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 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 atP. 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
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.
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.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said breaks from the formula Dick had used in a lot of his earlier books. Instead of a down-on-his-luck everyman, Jason Taverner (blessed with strength, smarts and good looks due to a secret genetic experiment) is the host of a popular television show. After his mistress attempts to kill him, he wakes up in a world where he is no longer famous and evidently doesn’t even exist.
The mystery of how Jason ended up in a parallel universe with no identity doesn’t have a particularly satisfying conclusion, but Dick seems more concerned in this one with exploring ideas of love and grief. Ruth Rae has a long discussion with Jason about the importance of love for pets in spite of their short lives, and in a memorable sequence, the police general Felix Buckman has a nervous breakdown near the end of the book as he processes the death of Alys, who was not only his sister but also his incestuous lover.
Cast of characters
Jason Taverner – host of the Jason Taverner Show
Heather Hart – Jason’s girlfriend
Marilyn Mason – Jason’s mistress who tries to kill him
Kathy Nelson – the young girl who forges Jason’s documents
Inspector McNulty – Kathy’s police contact
Felix Buckman – Los Angeles police general
Alys Buckman – Buckman’s twin sister
Herb Maime – Buckman’s chief of staff
Ruth Rae – Jason’s former mistress who he meets in Las Vegas
Mary Anne Dominic – a potter. She helps Jason escape from the Buckman house