Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Science fiction often uses technology as a metaphor for broader philosophical and social concerns. Look at specific technological leaps in Philip K. Dick’s work and consider the broader issues implicit in these imagined developments.
Using specific works, how is Dick’s writing a historical document of the times in which he lived and not just a projection of the future?
Dick often mixes the fantastic elements of science fiction with more mundane aspects of life. What is achieved in this combination, and how does that influence our understanding of the science-fiction genre?
What are Dick’s targets of satire, and why does he choose to critique them? Keeping this in mind, explore Dick’s sense of absurd—that is, how he utilizes it and what it reveals.
Name specific ways in which countercultures of underground cultures function in Dick’s work. Are they always opposed to the mainstream, or do they provide valid alternatives? What does this reveal about Dick’s views on society?
Explore the logical puzzles that Dick’s plots often create to call into question basic questions, such as “What is reality?” and “What defines identity?” Citing specific works, explain what he does to provide concrete answers for readers, and what he does to deny the same.
Consider mysticism and religion in Dick’s work. How does it relate to technology? When is it a positive force, when does it work against a character?
Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Philip K. Dick’s large body of science-fiction stories (he published more than one hundred stories in science-fiction magazines) is matched by his large number of science-fiction novels (he published more than thirty). Most of his short stories were first published in the 1950’s, whereas he concentrated on the novel form in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Philip K. Dick’s work received little critical attention during the early part of his career, but he later became regarded as one of the most important writers of science fiction. Dick concentrates less on the technical aspects of science fiction than he does on character and theme, though his stories and novels do involve such things as time travel, space flight to distant galaxies, robots, and androids. In 1963, his novel The Man in the High Castle (1962) won science-fiction’s Hugo Award as the best novel of the year, and in 1975, he was given the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974). The Campbell award may seem somewhat ironic, since Dick has written that Campbell, who edited Astounding, considered his work “not only worthless but also, as he put it, ‘Nuts.’”
Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Before he began writing long fiction, in 1955, Philip K. Dick went through an extraordinarily prolific period as a short-story writer. His first story, “Beyond Lies the Wub,” appeared in 1952. In both 1953 and 1954, Dick published twenty-eight short stories per year. His total output in this genre is more than one hundred stories, most of which he wrote early in his career. Many have been reprinted in his collections A Handful of Darkness (1955), The Variable Man, and Other Stories (1957), The Preserving Machine, and Other Stories (1969), I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon (1985), and elsewhere. A five-volume collection, The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, was published in 1987. He also collaborated on novels, including The Ganymede Takeover (with Ray Nelson) and Deus Irae (with Roger Zelazny).
Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
In all histories of science fiction, Philip K. Dick is hailed as one of the greatest and most distinctive exponents of the genre. Literary awards, however, came his way surprisingly rarely. He received the Hugo Award (which is decided by vote of science-fiction fans attending the annual World Science Fiction Convention) for the best novel of the year 1962, for The Man in the High Castle. He received the John W. Campbell Award (decided by a panel of writers and critics, and also administered by the World Science Fiction Convention) for Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, in 1975. More recognition might have been expected, and would surely have been forthcoming, if it were not for two things. One is that Dick was, for a while, an amazingly prolific author (five novels were published, for example, in 1964), yet one who wrote very few evidently weak or minor novels. His high level of productivity and consistency have accordingly made it difficult for single novels to be chosen as superior to others. Probably few critics would agree even on which are the best ten of his nearly forty novels. A further point is that Dick, while a writer of amazing power and fertility, also was prone to convolution and to the pursuit of personal obsessions.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Aldiss, Brian W., and David Wingrove. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. London: Victor Gollancz, 1986. Aldiss’s work is useful as an overall survey of themes and writers of science fiction, and he allots several pages to Dick’s work. His focus is on Dick’s novels, but his comments are useful for looking at the short stories as well.
Dick, Anne R. Search for Philip K. Dick, 1928-1982: A Memoir and Biography of the Science Fiction Writer. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1995. An important documentation of Dick’s life, told in candid detail by his wife.
DiTommaso, Lorenzo. “Redemption in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.” Science-Fiction Studies 26 (March, 1999): 91-119. Discusses the role of Christian theology in Dick’s fiction, particularly gnostic Christian dualism and fundamental Pauline theology. Discusses The Man in the High Castle as an important stage in the development of Dick’s thought.
Gillespie, Bruce, ed. Philip K. Dick: Electric Shepherd. Melbourne: Norstrilia Press, 1975. This collection of essays on Dick’s work includes an article by Dick himself called “The Android and the Human.”
Golumbia, David. “Resisting ‘The World’: Philip K. Dick, Cultural Studies, and Metaphysical Realism.” Science-Fiction Studies 23 (March, 1996): 83-102. A...
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