Philip K. Dick
It’s been around 15 years since I first read Martian Time-Slip at the age of eighteen. That novel had such a profound effect on me that it motivated me to track down copies of more than 50 novels, collections of short stories and miscellaneous other things by the great man, who died around six months after my birth, in 1982. The work of PKD has had such a profound effect, not only on my own writing, but on my thinking, that it’s hard to know what to say about it.
A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to correspond with PKD’s fifth and final wife, Tessa Dick, who published The Owl in Daylight, the long-unwritten novel that was to be a follow on from VALIS and The Divine Invasion.
You can read my reviews of various books by PKD (and Tessa Dick) by clicking on the Philip K. Dick category on the bottom right side of this page.
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. 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.