as in some of PKD’s other novels. Dr Bloodmoney works in a similar fashion in that the idios kosmos of certain characters can be seen as deranged (Bruno Bluthgeld and Hoppy Harrington), and the ontological uncertainty stems from the influence these characters appear to have on the koinos kosmos of post-apocalyptic California. The third novel discussed in this chapter, Clans of the Alphane Moon (which has normally been regarded as a minor work), similarly uses categories of mental illnesses as a means of structuring the novel.

In Chapter Five, Rossi focuses on three novels ‘which have generally been considered as minor works’: The Simulacra, Now Wait for Last Year and The Penultimate Truth. The first of these, The Simulacra, seems to suffer from an overloaded narrative in which too many different story arcs compete and do not necessarily coalesce. Nevertheless, ontological uncertainty abounds, and the reader cannot be sure what is real, not even the President. The Penultimate Truth, perhaps the most political of PKD’s novels of the sixties, postulates a situation in which the poor live underground, supposedly due to a war which has ravaged the planet, while the rich cavort on the Earth’s surface. In Now Wait for Last Year, PKD uses drug-induced time travel and the historical figure of Benito Mussolini as a way of heaping uncertainty upon uncertainty as alternate futures collide. All three of these novels feature characters who are somehow ‘outside of linear time’: Bertold Goltz in The Simulacra, David Lantano in The Penultimate Truth and the many versions of Gino Molinari in Now Wait for Last Year.

Chapter Six, which discusses the novels We Can Build You and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, shows how the concept of what is or isn’t human can create ontological uncertainty, demonstrated first by PKD in his story “Impostor”. Here we have an interesting discussion of one of PKD’s underappreciated works and the highly-celebrated noir police thriller that sprung from the ashes of the unloved earlier novel (a situation similar to that regarding Radio Free Albemuth and VALIS). As Rossi explains, in these novels PKD unsettles our concept of the human, rather than the world itself, as a means of creating ontological (and narrative) uncertainty.

Chapter Seven features four of PKD’s most celebrated novels, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Ubik, A Maze of Death and Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. In Eldritch, PKD uses the drugs Can-D and Chew-Z as a means of creating FSRs, with differing results. The increasingly-ubiquitous figure of Palmer Eldritch himself is also discussed in detail. A somewhat similar situation is found in Ubik, where the half-lifer Jory seems to be running the show, and Glen Runciter keeps trying to tell Joe Chip that he is alive while Joe and his colleagues are dead. A Maze of Death is somewhat similar to the earlier two novels, except that here PKD is on the verge of degenerating into self-parody, and the situation at the end of the novel, in which the characters discover that they are on a doomed spaceship, is possibly the bleakest ending to a PKD novel. The novel Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said is seen as a transitional work, incorporating the reality dysfunctions of PKD’s sixties novels and the more explicitly metaphysical thinking of the novels written in PKD’s final period.

The final three chapters in TW deal with the ‘VALIS trilogy’: VALIS, The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Rossi goes to some length to justify the existence of a VALIS trilogy, especially seeing as many followers of PKD (myself included) think of the unwritten The Owl in Daylight as the third in the trilogy, with Archer being a mainstream offshoot. I can’t do justice to Rossi’s argument here, except in saying that he provides an extremely stimulating and enlightening discussion on the three novels, particular in terms of the genre shunts PKD deploys in these novels (and especially in VALIS).

The Twisted Worlds of Philip K Dick: A Reading of Twenty Ontologically Uncertain Novels should soon be seen as a key work in the world of PKD criticism. As I’ve said, it’s both highly readable and theoretically sophisticated. It helps to explain PKD’s methodology in producing his greatest works. It synthesises earlier critical discussions and addresses weaknesses in such studies. It discusses neglected works in the PKD canon and rehabilitates them (and encourages them to be re-read). And finally is it a fitting tribute to this most loved of twentieth century science fiction writers. Buy it, borrow it: serious PKD fans and scholars must read it.

Guest Post by Dave Hyde – Book Review – A Kindred Spirit by e.j. Morgan

February 6, 2011 1 comment




A KINDRED SPIRIT by e.j. Morgan. Reviewed by David Hyde January 2011

e.j. Morgan’s recently released novel A KINDRED SPIRIT tells the story of Niki Perceval, a young newspaper reporter from Ottumwa, Iowa who, in 1982, is determined to go to Los Angeles to report on the end of the world. She wants to interview British scientist Dr. John Gribbin whose best-selling book, The Jupiter Effect, predicted the world might end on March 10th 1982. Gribbin’s prediction was based on a complex series of events triggered by a planetary alignment which would throw planet Earth out of kilter. This, in fact, did not come true, as we know. We’re still here.

While Niki was engrossed with Gribbin’s end-of-the-world speech at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles early that year (1982), famous science fiction writer Philip K. Dick was eagerly anticipating a radio interview with another kind of prophet, Benjamin Crème, who was supposedly in telepathic contact with Jesus Christ. This excited the famous writer because in the mid-70s he had himself been visited by strange beings beyond space and time and had experienced weird visions of apostolic times and the imminent return of the Savior. These experiences had such an effect on Philip K. Dick that he spent the rest of his life trying to understand and explain them. He even wrote a novel, VALIS (1978) in which these strange events were interwoven in the narrative. For some of his readers VALIS is a masterpiece that signals a major change in the structure of the modern novel, but for others it is incomprehensible and dismissed as the ravings of a writer gone mad from too many drugs and not enough sleep. But for Niki Perceval VALIS is an unknown. She is searching for it but does not know it even exists. Why, then, is she searching for something she doesn’t know exists?

This brings us to the heart of A KINDRED SPIRIT. For Philip K. Dick experienced a stroke in February 1982 and died on March 2nd of that year—a sad loss for his many fans and the world of American letters. But for our heroine, Niki, PKD’s death began a series of events that would bring her to her own cosmic revelations. For, you see, Philip K. Dick had unfinished business that he must now conduct from the Afterlife, and resolving his business will soon involve solving hers, as well.

But before we can continue with the story of Niki Perceval we must again mention Philip K. Dick because after writing VALIS he wrote two more novels before he died: THE DIVINE INVASION (1980) and THE TRANSMIGRATION OF TIMOTHY ARCHER (1982). These three novels are known as ‘The Valis Trilogy’ and together they not only shook up the world of literature but firmly established Philip K. Dick as the pre-eminent writer of the 20th Century, beating out such greats as Orwell, Kafka, Fitzgerald and the lesser lights championed by the New York Literary Establishment throughout the century.

THE TRANSMIGRATION OF TIMOTHY ARCHER figures prominently in e.j. Morgan’s novel since both her novel and THE TRANSMIGRATION OF TIMOTHY ARCHER involve fictionalized versions of the late Bishop of California James A. Pike’s efforts to communicate from beyond the grave. Like PKD, Bishop Pike was a real-world figure, one whose controversial ideas about Christianity caused his censure and resignation as Bishop of the Episcopalian church. Philip K. Dick and Bishop Pike were friends in life and shared an interest in theology.  During a visit to the Holy Land in 1969, Bishop Pike went in search of the historical Jesus and early gospels suppressed by the Roman Empire after the official establishment of Christianity as the state religion by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century Anno Domini. What he found is unknown because Pike got lost in the Israeli desert and died during his quest. PKD’s novel, THE TRANSMIGRATION OF TIMOTHY ARCHER, speculates on Pike’s search and interweaves subtle fictional ideas of Pike’s discoveries in Judea with efforts by his surviving wife to contact him in the Afterlife.

In A KINDRED SPIRIT ideas about what Pike searched for and may have found are also key points. But here, Philip K. Dick, alas, now dead also, is tasked by “the Big Guy” to act as guardian angel to young Niki Perceval who, unbeknownst to herself, has a quest and a task of her own to fulfill. Success, for both, will require that her task combine with PKD’s own unfinished business.

But our heroine Niki has no knowledge of Philip K. Dick, has never read any of his stories and, in fact, has never even heard of him. She knows she must write something – a vague ‘peace treatise’ – that will greatly affect the world. Then one day in 1982 she phases out of normal reality and sees a vision of ancient Rome overlaying the commonplace buildings of Ottumwa and a voice in her head tells her the time is now! She is mightily upset. What’s going on? Is this the work of PKD as he tries to get the girl to pay attention to his ethereal self and dovetail their separate but entwined missions? Probably, because Phil in the Afterlife is excited with his new-found spiritual freedom and, despite certain “directives” (no direct contact, no sudden appearances in physical reality, no scaring the living) he is eager to try out his new wings and get on with his task.

Complications arise when PKD is joined by his friend, Bishop Pike, and together the two spirits try to influence Niki efforts. The strange auditory anomalies continue: The Empire never ended! Nag Hammadi! Tractates! Not yet but soon! She feels she must get away, get out of Ottumwa and on the road to Los Angeles. She trades in her prized Datsun Z-car for a hippie van and hits the road. But it’s a long way from Iowa to California and the road takes her to New Mexico where Niki falls under the spell of the Land of Enchantment and encounters shamans and charlatans who all in their fashion try to help her on her way. She has more strange visions and meets another spiritual guide who takes her to hidden places in the mountains where ancient Indians lived and left their own magical traces on the land. Meanwhile, from their omniscient place in the spiritual realm Dick and Pike continue their sometimes inept and hilarious efforts to gain the attention of a distracted Niki.

What is reality? This is a question Philip K. Dick asked in many of his stories and it is a central question in A KINDRED SPIRIT. Many readers of PKD are fascinated by his wonky novels and the revelations that fly from the written page and which leave us stunned at the end. His life, too, has become a part of science fiction.  Michael Bishop was the first to write of PKD in the afterlife with his novel THE SECRET ASCENSION or PHILIP K. DICK IS DEAD, ALAS (1987) and this is a tradition that e.j. Morgan continues in her novel. To his fans, PKD is known as Phil and he is thought of as an absent friend, sadly now passed on, but a man whose work has changed the world. As a reviewer once wrote: “This is Philip K. Dick’s world and we just live in it.” Any writer who would write of Phil in fiction or fact has a lot of study to do before they can even begin – there is just so much to comprehend let alone understand in his life and stories. It is no easy task to produce a novel of such outstanding quality as e.j. Morgan’s A KINDRED SPIRIT; obviously, she is one of the few post-PKD writers who have made the effort to truly understand this great American writer.

As host of the Philip K. Dick Festival, Colorado 2010, I had the pleasure of meeting e.j. who goes by Jami Morgan to friends, and speaking with her over the three days of the festival. Like all dedicated fans she has a depth of knowledge of all things related to Philip K. Dick and her lucid insights into his life added greatly to the enjoyment of the hardy fans who attended the festival. I read her novel afterwards with great anticipation and was not disappointed.  A KINDRED SPIRIT is a wonderful novel that personally affected me greatly. Indeed, like one of Phil’s novels A KINDRED SPIRIT opened my mind to things unconsidered before: the meaning of signs and symbols, of time itself, and what it is to be alive. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. For all fans of Philip K. Dick it is a novel that must be read and for the casual reader it is one that will give great enjoyment as they follow Niki Perceval’s quest into the sands of New Mexico in search of what is really real.

The novel A Kindred Spirit was released September, 2010, through ZiaLink Ink, a small press in New Mexico. It is a trade paperback, 350 pages, ISBN: 978-0982761908, retails for $14.95, but is often $10 – 12 on Amazon.  It can be ordered through the author’s website:  This is e.j. Morgan’s first novel, but she is no stranger to writing or to PKD. She was a news reporter and personal friend of Paul Williams, Literary Executor for PKD’s estate and Editor of The Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter, who had discussed publishing the book through Entwhistle Press before his health declined a few years ago. Morgan is anxious to donate some of the proceeds from sales of AKS to his care.

Dave Hyde, host of The Philip K. Dick Festival, Colorado 2010 is author of ‘PINK BEAM: A Philip K. Dick Companion’ (Lulu Press 2007) available here:

Book Review – Pink Beam: A Philip K Dick Companion by Lord Running Clam (Dave Hyde)

February 2, 2011 3 comments



















Pink Beam: A Philip K Dick Companion is a labour of love regarding a writer who died nearly thirty years ago: Philip K Dick. Its author, “Lord Running Clam” (Dave Hyde) has produced an amazingly detailed resource that will henceforth be required reading for any serious PKD scholar. But we might as well get any misconception about the audience of this book out of the way first up: this is for PKD diehards. I doubt it will have much appeal to the casual reader. But I am a PKD diehard and there are thousands like me worldwide.

Let’s say you’ve read most if not all of PKD’s around forty published novels. Let’s say you own the original story collections (as I do) or the Collected Stories. Let’s also say that you’ve read Lawrence Sutin’s biography Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K Dick, as well as The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick and maybe even In Pursuit of VALIS: Selections from the Exegesis. This would make you pretty knowledgeable about PKD. If this is you, what further information can Pink Beam provide? The answer: plenty.

Pink Beam is essentially a ‘gap-filler’ in the sense that it includes information not covered in these other texts. Most of this information relates to specific details concerning the composition and publication of every work in PKD’s opus. Arranged chronologically, Pink Beam includes excerpts from interviews and letters that cast light on particular texts. These letter excerpts I found particularly useful, given that many of them have not been published before (except perhaps in the pages of the six volume Selected Letters of Philip K Dick, which I’ve never read). Hyde also provides a synopsis, whether his own or a quote from someone else’s, as well as a score out of five stars, for each story and novel. Pink Beam also offers a fascinating insight into the composition of PKD’s works, given that it contains much material relating to the process PKD undertook in producing these books. This was especially notable and useful for later novels such as Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said and A Scanner Darkly.

Hyde himself notes that there is as yet no single, definitive source on PKD. Probably there never will be. Divine Invasions is excellent, but much too short for a writer of PKD’s stature. To The High Castle is apparently better (I’ve never read it) but it only concerns the first half of PKD’s life and might not be without problems of its own. Then there’s the author’s third wife Anne Dick’s recently republished Search for Philip K Dick, which illuminates a certain period of PKD’s life in tremendous detail. In the spaces between these works lies Pink Beam: A Philip K Dick Companion. If you are serious about PKD, off you go to order this book immediately.

The Philip K Dick Collection – Library of America

October 9, 2010 Leave a comment

I finally caved in and ordered this on Amazon. It’d been in my cart for at least six months, but the fact that the Australian dollar is approaching parity with the US made it all too tempting. Amazon also offers a 37% discount on the list price ($110) meaning that I got this for Aus $84 including postage. So if you’re interested in Philip K Dick and want to read 13 of his best novels relatively cheaply, here’s your best bet. For me, I suppose this collection will more or less sit on my shelf for the rest of my life, given that I’ve got reading copies of all of these titles. But whatever. PKD was the greatest, and this collection from the Library of America represents the pinnacle of his posthumous rise to fame.

EDIT: books arrived today, a mere 16 days after I ordered them, which is great for stuff from the U.S. A lot of people dislike America and Americans, but here’s two great American institutions at work: The Library of America and

And the third great American institution is this man, Philip K Dick, and his work. I don’t believe in God, Phil, but if he exists I hope he’s looking after you now. You deserve it a hundred times over.

Book Review – A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick

March 26, 2010 5 comments

A Scanner Darkly just about stands alone in PKD’s career–none of his other books are written quite like this–which is a strange thing given that he wrote well over 40 novels, and most of them run together into one ‘meta-novel.’ Scanner is different, at times very different. And its very successful. The theme is drug abuse, the subject a thinly-veiled description of PKD’s own experiences of the late sixties. This is as close to an overtly political novel as PKD ever wrote (Radio Free Albemuth, written directly after this, also springs to mind).

The characters in A Scanner Darkly are fascinating. We start with Jerry Fabin, a drug-addled man who believes that aphids are crawling all over his house, on his skin, and in his lungs. He buys can after can of bug spray, showers constantly, and spends his time collecting the make-believe aphids in various containers. It’s not long before he’s carted off to one of the dreaded federal clinics. Charles Freck is another stoner, and ultimately a character peripheral to the main events featured here (although he does have one amazing cameo concerning a botched suicide attempt). But our main three characters, the inhabitants of a particular house in Southern California, are the schizophrenic Bob Arctor, the sinister Jim Barris and decrepit Ernie Luckman. Donna Hawthorne is the fourth major character in the novel; she takes the role of drug dealer, love interest in Bob’s case and, later, federal narc. It’s a strong cast and one based, apparently, on actual people PKD knew during this late-sixties period.

Another interesting thing about Scanner is that it differs in tone and often in execution in comparison to practically all of PKD’s other work. For example, the novel is littered with what William Burroughs called ‘routines’ or short anecdotes that play out in the minds of the various dopers, to comic effect. In an important sense, the plot of Scanner doesn’t move forward very quickly in the first half of the novel, because PKD is focusing on the idle stoner speculations of the various characters. Much of this is hilarious and true to life, but as I said, it’s very different from PKD’s earlier work.

The plot doesn’t really get going until the second half, when Bob Arctor begins to forget that he is also Fred, the police nark who has been assigned the task of surveilling himself, i.e. Bob Arctor. His identity as a nark is protected by a nifty thing called a ‘scramble suit’ which is practically the only SF trope in the novel (in fact there’s very little that’s science fictional about this book at all – and one might argue that PKD could just as well have ditched the SF trimmings altogether). Increasingly, ‘Fred’ (Bob’s nark identity) sees Bob as a potentially dangerous character, and ends up fully participating in the machinery of ‘justice’ that would arrest or even ‘snuff’ Bob altogether.

There’s a whole host of long philosophical monologues (and occasionally dialogues) in the middle third of the book. Fascinating as these are, I have the feeling that they do somewhat bog the narrative down. On the other hand, this kind of speculation (mainly in regard to the functioning of the two sides of the brain, and the corpus calloseum that connects these hemispheres) is relevant to the events unfolding, mainly but not exclusively in Bob/Fred’s head. PKD inserts several apparently unrelated passages into the narrative mid sentence, many of these intrusions being in German, to show Bob/Fred’s increasing confusion. Here the humour goes right out of the story, and we are reminded of PKD’s central point here: that while the drug world might seem like fun and games for a while, eventually the name of the game is Death with a capital D (in this case Substance D).

The narrative gets moving again in rapid fashion in the final third. I won’t spoil the plot for those who are yet to read this most poignant and sad of PKD’s novels, but suffice to say that the old master has more than a few curve balls in store for the reader who felt him or herself to be on stable ground at last. The ending is devastating. There’s no other word for it. A Scanner Darkly will be long remembered, long read and viewed (in its film version) and represents one of the real triumphs of PKD’s career: he lived through this to tell the tale.

Book Review – Time Out of Joint by Philip K Dick

March 21, 2010 4 comments

Time Out of Joint, first published in 1959, was the first of PKD’s novels to successfully pose the ‘What is Reality?’ question in a form that was both complex and entertaining. It also represents an attempt on the author’s behalf to fuse his mainstream and speculative outputs together, and in this case that fusion is only partially successful. But more on that later. PKD had tried to pose the question of what constituted reality in several of his previous novels, most notably Eye in the Sky, but here he hit upon a method that made for a more or less successful novel, even it wasn’t a publishing success at the time.

Time Out of Joint is a classic tale of paranoia, set in suburban fifties America. The book features a strong (and small) cast of main characters. Vic Nielson works in a grocery store, while his wife Margo stays at home and looks after their son Sammy. Disrupting this nuclear family is Margo’s brother Ragle Gumm, a strange older man with a bizarre occupation. Living next door is Bill and Junie Black, the former of whom might be more than a city worker, the latter a potential adulterer. There are other characters, but these are the most important ones. Here is a strength of Time Out of Joint: in focusing on these two households, PKD not only sketches a picture of fifties America that has stood the test of time, but also exposes the dark side of suburbia decades before such a line of thinking became a cliche in its own right.

Ragle Gumm is our protagonist, and its hard not to read him as a cipher for the author himself. Forty-six years old (15 years older than the PKD who wrote him into existence), Ragle’s occupation is a bizarre one. He earns his pay by completing a “Where Will the Little Green Aliens Be Next?” quiz in the daily paper, a task which occupies most of his waking hours. We learn that Ragle is under increasing strain to keep up his unbeaten run in the competition, and that he considers this line of work to be juvenile, even somehow shameful. Ragle’s quiz and PKD’s own occupation-writing science fiction stories and novels-share a lot of similarities. If Ragle is PKD’s self portrait, then it is a self-portrait of a (then) future PKD, and a curiously prescient one, as Lou Stahis points out in his (otherwise inflammatory) afterword to this SF Masterworks edition.

Ragle is a man on the cusp of a nervous breakdown, not only due to the strain of his job, but also because of the puzzling phenomena he keeps encountering. Early in the story, when attempting to seduce Junie Black at the local swimming pool, Ragle witnesses a soft-drink stand fading out of existence to be replaced by a piece of paper with the words ‘Soft-Drink Stand’ on it. Turns out that this has happened before; Ragle has a collection of similar slips of paper. Here PKD is thinking of the troubling relationship between words and objects. To make matters worse, it seems that young Sammy has found a few of his own at an empty lot (the Ruins) where he plays with his little friends. Ragle soons pays a visit to the Ruins himself, where he finds part of a phone book and a few old magazines. But none of the numbers in the phone book seem to be connected and the magazines feature a young starlet (Marilyn Monroe) who no one, except for Bill Black, has heard of. Here Time Out of Joint comes to resemble the film that is loosely based on it, The Truman Show, and if this starts to read like a familiar story, we need to remember(as Terry Gilliam says in a quote on the cover of several of these SF Masterworks editions) that PKD got there first.

After the phone book incident, we learn from the point of view of Bill Black that in fact there is something going on, and that Bill himself is an agent of those who would keep Ragle and his family in the dark. Sammy builds his own crystal radio, which he uses to tune into the frequencies nearby. There’s a classic scene where the whole family is in Sammy’s treehouse huddled around the radio. Bill and Junie Black start snooping around down below, and Vic pretends to shoot Bill with a toy gun. Terrified, Bill raises his hands only to discover that the gun is not real. Here PKD frames his ‘What is Reality?’ question perfectly, in a form that is embedded in narrative (unlike, for example, the way it is posed in VALIS), and in a way that makes the paranoia and hostility inherent in suburban life palpable.

If Time Out of Joint begins to lose its momentum henceforth, as it unquestionably does, it is because PKD has to try to find an answer for the almost cosmic paranoia he has brought to life here. The further it goes, and the more the plot is revealed, the less convincing the book gets. This is a shame, as the first half and perhaps two-thirds is first rate. When Ragle and Vic escape their ersatz existence aboard a goods truck, they discover that the US of 1997 (the real year) is in the midst of a war against the Lunatics, or human moon dwellers. Turns out that Ragle’s daily predictions are in fact tied to the daily Lunatic bombings, and that the whole 50s suburban setup has been constructed for his benefit, due to a mental breakdown. Ragle and Vic fall in with a group of teenagers with strange hair and (a laughably poor attempt at) a strange way of speaking. Finally a minor character, Mrs Keitelbein, makes a re-appearance, and it is said that Ragle had intended to side with the Lunatics before he had his nervous breakdown. As the novel draws to a close, he begins to remember his true intentions. Not only is this entire setup completely and utterly unconvincing and unbelievable (we are being asked to believe that 1600 people have voluntarily been brainwashed to form part of Ragle Gumm’s private world, for example), but the ending descends into a talkfest. Worse, there’s absolutely no attempt at explaining how and why a soft-drink stand dissolved and was replaced by a piece of paper. None. Modern readers would assume that Ragle was in a computer simulation, but here we are being asked to believe that in some crucial manner the soft-drink stand actually disappeared. PKD drops the ball big-time here, and it costs him the first real success of his career.

One of the mind-bending aspects of reading Time Out of Joint in 2010 is that we are placed in an even more complex time-bind than PKD intended. We are reading a novel written in 1958, set for the most part in 1958, only to discover that the real year in the novel is 1998. We are separated in time from PKD’s 50s America, but at least we can perceive it to be ‘real.’ PKD’s 1998 is just ridiculous, however, and wafer thin. And thus, in the end, we are left with two-thirds of a truly outstanding ‘novel of menace’ (as the original Lipincott hardcover said on the cover), and one-third pulpy sci-fi. PKD couldn’t quite reconcile the contradictions between the two genres he was trying to straddle in Time Out of Joint, much to the novel’s detriment. It would be another four years, with the publication of The Man in the High Castle, before PKD could achieve this fusion.