Until a few years ago I had never heard anything about this one. A friend at work, for some reason, said something about this movie called A Scanner Darkly, and I thought the name sounded cool, so I looked it up. Upon doing so I found that it was also a book, so me being me, decided that maybe I need to read this one. Luckily I found a cheap copy at my used book store and bought it.
Philip K. Dick is one of the most famous sifi writers of all time, and I am a little ashamed to say that this is the first story that I have read of his, but it certainly will not be my last. Dick is from Chicago and sadly passed away in 1982. He is most famous and best known for Blade Runner, while he did not write the movie, it was based on a novel he wrote called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? He passed away a few months before the movie was released in theaters. He has won multiple Hugo Awards, Nebula Awards and pretty much any award that a sifi writer can receive. I also read that he has had 11 of his stories turned into movies. That is pretty amazing! There is also an award that is named after him, that is given to annually and recognizes the previous year’s best SF paperback original published in the U.S., according to Wikipedia. He is no doubt one of the greatest writers of all time and he is certainly missed.
The story follows an undercover cop who is trying to discover the inner workings of a major drug ring. The story is set in a sort of near future(of the 1970’s as that is when it was written) where there is some neat technology but for the most part there is nothing crazy, and they even drive cars of the time period. Fred/Bob Anchor is the undercover cop, he goes by Bob with his drug dealing friends and Fred when he is amongst the cops. The story follows his journey Bob trying to do his job without getting addicted to the very dangerous drug called Substance D. Soon the drug begins to alter Bob’s mind and he is committed to rehab, where his stay is not as innocent as it seems.
The more I have time to digest this one and think about it, I think I like it. The story itself it very interesting and in doing a little more research on the book, the story behind the story is very intriguing as well. So with all those factors at play this is a very hard story to judge.
I will say that this is one of the hardest novels I have read in a while. There are long portions of the story that are just the nonsensical dope heads, or Substance D heads if you will, talking about nothing. While I know this is closer to real life and how most individuals who are on drugs converse, it makes for a near impossible read. I found these passages deplorable and could not focus on the story. It honestly reminded me of one of my favorite artist Jimi Hendrix’s and any one of his interviews. If you have a moment you should Youtube an interview of Hendrix and just listen to what he says. He makes little to no sense, but he was the best guitar player ever, yeah ever! I said it. I will also say that Jimi’s drug usage was legendary even among rock stars of the time period so while this was very hard to read it was very realistic. So it is hard to fault Dick for using this in the story.
The other interesting thing about this one is that almost the entire story is based on Dick’s recreational drug use along with the experience of his friends. In fact he dedicates the story to those individuals that he spent time doing drugs with. Again this is another reason why it is very hard to judge this story because knowing these facts makes the story more interesting and even though it is a work of fiction seems to have quite a lot of real life experiences. But I didn’t realize all this until after I finished it, and let’s just say I was less than pleased when finished.
As I mentioned above the main character eventually enters rehab and again Dick uses his own experience in rehab to use in the story. I don’t want to give away the ending but while he was in rehab he came up with the idea to help end the story.
The authors note at the end of the book is somewhat of a confession and after reading the book and the note, I felt I had come full circle and had a better understanding and new respect for the story. Dick explains how the drug culture of the 70’s was like but he does not blame those who were users. He even says they were punished far too cruelly for their deeds, as most of the names mentioned are dead and those that are alive seem to be suffering from many different health issues. He clarifies that using drugs is a choice, which I would agree with, and I would even argue that the consequences of using are indeed very severe and a very heavy price to pay to feel good. Dick also discuses this as well in the author’s note.
I also wanted to say that Dick did go through some sort of enlightenment or breakdown, as some have called it, right around the time he was experimenting with drugs and most believe it was a turning point in his career. There are a multitude of metaphysical themes that are only briefly touched on. But I felt they were hard to follow because of the nonsensical jabbering of many of the characters that were trying to discuss such issues. After this enlightenment Dick began to focus more on metaphysics and this was the basis of many of his later works.
In the brief research I did on the author I think he was quite an interesting fellow, to say the least. Also I do not know of an author whose real life had such a direct impact on his writing. I mean all writers use some of their real life experiences in their storytelling, but Dick seems to incorporate almost every aspect of his life into his stories, which I think is different and interesting.
I did like this story but I will admit that most of that liking came after reading more about Dick’s life and personal battle with drugs. Had I not know about this I am fairly certain I would have a negative mindset about the book as there was a large portion of it that was extremely hard to read and understand. I still have a difficult time saying that I liked the book as it is not bad, but I think when it comes to Dick and his other writings I think time should be spent elsewhere, as he has so many other great works. That is my final consensus on this one. If you are a big PKD fan then by all means read this one, but if you have not read any of his works I recommend reading one of those.