Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I've been listening to an audiobook of Philip K. Dick's first published novel, Solar Lottery. I liked him better before he became popular and all his books came back into print, before they turned them into movies. In the 8th grade I got my dad a copy of The Zap Gun for his birthday or something, because I knew he liked Dick's books. But my dad already had it so I kept it for myself and read it. I only remember it was 8th grade because my English teacher at the time, Ms. Rothrock (sister of Cynthia Rothrock), asked me what I was reading.

The Zap Gun
was amazing. Dick called it a "pot-boiler", one of those books he cranked out in a couple weeks, and it used all this weird science-fiction language that I'd never seen in a book before. It's basically about these weapon designers during the Cold War who create weapons by going into a psychic trance and unknowingly steal their designs from a hack cartoonist (or something). I think there was a lot of sex in it too. According to wikipedia, "The conclusion involves an eclectic mixture of time travel, androids, drugs, toys, and comic books."

I don't think I'm necessarily recommending it.

I think Dick's strengths were creating alternate realities that felt weird but real, and cool titles, and character names that didn't seem right. Here's how I remember the novels I've read by Dick:

Mary and the Giant - early non-science fiction, nothing special
The Man Who Japed - don't remember
Dr. Futurity - don't remember
Vulcan's Hammer - don't remember
The World Jones Made - don't remember
Time Out of Joint - think I liked but barely remember
Confessions of a Crap Artist - better title than book, non sci-fi
The Man in the High Castle - one of his best, with one moment that really tweaked my head
Martian Time-Slip - like this one a lot too; distorts time as you read
Dr. Bloodmoney - another cool title but so-so story. Readable
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch - tries to do more than it can completely handle, but still worth reading; ambitious
The Zap Gun - I like this one and would like to reread it.
Ubik - another interesting setup that doesn't quite finish right.
Galactic Pot-Healer - great start, weak end
A Maze of Death - I think this is one of his more solid books
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said - I think Dick's imagery gets better in his later books, his characters feel more real, but the plot kind of falls apart
A Scanner Darkly - bleh. And the movie's pretty boring too.
Radio Free Albemuth -
just go read VALIS, it's better and almost the same story
VALIS - pretty good, but slightly overrated
The Divine Invasion - weak "sequel" to VALIS that has none of the charm of the original.
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer - a good last book, not connected to VALIS at all (as some people claim)

Dick's big weakness was conclusions. They generally work too mechanically or smear all over the floor. But when he's good he's really good.

I can't imagine reading a modern science fiction novel. Let's just say R.I.P. THE SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL: 1895-1980.

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Blogger John said...

Will you sign my petition? "Chevy Chase for Blade Runner II in 2012"! Harrison Ford is too famous to play it now, but Chevy would make a great Androbot or whatever they're called.

2:11 AM  
Blogger John said...

"Blade Runner II: Like Tears in Rain" would be the full title, by the way. The front cover would be a teardrop in the rain with Rutger Hauer's face in the middle (a stock production photo from his role in BATMAN BEGINS since he's too busy nowadays to be posing for new photos).

2:12 AM  
Blogger John said...

^ I should probably stop leaving comments when I'm high.

12:35 PM  
Blogger pete. said...

i always wondered why pkd couldn't end his books. most of his novels are really good if you stop 3 chapters before they end.

12:55 AM  

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