Novels

Time Out of Joint published 1959

Time Out of Joint, which Dick wrote while he still had aspirations of being a literary novelist, is my favorite of his minor works. It has similarities with his mainstream books (all of which were still unpublished in the late 50s), but it introduces a page-turning story alongside the suburban malaise.

Time Out of Joint
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In the 1990s a civil war has broken out between colonists on the moon and Earth. Time magazine’s 1996 Man of the Year Ragle Gumm is the only one who can predict where the missiles fired from the moon will land, and he’s able to keep Earth safe, that is until he has a change of heart and begins to side with the lunatics, as those on the moon are called.

A psychotic break follows and he regresses in his mind to the 1950s America of his childhood. The military then carefully constructs a fake 1950s small town filled with a few handlers along with a majority who are brainwashed into also thinking it’s real. Ragle still makes his predictions, although now it’s under the guise of a newspaper contest where he earns a 1950s wage figuring out Where Will the Little Green Man Be Next?

It would be easy to pick apart the book’s logic (how exactly does Ragle’s gift of prediction work and what do the strips of paper that Ragle finds when he begins to see through the simulated reality really mean?) but I love how Dick anticipated a baby boomer nostalgia for the 50s as he watched the Eisenhower years come to an end.

Cast of characters

  • Ragle Gumm – all-time winner in the newspaper’s Where Will the Little Green Man Be Next? contest. Lives with his sister’s family
  • Margo Nielson – Ragle’s sister
  • Vic Nielson – Ragle’s brother-in-law
  • Sammy Nielson – Vic and Margo’s young son
  • Bill and Junie Black – Vic and Margo’s neighbors
  • Stuart LoweryGazette representative
  • Kay Keitelbein – neighborhood volunteer for Civil Defense
  • Walter Keitelbein – Kay’s son
  • The Kesselmans – Ragle encounters them in their house on the outskirts of town when he first tries to escape

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch published 1964

Often at the beginning of a Philip K. Dick book I think to myself ‘this has to be one of Dick’s craziest ideas’ before I remember I think that about almost all of his stories. Colonists who have been forced to emigrate to Mars occupy their time by communally taking a drug (Can-D) that lets them inhabit the minds of the Barbie and Ken-like dolls Perky Pat and Walt. While on the drug they are temporarily transported (as Perky Pat and Walt) to an Earth that mimics their carefully constructed Perky Pat layout.

Back on the real Earth the pre-cog employees at P. P. Layouts try to determine which consumer goods will be popular so that they can be minified and sent to Mars for the colonists to use in their Perky Pat environments. This balance is upset when the industrialist Palmer Eldritch returns from the Proxima system with a potent new drug that he plans to market to the colonists as a more effective escape from the drudgery of Mars.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
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The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch remains my favorite PKD book even after having read them all. You might assume it was inspired by the use of LSD, but Dick claims to have not yet tried that particular drug at this point in his life. Instead, fueled by large quantities of amphetamines, he wrote this during an incredibly prolific two-year period in 1963-64 when he also wrote some of my other favorites including The Game Players of Titan, Now Wait for Last Year, The Simulacra and Clans of the Alphane Moon

Is the world of Perky Pat the same world from The Crack in Space? Who knows, but while in the mind of Walt, one of the colonists catches Jim Briskin, everyone’s favorite newsclown (or maybe just mine), on TV.

Cast of characters

  • Barney Mayerson – a pre-cog. Head of pre-fash marketing at  P. P. Layouts
  • Roni Fugate – a pre-cog. Barney’s assistant and mistress
  • Leo Bulero – chairman of the board at P. P. Layouts
  • Emily Hnatt – Barney’s ex-wife
  • Richard Hnatt – Emily’s current husband
  • Palmer Eldritch – the interplan industrialist who returns from Proxima
  • Sam Regan, Mary Regan, Tod Morris, Norman Schein, Helen Morris, Fran Schein – Mars colonists
  • Allen and Charlotte Faine – disc jockeys in a Mars satellite
  • Felix Blau – head of the police agency
  • Dr. Wily Denkmal – runs an E therapy clinic in Germany

A Scanner Darkly published 1977

A Scanner Darkly
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Dick wrote A Scanner Darkly based on his experiences living in the so-called ‘hermit house’ in Orange County with a rotating cast of drug dealers and users in the early ‘70s after his divorce from his fourth wife Nancy. Although he stayed away from harder drugs of the kind that inspired A Scanner Darkly’s brain-destroying Substance D (amphetamines were Dick’s drug of choice for many years before and during this time), he witnessed how drugs ruined the minds and lives of heavy users coming out of the 1960s.

Dick’s brilliant conceit for an anti-drug novel involves undercover narc Bob Arctor assigned to observe himself through holo-scanners hidden in the house where he and his doper friends live. As ‘Fred’ he watches himself while wearing a scramble suit so that his cover isn’t blown, but he also abuses more and more Substance D until he loses all sense of his identity. In the end he no longer recognizes that he is actually Bob Arctor and is sent to a clinic for barely functioning addicts.

A Scanner Darkly
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Richard Linklater’s film based on the book is one of the best PKD adaptations. Winona Ryder was recovering from a high-profile issue with drugs at the time as was Robert Downey, Jr. who is particularly great (pre-Iron Man) as Arctor’s weaselly roommate Jim Barris. The movie perfectly captures the paranoia of Dick’s work, and A Scanner Darkly is Dick at his most paranoid. Both are hilarious (the movie is very faithful to the book) but also bleak, since Dick wants to make it clear drugs will unavoidably consume your life until there is nothing left.

Cast of characters

  • Bob Arctor aka Fred aka Bruce – an undercover narcotics agent
  • Jerry Fabin – an addict at the beginning of the book who sees (and feels) aphids everywhere before he gets sent to a Federal Clinic
  • Charles Freck – a doper in Bob’s circle of friends
  • Donna Hawthorne – Bob Arctor’s girl and the small-time dealer he’s working
  • Jim Barris – Bob’s roommate
  • Ernie Luckman – Bob’s roommate
  • Hank – Fred’s superior

Other things to know

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12 (King James Version)

This Bible verse, which has inspired the titles of many works including this one, comes at the end of 1 Corinthians 13 when Paul is discussing the importance of love. ‘Glass’ here is often translated as mirror. Now we see things imperfectly, but at the end of time (or when we meet Jesus or whatever), everything will be made clear.

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