Divine Invasions

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Philip K. Dick has long been one of the hidden treasures of modern American fiction. True, “hidden” is a relative term here. Dick, who was born in 1928 and died in 1982, wrote most of his books in an immensely productive period from the mid-1950’s to the end of the 1960’s, establishing himself as a unique voice in science fiction. The film BLADE RUNNER, based on Dick’s 1968 novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?, brought some new readers to his work, as will the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle TOTAL RECALL, scheduled for 1990 release, loosely based on Dick’s story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Still, even a science-fiction bookshop will stock only the handful of Dick’s many titles currently in reissue (the others range from difficult to nearly impossible to find). Outside science-fiction fandom, most readers have never heard of such Dickian marvels as UBIK and THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH.

Lawrence Sutin has done his best to correct this situation. DIVINE INVASIONS: A LIFE OF PHILIP K. DICK is the best book on Dick to date, biographical or otherwise. Sutin’s style is serviceable, colloquial (sometimes he tries too hard to be buddies with the reader), straightforward; he has a sense of humor well-attuned to Dick’s own. He clearly retains his affection for his subject, but he does not gloss over Dick’s failings.

Two big question--What is real? What is human?--bedeviled and energized Dick, kept him (fueled by amphetamines) pounding out novels. As the millennium approaches, and technological innovations increasingly blur distinctions between the real and the simulated, the human and the artificial, Dick’s fiction becomes ever more timely. Sutin is a good guide; his text is supplemented by photographs, notes, an index, and a chronological list of Dick’s books, with publishing history, plot summary, and Sutin’s rating (on a scale from 1 to 10) provided for each title.