Philip K. Dick

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Philip K(indred) Dick 1928–1982

American novelist and short story writer.

Dick has been one of the most acclaimed science fiction writers of the past thirty years and his work is praised for encouraging confrontation with the problems and enigmas of human existence rather than escape into outer space adventure. His work is also noted for its inventive treatment of the complex relationships between illusion and reality. For example, one of Dick's techniques for emphasizing the elusive nature of reality is to explore in his stories the idea that consciousness may be manipulated through drugs or the influence of an outside force. Barry N. Malzberg has called Dick's works "strange, rending, off-center visions which probed at the borders of reality and finally ruptured reality itself." Another characteristic of Dick's fiction is his projection of a near future in which machines acquire human traits, while many humans lose those traits—kindness, empathy, warmth—that differentiate them from machines. Dick's characters are antiheroic; at best they survive in this environment by caring about each other.

In the first three years of his career, Dick wrote the majority of his numerous short stories; in 1955, with the publication of Solar Lottery, he shifted to writing novels almost exclusively. His early novels, including Eye in the Sky (1957) and Time out of Joint (1959), establish his long-standing question: "What is reality?" and its corollary "Who, or what, controls it?" A second and very creative period of Dick's career began with his Hugo Award-winning novel, The Man in the High Castle (1962). Critics consider this work the best example of Dick's use of parallel worlds. By considering two possible realities—that the United States either won or lost World War II—Dick compares the insight of one character with the belief of the masses. Dick's second major concern is exemplified in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). This work features very humanlike androids and a protagonist who kills them by profession. When the lines become blurred between human and android, the hero questions the morality of his occupation. In 1982 the novel was adapted to film as Blade Runner. Valis (1981) initiated an experimental stage in Dick's writing in which he delves further into metaphysics in search of reality and a higher being. Valis, The Divine Invasion (1981), and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982) are considered a trilogy, for the works, though unrelated in any obvious way by setting, character, or incident, are bound thematically.

Critics find Dick's work diffcult to evaluate. While they admire his unique, often startling visions, they lament his careless, unsystematic style. His complex narrative structures are difficult to decipher, though some critics maintain that this difficulty is indicative of his profundity. It has been said that Dick can take the most trite elements of science fiction and make them significant, humorous, and, at times, even poetic. He is sometimes accused of losing control of his work, becoming sidetracked in his narrative or trapped without a plausible resolution. Despite this, Dick is credited with displaying sympathy for his characters, thus giving his work an admirably humanistic quality.

(See also CLC, Vol. 10; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52, Vol. 106 [obituary]; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 2; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 8.)

George Turner

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[The following excerpt was first published as "Back to the Cactus" in SF Commentary, November, 1970.]

I have always enjoyed Dick's work on the superficial level of entertainment and yet have been aware of dissatisfaction on deeper levels. After a year without him, Ubik crystallises the dissatisfaction; my day as a Dick fan is nearly over.

Here is the book of a man who shudders between the real...

(This entire section contains 447 words.)

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and the unreal, who sees alternatives as realities and realities as a transient phase among alternatives. Alternatives and realities co-exist, and even influence each other (Ubik, Now Wait For Last Year, Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch) and through this incredibly complex universe Dick tries to trace a path. It can't be done. The human brain cannot reduce an infinite number of possibilities to a story pattern simply by selecting what appeals, particularly when one realises that effects can initiate their own causes, as in Counter-Clock World.

Many years ago Dick announced his theme in Eye in the Sky, but the depth of his involvement was not observable in that lighthearted piece of fun. Perhaps the tales featuring the Perky Pat game were the first real step into the confusion. These predicated a search for alternative reality on the part of the players; later The World Jones Made and Time Out of Joint suggested that perhaps it was the author who searched.

In Martian Time-Slip the sense of all possible reality vanished, became a shifting thing. Later books have tended to become extended metaphors of this idea, and have become increasingly disfigured by unresolvable complexities which only tend to show that the idea itself is invalid and/or cannot be expressed in the prose of an apparently material universe. (pp. 47-8)

In Ubik we are given the living and the half-living; the half-living are actually dead but existing in another version of reality until their vestigial remainders of consciousness finally drain away. Their "reality" is subject to manipulation by a strong personality among the half-living, which piles complexity on complexity until inconsistencies begin to stand out like protest banners. The plotting is neat but cannot override the paradoxes. The metaphor fails because it cannot stand against the weight of reality as we know it.

This is plainly an obsession with Dick. He is too intelligent not to know that his plots are snow jobs, so one can only assume that he is being defiant, shouting, "I know it is so, and some day I'll find a way to demonstrate it." My bet is that he won't. (p. 48)

George Turner, "Philip K. Dick Saying It All Over Again," in Philip K Dick: Electric Shepherd, edited by Bruce Gillespie, Norstrilia Press, 1975, pp. 47-8.

Brian W. Aldiss

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[The following excerpt was published in a special issue of Science-Fiction Studies devoted to the work of Philip K. Dick.]

The setting [of Martian Time-Slip] is Mars, which is now partly colonised. (p. 42)

This web of civilization is stretched thin over utter desolation. There is no guaranteeing that it can be maintained. Its stability is threatened by the Great Powers back on Earth. For years they have neglected Mars, concentrating dollars and man-hours on further exploration elsewhere in the system; now they may interfere actively with the balance of the colony.

Behind this web exists another, even more tenuous: the web of human relationships. Men and women, children, old men, bleekmen (the autochthonous but non-indigenous natives of Mars) all depend, however reluctantly, on one another. (pp. 42-3)

Behind these two webs lies a third, revealed only indirectly. This is the web connecting all the good and bad things in the universe. The despised Bleekmen, who tremble on the edge of greater knowledge than humanity, are acutely aware of this web and occasionally succeed in twitching a strand here and there, to their advantage; but they are as much in its toils as anyone else.

These three webs integrate at various coordinate points, the most remarkable point being AM-WEB, a complex structure which the UN may build some time in the future…. [That structure's] function in the novel is to provide a symbol for the aspirations and failures of mankind. The structure will be a considerable achievement when completed; which is not to say that it is not ultimately doomed; and part of that doom may be decreed by the miserable political and financial maneuverings which form one of the minor themes of this intricately designed novel….

One of the attractions of Dick's novels is that they all have points at which they inter-relate, although Dick never introduces characters from previous books. The relationship is more subtle—more web-like—than that. (p. 43)

Dick's kaleidoscope is always being shaken, new sinister colours and patterns continually emerge. The power in the Dickian universe resides in these [building] blocks, rather than in his characters; even when one of the characters has a special power (like Jones's ability to foresee the future in The World Jones Made), it rarely does him any good.

If we look at two of the most important of these building blocks and observe how they depend on each other for greatest effect, we come close to understanding one aspect of Dickian thought. These blocks are the Concern-With-Reality and the Involvement-with-the-Past.

Most of the characteristic themes of SF are materialist ones; only the concern-with-reality theme involves a quasi-metaphysical speculation, and this theme Dick has made peculiarly his own…. [In his later books], Dickian characters … [frequently] find themselves trapped in hallucinations or fake worlds of various kinds, often without knowing it or, if knowing it, without being able to do anything about it. (pp. 43-4)

And it is not only worlds that are fake. Objects, animals, people, may also be unreal in various ways. Dick's novels are littered with fakes…. Things are always talking back to humans. Doors argue, medicine bags patronize, the cab at the end of Now Wait for Last Year advises Dr. Eric Sweetscent to stay with his ailing wife. All sorts of drugs are available which lead to entirely imaginary universes, like the evil Can-D and Chew-Z used by the colonists on Mars in Palmer Eldritch….

Of course, there are many ways of falling into the pit, one of which is to have too much involvement-with-the-past. (p. 44)

Trouble comes when the interest with the past and all its artifacts builds into an obsession….

And this is indeed where Dick parts company … with many another writer, in or out of SF. If he sees little safety in the future, the past is even more insidiously corrupting…. The past is seen as regressive; one of the most striking Dickian concepts is the "regression of forms" which takes place in Ubik, that magnificent but flawed novel in which the characters try to make headway through a world becoming ever more primitive, so that the airliner devolves into a Ford trimotor into a Curtis biplane, while Joe's multiplex FM tuner will regress into a cylinder phonograph playing a shouted recitation of the Lord's Prayer. (p. 45)

With the past so corrupting, the present so uncertain, and the future so threatening, we might wonder if there can be any escape. The secret of survival in Dick's universe is not to attempt escape into any alternate version of reality but to see things through as best you can; in that way, you may succeed if not actually triumphing. The favoured character in Martian Time-Slip is Jack Bohlen…. His voice is business-like, competent, and patient; these are high-ranking virtues in the Dickian anthropology. It is significant that Jack is a repairman …—a survival-rich job, since it helps maintain the status quo. Similar survivors in other novels are pot-healers, traders, doctors, musical instrument makers, and android-shooters (since androids threaten the status quo).

The characters who survive are generally aided by some system of knowledge involving faith. The system is rarely a scientific one; it is more likely to be ancient. In Martian Time-Slip, it is the never-formulated paranormal understanding of the Bleekmen; Bohlen respects this vague eschatological faith without comprehending it…. The I Ching, or Book of Changes, the four-thousand-year-old Chinese work of divination, performs a similar function in The Man in the High Castle, whilst in Counter-Clock World Lotta Hermes randomly consults the Bible, which predicts the future with an alarming accuracy. In both Dick's two early masterpieces, Time-Slip and High Castle, this religious element—presented as something crumbling, unreliable, to be figured out with pain—is well-integrated into the texture of the novel.

Dick's next great book, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, was written very soon after Martian Time-Slip, and the two are closely related…. To my view, Eldritch is a flawed work, over-complicated, and finally disappearing into a cloud of quasitheology; whereas Martian Time-Slip has a calm and lucidity about it. But in Eldritch we also find an ancient and unreliable meta-structure of faith, in this case embodied in the ferocious alien entity which fuses with Eldritch's being. (pp. 45-6)

[In Martian Time-Slip] Jack Bohlen desperately needs a transcendental act of fusion; he is estranged from his wife, sold by his first employer, threatened by his second, invaded by the schizophrenia of the boy he befriends. He sees in this mental illness, so frighteningly depicted in the book, the ultimate enemy. From this ultimate enemy come the time-slip of the title and that startling paragraph which seems to condense much of the feeling of the book—and, indeed, of Dick's work in general, when Bohlen works out what Manfred's mental illness means:

It is the stopping of time. The end of experience, of anything new. Once the person becomes psychotic, nothing ever happens to him again.

This is the maledictory circle within which Dick's beings move and from which they have to escape: although almost any change is for the worse, stasis means death, spiritual if not actual.

Any discussion of Dick's work makes it sound a grim and appalling world. So, on the surface, it may be; yet it must also be said that Dick is amazingly funny. The terror and the humor are fused. It is this rare quality which marks Dick out. This is why critics, in seeking to convey his essential flavour, bring forth the names of [Charles] Dickens and [Franz] Kafka, earlier masters of ghastly comedy….

Dick, like Dickens, enjoys a multi-plotted novel. As the legal metaphor is to Bleak House, the world-as-prison to Little Dorrit, the dust heap to Our Mutual Friend, the tainted wealth to Great Expectations, so is Mars to Martian Time-Slip. It is exactly and vividly drawn; this is Mars used in elegant and expert fashion as metaphor of spiritual poverty. In functioning as a dreamscape, it has much in common with the semi-allegorical, semi-surrealist locations used by Kafka…. (p. 46)

Dick's alliance, if one may call it that, with writers such as Dickens and Kafka makes him immediately congenial to English and European readers. It may be this quality which has brought him reputation and respect on this side of the Atlantic before his virtues are fully recognized in his own country. (pp. 46-7)

Brian W. Aldiss, "Dick's Maledictory Web: About and Around 'Martian Time-Slip'," in Science-Fiction Studies, Vol. 2, No. 5, March, 1975, pp. 42-7.

Stanislaw Lem

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[The following essay was published in a special issue of Science-Fiction Studies devoted to Philip K. Dick's works.]

In SF there is little room left for creative work that would aspire to deal with problems of our time without mystification, oversimplification, or facile entertainment: e.g., for work which would reflect on the place that Reason can occupy in the Universe, on the outer limits of concepts formed on Earth as instruments of cognition, or on such consequences of contacts with extraterrestrial life as find no place in the desperately primitive repertoire of SF devices (bounded by the alternative "we win"/"they win")…. Whoever brings up the heavy artillery of comparative ethnology, cultural anthropology and sociology against such devices is told that he is using a cannon to shoot sparrows, since it is merely a matter of entertainment; once he falls silent, the voices of the apologists for the culture-shaping, anticipative, predictive and mythopoeic role of SF are raised anew. (pp. 56-7)

Is creative work without mystification possible in such an environment? An answer to this question is given by the stories of Philip K. Dick. While these stand out from the background against which they have originated, it is not easy to capture the ways in which they do, since Dick employs the same materials and theatrical props as other American writers. From the warehouse which has long since become their common property, he takes the whole threadbare lot of telepaths, cosmic wars, parallel worlds, and time travel. In his stories terrible catastrophes happen, but this too is no exception to the rule, for lengthening the list of sophisticated ways in which the world can end is among the standard preoccupations of SF. But where other SF writers explicitly name and delimit the source of the disaster, whether social (terrestrial or cosmic war) or natural (elemental forces of nature), the world of Dick's stories suffers dire changes for reasons which remain unascertainable to the end. People perish not because a nova or a war has erupted, not because of flood, famine, plague, draught, or sterility, nor because the Martians have landed on our doorstep; rather, there is some inscrutable factor at work which is visible in its manifestations but not at its source, and the world behaves as if it has fallen prey to a malignant cancer which through metastases attacks one area of life after another. (p. 57)

The forces which bring about world debacle in Dick's books are fantastic, but they are not merely invented ad hoc to shock the readers. We shall show this on the example of Ubik, a work which, by the way, can also be regarded as a fantastic grotesque, a "macabresque" with obscure allegorical subtexts, decked out in the guise of ordinary SF.

If, however, it is viewed as a work of SF proper the contents of Ubik can be most simply summarized as follows:

Telepathic phenomena, having been mastered in the context of capitalistic society, have undergone commercialization like every other technological innovation. So businessmen hire telepaths to steal trade secrets from their competitors, and the latter for their part defend themselves against this "extrasensory industrial espionage" with the aid of "inertials," people whose psyches nullify the "psi field" that makes it possible to receive others' thoughts. By way of specialization, firms have sprung up which rent out telepaths and "inertials" by the hour, and the "strong man" Glen Runciter is the proprietor of such a firm. The medical profession has learned how to arrest the agony of victims of mortal ailments, but still has no means of curing them. Such people are therefore kept in a state of "half-life" in special institutions, "moratoriums" (a kind of "places of postponement"—of death, obviously). If they merely rested there unconscious in their icy caskets, that would be small comfort for their surviving kin. So a technique has been developed for maintaining the mental life of such people in "cold-pac." The world which they experience is not part of reality, but a fiction created by appropriate methods. None the less, normal people can make contact with the frozen ones, for the cold-sleep apparatus has means to this end built into it, something on the order of a telephone. (pp. 57-8)

Numerous dilemmas arise here: should the "half-lifer" be informed of his condition? is it right to keep him under the illusion that he is leading a normal life?

According to Ubik, people who, like Runciter's wife, have spent years in cold sleep are well aware of the fact. It is another matter with those who, like Joe Chip, have come close to meeting with a violent end and have regained consciousness imagining that they have escaped death, whereas in fact they are resting in a moratorium. In the book, it must be admitted, this is an unclear point, which is however masked by another dilemma: for, if the world of the frozen person's experiences is a purely subjective one, then any intervention in that world from outside must be for him a phenomenon which upsets the normal course of things. So if someone communicates with the frozen one, as Runciter does with Chip, this contact is accompanied in Chip's experiences by uncanny and startling phenomena—for it is as if waking reality were breaking into the midst of a dream "only from one side," without thereby causing extinction of the dream and wakening of the sleeper (who, after all, cannot wake up like a normal man because he is not a normal man). But, to go a step further, is not contact also possible between two frozen individuals? Might not one of these people dream that he is alive and well and that from his accustomed world he is communicating with the other one—that only the other person succumbed to the unfortunate mishap? This too is possible. And, finally, is it possible to imagine a wholly infallible technology? There can be no such thing. Hence certain perturbations may affect the subjective world of the frozen sleeper, to whom it will then seem that his environment is going mad—perhaps that in it even time is falling to pieces! Interpreting the events presented in this fashion, we come to the conclusion that all the principal characters of the story were killed by the bomb on the Moon, and consequently all of them had to be placed in the moratorium and from this point on the book recounts only their visions and illusions. (p. 58)

If we approach the fictional world pedantically, no case can be made for it, for it is full of contradictions. But if we shelve such objections and inquire rather after the overall meaning of the work, we will discover that it is close to the meanings of other books by Dick, for all that they seem to differ from one another. Essentially it is always one and the same world which figures in them—a world of elementally unleashed entropy, of decay which not only, as in our reality, attacks the harmonious arrangement of matter, but which even consumes the order of elapsing time. Dick has thus amplified, rendered monumental and at the same time monstrous certain fundamental properties of the actual world, giving them dramatic acceleration and impetus. All the technological innovations, the magnificent inventions and the newly mastered human capabilities (such as telepathy, which our author has provided with an uncommonly rich articulation into "specialties") ultimately come to nothing in the struggle against the inexorably rising floodwaters of Chaos. Dick's province is thus a "world of pre-established disharmony," which is hidden at first and does not manifest itself in the opening scenes of the novel; these are presented unhurriedly and with calm matter-of-factness, just in order that the intrusion of the destructive factor should be all the more effective…. In a world smitten with insanity, in which even the chronology of events is subject to convulsions, it is only the people who preserve their normality. So Dick subjects them to the pressure of a terrible testing, and in his fantastic experiment only the psychology of the characters remains non-fantastic. They struggle bitterly and stoically to the end, like Joe Chip in the current instance, against the chaos pressing on them from all sides, the sources of which remain, actually, unfathomable, so that in this regard the reader is thrown back on his own conjectures.

The peculiarities of Dick's worlds arise especially from the fact that in them it is waking reality which undergoes profound dissociation and duplication…. The end-effect is always the same: distinguishing between waking reality and visions proves to be impossible. The technical aspect of this phenomenon is fairly inessential—it does not matter whether the splitting of reality is brought about by a new technology of chemical manipulation of the mind or, as in Ubik, by one of surgical operations. The essential point is that a world equipped with the means of splitting perceived reality into indistinguishable likenesses of itself creates practical dilemmas that are known only to the theoretical speculations of philosophy. (p. 59)

There is no question of using a meticulous factual bookkeeping to strike a rational balance for the novel, by virtue of which it would satisfy the demands of common sense. We are not only forced to but we ought to at a certain point leave off defending its "science-fictional nature" also for a second reason so far unmentioned. The first reason was dictated to us simply by necessity: given that the elements of the work lack a focal point, it cannot be rendered consistent. The second reason is more essential: the impossibility of imposing consistency on the text compels us to seek its global meanings not in the realm of events themselves, but in that of their constructive principle, the very thing that is responsible for lack of focus. If no such meaningful principle were discoverable, Dick's novels would have to be called mystifications, since any work must justify itself either on the level of what it presents literally or on the level of deeper semantic content, not so much overtly present in as summoned up by the text. Indeed, Dick's works teem with non sequiturs, and any sufficiently sensitive reader can without difficulty make up lists of incidents which flout logic and experience alike. But … what is inconsistency in literature? It is a symptom either of incompetence or else of repudiation of some values (such as credibility of incidents or their logical coherence) for the sake of other values.

Here we come to a ticklish point in our discussion, since the values alluded to cannot be objectively compared. There is no universally valid answer to the question whether it is permissible to sacrifice order for the sake of vision in a creative work—everything depends on what kind of order and what kind of vision are involved. (p. 60)

Dick is, so I instinctively judge, perfidious in that he does not give unambiguous answers to the questions provoked by reading him, in that he strikes no balances and explains nothing "scientifically," but rather just confounds things not only in the plot itself but with respect to a superordinated category: the literary convention within which the story unfolds. For all that Galactic Pot-Healer leans toward allegory, it does not adopt this position either unambiguously or definitively, and a like indeterminacy as to genre is also characteristic for other novels by Dick, perhaps to an even higher degree. We thus encounter here the same difficulty about genre placement of a work which we have met with in the writing of Kafka. (p. 61)

[The] convention of SF requires rational accounting for events that are quite improbable and even seemingly at odds with logic and experience. On the other hand, the evolution of literary genres is based precisely on violation of storytelling conventions which have already become static. So Dick's novels in some measure violate the convention of SF, which can be accounted to him as merit, because they thereby acquire broadened meanings having allegorical import…. His novels throw many readers accustomed to standard SF into abiding confusion, and give rise to complaints, as naive as they are wrathful, that Dick, instead of providing "precise explanations" by way of conclusion, instead of solving puzzles, sweeps things under the rug. (pp. 61-2)

A second characteristic trait of Dick's work, after its ambiguity as to genre, is its tawdriness which is not without a certain charm…. Dick has a rule taken over a rubble of building materials from the run-of-the-mill American professionals of SF, frequently adding a true gleam of originality to already worn-out concepts and, what is surely more important, erecting with such material constructions truly his own. The world gone mad, with a spasmodic flow of time and a network of causes and effects which wriggles as if nauseated, the world of frenzied physics, is unquestionably his invention, being an inversion of our familiar standard according to which only we, but never our environment, may fall victim to psychosis. Ordinarily, the heroes of SF are overtaken only by two kinds of calamities: the social, such as the "infernos of police-state tyranny," and the physical, such as catastrophes caused by Nature. Evil is thus inflicted on people either by other people (invaders from the stars are merely people in monstrous disguises), or by the blind forces of matter.

With Dick the very basis of such a clearcut articulation of the proposed diagnosis comes to grief. We can convince ourselves of this by putting to Ubik questions of the order just noted: who was responsible for the strange and terrible things which happened to Runciter's people? The bomb attack on the Moon was the doing of a competitor, but of course it was not in his power to bring about the collapse of time. An explanation appealing to the medical "cold-pac" technology is … likewise incapable of rationalizing everything. The gaps that separate the fragments of the plot cannot be eliminated, and they lead one to suspect the existence of some higher-order necessity which constitutes the destiny of Dick's world. Whether this destiny resides in the temporal sphere or beyond it is impossible to say. When one considers to what an extent our faith in the infallible beneficence of technical progress has already waned, the fusion which Dick envisages between culture and nature, between the instrument and its basis, by virtue of which it acquires the aggressive character of a malignant neoplasm, no longer seems merely sheer fantasy. This is not to say that Dick is predicting any concrete future. The disintegrating worlds of his stories, as it were inversions of Genesis, order returning to Chaos—this is not so much the future foreseen as it is future shock, not straightforwardly expressed but embodied in fictional reality, it is an objectivized projection of the fears and fascinations proper to the human individual in our times.

It has been customary to identify the downfall of civilization falsely and narrowly with regression to some past stage of history…. Such an evasion is often employed in SF, since inadequacy of imagination takes refuge in oversimplified pessimism. Then we are shown the remotest future as a lingering state of feudal, tribal or slave-holding society, inasmuch as atomic war or invasion from the stars is supposed to have hurled humanity backward…. [But works using this resort] merely reveal an insufficiency of sociological imagination, for which the atomic war or the interstellar invasion is only a convenient pretext for spinning out interminable sagas of primordial tribal life under the pretense of portraying the farthest future. (pp. 62-3)

Such expedients are foreign to Dick. For him, the development of civilization continues, but is as it were crushed by itself, becoming monstrous at the heights of its achievement….

Alarm at the impetus of civilization finds expression nowadays in the slogans of a "return to Nature" after smashing and discarding everything "artificial," i.e. science and technology. These pipe dreams turn up also in SF. Happily, they are absent in Dick. The action of his novels takes place in a time when there can no longer be any talk of return to nature or of turning away from the "artificial," since the fusion of the "natural" with the "artificial" has long since become an accomplished fact.

At this point it may be worthwhile to point out the dilemma encountered by futuristically oriented SF. According to an opinion quite generally held by readers, SF ought to depict the world of the fictional future no less explicitly and intelligibly than a writer such as [Honore dé] Balzac depicted the world of his own time in The Human Comedy. Whoever asserts this fails to take into account the fact that there exists no world beyond or above history and common to all eras or all cultural formations of mankind. That which, as the world of The Human Comedy, strikes us as completely clear and intelligible, is not an altogether objective reality, but is only a particular interpretation … of a world classified, understood and experienced in a concrete fashion. The familiarity of Balzac's world thus signifies nothing more than the simple fact that we have grown perfectly accustomed to this account of reality and that consequently the language of Balzac's characters, their culture, their habits and ways of satisfying spiritual and bodily needs, and also their attitude toward nature and transcendence seem to us transparent. (p. 63)

[The] image of the future world cannot be limited to adding a certain number of technical innovations, and meaningful prediction does not lie in serving up the present larded with startling improvements or revelations in lieu of the future….

Situations and concepts can be understood only through relating them to ones already known, but when too great a time interval separates people living in different eras there is a loss of the basis for understanding in common life experiences which we unreflectingly and automatically imagine to be invariant. It follows that an author who truly succeeded in delineating an image of the far future would not achieve literary success, since he would assuredly not be understood. Consequently, in Dick's stories a truth-value can be ascribed only to their generalized basis, which can be summed up more or less as follows: when people become ants in the labyrinths of the technosphere which they themselves have built, the idea of a return to Nature not only becomes utopian but cannot even be meaningfully articulated, because no such thing as a Nature that has not been artificially transformed has existed for ages….

The impossibility of civilization's returning to Nature, which is simply equivalent to the irreversibility of history, leads Dick to the pessimistic conclusion that looking far into the future becomes such a fulfilment of dreams of power over matter as converts the idea of progress into a monstrous caricature. This conclusion does not inevitably follow from the author's assumptions, but it constitutes an eventuality which ought also to be taken into account. By the way, in putting things thus we are no longer summarizing Dick's work, but are giving rein to reflections about it, for the author himself seems so caught up in his vision that he is unconcerned about either its literal plausibility or its non-literal message…. Dick has presented us not so much with finished accomplishments as with fascinating promises. (p. 64)

The writings of Philip Dick have deserved at least a better fate than that to which they were destined by their birthplace. If they are neither of uniform quality nor fully realized, still it is only by brute force that they can be jammed into that pulp of materials, destitute of intellectual value and original structure, which makes up SF. Its fans are attracted by the worst in Dick—the typical dash of American SF, reaching to the stars, and the headlong pace of action moving from one surprise to the next—but they hold it against him that, instead of unraveling puzzles, he leaves the reader at the end on the battlefield, enveloped in the aura of a mystery as grotesque as it is strange. Yet his bizarre blendings of hallucinogenic and palingenetic techniques have not won him many admirers outside the ghetto walls [of science fiction], since there readers are repelled by the shoddiness of the props he has adopted from the inventory of SF. Indeed, these writings sometimes fumble their attempts; but I remain after all under their spell, as it often happens at the sight of a lone imagination's efforts to cope with a shattering superabundance of opportunities—efforts in which even a partial defeat can resemble a victory. (pp. 66-7)

Stanislaw Lem. "Philip K. Dick: A Visionary among the Charlatans," translated by Robert Abernathy, in Science-Fiction Studies, Vol. 2, No. 5, March, 1975, pp. 54-67.

Roger Zelazny

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Brian Aldiss has called [Philip Dick] "one of the masters of present-day discontents", a thing readily apparent in much of his work. But one of the great fascinations his work holds for me is the effects achieved when he dumps these discontents into that special machine in his head and turns on the current. It is not simply that I consider it a form of aesthetic cheating to compare one writer with another, but I cannot think of another writer with whom to compare Philip Dick. Aldiss suggests [Luigi] Pirandello, which is not bad for the one small aspect of reality shuffling. But Pirandello's was basically a destructive machine. It was a triumph of technique over convention, possessed of but one basic message no matter what was fed into the chopper. Philip Dick's is a far more complicated program. His management of a story takes you from here to there in a God-knows-how, seemingly haphazard fashion, which, upon reflection, follows a logical line of development—but only on reflection. While you are trapped within the spell of its telling, you are in no better position than one of its invariably overwhelmed characters when it comes to seeing what will happen next.

The characters are often victims, prisoners, manipulated men and women. It is generally doubtful whether they will leave the world with less evil in it than they found there. But you never know. They try. (p. 3)

The worlds through which Philip Dick's characters move are subject to cancellation or revision without notice. Reality is approximately as dependable as a politician's promise. Whether it is a drug, a time-warp, a machine or an alien entity responsible for the bewildering shifting of situations about his people, the result is the same: Reality, of the capital "R" variety, has become as relative a thing as the dryness of our respective Martinis. Yet the struggle goes on, the fight continues. Against what? Ultimately, Powers, Principalities, Thrones, and Dominations, often contained in hosts who are themselves victims, prisoners, manipulated men and women.

All of which sounds like grimly serious fare. Wrong. Strike the "grimly", add a comma and the following: but one of the marks of Philip Dick's mastery lies in the tone of his work. He is possessed of a sense of humour for which I am unable to locate an appropriate adjective. Wry, grotesque, slapstick, satirical, ironic … None of them quite fits to the point of generality, though all may be found without looking too far. His characters take pratfalls at the most serious moments; pathetic irony may invade the most comic scene. It is a rare and estimable quality to direct such a show successfully. (pp. 3-4)

I have read almost all of Philip Dick's stories and I have never put down a single one with that feeling all readers know at some time or other, that a writer has cheated, has taken an easy way out, rather than addressing himself with his full abilities to the issues he has invoked. Philip Dick is an honest writer in this respect—or, if I am wrong and he does ever handle something in the other fashion, then it is a tribute to his artistry that he succeeds so well in concealing it.

Inventiveness. Wit. Artistic integrity. Three very good things to have. To say them, however, is perhaps to talk more about the mind behind the words than the ends to which they are addressed. For to say them in all good-intentioned hoacsty about a story results mainly in a heaping of abstractions….

A story is a series of effects. I owned at the beginning that Philip Dick's effects fascinate me even more than the social discontents pulsing through the neon tube in front of the wrinkled mirror suspended by the piano wire from the windmill of his mind. He is a writer's writer, rich enough in fancy that he can afford to throw away in a paragraph ideas another writer might build a book upon. I cannot detail these effects. But then, I could not have written the label for the Ubik can either. It is the variety and near-surreal aptness of his juxtapositions which defends this matter, too, against facile categorisation. The subjective response, however, when a Philip Dick book has been finished and put aside is that, upon reflection, it does not seem so much that one holds the memory of a story; rather, it is the after effects of a poem rich in metaphor that seem to remain.

This I value, partly because it does defy a full mapping, but mainly because that which is left of a Philip Dick story when the details have been forgotten is a thing which comes to me at odd times and offers me a feeling or a thought; therefore, a thing which leaves me richer for having known it. (p. 4)

Roger Zelazny, in an introduction to Philip K Dick: Electric Shepherd, edited by Bruce Gillespie, Norstrilia Press, 1975, pp. 3-4.

Bruce Gillespie

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[The following essay was written in 1967 and first published in a shortened form in SF Commentary, January, 1969.]

Nobody has ever accused Dick of being stupid, unoriginal, or dull, but no reviewer I've ever seen has been able to put his finger on the ways in which Dick is intelligent, original, and fascinating. One can but try.

Part of the problem is that Philip Dick's novels have several characteristics which divide him from other sf writers, and tend to sever communication with the average sf reader. As one can point out so easily, long passages in his books, although seldom whole books, are badly written by any standards. (p. 10)

Dick also shows some of the sentimentality we generally associate with the other sf writers, but his direction usually heads away from this approach. When sentimentality does appear in full soporific splendour (Barney Mayerson and Emily Hnatt in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, for example), usually it is so undermined by the framework of the novel that it becomes necessary rather than repellent.

These complaints are quibbles, at best, but they are factors that prevent Dick from writing with the bland smoothness of a John Wyndham or an Arthur Clarke. I am not saying that other types of sf writers are masters of language or are not subject to sentimentality. However, I do think that the faults of the older professionals do not disturb and annoy the reader in quite the way Dick's faults do. His best writing stands in glaring contrast with his worst.

Other features of his writing cut him adrift far more noticeably from both his fellow writers and from sf readers. Most disturbing are the illogicalities of plot and character with which he tends to undermine what might otherwise be regarded as "perfect" stories in the best of American sf traditions. In many of his novels (although he tows the line in his short stories) he appears to set himself and the reader a multi-obstacle race which both writer and reader have only a fair chance of completing. The reader drops out first, and nurses a bruised and weary sensibility to the end of the race. Afterwards he files a strong internal protest, and either refuses to take up the challenge again or approaches the next Dick book with great trepidation. (pp. 10-11)

The sheer weight of "ideas", symbols, plot factors, or whatever can be suffocating. They are introduced at surprising intervals, and are juggled around in dismaying succession. At first sight, the whole book might seem alien to even the most hard-boiled sf reader.

Dick's noticeable inability (shared by nearly all other sf writers) in the field of "characterisation" has its own drawbacks. In each of Dick's novels, all the action is seen through the mind's eye of one or other of his characters. Dick's use of the "viewpoint character" has its own special brilliance. However, such an obviously managed character elicits about as much sympathy from the reader as his favourite television camera. Therefore the centre of identification should fall back on the shoulders of the author, as in [Henry] Fielding's Tom Jones. However, all we are ever likely to see of Dick's face in his own novels is a mocking smile. This technique leaves even his best work oddly centreless. Other sf authors solve this problem by using only one character as the viewpoint of the novel. This reinforces the suspense element of the story, and gains sympathy for the protagonist. But Dick's novels are jigsaw patterns of identifications. In few of his novels does Dick bother to complete the picture. (p. 11)

Between the reviewers and myself, it is extremely difficult to locate exactly the source of Dick's fascination to readers and his undoubted importance to students of sf. The traditional approach … (criticism in terms of Plot-Character-Description) raises more problems than it solves. It is only in novels such as The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, in which Dick punches his way out of his self-made paperbag, that we find a clue to his real power.

In this novel Dick finds a central symbol that is adequate to the whole book—the figure of Palmer Eldritch himself. However, this central idea is not so much important for what it shows about Dick's use of Plot or Characters, or because it is such a good "idea". To approach Eldritch or the novel itself in this way, is to see the flame and the cloud, feel the blast and wind, and not to notice the exploding atomic bomb. (p. 13)

[During the course of the book], Dick traces the conversion of the whole of existence into the playground of Eldritch's mind. The figure that was merely mythic at the beginning of the novel has become Godlike by the end. We are faced with a world where the mere idea of a benevolent, or even omnipotent God, seems ludicrous. Humanity is completely cut off from these resources of both objective and spiritual reality that usually give us the self-assurance to keep living.

How does Dick do it? How does he prevent the book from becoming as mad as the world pictured?

Most obviously, because of his own intelligence and tough-mindedness which can evaluate chaos without falling into it or indulging himself in it. No author, however great, could create this book and survive, if he really extended his own resources and conducted a completely radical inquiry into the nature of people under such stress. After all, what is left of people after they are subjected to such pressure? Dick cannot create characters (rather than "viewpoints") who are strong enough to be called representatives of humanity. Dick's own attitude is still too abstract and limited to appreciate the full implications of the world of Palmer Eldritch. But Dick does not conduct his novel like a [Fëdor Mikhailovich] Dostoyevsky. Dick's prose is its own excellent "melodrama", the compact, brilliantly (rather than extensively) imaginative prose of a [Victor] Hugo, of a [Charles] Dickens at his best, and of a very small number of other science fiction writers. From this point of view. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is one of the few masterpieces of recent science fiction.

Although it is a touchstone, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is only one of many Philip Dick books, and is certainly not representative of his usual methods. It is a summit, so the vegetation on the slopes can have quite a different hue.

Possibly the best book to discuss in contrast with Palmer Eldritch is the over-rated Hugo winner, The Man in the High Castle…. Although the reviewers unanimously call this Dick's best book, and despite the Hugo Award itself, I can still admire the book only partially, and scratch my head, wondering what the fanfare was about.

To some extent, The Man in the High Castle is a textbook demonstration of Dick's best qualities. The prose is never less than incisive and the average effect is probably as good as in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. For instance, the first paragraphs of the novel catch a mood of sharply observed normality that, at the same time, warns the reader that much information has been withheld. (p. 15)

Apologists for The Man in the High Castle have paid special attention to the kinds of writing in the novel that are new for Dick, and probably unique within his work. In Chapter 14, Dick comes closest in any of his writing to a genuine exploration of the emotions and intellectual standing of one of his characters. Mr Nobusuku Tagomi, the Trade Mission official and expert in the I Ching, finds his world crumbling under the pressure of the events of the novel. Dick's writing is as powerfully abstract as ever but, for once, Dick is more concerned with his character as a victim than as a mere viewpoint. One need only compare Barney Mayerson (whose personal suffering is never a point of issue) and Tagomi to see the difference. Dick's wider perceptions within this novel go to waste. As in all of his novels, Dick is not content to explore the viewpoint of one particular character. The variety of characters and the alternation between them is far more dismaying in The Man in the High Castle than it was in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. (pp. 15-16)

The problem is that each of these characters has equal status in the plot, or the reasons are left unclear why some characters are emphasised more than others. If Dick adopts this highly patterned structure to keep readers interested, then he fails. Because each character is interesting in his or her own right, the reader hopes for long sequences which might develop the possibilities of the main characters. This hope is disappointed; Dick constructs a jigsaw in which no character completes the pattern.

If Dick adopts this structure in order to present a composite picture of a fully imagined world (in which Japan and Germany won the Second World War and together occupy America) then I would say that he fails completely. No character has interests and a viewpoint wide enough to see the whole picture. We know little more about the society of this alternate America at the end of the novel than we did at the beginning. Dick has shown many times that he is no political scientist, and I can only regret his failure to illustrate how such a political system would affect the lives of those who live under it. Compared with The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, whose world is fully developed, but credible only within the novel, The Man in the High Castle, more than any other novel that Dick has written, is of the "What if …?" variety. However, Dick seems incapable of extrapolating the complete possible effects of fascism on American (unbelievably mild, for most of the characters), or of constructing his own bizarre type of novel, in which the reader does not bother to ask if it could "really happen".

The Man in the High Castle seems like a very different book from The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. The problem is that Dick depends on the same sort of manoeuvre as in Palmer Eldritch in order to unify and order his book. Dick needs a meaningful central symbol as the axle of his world. However, he tries to turn the book on two central ideas (I Ching and Hawthorne Abendsen, the "man in the high castle") and fails to make either of them give movement to the whole book. I Ching has the kind of mythic importance that lends suspense and flavour to the novel's proceedings. However, the evocation of the Japanese life-style and the dependence upon a precognitive procedure is ultimately a static device: it aids the plot but is not the plot; its use does not polarise conflicts and settle issues.

Hawthorne and his book The Grasshopper Lies Heavy (a science fiction jaunt in which America and the Allies won the War) are initially even more fascinating to the reader than is I Ching. Dick wants Abendsen (who remains vague and mythical to the end of the novel, instead of acquiring the reality of a character) to be the crux of the action. But the last chapter, centring on Abendsen, is a disappointing end to the novel.

The two main symbols, as well as the other fascinating notions that festoon the narrative, and could have been invented only by Philip Dick, eventually have little meaning for the reader. They remain static within the novel. They do not change shape and illuminate the reader's view of the newly created world, but remain merely a part of it. Because Dick is a skilled storyteller, the emptiness of the book does not become apparent until the end, however. The Man in the High Castle is like a car full of perfectly working machinery, none of whose pieces connect with each other. The vehicle just does not go. (p. 16)

Bruce Gillespie, "Mad, Mad Worlds: Seven Novels of Philip K Dick," in Philip K Dick: Electric Shepherd, edited by Bruce Gillespie, Norstrilia Press, 1975, pp. 9-21.

Angus Taylor

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Although it is often noted that Philip K. Dick is concerned with "the nature of reality," the assumption is usually that he is merely playing parlor tricks, that he is a clever sleight-of-hand artist whose entertainments are conjured out of thin air and exhibit little philosophy other than a fashionable nihilism or despair in the face of a universe thought too large and unregulated for comprehension. Yet Dick is far from being the unrelenting pessimist he is often considered. Rather, through his often dark vision he assumes a critical stance against the world-view that informs modern society; beyond this he presents a vision of a brighter world not beyond the reach of those informed of its possibility. But between unexamined reality and affirmed possibility lies an arduous journey: from the destruction of one world of knowledge to the creation of another. Dick's fiction is the story of this journey. (pp. 9-10)

In fiction, and increasingly in the public mind, the gods and demons of yesterday have become the aliens of today. Aliens are symbols of the intrusion of the unknown into the realm of the human—meteorites of mystery and unease buried in the collective human psyche. If the image of the alien plays so large a role in the fiction of Philip K. Dick it is because he deals always with man's fallen state; and it is the realization, often sudden and unexpected, of his condition that initiates the frightful but necessary struggle toward a new reality. (p. 11)

Beyond the well-charted territory of normal human experience, then, is the undiscovered country that puzzles the will. If the alien presence is often the manifestation of a higher order, then the higher order, that reality which lies beyond satisfactory human comprehension, is not necessarily hospitable to the human traveller. (p. 14)

[In The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch the] fear of being used, of being a pawn under the control of some greater entity, is … apparent in the relation of Barney Mayerson and Leo Bulero to Palmer Eldritch, and raises the question of Dick's preoccupation with forms of schizophrenia. Writing on the subject, R. D. Laing has noted that "if one experiences the other as a free agent, one is open to the possibility of experiencing oneself as an object of his experience and thereby of feeling one's own subjectivity drained away. One is threatened with the possibility of becoming no more than a thing in the world of the other, without any life for oneself, without any being for oneself." Palmer Eldritch, the higher entity, possessed intrinsically of greater freedom of action, threatens to turn those of lesser possibility into objects in its scheme of things. What Dick is doing is carrying the concept of alienness beyond the societal level, into the region of personal subjectivity. The concept of the alien, which makes its initial appearance in outer space, is carried to its logical conclusion in inner space, where it reappears as alienation. It is Dick's compelling fusion of inner and outer space which lends his work much of its power. (p. 15)

Laing writes: "If there is anything the schizoid individual is likely to believe in, it is his own destructiveness. He is unable to believe that he can fill his own emptiness without reducing what is there to nothing. He regards his own love and that of others as being as destructive as hatred … He descends into a vortex of non-being in order to avoid being, but also to preserve being from himself." We Can Build You provides another illustration of this; it is a novel concerned very consciously with the descent into schizophrenia and with love "as destructive as hatred." Schizophrenia is also a central theme in Clans of the Alphane Moon, in which Dick constructs a whole society divided among groups exhibiting various forms of mental illness, in Martian Time-Slip and, on a metaphoric level, in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

This recurrent use of the schizophrenia theme illustrates Dick's concern with the mechanistic reduction of human relations to states of being that are unable to maintain themselves against the destructive forces of nature. For Dick, the natural tendency of a universe stripped of creative human meaning is entropic regression toward a state of chaos and anomie, and he sees the tendency everywhere, even in the steady accumulation of "kipple," or useless objects, like junk mail or empty match folders, in an apartment. (pp. 16-17)

Jason Taverner, famous television personality in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, awakes one morning to find that no one else remembers who he is, that he has no secure legal status in society, and must live by his wits from moment to moment. The bottom has dropped out of the world he always accepted as reality and took for granted. Into his life has come the unknown, the unexplained, the primal chaos and isolation that underlies the Augenblick of stability that man has imposed on nature. Throughout Dick's work there is this continual opening of the abyss, which recalls the intention of the Surrealist movement, announced in its "Declaration of 27 January 1925," to prove to human beings "how fragile their thoughts are, and on what unstable foundations, over what cellars they have erected their unsteady houses."

The presence of the abyss reveals Dick's position as fundamentally existential. [Jean-Paul] Sartre's dictum that man is "condemned to be free" neatly sums up Dick's view of man's place in the universe. This is the position from which Dick begins, the starting point for his fictional explorations. The social order is not predetermined, fixed, or constant; the elemental, impersonal forces of the cosmos itself militate against the maintenance of any secure human reality. All roads in his fiction lead to this apocalyptic revelation (though they do not end there). When "objective" social reality breaks down, the individual is starkly confronted with the problem of dealing anew with the world beyond himself, of coming to terms with the non-self. The individual divided from his social and physical surroundings is likely to become increasingly divided against himself. Alienation implies a lack of integration with an environment perceived as unrelated to oneself and beyond control. "It is a splitting apart of the two worlds, inner and outer, so that neither registers on the other."… More specifically, this lack of interaction is at the level of personal experience or the animate; the exchange between inner and outer space has been reduced to the simply mechanical. (pp. 17-19)

Unlike many other writers, Philip K. Dick has not hesitated to inject his science fiction with a liberal infection of chaos. The return of alienated Thors Provoni or Palmer Eldritch from the interstellar void shatters the statistical regularities of the familiar solar system; the alien presence announces the intrusion into human affairs of a different order of existence, manifesting itself as fate or divine will. In a literature that has prided itself on rational extrapolation and shunned the chaos implicit in more outright forms of fantasy, such a quantum leap into the unexpected strikes a note very close to heresy. This is not to say that flights of fantasy, manifestations of the divine, auguries of new universes have been absent from science fiction, but that their relevance to the field has tended to be downgraded as technicians have set about carefully graphing themselves into the future or churning out entertaining re-runs of plots signifying little.

Dick is not the first to understand the importance of the improbable as a method of casting light on the possible. [H. G.] Wells understood implicitly that the real purpose of science fiction, apart from its value as entertainment, was to describe the evolving potentials of man-in-society, and that technology stood at the nexus between man and his continually changing relationship with the world around him. (pp. 21-2)

Yet even Wells maintained that the kind of fantasy he wrote should be based on a single fantastic premise; apart from this the author should strive to make the details of his story as realistic as possible. It was only by keeping the rest of the story as close to everyday reality as possible that the fantastic aspect gained credibility. Otherwise, the story would inevitably degenerate into senseless contrivance. Science fiction, which has tended to look upon itself as the kind of "realistic" literature referred to by [Robert A.] Heinlein, has generally been loath to stray far from the path prescribed by Wells.

Not so Philip Dick. Dick everywhere violates Wells' prescription of a single fantastic premise. And if there are sf writers not bound by the old principle, few, if any, are willing to go as far as Dick in denying the necessity of anchoring one's fiction in a reality the reader can believe. In fact, Dick generally goes out of his way to prevent the reader from accepting the fictional world before him as "normal," "ordinary," or believable in any everyday sense. For Dick, the details of everyday reality are fantastic. Everyday reality does not remain constant, either subjectively or objectively, and therefore it is not the implications of a single trend or occurrence he is investigating, but the implications of complex trends or multiple occurrences. Dick is a pioneer of the "post-Wellsian system" of multiple-premise "fantastic realism" anticipated by Julius Kagarlitski. (p. 22)

[A] dreamlike quality is accentuated by the interchangeability and mutability of Dick's landscapes. Places are seldom described in detail—or at least not in any characteristic detail that might lend them an air of uniqueness. Zurich, Switzerland, is indistinguishable from Marin County, California, in Dick's techno-dreamworld of the future. Or, to look at it another way, it might be said that the transient mass-production artificial environment of California has swallowed up the entire world in most of his stories. It is a lack of permanence, of rootedness—a lack of solidity—that marks the settings of these stories. The material world is almost wholly man-made and is locked in a dialectic with the human consciousness. Here, where fiction exists in a dialectical relationship with reality, the outrageous can be commonplace. In Counter-Clock World Dick does not hesitate to conceive a world in which metabolic processes run backward, so that persons greet each other with "good-bye" and bodies rise from the grave, revitalized, to grow younger. The merging of the literal and the symbolic infuses the world with new meaning, so that inner experience is writ large upon the face of outer environment. Dick's work is characterized by what John Brunner has called "an almost hallucinatory sharpness of detail"—but it is a sharpness of detail that extends beyond mere enumerative naturalism to the very quality of objects themselves: a magic realism in which things are seen double, simultaneously familiar and unexpected. (p. 24)

Talking doors, suitcases that act as psychiatrists, newspapers that publish themselves, "creditor jet-balloons" with articulation circuits, rats clutching crude weapons—it is a world subjectively anthropomorphized and at the same time not anthropomorphized, but merely displaying its objective dialectical response to the human. If Dick's stories are filled with objects and machines that mimic life, and life forms that more specifically imitate human forms, this is neither more nor less than the imaginatively logical extension to the world at large of the common robot figure in the literature.

The robot in science fiction is not simply a mechanism, nor is it, simply, a human being in disguise. It is both and neither. In addition to its morphological and functional relatedness to its organic analogues, it assumes a symbolic role in the literature…. Dick has simply infused his entire panoply of fictional props with intimations of … larger significance. Thus, like the robot, other objects, natural or artificial, may participate with human beings in a single universe. (pp. 25-6)

His characters move through intensely manufactured landscapes, built primarily upon human interaction, and devoid of solid external furniture. In their fantastic secondary worlds, without matrices of the commonplace, they are constantly blundering, appalled, against the ragged edges of nothingness. Jory's incomplete half-life stage-front world in Ubik can be taken as a paradigm of Dick's fictional constructions. (p. 26)

Dick's language, besides being usually quite colloquial, also contains some delightful quirks, such as exhibited when his characters occasionally correct each other's grammar or assist each other in recalling literary quotations.

Lack of scenery promotes detachment from even a fictional "objective" reality and enhances the argument for the subjective. Even the objectivity implied in viewing events consistently from the standpoint of a single character falls by the wayside in many of Dick's stories, as he shifts the focus among his several protagonists—and this is made a deliberate narrative ploy in A Maze of Death…. Style reinforces vision at this point, and what may appear as serious defects in style from one critical vantage become logical moves from another, given this particular writer's will to his particular vision.

In degrading the solidity of his scenery Dick waves a red flag in the reader's face. He undermines the illusion that sf can be entirely divorced from fantasy, that it is futurology, extrapolation, or prediction. He undermines the plot in its superficial aspect by throwing roadblocks in the way of the smooth succession of events, and asks us to divert our attention, to search out and accept the poetic core of the work; he tries to focus our attention on the plot as a "net" for catching something strange and otherworldly. The difficulty many readers have in accepting Dick's fiction may thus spring from their extrapolative bias, and their lack of interest in sf as a form of poetry. Where other authors may clothe their poetic themes in relatively "realistic" or futurological plots—perhaps bowing, however unconsciously, in the direction of the naturalistic standards that have dominated literature until recently—Dick is more unashamedly aware of sf's intimate association with fantasy.

Dick's style is inextricably tied to his world-view, his conception of a universe laced with a good dash of existential absurdity…. Dick's fictions, while they may delight some and baffle others, are characterized by a wonderful inventiveness, unencumbered by convention, and limited only by the demands of internal logic. The range of invention in his stories, his extravagant style, his outrageous humor—all attest to a developed sense of play. Bruce Gillespie has aptly referred to Dr. Bloodmoney as one of Dick's "circuses" [see excerpt above] and it is truly a three-ring atmosphere of marvels that is conjured up in many of his stories.

If the world is worth examining, then it is worth examining with a slightly jaundiced eye. For Dick, a sense of the ridiculous is inseparable from a true vision of the startling, everyday world. Admittedly, there may be a tendency to get carried away sometimes…. But in general Dick's madcap antics work, for he has a deft sense for the absurd amid the commonplace of life. His straight-faced wackiness may seem incongruous in the context of the issues he tackles, but then he has always worked through juxtaposing seemingly incongruous elements and making of them multifaceted wholes. (pp. 27-8)

In Dick's universe the "normal" orderly reality of the human world exists only precariously; this delicately constructed negentropic reality exists only through the systemic configurations of human society. Persons who allow themselves to become separated from the society of their fellows are in that much more danger of having their individual realities undermined. (p. 34)

The failure of an individual to integrate himself with reality as defined through learned cultural values results in the breakdown of his perception of that reality. (pp. 34-5)

Human perception of the world is a function of social interaction. And here we approach the heart of Dick's work; in his fiction he presents an unsystematic series of explorations into the sociology of knowledge.

The need of humans for the company of their fellows is not only perceptional, but spiritual as well. The detachment, and introversion of the schizophrenic reduces his ability to experience the presence of others in a meaningful way. The authentic human experience—"man's specific humanity"—is identified by Dick with the capacity for empathy. Thus human society is seen not only as the basis of secure reality, but also as the vehicle for the expression of man's authentic nature. (pp. 35-6)

The struggle between form and chaos rages through all of Dick's work. Life is a function of organization; the vital, creative force is negentropic, in opposition to the entropic tendencies of the universe at large. (p. 39)

And though the struggle is never over in this world, there are always glimmerings of new worlds waiting, and prophets like Wilbur Mercer of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to point the way, however ambiguously—if not in the direction of salvation, then at least toward a kind of self-acceptance and the hope of a new start, in this life or the next. For though corruption touches all the works of humankind, and the body itself must disintegrate, perhaps the idea underlying the outward form is permanent, and we can all be reborn…. (pp. 39-40)

Empathy or love, the ability of human beings to interact in a meaningful manner, is the foundation on which the ideal world can be constructed. (p. 42)

It should be noted, then, that the ideal, or Platonic, realm in Dick's sense is not given in the meaning of having been imposed from on high; rather, it exists as a goal consciously set by mankind for itself. Out of the ground of human association arise over time new cultural configurations, and today Dick sees us on the verge of another transformation…. The world uninformed with a vision of divine animation is reduced to the level of the "merely" mechanical, but, when informed, exhibits life and meaning at all levels, the mechanical included.

The concept of God is not to be confused with that of a transcendental deity; it denotes instead the realization of the human potential through the creation of a better world—a dialectical movement whereby man remakes himself and his environment in the process of becoming reconciled to that environment. Dick's position remains fundamentally existential, but not despairing…. (pp. 43-4)

His heroes are relatively ordinary folk, regardless of whether they can divine the future or possess telepathic ability. The characters that populate Dick's fantasies are everyday men and women, together, adrift in an uncommon universe. How they survive, and what they make of their lives, depends to a very large degree on how they relate to each other. (p. 45)

Angus Taylor, in his Philip K. Dick & the Umbrella of Light, T-K Graphics, 1975, 52 p.

Ursula K. Leguin

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Philip K. Dick comes on without fanfare. All his novels are published as science fiction, which limits their "packaging" to purple-monster jackets, ensures but restricts their sales, and, above all, prevents their being noticed by most serious critics or reviewers. His prose is austere, sometimes hasty, always straightforward, with no Nabokovian fiddlefaddle. His characters are ordinary—extraordinarily ordinary—the inept small-businessman, the ambitious organization girl, the minor craftsman or repairman, etc. That some of them have odd talents such as precognition makes no difference, since they inhabit a world where precognition is common; they're just ordinary neurotic precognitive slobs. His humor is dry and zany…. Finally, his inventive, intricate plots move on so easily and entertainingly that the reader, guided without effort through the maze, may put the book down believing that he's read a clever sci-fi thriller and nothing more. The fact that what Dick is entertaining us about is reality and madness, time and death, sin and salvation—this has escaped most readers and critics. Nobody notices; nobody notices that we have our own homegrown [Jorge Luis] Borges, and have had him for 30 years.

I think I'm the first to bring up Borges, but Dick has once or twice been compared with Kafka. One cannot take that very far, for Dick is not an absurdist. His moral vocabulary is Christian, though never explicitly so. The last word is not despair. Well as he knows the world of the schizophrenic, the paranoid, even the autistic, his work is not (as Kafka's was) autistic, because there are other people in it; and other people are not (as they are to [Jean-Paul] Sartre) Hell, but salvation. (p. 33)

There are no heroics in Dick's books, but there are heroes. One is reminded of Dickens: what counts is the honesty, constancy, kindness and patience of ordinary people. The flashier qualities such as courage are merely contributory to that dull solid goodness in which—alone—lies the hope of deliverance from evil….

[Dick], like Dickens, keeps a direct line open to the unconscious, it is the powerful personal psychic imprint that dominates in retrospect. Further, his novels are linked by obsessively recurring motifs and details, each of which is itself a key or cue to the nature of reality in the Dick Universe. A disc-jockey circling a planet in a satellite, bringing reassurance to distressed folk on the surface; the android, the person who is (or is schizophrenically perceived to be) a maze of circuitry; the Wonder Drug or process which alters reality, usually toward a shift or overlap of time-planes; precognition; entropy, decay, the tombworld; the subworld (often a Barbie Doll-type toy): all these themes, and others, interconnect, one or another dominating each book, each implying the others. In the earlier and some recent books, the compulsiveness of the themes is evident, threatening the artist's control. The earlier books, of which Maze of Death and Time Out of Joint are good examples, suffer somewhat from the tension of overcontrol; and from Ubik through Flow My Tears a gap has been growing between the expression of rational opinion or belief and the intractable, overwhelming witness of the irrational psyche. When in full control of his dangerous material, Dick has written at least five books which walk the high wire with grace from end to end: The Man in the High Castle, Dr. Bloodmoney, Martion Time-Slip, Clans of the Alphane Moon and the extremely funny Galactic Pot-Healer.

The task of a writer who writes about madness from within is an appalling one…. The price paid is a price no artist, nobody, can be expected to pay; the prize won is invaluable. These are genuine reports from the other side, controlled by the intelligence and skill of an experienced novelist, and illuminated by compassion…. And therefore Dick can compress all the shock and splendor of salvation into a few characteristically offhand sentences, and three plain words:

One of the Bleekman females shyly offered him a cigarette from those she carried. Thanking her, he accepted it. They continued on.

And as they moved along, Manfred Steiner felt something strange happening inside him. He was changing.

The shy offer of a cigarette is a thoroughly Dickian gesture of salvation. Nobody ever saves the Galactic Empire from the Tentacled Andromedans. Something has indeed been saved, but only a human soul. We are about as far from the panoply of space opera as we can get. And yet Dick is a science fiction writer—not borrowing the trappings to deck out old nonsense with shiny chromium fittings, but using the new metaphors because he needs them; using them with power and beauty, because they are the language appropriate to what he wants to say, to us, about ourselves. Dick is no escapist, and no "futurist." He is a prophet, yes, but in the I Ching sense, in the sense in which poets are prophets: not because he plays foretelling games with [Ayn] Rand, or extrapolates the next technological gimmick, but because his moral vision is desperately clear, and because his art is adequate to express that vision. (p. 34)

Ursula K. LeGuin, "Science Fiction As Prophesy," in The New Republic, Vol. 175, No. 18, October 30, 1976, pp. 33-4.

Philip Strick

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Dick does not make easy reading. He lacks the informality of [Arthur C.] Clarke, the vocabulary of [Anthony] Burgess, the pointillism of [John] Fowles. His phrasing is often clumsy, bathetic, despairing, a tangle of moods and impressions hurled like warnings of imminent catastrophe. His characters tumble angrily past as if their appearance in the narrative were an unwelcome distraction. The first paragraphs of a Dick novel habitually plunge us into an environment so intact with images, purposes and objectives as to incline us to reconsider the accuracy of our own perceptions. The typical Dick hero is similarly in a state of confusion, seeing himself as an insignificant component in an elaborate social mechanism requiring effort, conformity and commitment for no very clear reward. The rules of the game may change at any moment, nothing is permanent, and a malignant, vaguely godlike presence monitors his every move in the expectation of failure. Dick's is the science fiction of the average citizen attempting an unremarkable survival in an environment that considers him uninteresting and expendable. Far from the bright, muscular heroic myths of Star Wars or Superman, it lurks in the dark labyrinths of paranoia.

What renders his work so absorbing is its inventiveness and its humour, dizzyingly based on a lunatic logic. Both are combined in the premise of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the 1968 novel on which [the film] Blade Runner is based. The near eradication of Earth's animal life other than man has resulted in the measurement of wealth by ownership of livestock, and in accordance with a catalogue that gives current values as if for antiques or second-hand cars, people acquire goats, sheep and cows as status symbols. If they can't afford genuine animals, they settle for working models. One of the most valuable creatures listed is the toad, said to have been extinct for years; when, near the end of the book, one is discovered in the desert, hopes of a fabulous reward are high until it proves to have a tiny control panel in its abdomen. Against this bizarre background of pervasive fakery, the erosion of authentic humanity by undetectable android imitations has all the plausibility of a new and lethal plague whereby evolution would become substitution and nobody would notice the difference. The notion is rich with political and metaphysical implications, but Dick pins it firmly on the obvious target of technology through which, should man wish to lift a finger, future prosthetics will do it for him. And in his view, defeat is already in sight. (pp. 169-70)

Philip Strick, "The Age of the Replicant," in Sight and Sound, Vol. 51, No. 3, Summer, 1982, pp. 168-72.∗

Patricia S. Warrick

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What is the authentically human? What is the nature of the alien elements that are threatening and vitiating living, intelligent human beings? These questions are deeply rooted in Philip K. Dick's work, and to them he has provided a bizarre variety of answers, answers that are constantly being pushed aside and replaced by new possibilities. Finding an answer to the question of what is truly human and what only masquerades as human is, for Dick, the most important difficulty facing us. Some of Dick's richest metaphors stem from the profusion of electronic devices which populate his near-future wasteland landscapes—electronic constructs that in his early fiction menace the few humans surviving a nuclear holocaust; constructs that, evolving over the years toward ever more human forms, become instructors to man in the search for authenticity and wholeness.

The setting of Dick's near-future fiction is often a twilight world shrouded in smog and dust, decaying into rusty bits and useless debris. "Kipple" accumulates as the process of entropy advances. The wasteland may be a battlefield smouldering in radioactive ash, a vast "junkyard" containing the rotting remnants of West Coast suburbia, or a Martian landscape, virtually lifeless except for the Earth colonists whose electronic constructs assist in nearly fruitless gardening attempts…. How is man to survive and remain human in this desert of decay?

Dick's visionary landscape is dark, but not devoid of hope. He shares the arid wasteland view of contemporary culture held by other dystopian writers, but he struggles against capitulation to despair. He throws torches of possibility into the darkness of the future as he sees it. These torches reveal that survival can be achieved not by returning simplistically to an earlier pastoral world view, nor by a destructive repudiation of technology. Instead, technology must be transformed, and in turn man will be transformed. The future—if we survive—will be new, radical, unexpected. It will be a world where, as man and his electronic technology seed each other with possibilities, new forms will begin to appear. (pp. 189-90)

[This essay] will trace the process of Dick's artificial constructs from their first appearances in his short stories of the 1950s, through the mid-1960s, and finally, through the last period, the late 1960s and 70s, when he becomes increasingly obsessed with metaphorical androids—humans who have lost their humanness and become mere mechanical constructs unable to respond with creativity and feeling. This journey through his fiction is indeed a process and not a progression. Dick's world is a world in motion where destinations are never reached, where utopia is never achieved. (p. 190)

To follow the evolution of his electronic constructs through the maze of his large body of fiction is no easy journey. We often become confused, lost, or disoriented. For every path we select, we uneasily suspect that we have neglected another, more fruitful route. But occasionally he lifts us out of the labyrinth, and from this broader perspective we are given fleeting glimpses of hidden patterns and possible meanings.

One such pattern is the evolving reciprocal relationship between man and the artificial constructs (machines) which he builds. From the earliest to the most recent of Dick's fiction, his presentation of machines undergoes a series of transformations. At first he presents electronic constructs as merely automatons; then they become will-less robot-agents of enemy or alien forces, while masquerading as humans. Next, robots become increasingly more like humans, with a sense of personal identity and a concomitant will to survive; and finally robots actually become superior to humans. At the same time, humans follow a reverse process of devolution. They first fight automated machines; next they become more vitalized and machinelike themselves; then they withdraw into schizophrenia as they reject exploitation by economic and political machinery; and finally schizoid humans become like androids, with mechanical programmed personalities.

Electronic devices animate the devastated settings of almost all of Dick's novels. Typically, few animals have survived the radiation fallout, but objects have become animated. (pp. 191-92)

In a number of works, the electronic constructs shift from the background setting to the foreground and become major participants, central characters, in the narrative. The fiction of Dick's first period, the 1950s, is primarily short fiction; its tone is dystopian as it explores the horrors of paranoid militarism, totalitarianism, and the manipulation of people through the mass media. Robots and electronic constructs threaten or actually annihilate humanity in a number of these stories. (p. 192)

[A] major work of interest to our study in Dick's first period is Vulcan's Hammer (1960). This novel is preparatory exercise for Dick's subsequent works exploring the theme of totalitarian control, the most notable of which is The Man in the High Castle (1962). In Vulcan's Hammer a sophisticated computer, Vulcan 3, is used to help run the world government after a devastating war. The totalitarian rule of this machine provokes the hostility of the population, especially that of a fanatical group called The Healers…. Vulcan 3 does seemingly paranoid or irrational things. Everyone surrounding the computer is regarded as an enemy to be destroyed. North American Director William Barris, the primary narrator of the novel, wonders whether we have merely anthropomorphized the mechanical construct or whether it really possesses the characteristics of intelligent life. (p. 194)

The military machine, the political machine, the economic machine: these are important concerns for Dick. Vulcan's Hammer is his first lengthy study of humans who have become so tightly locked into a rigid structure that their roles as members of the organization form the totality of their lives. He suggests the irrational darkness of the mechanical drive to dominate by killing in his description of Vulcan 3, as "buried at the bottom level of the hidden underground fortress. But it was its voice they were hearing."… (p. 195)

In this quotation the computer functions simultaneously and equally on a literal and metaphorical level. The unique richness and depth of Dick's writing may be attributed to the way he fuses the literal and metaphorical so tightly that his images and concepts reverberate in our minds in an almost "stereoscopic" manner. His technique, best described as a complementary process, is to create a fictional world where metaphors from our mundane or everyday world become real: "Computers seem like intelligent beings" becomes "Computers are humans." A shift of mental perspective is required to go beneath the surface of the plot and catch the meaning. The fictional image is consciously and deliberately a literal metaphor. Beyond that, in reversal it tells us: Men, driven by unrecognized impulses deeply hidden in the substrata of their minds, become machines who kill.

Dick's next novel, The Man in the High Castle, deals further with the theme of the totalitarian state as a machine of domination and destruction. Vulcan 3 now becomes the Nazis, whose paranoid suspicions lead them to plot a sneak nuclear attack on their Japanese allies, whose world view is in many ways the polar opposite of that of the Nazis. This juxtaposition of opposing viewpoints is at this point the essence of the Dickian creative process. Reality is for him a bipolar construction; the closest we can come to grasping it is to mirror in fiction the polarities. (pp. 195-96)

At this early stage in his creative development, Dick looks at one world view from the perspective of its opposite, and then in a separate work reverses the process. Thus Vulcan's Hammer is a metaphor for machines as destructive humans; The Man in the High Castle is a metaphor for humans become destructive machines. In the novels that follow—for example, The Penultimate Truth and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?—both views are present in a single work. The skilled reader who has become used to these contradictions "sees" from opposite directions simultaneously. He is rewarded with a fleeting epiphany—Dick's vision of reality as process. (p. 196)

In his prodigiously productive middle period, Dick published a half dozen very-good-to-excellent novels, three of which—Martian Time-Slip (1964), The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1964), and Dr. Bloodmoney (1965)—are generally considered his finest works to date. Two of the other novels, The Penultimate Truth and The Simulacra (both 1964), are competent but unexceptional novels of interest because automata figure significantly in their plots. In this middle period, Dick's attention shifts from the military, his primary subject in the 1950s, to economic and political matters. His use of point of view also alters, as does his view of reality. He no longer uses a third person point of view, but rather multiple narrative foci…. The relatively fixed reality of his earlier works now begins to distort and oscillate in uncertain hallucinations, suggesting that our illusions of stable appearances are very fragile fictions. (pp. 196-97)

Dick's early robots were machines sent by alien enemy forces to attack man. In his middle period, the actual man-made robot or simulacrum became the paradigm for the capitalist-fascist-bureaucratic structures locking the individual in a prisonhouse of false illusions created through electronic constructs. The technologist became a demonic artificer serving the devil of economic greed. In the fiction of the late 1960s, another shift in the evolution of Dick's imagination occurs, as evidenced by a shift in emphasis from the outer space of the social realm to the inner world of the mind. The robot no longer walks wasteland streets or peers from vidscreens via electronic images; rather he haunts the human consciousness and stares out through a mask of flesh. Dick has become aware, he tells us now, that "the greatest pain does not come down from a distant planet, but up from the depth of the human heart." His attention moves to the human as a machine or android. (pp. 204-05)

In his recent fiction exploring the mechanical, his earlier view of androids as artificial constructs masquerading as humans gives way to a view of androids as humans who have become machines. Now robots and men have reversed roles. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) creates a metaphor for this process. In We Can Build You (serialized in magazine form in 1969), automata assume the compassion and concern of the authentic human: the Abraham Lincoln simulacrum, although a schizophrenic character, is superior in his insight and humanity to the humans in the novel.

Read as a dramatization of inner space, Do Androids Dream? merits recognition as one of Dick's finest novels, a view contrary to most of the current critical judgment. Stanislaw Lem in "Science Fiction: A Hopeless Case—With Exceptions" [see excerpt above] recognizes the novel as "not important," but then dismisses it as disappointing because it does not offer unequivocal answers to the questions of internal logic that it raises. But the point is, Dick is picturing an inner world that is without the logical consistency Lem demands. For Dick, the clear line between hallucination and reality has itself become a kind of hallucination. (p. 205)

The novel sets up a series of opposing ideas: people—things; subject—object; animate—inanimate; loving—killing; intuition—logic; human—machine. Double character sets abound; Rick Deckard and Phil Resch; Rachael Rosen and Pris Stratton, John Isidore and Wilbur Mercer. We can only know the penultimate truth; we are always one reflection away from reality, and we see it as in a mirror. Thus the sets of characters mirror truths to each other. For Dick this encounter—not an encounter of truth, but only a reflection of the truth—is caught best in an image used by Saint Paul, who speaks of our seeing "as if the reflection on the bottom of a polished metal pan."

The complexity of structure and ideas in this rich novel point up the evolutionary process of the Dickian imagination in the fifteen years since those first short stories about robot warfare. But the question for which Dick invents his array of answers is the same as it was then: What happens when man builds machines programmed to kill? The answer Dick fears, is that man will become the machines that kill. This is what Rick Deckard learns about himself: in pursuing the enemy android with a view to kill or be killed, he takes on the characteristics of the enemy and becomes himself an android. In one of the most powerful chapters of the novel (Chapter 12), Rick encounters his double, the android bounty hunter, Phil Resch, who enjoys killing. This mirror episode provides Rick with the insight that he has been transformed into an android-killing machine. (pp. 206-07)

The secondary plot of the novel records the encounter of John Isidore, a subnormal "chickenhead," with the androids. Contrary to Rick, who hunts androids to kill them, John empathizes with them. He is a follower of Mercerism and is easily able to identify with every other living thing. Wilbur Mercer is a mysterious old man whose image on the black empathy box serves as a focus for the theological and moral system called Mercerism. Its followers unite through empathy, the energy capable of transporting the human mind through the mirror so that it unites with the opposite and sees from the reverse direction. Mercer, in a gentle test of endurance which transcends suffering as he endlessly toils up a barren hill, is reminiscent of Albert Camus' Sisyphus. John Isidore, grasping the handles of the black empathy box, undergoes a "crossing-over," a physical merging with others accompanied by mental and spiritual identification…. (p. 207)

Reversals and negations like Rick's in loving and killing, are compounded throughout the novel. Mercer, the mystic, turns out to be a fake—not a religious leader but an alcoholic has-been actor. The allegedly real toad Rick discovers on his desert journey and cherishes as an omen of spiritual rebirth turns out to be an electric one. What does it all mean? Rick's final insight answers the question: "Everything is true, everything anybody has ever thought."… He could just as well have said that everything is false. It all depends on the perspective from which you view "reality." (p. 208)

How does one survive in this universe of uncertainty where everything is both true and false? Like John Isidore, one empathizes with and responds to the needs of all forms, blinding one's eyes to the inauthentic division between the living and nonliving, between the machine and man. Like the shadowy Wilbur Mercer, one endlessly climbs up, suffering the wounds of rocks mysteriously thrown, but never reaching a destination. Mercer's hill mirrors Sisyphus' fate, his rocks the stones of martyred Stephen, his empathy the forgiving, uniting love of Christ.

Only when the divisions Dick has mirrored in the novel are healed by an inner unity growing from an acceptance of all things will artificiality be replaced by authentic existence. If you hold the nineteenth-century view of yourself as a unique, concrete thing, says Dick, you can never merge with the noosphere. The left-hemisphere brain, the isolating android intellect, must merge with the right-hemisphere brain, the collective intuition that we all share. These dream images, if we will listen, partake of the creative power that can transform us from mere machines into authentic humans.

We Can Build You cannot be ignored in a study of Dick's androids because it proposes new pathways in the labyrinthian possibilities of machine intelligence: but it cannot be applauded because it creeps along in a dramatic near-paralysis uncommon to Dick's fiction. The failure is twofold First, the novel relies on exposition, not metaphor, to make many of its statements. Additionally, it concerns itself with two themes which are not closely related. When, as he can, Dick yokes the unlikely in grotesque marriage, he is brilliant. In this novel, however, the two themes fail to resonate; we are left with a sense of dispassionate incongruity. The first theme concerns the creation of simulacra whose intelligence has all the attributes of human intelligence. How are such forms to be regarded—ethically, legally, and philosophically? What are the implications of destroying such high-level intelligence? Is there a difference between killing an intelligent being and an equally intelligent machine? A writer as different from Dick as Isaac Asimov has successfully dramatized these issues in what is unquestionably his greatest story, "The Bicentennial Man" (1976). Dick plays with the possibilities of this theme in desultory probings, but he actually seems to be more concerned with the second theme: the transformation of the protagonist, Louis Rosen, into an android. This theme makes use of an idea which apparently remained in Dick's mind after he finished the superb Do Androids Dream? It can be summarized as: What are we to make of the human who glorifies reason, logic, individual prudence, and self-concern while at the same time he suppresses emotional responses—love, fear, and passion? The answer Dick gives is that we can no longer regard him as human; he has become a logic machine, an android, a schizoid personality. (pp. 208-10)

Is reality only a fiction; or must man make up fictions because reality is unknowable? Are space and time uncertain in their order because man has not yet learned to understand them; or does the universe of space and time eternally move with the mystery beyond human probing? Is the authentic human mind with its high intelligence unique and irreplaceable; or will machines become more intelligent than man? Can they explore new worlds from which man is barred? Dick in his fiction is a seeker who searches not for definitive answers to these puzzles, but for possibilities. His early short stories are straightforward metaphors, simple mirrors, presenting to us the bizarre possibilities his imagination sees. His later metaphors move into realms of increasing complexity and his mirroring device becomes a doubly ironic metaphor composed of opposites facing each other. In order to comprehend this type of metaphor, we have to see in several directions at the same time, to let our awareness slip simultaneously in both directions through the mirror, viewing the polarities of possibility from each direction in the same instant. Thus, for Dick, the enlightened human consciousness is not a state of being but an event or process of eternal passage between contraries.

We cease our labyrinthian journey through Dick's phantasmagoric worlds of evolving intelligence, human and artificial. It brings us to no conclusion, but perhaps to a peaceful, exhilarating delight at being lost in the metaphorical maze of his and our own imagination. We reach no goal, but share our guide's awareness that nothing can be preserved, either by machines or man. (pp. 213-14)

What future will unfold for artificial intelligence? Will it increasingly assume and perhaps eventually subsume human intelligence? What of the human brain's capacity to dream, to throw up fireworks of possibility lying outside mundane reality? Will machine intelligence achieve that gift, too? What is the answer to the question Dick's title asks: Do androids dream of electric sheep? We know that Dick, according to his own philosophy, would want us to accept only the answer we discover as we look in the mirror of his fiction and see our own awareness reflected back to us. But we can also be certain of his answer. Yes, as each form contains within itself the shadow-image of the potential forms that seed its inevitable transformation, so do androids also dream. (p. 214)

Patricia S. Warrick, "The Labyrinthian Process of the Artificial: Philip K. Dick's Androids and Mechanical Constructs," in Philip K. Dick, edited by Joseph D. Olander and Martin Harry Greenberg, Taplinger Publishing Company, 1983, pp. 189-214.


Dick, Philip K(indred) (Vol. 10)


Dick, Philip K.