From January to December 2016, I took part in a Philip K. Dick read-along hosted by Nikki of Bookpunks. The challenge was to read The Exegesis of P.K.D. accompanied by one of his novels each month. You can find the first of those posts here.
I won’t lie, The Exegesis was challenging to get through, but the 12 novels kept me going. They were so much fun, as well as being bonkers in a uniquely Dickian way. Well, reading those books has turned me into a PKD fan.
In 2017, I didn’t read anything by him. After a while, I started to miss his quirky worlds and mind-blowing ideas. I even missed his everyman characters and their – at times – unintentionally hilarious dialogue. (Or maybe it was intentional, only PKD knows).
So, this year I am going to read and review some of his 150-ish short stories, starting with this 1953 tale “Impostor”.
“When has the government ever told anyone the truth?” (p.76)
The Divine Invasion was published in the same year as VALIS. It is the second book in the VALIS Trilogy, although there is only a brief mention of VALIS in the story. Like VALIS it addresses religion and philosophy, but it’s not as tightly structured or plotted as the first book. In fact, some parts of The Divine Invasion feel like they belong to a completely different story. According to Jonathan Lethem, one of the editors of Dick’s Exegesis, this book was written in only four weeks. It would be easy to say it shows.
The Divine Invasion tells the story of two distant-planet colonists, Herb Asher and Rybys Romney. We follow them on their journey back to Earth as Rybys is due to give birth to a son, Emmanuel. The book goes on to chronicle a battle between the forces of good and evil in which Emmanuel will play a major role. He is joined by a young girl called Zina, an old man, Elias, who acts as his guardian, and a kid goat. I kid you not. Continue reading
“14. The universe is information and we are stationary in it, not three-dimensional and not in space or time. The information fed to us we hypostatize into the phenomenal world.” -from the Tractate, VALIS
VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System) was published in 1981. It follows Dick’s A Scanner Darkly and precedes The Divine Invasion. It’s difficult to write a spoiler-free synopsis of this novel but here goes:
Horselover Fat, a *friend* of the author Philip K. Dick, has a nervous breakdown. His friends help him attempt to deal with it. They talk a lot about theology, reality and extra-terrestrials. Towards the end of the book they watch a movie called ‘Valis’, then meet the movie’s makers.
I read this as the third book in Book Punks mind-warping “Exegesis with a side of fiction: the 2016 PKD read along”. It was interesting to read VALIS after reading Radio Free Albemuth, as VALIS is considered to be a rewrite or reworking of Albemuth. Both books include Philip K. Dick as a major character in the stories. They also contain a lot of autobiographical details that touch on Dick’s experiences leading up to and after February & March 1974, (mystical experience or onset of schizophrenia??).
‘As his eyes adjusted to the gloom he saw the floating patches of colour, but they were receding from him faster and faster as his thoughts – manic, the psychiatrist had said – matched their velocity. They’re escaping, he thought, and so is my head; my mind is going along with them.’
Cover art by Tony Roberts
Radio Free Albemuth was written in 1976 and published posthumously in 1985. It has been suggested that this was only a first draft which Dick abandoned before going on to write VALIS (published in 1981). He wrote it between A Scanner Darkly and VALIS during what is referred to as his ‘mature period’. It’s a short novel, one which I found easy to read. I enjoyed its simple, autobiographical style and fairly simple plot, especially after the bizarre reading experience of Ubik, which I loved.
“We live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups. I ask, in my writing, ‘What is real?’ Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms.” – Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick was almost always questioning “reality” in his works. His stories often have the effect of making the reader question “What is real?” There is a brilliant scene in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? where Dick has his main character grasping at the edges of his own reality as his everyday life seems about to be pulled from under him.
*(spoiler warning)* Imagine if you are taken, suddenly, to a different branch of your workplace. It’s in the same city but you have never heard of it until now. There is no record of you on the company files and no one has ever heard of you there.*(spoiler end)* How would you feel? Perhaps you would feel a bit like Dick himself who began to question whether he was writing his stories or his stories were writing him. “Sometimes it feels like I’m living in a PKD novel.” (Thanks to The Exegesis of PKD and nikki@bookpunks for organising the read-a-long!).
This is not quite a five-star classic but there is something about it that I just love. Continue reading
“Can’t make the frug contest, Helen; stomach’s upset. I’ll fix you Ubik! Ubik drops you back in the thick of things fast. Taken as directed, Ubik speeds relief to head and stomach. Remember: Ubik is only seconds away. Avoid prolonged use.”
(*Reality warning* this “review” may affect your grip on reality!)
Once upon a time there was Ubik. Ubik wrote a story about a man called PKD. In this story, PKD was a writer. He wrote science fiction tales for a living. He was fairly successful, mostly due to the sheer number of stories he wrote. But a lot of people appeared to enjoy his work so PKD was able to keep on writing. Unfortunately, PKD never seemed to have enough money on him to pay for things like the doors to open or the shower to work, so he spent a lot of time indoors.