Philip K. Dick Biography

Philip K. Dick Biography

Philip K. Dick was the master of reality-bending sci-fi in which life often turns out to be an illusion. His strung-out antiheroes inhabit worlds where anything is possible but nothing is what it appears to be. Big-Brother-esque paranoia fuels many of his best-known works, including The Minority Report and We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (the basis of what would become the film Total Recall). The psychedelic, seemingly nonsensical question "Do androids dream of electric sheep?" captures the author's essence, and it also happens to be the title of one of his most famous short stories, later adapted into the 1982 film Blade Runner. For Philip K. Dick, nothing was trustworthy, least of all the human mind.

Facts and Trivia

  • Paranoia is a recurring theme throughout Dick’s works and paralleled the author’s own emotional struggles. Dick himself believed he might have suffered from schizophrenia.
  • Drugs are also prominently featured in Dick’s stories, particularly in A Scanner Darkly. Dick himself was a drug addict for much of his life.
  • The 2006 film version of A Scanner Darkly featured rotoscoping, a technique in which live actors are filmed and then the images are painted over to create a kind of surreal animation.
  • Although he never reaped large financial rewards for his work, Dick built up a cult—and eventually a mainstream—following for his prodigious output. In fact, Hollywood has been one of Dick’s biggest fans. Many of his stories have been adapted into films. Some, like 1990’s Total Recall, have been successful. Others, like 2007’s Next, were not.
  • Dick was a fraternal twin, but his sister died when she was just five weeks old. After his death in 1982, his ashes were interred next to hers. The "phantom twin" is a recurring motif in his stories.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111226222-Dick.jpg Philip K. Dick Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Philip Kindred Dick was born in Chicago on December 16, 1928, the son of Edgar and Dorothy Kindred Dick. He and his fraternal twin sister, Jane, were six weeks premature; Jane, the smaller and more frail of the two, died on January 26, 1929. When Dick was still a small boy, his mother told him about his sister’s death. As a surviving twin, he felt a mixture of guilt and anger; in later years, he sometimes attributed Jane’s death to his mother’s negligence, probably unfairly so.

Some months after Jane’s death, the Dick family moved to Berkeley, California, and Edgar took a job in the United States Department of Agriculture’s San Francisco office. In 1933, when Edgar was transferred to Reno, Nevada, Dorothy refused to go. A strongly independent woman (she was a feminist and a pacifist at a time when those convictions placed her in a distinct minority), she chose to remain in Berkeley with Philip. A custody battle ensued, as a result of which, in 1935, Dorothy and Philip moved to Washington, D.C., where she wrote pamphlets on child care for the Federal Children’s Bureau. In 1938, they returned to Berkeley, where Philip attended high school and, very briefly, the University of California. Except for a period of a few weeks in 1972 spent in Vancouver, British Columbia, he lived in California for the rest of his life.

In Dick’s own account, he began his career as a writer at the age of twelve. That was when he learned to type—a skill at which he had to become extremely proficient in order to keep up with the pell-mell flow of his imagination. It was at age twelve that he discovered his first science-fiction magazine, inaugurating a lifelong attachment. By that time, too, he suffered from a variety of phobias and other emotional problems, connected, in part at least, to childhood traumas. As an adult, he seemed to move from one emotional crisis to another—he was married five times, attempted suicide several times, and experienced several breakdowns—but through it all he remained an immensely productive writer.

Anthony Boucher (the pen name of William Anthony Parker White), critic and writer of mysteries and science fiction and cofounding editor (1949) of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, played an important role in the development of Dick’s career. Though unimpressed by Dick’s attempts at mainstream fiction, Boucher saw great promise in the young writer’s more speculative fiction and encouraged him to develop his talent in that direction. In October, 1951, Boucher...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Ezra Pound suggested that artists are “the antennae of the race.” Dick’s novels would seem to bear out that judgment. As technological developments increasingly blur the distinction between the human and the artificial, the real event and the simulated happening, the prescience of Dick’s vision becomes increasingly clear.

No one book by Dick stands out as a near-flawless expression of that vision. Taken together, though, his ten or twelve best books constitute a powerfully achieved and unmistakably individual body of work. Metaphysical probing, deliberately overloaded plots, quirky humor, and a fascination with the “junk” of popular culture as well as with esoteric lore are a few of the salient features of...

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago in 1928; his twin sister died at a few months of age. While Dick was still very young, his parents moved to Berkeley, California, and Dick grew up there. Dick’s parents were divorced when he was four years old, and he did not see his father for many years after that. Dick attended Berkeley High School and was graduated in 1945. He then went to the University of California at Berkeley but dropped out after a year in order to escape compulsory service in the campus Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). In 1947, he took a job as a radio announcer for a classical music station in Berkeley, and from 1948 to 1952, he worked as a record store manager.

In 1951, Dick sold his first story, “Roog,” to Anthony Boucher at Fantasy and Science Fiction, but the story did not appear until 1953. Dick had attended an informal writing class that Boucher taught in Berkeley and considered Boucher a good friend and editorial adviser. Dick’s first story to be published was “Beyond Lies the Wub” (1952), in the science-fiction magazine Planet Stories.

Most of Dick’s short stories were written in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He published seventy-three short stories between 1952 and 1955, while the last years of his life saw only a few stories. As his output of short stories diminished, however, his production of novels grew, some of them based on material from the stories. For example, his novel...

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