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.)