Philip K. Dick American Literature Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5183

In his essay “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” (written in 1978 but not published until 1985, as an introduction to the story collection I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon), Philip K. Dick outlined the principal themes of his fiction:The two basic topics which fascinate me are “What is reality?” and “What constitutes the authentic human being?” Over the twenty-seven years in which I have published novels and stories I have investigated these two interrelated topics over and over again.

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Philosophers, it is sometimes said, are people who sit around asking “Is this table real?” The point of the caricature is to suggest that philosophy is too esoteric, divorced from the problems of everyday life. After all, except for the mentally ill, everyone knows what reality is, so why ask?

Dick was a writer of fiction, however, not a philosopher, and his concern with the nature of reality was anything but abstract. His stories and novels explore collisions between multiple realities. Dick was particularly interested in the interplay between subjective and objective reality. As he noted in a letter written in 1970,I have been very much influenced by the thinking of the European existential psychologists, who posit this: for each person there are two worlds, the idios kosmos, which is a unique private world, and the koinos kosmos, which literally means shared world (just as idios means private).

To function as an “authentic human being,” one must have these two worlds in balance, according to Dick. When the shared vision of the koinos kosmos ruthlessly dominates the private vision of the idios kosmos, the result is loss of identity, mindless conformity—a popular fear when Dick began publishing in the 1950’s, the decade that produced Sloan Wilson’s novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955) and Vance Packard’s early study of the coercive power of advertising, The Hidden Persuaders (1957). On the other hand, when one’s private vision is not tempered by a “strong empathetic rapport with other people” (a fundamental value in Dick’s worldview) and by an awareness of a reality that is greater than any individual, the result is delusion, even madness, destructive to oneself and often to others as well.

Science fiction allowed Dick to explore themes of multiple realities and cognitive dissonance more freely and thoroughly than he could in mainstream fiction. Many of his novels feature situations in which one character invades and distorts the perceptions of others, altering the way in which they experience reality. In Eye in the Sky (1957), for example, the premise is an accident at a particle accelerator. While the victims of the accident—a very diverse lot—lie unconscious, their inner worlds merge in some unexplained fashion; in this dreamlike state, the whole group experiences the world as it is seen by each of the group’s members, one by one. Dick uses a similar plot device to good effect in Ubik (1969) and A Maze of Death (1970), and especially powerfully in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1964). Such science-fictional scenarios reflect real-life circumstances; one way to describe the Nazi era is to say that a single man, Adolf Hitler, with the complicity of many others, was able to impose his insane idios kosmos on an entire nation.

It would be very misleading, though, to suggest that Dick wrote stories and novels merely to explore certain recurring themes (no matter how important those themes might be). As a writer he was a consummate showman: funny, wildly inventive, with a sheer exuberance that could not be accommodated within the conventions of mainstream fiction. Even his best books are marked by inconsistencies, implausibilities, and stylistic rough edges aplenty. Yet these flaws go hand in hand with the qualities that make even his weakest books worth reading: the mind-twisting plots, the heady mixture of incongruous elements.

A typical Dick novel contains enough story ideas for four or five ordinary books. Clans of the Alphane Moon (1964), for example, takes its title from the inmates of a mental hospital on a distant moon, out of contact with Earth for twenty-five years as a result of a galactic war between humans and aliens. Left on their own, the inmates have divided into groups according to type of illness, the paranoids living in a state of constant suspicion, the depressives barely able to function, and so on. For their mutual benefit, the various groups maintain an uneasy coalition, threatened when a delegation from Earth arrives with plans to reinstitutionalize them.

At the same time, the novel is about marital discord and reconciliation. Dick’s depiction of the conflict between protagonist Chuck Rittersdorf and his brilliant wife, Mary, rings painfully true, with enough blackly comic exaggeration to make it funny. The novel also has a political angle (the war against the aliens has not ended the Cold War, and Chuck’s job is to program simulacra—that is, humanoid robots—which are used to infiltrate Communist territories, where they will disseminate pro-American propaganda). Also, like many of Dick’s works, it contains an oblique self-portrait of the author. Stir in characters such as the telepathic Ganymedean slime mold Lord Running Clam (one of Dick’s finest creations) and the themes discussed above, and the result is a uniquely Dickian concoction—imaginable only in science fiction.

Indeed, Dick employed the full panoply of the genre’s props: aliens and androids, telepathy and precognition, parallel time tracks—his novel Now Wait for Last Year (1966) makes dazzling use of the latter—and all the rest. Yet along with these staples of science fiction, many of his books feature sharply rendered settings drawn from contemporary life, sometimes given a little twist to fit a futuristic scenario. Time Out of Joint (1959) depicts late-1950’s suburbia; Dr. Bloodmoney: Or, How We Got Along After the Bomb (1965) is set in San Francisco and laid-back Marin County; A Scanner Darkly (1977) evokes the drug culture of the 1960’s; Radio Free Albemuth (1985) ranges from Berkeley in the 1950’s to Southern California in the 1970’s.

Wherever they are set, most of Dick’s novels are grounded in the clutter and trivia, the mundane cares and joys, of everyday life. Most of his protagonists, too, are ordinary people, such as repairman Jack Bohlen of Martian Time-Slip (1964). Dick had a hard time ending his books—he could not settle the metaphysical questions that fueled them—and so, typically, he concluded not with a cosmic resolution but with a modest affirmation of simple human virtues. The last lines of Martian Time-Slip are representative:In the darkness of the Martian night her husband and father-in-law searched for Erna Steiner; their light flashed here and there, and their voices could be heard, business-like and competent and patient.

The rise of the cyberpunk movement after Dick’s death emphasized the changing nature of identity and community in an increasingly online world, and science fiction’s imagined futures were often matched by the realities of modern technology and its culture in the new millennium. While cyberpunk authors such as William Gibson and Neal Stephenson gained greater critical attention and acceptance for science fiction, the significance of Dick’s work as a thematic and literary progenitor of the subgenre has been observed. Indeed, one of the first winners of the Philip K. Dick Award was Gibson’s Neuromancer in 1984, popularly considered the first major cyberpunk novel.

“Paycheck”

First published: 1953 (collected in Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick, 2002)

Type of work: Short story

An engineer whose past two years of work have been erased from memory unravels the mystery of what he did and why.

Jennings is an engineer who agreed to work for two years for Rethrick Construction and have his memory erased afterward to protect company secrets. Instead of the money promised at the end of his contract, however, Jennings discovers his pre-erasure self asked to be paid with a collection of odd items: a code key, a ticket stub, a parcel receipt, a length of wire, half a poker chip, a green cloth, and a bus token.

As Jennings tries to unravel why his earlier self would request such items, he uncovers the truth of Rethrick Construction—also known as The Company—and the secret project Jennings worked on, a time travel device. Each pay item proves useful in this quest, as Jennings realizes his earlier self was able to see into the future, predict what his questing self would need, and provided accordingly. Jennings also discovers the scope of The Company’s work and suspects its intention to mold the world’s future.

Jennings uses Kelly, a receptionist at Rethrick Construction, to hide the evidence that he uncovers. However, Kelly is the daughter of Rethrick, which she reveals when Jennings tries to blackmail his former employer. Jennings demands that Rethrick let him become The Company’s next leader but is refused by Kelly, who holds the parcel receipt that will lead to the evidence. A hand descends to grab the ticket from Kelly, a nod to the literary motif of the deus ex machina—the god out of the machine, who changes the course of a drama in an omnipotent fashion. If anything, “Paycheck” and its time travel puzzle is the story of how one person takes control of his life in an unexpected fashion and becomes his own deus ex machina, forced to trust his own judgment even when that judgment is obscure.

“The Minority Report”

First published: 1956 (collected in Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick, 2002)

Type of work: Short story

The head of an organization that uses precognition to prevent crimes must find out the reasons behind a murder he’s supposed to commit.

John Anderton is the founder and head of Precrime, which stops future crimes from occurring by gathering data from three precogs—humans gifted with precognition, now reduced to caged idiot savants as their babble is recorded and collated. The day that a new assistant, Ed Witwer, joins, Anderton receives a report that he will commit a murder of an army general he does not know, Leopold Kaplan. Anderton confronts Kaplan, who harbors doubts about Precrime, and goes on the run with Kaplan’s help. Anderton is chased by Precrime agents and tries to escape with Lisa, also an agent.

Anderton knows two precogs confirm a precrime before it is pursued, but there is often a dissenting minority report from the third precog. However, the prediction of Anderton’s murder is supposed to change when Anderton discovers the news, changing the significance of the minority report. Kaplan has manipulated events so that Precrime will fall to a restrengthened Army headed by Kaplan. Discovering this, Anderton decides to actually murder Kaplan, thus saving Precrime; with Lisa, he accepts his punishment and goes into exile.

The story’s premise is based on paradoxes raised by predicting the future: If one knows what will happen, can one change the outcome? If so, what does that say about the ability to predict the future in the first place? Precrime satirizes how law enforcement can overreach its mandate; in the modern world, racial profiling could be considered a kind of precrime. Anderton commits his predicted murder to reinforce the validity of his flawed system but in doing so, proves its correctness.

Solar Lottery

First published: 1955

Type of work: Novel

In the corrupt, feudalistic world of the twenty-third century, a troubled idealist refuses to conform.

Solar Lottery, Dick’s first published science-fiction novel, was his best-selling book prior to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? That fact says much about the audience for science fiction, for of all Dick’s novels Solar Lottery most resembles the stereotypical and ephemeral products of the genre. Even in this early work, however, some of Dick’s recurring preoccupations and distinctive gifts are apparent.

Most of Dick’s novels are set in the near future (indeed, in certain instances, Dick’s future has already become the reader’s past). Solar Lottery, in contrast, takes place in the distant future, in the year 2203. In many science-fiction stories (especially those written in the period from the 1930’s through the 1950’s), the futuristic setting is never coherently or convincingly established. Rather than undertaking the difficult task of imagining a future society, the writer relies on the power of suggestion (simply to say “2203” is to conjure vague but exciting images), supplemented by a bit of technological extrapolation. Such is the case in Solar Lottery.

The world of 2203 is one in which space travel has long been a reality, yet in other respects humanity seems to have regressed. This future society is feudalistic. Skilled individuals must swear fealty to corporations or powerful figures. Loyalty is the highest virtue—but in practice, “loyalty” means blind obedience. Common people (unclassified, or “unks”) are given a largely illusory measure of hope by an elaborate mechanism known as the Quiz; at the random twitch of a bottle, the single most powerful figure in the society, the Quizmaster, may be deposed, to be replaced by someone utterly obscure.

In this scenario one can detect familiar themes and issues of the 1950’s, combined by Dick in a strange and whimsical amalgam: the growing influence of corporations in American life and the stultifying conformity they encouraged; the loyalty hearings conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy; the appeal of television quiz shows, which were wildly popular at the time Dick was writing Solar Lottery; even the role of John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern’s game theory in America’s postwar nuclear strategy (the novel includes a mini-dissertation on game theory). Restless and dissatisfied in this static and unjust society, protagonist Ted Benteley ultimately rejects the system’s overemphasis on loyalty and its complacent materialism. His inarticulate idealism is paralleled in a subplot involving the Prestonites, a sect inspired by the writing of maverick astronomer and linguist John Preston to search for a tenth planet in the solar system.

Solar Lottery concludes with a recorded message from the long-dead Preston, extolling “the highest goal of man—the need to grow and advance . . . to find new things . . . to expand.” This platitudinous conclusion, unthinkable in Dick’s later novels, actually has little connection with the conflicts that animate Solar Lottery—in particular the tension between Benteley and deposed Quizmaster Reese Varrick, the prototype for such ambivalently portrayed larger-than-life figures as Gino Molinari in Now Wait for Last Year, Glen Runciter in Ubik, and the Glimmung in Galactic Pot Healer (1969).

The Man in the High Castle

First published: 1962

Type of work: Novel

In the alternate world imagined in this novel, Germany and Japan were victorious in World War II.

The Man in the High Castle belongs to the subgenre of science fiction known as alternate history. Most science-fiction novels postulate future developments (ranging from intergalactic travel to all manner of bionic devices) which have brought about a world much different from that of the reader. In contrast, alternate-history novels look into the past, imagining how subsequent history might have developed if the outcome of some key events or series of events had been different. Ward Moore’s novel Bring the Jubilee (1953), for example, is based on the premise that the South won the Civil War. Kingsley Amis’s The Alteration (1976) imagines a Europe in which the Reformation never took place. On a larger scale, Orson Scott Card in Seventh Son (1987) and its sequels has created an alternate history of America in the nineteenth century.

The Man in the High Castle imagines a world in which Germany and Japan, rather than the United States and the Soviet Union, are the two superpowers. In Dick’s alternate history, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was assassinated during his first term; the lack of his strong leadership was one factor that contributed to the Allies’ defeat. World War II ended in 1947; the action of the novel takes place fifteen years later, in 1962 (the year in which The Man in the High Castle was published).

The setting is a conquered America, divided into several distinct zones. The Pacific States constitute one such zone, under the relatively benign administration of the Japanese. The Rocky Mountain States form a buffer of sorts, controlled neither by the Japanese nor by the Germans but lacking any real power. From the Rockies to the Atlantic Ocean are the United States, under brutal German control.

There are several intersecting plot lines in The Man in the High Castle. In no other novel does Dick develop such a variety of characters so fully. Moreover, he shifts point of view rapidly from character to character, allowing the reader to view the world of the novel from many different perspectives; even deeply flawed characters are presented with a measure of sympathy. Robert Childan owns a shop in San Francisco, specializing in Americana (the Japanese are passionate collectors). He is an obsequious racist, a classic “little man,” full of envy and bitterness. Juliana Frink is a judo instructor in Colorado; her estranged husband, Frank, makes jewelry in San Francisco and hopes to keep his Jewishness a secret. Rudolf Wegener is a captain in the German navy who is morally opposed to his Nazi superiors; he comes to San Francisco under a false identity to meet with a Japanese official, Nobusuke Tagomi, and warn him of a secret German plan to stage a border incident in America that will serve as a pretext for an all-out nuclear attack on Japan.

Indeed, all of the characters are forced in some way to confront the horrors of Nazism. In the world of the novel, that includes not only the Holocaust but also a genocidal “experiment” in Africa that has resulted in the virtual depopulation of the continent. Yet The Man in the High Castle is not primarily concerned with the peculiar nature of the Nazi phenomenon. Rather, Nazism functions in the novel as an especially potent embodiment of primal evil.

Countless science-fiction novels depict an archetypal conflict between the forces of good and evil. Dick’s treatment of this theme, however, is highly distinctive. Here, as Mr. Tagomi perceives in a moment of insight, evil is not simply a concept: “There is evil! It’s actual like cement.” Yet this palpable evil, Mr. Tagomi realizes, is not confined to the Nazis and their ilk: “It’s an ingredient in us. In the world. Poured over us, filtering into our bodies, minds, hearts, into the pavement itself.”

Such a recognition can be shattering; in a scene that is repeated with variations in many of Dick’s novels, Mr. Tagomi finds that for a short time, reality itself appears to be dissolving before his eyes. What saves him from moral paralysis is a counter-recognition or intuition that, however muddled human attempts to do good and fight evil may be, they are in harmony with the order of things that underlies the world of appearances.

That such an order, though imperfectly perceived, really exists—that it is not merely a product of wishful thinking—is suggested in the novel in two ways. First, there is the role in the narrative of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of divination. To use this oracle, one tosses coins or yarrow stalks and then consults the text according to the patterns in which they fall. In the course of the novel, several of the characters repeatedly have recourse to the I Ching. The fact that its guidance generally proves to be reliable suggests metaphorically that beneath the seeming chaos of human experience there lies a meaningful order. At the same time, the fact that the oracle is frequently enigmatic, requiring considerable interpretation and never easily verifiable, suggests that human access to this immutable order will remain incomplete, always subject to distortion.

Second, there is the intriguing novel-within-a-novel, Hawthorne Abendsen’s “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy,” which is read or alluded to by many of the characters in The Man in the High Castle and from which several passages are quoted. Abendsen’s novel, banned in German-controlled territories (where it nevertheless enjoys clandestine circulation) and very popular in the Pacific States, describes an alternate history in which Germany and Japan were defeated in World War II. The world of Abendsen’s novel, while it closely resembles the real world outside the frame of The Man in the High Castle, is not identical to it. For example, Rexford Tugwell, not Franklin Roosevelt, is president of the United States during the war. (In Abendsen’s version, Roosevelt is president through 1940 and is thus able to prepare the country for war.)

The climax of The Man in the High Castle occurs when Juliana Frink, having killed a Nazi assassin who was on his way to kill Abendsen, seeks the novelist out in his home in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Abendsen, who is rumored to be entrenched in a fortress (the “High Castle” of the title), is in fact living with his family in an ordinary stucco house on a residential street. There, with Abendsen looking on, Juliana consults the I Ching about “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.” (She has guessed, correctly, that the novelist himself used the I Ching when writing his book.) The oracle’s verdict is at once clear and mysterious: the hexagram for Inner Truth. Abendsen’s book is true.

Much of the fascination of alternate-history novels derives from the fact that, like allegories, they have two levels of meaning. On one level there is the imagined world of the story. At the same time, the reader is implicitly led to compare this fictional world with the actual historical world. In The Man in the High Castle, however, there is an added level of complexity, for in Dick’s novel the characters themselves (some of them, at least) become aware of an alternate reality beneath or parallel to the surface reality of their world. This link between the situation of the characters and the situation of the reader is one of the features that makes The Man in the High Castle not only an exceptional example of the alternate-history novel but also one of the enduring classics of science fiction.

“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”

First published: 1966 (collected in Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick, 2002)

Type of work: Short story

A man who wishes to visit Mars has false memories implanted of such a trip, only to discover that he is already living with false memories.

Douglas Quail dreams of visiting Mars, still in the midst of colonization, but is unable to do so. He contracts Rekal, Incorporated to have false memories implanted fulfilling his fantasy. He further adds a twist of adventure, as these memories will make him an undercover agent of Interplan. McClane, the head of Rekal, promises that the memories will be sharper and more vivid than real memories, which blur and fade over time. This highlights how modern technology is able to be more “real” than reality itself, providing sensory stimuli well beyond what normal human interaction gives.

Before the implants take place, however, technicians discover Quail already had an implant that erased his memories of actually visiting Mars as an undercover agent, blowing a government secret. Now aware of his true past and scared for his life, Quail tries to run; however, he is contacted by Interplan agents who convince him to surrender. Interplan agrees to give Quail a new set of memory implants to replace the real Mars memories; in these new implants, Quail foiled an alien invasion as a child and only his continued survival prevents the invasion from resuming. Unfortunately, McClane discovers this may be the truth as well, as a drug-induced Quail moans that this secret was never to be revealed—again, right before the implants take place.

The addition of false memories is less troubling than the uncovering of true memories suppressed for a reason. It becomes difficult to verify what is “real” and what is “false” since what one has to rely on are the altered memories of a damaged man.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

First published: 1968

Type of work: Novel

Androids of the latest model are harder than ever to distinguish from the humans whom they are so cunningly designed to mimic, but they still have one telltale flaw.

Thanks to the film Blade Runner, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is Dick’s best-known novel. (A tie-in edition was issued in paperback under the title of the film, with Dick’s original title given in small print.) That is ironic because, as is often the case, the screenwriters omitted significant elements of the novel, changed others, and added material of their own.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a postnuclear holocaust novel. This subgenre is one of the most crowded in science fiction, including masterpieces such as A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), by William M. Miller, Jr., as well as countless forgotten books. Writers from outside science fiction have often contributed to this subgenre too; one notable example is Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (1982).

Dick’s novel, written in the mid-1960’s and published in 1968, is set in 1992. World War Terminus and the resultant fallout have rendered much of Earth uninhabitable and much of the population sterile. Many of the survivors have emigrated to the barren landscape of Mars. Others, despite the hazards (there is a whole class of people damaged by radiation, known as “specials” or, more popularly, “chickenheads”), have chosen to remain on Earth.

This scenario is familiar enough, but Dick’s way of developing it is characteristically fresh. Postnuclear holocaust tales tend to veer toward cynicism or sentimentalism; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? avoids both of these extremes. In the world Dick imagines, animals of all kinds have a special value. Some species are extinct, while others are greatly diminished. To own an animal is a mark of status; it is also to enjoy a living link with the pre-holocaust world. There is a marvelous humor in this—animals are graded in the manner of collectible coins or stamps, with regular catalogs issued, and neighbors keep close track of one another’s acquisitions—mixed with deep poignancy. For those who cannot afford a real animal, there are substitutes, such as the electric sheep owned by protagonist Rick Deckard.

Deckard is a bounty hunter. His quarry are rogue androids (called “replicants” in Blade Runner), so sophisticated in design that they are almost impossible to distinguish from genuine humans. Almost, but not quite—for androids lack one vital human quality: the ability to empathize, to put oneself in another’s place. Here, as in many of his novels, Dick uses the device of the android (the simulacrum) to raise disturbing questions about people’s identities as human beings. Such questions are highlighted by Deckard’s attraction to the beautiful android Rachel Rosen and by the kindness and wisdom of the hapless chickenhead John Isidore.

The theme of empathy is developed in an important strand of the novel entirely omitted from the film. Like many members of their society, Deckard and Isidore participate in a quasi-religious movement known as Mercerism. Gripping the handles of a “Mercer box,” the communicant experiences “fusion” with the thousands of others who are performing the rite at that moment; together they all experience identification with the archetypal figure of Wilbur Mercer, a white-haired old man ascending a steep hill, tormented by rock-throwing antagonists yet pressing on. To be fair to the filmmakers, it should be noted that perhaps they omitted this strand of the novel because Dick’s development of it is self-contradictory. Late in the novel, the androids expose Mercer as a fake. After this startling reversal, Dick pulls a counter-reversal; yes, Mercer is a fake, but somehow, and in a more important sense, he is also real. Here the conflict between Dick’s persistent skepticism and his equally strong yearning to believe is revealed in its naked form.

A Scanner Darkly

First published: 1977

Type of work: Novel

An undercover narcotics officer finds himself in conflict with his drug-using alter ego.

Fred is an undercover narcotics agent who poses as drug user Bob Arctor. Bob shares his house with two other users, Barris and Luckman, and has a girlfriend, Donna, who is a small-time dealer. Bob is addicted to Substance D—the “D” standing primarily for Death—and is ostensibly using Donna to find the source of this drug. To prevent corruption, the government uses scramble suits to protect the identity of agents; not even supervisors know who they are underneath. Fred is assigned to monitor the group at Bob’s house, but by necessity, that means he must monitor himself as Bob or blow his cover.

When surveillance of Bob’s house intensifies because of suspicious behavior, so do acts of sabotage occurring against Bob. On the same day that the government installs monitoring equipment in his house, Bob and his housemates almost die from somebody tinkering with his car. As Fred, he finds himself reviewing the recordings of Bob and his friends, finding himself in knotty discussions with his supervisor and fellow agents about the results. Fred also finds himself disassociated from Bob, reaching a point where the two are unable to guess each other’s actions. The title of the novel refers to the surveillance tool and the consequences when Bob/Fred cannot comprehend what he sees.

Government agents conduct tests on Fred and discover Substance D has damaged his brain, splitting his personae. At the same time, Barris comes to the police and offers information that will get Bob busted as a major drug dealer-conspirator. Fred’s cover is blown, and he is placed in the detoxification program of New-Path, where he takes on the name Bruce, his mental functions severely deteriorated.

Donna turns out to be a government narcotics agent, now using her former boyfriend to trace the source of Substance D, New-Path. The novel closes with Bruce pocketing Substance D, unwilling to give up his junkie habits as Bob or perhaps fulfilling his previous role as Fred, keeping evidence for Donna’s bust.

The novel is loosely plotted, often going on tangents that help reinforce a sense of the drug community’s frame of mind. Along that line, the paranoia that Bob/Fred suffers is never confirmed. Was Barris the one sabotaging Bob’s belongings? Dick refers time and again to the capricious behavior of people on drugs and how one betraying whim does not necessarily link to others. Indeed, the odd behavior Bob must engage in to protect his Fred persona may have been the impetus for Barris’s deal. Further, why is New-Path growing Substance D—outright greed and opportunism, or perhaps a means of gaining control of people who otherwise would resist being told what to do?

This is as much a story about a community of drug users as about the split personality of one man. The first chapter focuses on a friend of Bob who must cope with hallucinatory aphids, mirroring Bob’s own descent at the end. In an author’s note, Dick dedicated the book to friends from his own drug-using community, not condemning their choice but fully cognizant of the consequences suffered.

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Philip K. Dick Short Fiction Analysis