"The Most Brilliant Sci-Fi Mind on Any Planet: Philip K. Dick" 1975 Rolling Stone Article by Paul Williams

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54 Responses to “"The Most Brilliant Sci-Fi Mind on Any Planet: Philip K. Dick" 1975 Rolling Stone Article by Paul Williams”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Illustration by my best friend Kent Bellows. May he rest in peace. Kent Bellows

    Jerry in Omaha

  2. arkizzle says:

    I liked ‘Do Androids Dream’ far more than I liked BladeRunner.. and I LOVE BladeRunner. TMITHC and UBIK too, and too many others.

    PKD goes beyond stories and speaks to my psyche.

  3. chris says:

    I can’t wait until they make Ubik or the Three Stigmata into a movie…

    I love reading his books… they make me feel all paranoid inside. : )

  4. robulus says:

    Left brain.

    Its a left brain thing. My hemispheres fight hard. I write left handed but kick right footed, my work is half design and half code.

    I think you have to be left brain dominant to get into PKD.

    Which also explains why I prefer Bladerunner. Just completely immerse me in aesthetics and let me soak.

    I did it… myyyyyyyyy wayyyyyyyyyyyy!

  5. wolfiesma says:

    All this time I thought Gattaca was based on a PKD book. Looks like it was the same screewriter as the Truman Show. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Niccol

    I loved Total Recall even though it was cheezy in parts like with the bulging eyeballs, etc. Blade Runner, suffice it to say, is in a category all its own, a living artifact of spiritual and cinematic perfection that defies criticism.

  6. arkizzle says:

    A very interesting point Rob.

    Maybe don’t compare BladeRunner and Do Androids Dream.. I don’t know if you did, but give reading it a go. It’s entirely unlike the film, so try it on it’s own terms.

  7. zuzu says:

    A Scanner Darkly, I thought, really got it right. The characters, the humor, the dialogue, the madness. Just perfect.

    Ditto that.

    The pain, so unexpected and undeserved had for some reason cleared away the cobwebs. I realized I didn’t hate the cabinet door, I hated my life… My house, my family, my backyard, my power mower. Nothing would ever change; nothing new could ever be expected. It had to end, and it did. Now in the dark world where I dwell, ugly things, and surprising things, and sometimes little wondrous things, spill out in me constantly, and I can count on nothing.

    I like both Total Recall and Blade Runner, for rather different reasons. As for the latter, PKD’s story has a decidedly different tack with Mercerism and significance of empathy.

  8. Jeff says:

    Frank Herbert is greater. Because I say so.

  9. robulus says:

    Hi there, I’d just like to take this opportunity to completely alienate myself from the entire community.

    Phillip K Dick is a terrible writer who has unbelievably great ideas. This is why the adaptions of his movies are so hit and miss, the screenwriters and directors are left to flesh out the bones.

    Ridley Scott never even finished reading “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. Blade Runner is a visionary movie because of Ridley Scott, PKD provided a clever idea as the nucleus.

    Frank Herbert is a great sci-fi writer in the more traditional sense of the genre, and if you are judging Dune either by Lynch’s movie (flawed but fantastic) or the miniseries (horrible horrible my eyes the pain it burns) you are completely stark, raving, mad.

  10. ptrourke says:

    PKD’s prose style is very rough around the edges, but as mentioned by many, that’s an artifact of the circumstances in which he wrote – he was trying to support himself as a writer, and so was churning out a lot of half-revised fiction and submitting it to venues that didn’t care very much about prose style. There are passages in some of the books – particularly the scenes with in *The Man in the High Castle* with Tagomi and Abendsen – where PKD’s style rises to the occasion.

    He is not very strong on dialogue; his best dialogue tends to be poorly disguised monologue, though the “Your cat was stupid” exchange between Sophia and David is especially memorable (and most of it is delivered in indirect discourse). His main character is usually multi-dimensional, and most of the secondary characters (especially the women) are sketchy.

    As a stylist, I think PKD’s natural genre was the short story. In this sense, “The Electric Ant” may be his masterpiece. Most of the story happens when the main character is alone, and that is typical of PKD’s best scenes: a character trying to cope with an external reality that doesn’t meet any kind of rational expectation.

    Based on the published bits, it sounds like *The Exegesis* is a vast, self-indulgent mess of nearly psychotic theological speculation. It’s certainly not a major work in any sense but length.

    All of that being said, PKD is still an important writer, and I don’t mean merely important for a science fiction writer. No one else tried to examine the seams of reality as closely as PKD did. There’s something else about PKD’s writing that most people don’t talk about: PKD’s own personality suffuses his books. He always has a major character who is a deeply troubled, kind, friendly, easily manipulated fellow painfully aware of his own psychological problems and fascinated by all manner of ideas (even if he often fails to dip very far below the surface of most of those ideas). Even if he’s not very good at interpersonal relations, it’s hard not to sympathize with these characters. His writing is all about a very likable guy who is trying to construct a better universe.

    I’d recommend starting with the short stories: “Oh, to Be a Blobel!” (which is an Asimov-style story with a PKD veneer), then “The Electric Ant,” “Imposter,” “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” “Upon the Dull Earth,” “Pay for the Printer,” then the novels *UBIK*, *The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch*, *Lies, Inc.* (sometimes known by the better title of its source novella, *The Unteleported Man*), then *Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?*, *Man in the High Castle*, and *VALIS*.

    [By the way, the one complaint of Ridley Scott that was quoted directly was not a complaint about PKD's style, but about his plotting - and it's not all that surprising that a filmmaker known for his very lean plots would be overwhelmed by PKD's habit of threading a number of plotlines together to make a novel.]

  11. Anonymous says:

    This is the Rolling Stone article that got me to read PKD in the first place. I went right out and picked up a copy of Ubik, then The Three Stigmata, then Time Out of Joint… all in about two weeks. I’ve never stopped rereading and buying reprints.

    The greatest Sc-fi mind ever, for sure.

  12. ab5tract says:

    Meanwhile I was halfway through the PKD entry in Charles Platt’s Dream Makers when this got posted.

    self.synchronized?
    #=> true

  13. robulus says:

    Hey Arkizzle, I haven’t read it, so when I say I prefer Bladerunner, I probably mean I prefer Bladerunner… to books. Which isn’t really what I mean at all.

    You’re right, its silly to compare them, they’re different animals.

  14. neuralien says:

    What, no love for VALIS?

    VALIS is by far my favorite PKD novel. The story is in itself quite strange but it’s even more so when you consider that it’s semi-autobiographical.

    Blade Runner was an amazing movie but quite far removed from the book it is based on. And A Scanner Darkly, wow. The rotoscope effect was just perfect for the mood. It really conveyed the sense of detachment from reality, paranoia and split personality that’s in the book.

    Ubik could be a great movie, if they don’t mess it up.

  15. pilcrow says:

    This post gets two big thumbs up from me.

    Sure, PKD wasn’t a perfect writer, but as TDAWWG says, his failures and foibles are big plusses in my column, part of why I like the guy. I should just come out and say that flawless writing bores the crap out of me.

    Today’s literati put too much emphasis on style and not enough on substance. 23 pages of style containing 1 page of substance is precisely 22 pages too long.

    PKD was a writer of substance, with an unfettered imagination equal to Borges. Tragic that he couldn’t keep it together.

    ¶

  16. zuzu says:

    VALIS is by far my favorite PKD novel.

    You mean, VALIS is by far Horselover Fat’s favorite. ;)

  17. ab5tract says:

    @Neuralien

    VALIS is definitely his masterpiece. Other works of his are extremely exceptional, but VALIS is hands down the showcase of his considerable mind.

    I’d like to recommend I Am Alive And You Are Dead, an awesome narrative biography of the man. By French writer Emmanuel Carrere. Reads like a PKD novel. Blurs lines, which seems a fitting tribute.

  18. Brother Provisional says:

    Herbert is better than Dick? You need to lay off the substance D, my friend.

  19. robulus says:

    Sure, PKD wasn’t a perfect writer, but as TDAWWG says, his failures and foibles are big plusses in my column, part of why I like the guy.

    Well, yeah, that’s cool. I mean it’s all about taste and if you love his work then that’s all the more love.

    It’s just that the claim of the post title, “The Most Brilliant Sci-Fi Mind on Any Planet”, kind of sets the bar rather high.

    One ought reasonably expect both substance and style from such a Mind, oughtn’t one?

  20. Wingo says:

    @17 neuralien – I’m with you there. VALIS is actually one of my all-time favorite novels of any genre. The weird way he weaves his own life/psychosis into the story is astonishing, really. It’s like looking at the world through the eyes of a madman (which I suppose he was, to an extent).

    Although I do, admittedly, have a soft spot for The Three Stigmata since it was the first of his that I read back in college. Blew my mind entirely. I also dig “Lies, Inc.”, which is an expanded version of an earlier novel, I think. There are several chapters that are basically an acid trip after somebody shoots the main character with an LSD dart. Totally confounding, and awesome.

    Also “ditto” on A Scanner Darkly. I wouldn’t have thought that the vibe of a PKD story could actually be captured in a movie, but they did a great job with that one. Downey Jr. knocks it out of the park.

  21. minTphresh says:

    my cousin gave me ” divine invasion” in 1978, and i’ve been hooked like a sturgeon ever since! jeff(#15): 100% FAIL! herbert is a great sci-fi writer, don’t get me wrong. dick transcends genre. the amazing nuances of his work belie the struggles in him, and the depths he plumbed in his own psyche! as someone who has read MOST of his 40 some odd sci-fi novels, 15 short story collections, and 6 of his 9 mainsteam novels, his work constantly blows my mind, and constantly causes me to question my own assumptions. oddly enough, under the bush years, i wondered if i was paranoid ENOUGH! it was so close to one of his nightmares come true! thanks a lot boingers for putting this article out there, thereby saving me a few ebay $’s. my starter 5 dick books would be: 1) ” a scanner darkly” the movie was o.k. i thought, but they coulda used the rotoscoping to greater effect by using it more sparingly, only while the protagonist (bob arctor) was in the grips of the ‘d’. still did no justice to the book. 2) “mary and the giant” interracial love in the 1950′s usa. with jazz! 3) ” clans of the alphane moon” what happens when earth sends all it’s crazies to another planet, and they start their own society. 4) “the penultimate truth” i already said too much. 5) ” do androids dream of electric sheep” blade runner plus so much more! pkd should be taught in high school!

  22. minTphresh says:

    my gawd! the sheer staggering amount of work the man did over a relatively short span of time. his “exegesis” was apparently a stack of paper 3-1/2 feet tall! that is just one work! his letters comprise a good 6-7 volumes, with more printed every few years, 39 s-f novels, 9 published mainstream novels, 15 volumes of short stories, as well as eight biographies written about him! i always thought that the pkd robot, which was lost on an airplane flight, would have made a great pkd story. pkd robot sitting on a plane strikes up a conversation with a fellow passenger who wheels him off the plane unbeknownst to the robot’s owner. bizarre , painful hilarity ensues. or was that ” we can build you”? damn!

  23. pilcrow says:

    @ROBULUS–

    Style’s too elusive and subjective of a standard for us to reach common ground… To each his/her own. For most of his career PKD was teetering on the edge of poverty, so his luxury for revision was somewhat limited, especially in his early years. And the prosody of his later career demonstrated a marked improvement over his nascent works.

    I think Margaret Atwood has written some rather brilliant sci-fi books you may enjoy, if PKD’s style isn’t to your liking.

    Hard to fault PKD fir his creativity, though. Innovation, man. In a generation where most writers were rehashing the Odyssey and Illiad, he was creating his own myths.

  24. Anonymous says:

    VALIS over TMITHC? Maybe I should go read the former.

    Similarly: More than any other PKD book I’ve read so far, I wish they would make a TMITHC movie.

  25. bunnyman2112 says:

    @21. Don’t you think he needs to lay off the Spice?

  26. minTphresh says:

    i would also add ” the man whose teeth were all exactly alike” to that list.

  27. robulus says:

    God. I might have to have another go at him. The people who are into PKD are into PKD.

    But like Ridley Scott said, talking about “Do Androids Dream…”

    I actually couldn’t get into it. I met Phillip K. Dick later, and he said, “I understand you couldn’t read the book.” And I said, “You know you’re so dense, mate, by page 32, there’s about 17 storylines.”

  28. minTphresh says:

    robulus, READ IT! the beauty is that it is just his perception that there are that many story arcs. those all criss-x amongst themselves til they become something else entirely, and in the end leave you exhausted and questioning. beware! once you become a (pk)dickhead, there is NO turning back!

  29. ab5tract says:

    @25. Seriously, doesn’t he know what that stuff does to you?

  30. robulus says:

    This is peer group pressure, you realise. That got me into all sorts of trouble.

  31. Anonymous says:

    “The Most Brilliant Sci-Fi Mind on Any Planet”

    I love how Rolling Stone has to sensationalize every article they write. How many times have you seen the title “Greatest rock band of all time” on the cover of their magazine? My mom had a subscription years back and I’d see it at least yearly (with a different featured band of course). For once can’t the title read: “PKD: He wrote really crazy sci-fi stuff” or something to that extent? He doesn’t have to be the most of anything.

    Also, I must admit that I’ve loved every PKD story I’ve ever read.

  32. buddy66 says:

    Don’t back off, ROBULUS. I think your assessment is correct: PKD, great ideas, lousy writing. BB is not, however, a literary salon; the finer points of composition and style go largely unappreciated on Geek Street.

  33. mdh says:

    One ought reasonably expect both substance and style from such a Mind, oughtn’t one?

    Spoken like a true earthling. ;)

  34. robulus says:

    OK, so is this where I break into a song about whether I should try to be popular or follow my heart?

  35. buddy66 says:

    “oddly enough, under the bush years, i wondered if i was paranoid ENOUGH! it was so close to one of his nightmares come true!”

    No shit. There were times I could NOT believe it.

    (Maureen Dowd today quoting a white House insider on W…
    “’He’s so clearly a neglected 13-year-old that there’s something really kind of heartbreaking about him … a good-time Charlie who was used his whole life to front questionable business deals [including the presidency]‘”)

    Wasn’t there a PKD story about a malicious alien teenager runaway at loose on earth and pursued by his elders?

    Maybe not a war crimes trial for Bush, but a good spanking.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I love Gattaca!

    All the landmark buildings, vehicles, art from the past presented as ultra-modern. It’s totally Gernsback continuum…

  37. pilcrow says:

    Agreed. I’ll chime in with a counter-melody about how I did it my way. But not a flat Frank yodeling–I’m thinking more along the lines of a punchy Joey Bishop.

  38. Tdawwg says:

    Huh, but would any of you say he’s a good writer, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter? Dick’s a Freak Saint, a genius, a lightning rod for the ineffable, but I can only think of two or three of his books–Scanner and Timothy Archer come readily to mind, and VALIS, of course–that I was able to read without either retching or laughing at his prose, plots, dialogue, and his women…. ye gods, Dick’s women!

    Dick’s far more fascinating to me for his failures and oddities than for all of his posthumous lionization. All of those insanely beautiful gems buried among the trash and kipple….

  39. Shelby Davis says:

    Minority Rept. was a GREAT adaptation, probably one of the best science-fiction films evar. (and there aren’t that many, imo). Speaking of adaptations, has anybody listened to the opera VALIS, by Todd Machover? One of my first excursions into experimental music, and definitely a great experience.

    Anyway, thanks for the article, Mark!

  40. minTphresh says:

    ooooh, can i be ‘mel torme’?

  41. zuzu says:

    “The Most Brilliant Sci-Fi Mind on Any Planet: Philip K. Dick”

    I think it’s a tossup between PKD and Frank Herbert.

  42. EH says:

    Paul Williams? Like from the Muppet Show?

  43. wolfiesma says:

    I hope this isn’t blasphemy, but I saw the first little bit of Dune for the first time and it seemed kind of campy. I’ve never read the book, though.

    My favorite PKD novels are the non-science-fiction ones he wrote in the 50′s. Hyper-realistic but also very strange. I think one is called Humpty Dumpty in Oakland.

    Anyway, what a cool article you posted, Mark! I love the origianl document scan, and the illustration is so cool. I don’t see many literary reviews that capture the spirit of the author, but this one does pretty well I think.

    So, what do they call rock journalism for books? I think that’s the job I might aspire to someday. I have to read Dune first, though, I know.

  44. BritSwedeGuy says:

    PKD #1
    Now let’s kick God’s ass ;)

  45. audaxaxon says:

    @Buddy66

    the finer points of composition and style…

    perhaps that’s a major part of PKD’s triumph. He started out as a 50′s SF genre pulp writer and then inexplicably went straight for the jugular of existential high-weirdness and came out the other side writing as a many-worlds-weary hyper-dimensional everyman cyber-prophet. So to speak.

    Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is an amazing film, but for almost completely opposite reasons from the genius of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The film is all style, and quite good style too. But the book, (which doesn’t even begin to come together until at least 2/3 of the way through), is orders of magnitude more profound. In fact in light of the themes of the book the movie actually stops making much sense, although there are hints hidden here and there as to what is really going on.

    So yeah, Robulus, I’d agree that it ain’t high prose, but raise you that that is a big part of what makes it even more special and amazing.

    Where would Lovecraft fit into this spectrum I wonder?

  46. PolishQ says:

    Taking the plunge into Dick’s 40+ novels is a great adventure, but for those who need a starting point, my five faves:

    Dr. Bloodmoney
    The Man in the High Castle
    Ubik
    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
    The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

    The best thing about his books is that they’re easily obtained on the cheap and extremely quick reads. Also: his short story collections are a wonder to behold.

  47. zuzu says:

    I hope this isn’t blasphemy, but I saw the first little bit of Dune for the first time and it seemed kind of campy. I’ve never read the book, though.

    Yeah, I saw the first little bit of Total Recall and it seemed kind of campy. ;)

    I actually like the Lynch film adaption, but it’s not like poor film adaptions are unknown to PKD works either. (I mean, Paycheck… ::eyeroll:: )

  48. Brother Provisional says:

    @25. Don’t I mean Chew-Z?

  49. Oskar says:

    @13: There’s actually a PKD connection there. The Truman Show wasn’t officially based on anything else, but it has an extremely similar premise to a great PKD novel, Time Out of Joint (it’s essentially about a man who finds out that the whole world around him is artificial, it’s really freaky stuff). It would be a huge coincidence if it wasn’t at least partly based on that.

    And to all the people talking about Frank Herbert like he’s superior to Dick, what are you guys high? I love the Dune books, but they don’t come anywhere near the greatest of Philip K Dicks works (of which there are many).

    As for book recommendations, I wholeheartedly agree with most of the ones that have been mentioned already (especially The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, UBIK, Valis, Do Androids Dream of Elecric Sheep and especially A Scanner Darkly), but one of my absolute faves haven’t been mentioned: Flow My Tears, The Police Man Said.

    (obligatory note: PKDs titles are AWESOME!)

    Much like UBIK, Flow My Tears is a story that on the surface looks like a traditional sci-fi story, but is incredibly deep and meaningful, once you get in to it.

    I’m so happy that he has been recognized by the literary world at large for the genius he was. No other sci-fi writer (and really no other writer, period) has plunged as deep into the recesses of the mind and the nature of reality like he has. It’s stunning how good his best stuff is.

  50. wolfiesma says:

    Minority Report and Gattaca are phenomenal adaptations though, you have to admit. Gattaca was an adaptation of a PKD story, right? Okay, I have to go get my facts straight now.

  51. Trent Hawkins says:

    to #6: maybe you should have watched the first little bit of Blade runner ;-)

  52. Trent Hawkins says:

    to #6: maybe you should have watched the first little bit of Blade runner ;-)

  53. chumpmeat says:

    wolfiesma –

    Dune was from a Frank Herbert book, not Philip Dick. Good movie though.

    And even though I usually love Verhoeven films, and I worship the ground PKD walked on, I didn’t much care for Total Recall. It had a lot more of the dopey Ahnold energy than Dick or Verhoeven. Blade Runner was of course beyond brilliant as a movie, but didn’t seem much like PKD.

    A Scanner Darkly, I thought, really got it right. The characters, the humor, the dialogue, the madness. Just perfect.

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