Dick, Philip K(indred) 1928–
Dick is an American science fiction novelist, author of short stories, and screenwriter. His interest in music and sociology and his fear of radical political trends are thematically reflected in his work. He has stated that his major philosophical concern, an attempt to define reality, is manifested in his literary exploration of varying states of consciousness. The Man in the High Castle won the 1963 Hugo Award for best novel. He has collaborated with Roger Zelazny on the novel Deus Irae. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52.)
[Deus Irae] may well be the worst book I have ever read. It struck me as something Tom Wolfe might produce if he were to crossbreed Walter M. Miller's Canticle for Leibowitz with a twisted version of Pilgrim's Progress. Deus Irae centers around a pilgrimage to find God, the God of wrath, and the pilgrim in the book encounters many portents and has many visions as he sticks to the straight and narrow: hence the resemblance to Pilgrim's Progress. Furthermore, the book describes monastic life in a period after a nuclear holocaust has left a charred and deformed world behind: hence the resemblance to Miller's Canticle for Leibowitz.
The search is for the God who could permit such devastation to occur, the Deus Irae. Thus, the story is a take-off from the Scholastics' traditional problem of evil: If God is omnipotent, then nothing can exist unless God wants it to exist. Therefore, either God wants evil to exist, or God is not omnipotent. Yet, to state this syllogism as the theme of the book, and to cite the influence of much finer authors on [co-authors] Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny, would be to lend much greater credence, suggest much greater depth and worth than Deus Irae has to offer. The authors don't seem to have the patience to adequately develop the ideas they conjure or the skill to combine their talents well. They dilly-dally with profundity, they substitute psychedelic whirlygigs for hard description, and at times they even seem to include whole chapters and parts of chapters as an afterthought.
What is especially disappointing, I think, is the fact that each of the two authors is individually capable, but when they work together, as they have done here, the product is less than the sum of the two parts. This is a novel by committee, and I got the impression that one of the authors wanted to write a comedy while the other held out for a tragedy. The result was neither, and Deus Irae is hardly worth a reader's time or dime. (p. 244)
Robert J. Rafalko, in Best Sellers (copyright © 1976 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), November, 1976.
Martian Time-Slip … describes a desolate, end-of-the-century Mars inhabited by doomed clairvoyants, an obsessed tycoon and an autistic child-hero who together move through a landscape that uncannily resembles southern California perceived through the glaze of some deep psychosis…. [The] novel is full of incident, fusing terror and comedy in a unique way. More than any other SF writer, Dick is able to convey the sense of everyday reality as totally threatening. (p. 879)
J. G. Ballard, in New Statesman (© 1976 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), December 17, 1976.
[A Scanner Darkly] treats one of the major problems of our society today, namely drug abuse, but is written as science fiction set in the near future. I wish the author had treated his main theme with realism, describing the situations and events more accurately, but instead everything tends to be vague and uncertain….
Unfortunately the things are described so vaguely that the situation gets quite illogical. I suppose the license of the science fiction writer allows him to present the ideas ambiguously without filling in specific details, and in this case the author has taken full liberty with his license. The result is a story which is formless, slow moving, and repetitive. (p. 37)
Riaz Hussain, in Best Sellers (copyright © 1977 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), May, 1977.
Philip Dick and Roger Zelazny's co-production, Deus Irae, lavishly strews wheezes, rather than ideas. Post-atomic, fragmented, monster-laden world; sardonic religion, the Servants of Wrath, idolizes Carl Lufteuful, the man who pressed the ultimate button; limbless painter sent on pilgrimage on cowpowered cart to find the Holy Face; various encounters with weird philosophical beasts, machines, mutants and metaphysics. Much irony about the relativism of religion and morality, somewhat in the style of James Branch Cabell. Vigorous, jumpy, startling, unflaggingly inventive, and rather a bore. (p. 820)
Eric Korn, in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), July 8, 1977.
Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly begins as a standard American nightmare. It is California, 1994, and society is divided between the straights in their fortified apartment complexes, and the acid-heads who are hooked on a new drug of unknown origin, substance D (for Death). Most of the detritus of the 1970s survives unchanged but surveillance technology has been advanced by the invention of the "scramble suit", which reduces the appearance of the wearer to a nebulous blur, and is compulsory uniform within the bounds of police headquarters. Thanks to this garment the hero, a narcotics agent turned addict, is sent on a full-time assignment to spy on himself.
From this point paranoia radiates outwards, taking us through a bewildering series of conspiratorial world-views in search of the ultimate distributors of substance D, who (the theological strain in Dick's work is becoming more marked) appear to be nothing less than the executors of the divine plan. At another level, the novel is a frightening allegory of the process of drug abuse, in which some of the alternative realities experienced are revealed as the hallucinations of terminal addicts.
In a moving author's note at the end of the volume, Dick reflects on his own drug experiences and the deaths of several of his friends. He offers the novel as a record of the whole "bad decision of the decade, the sixties, both in and out of the establishment". Despite this, the loose ends of the plot are feebly tied up by a heroine who is by turns teenage drug-pusher, federal agent, metaphysician and angel of mercy, able to materialize and dematerialize at will. A Scanner Darkly is halfway between a contemporary nightmare and an allegory of absolute good and absolute evil. Although far from the best of Dick's novels, it may yet be instrumental in converting his distinguished career into a legend. (p. 83)
Patrick Parrinder, in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), January 27, 1978.