PKD in the black

Philip K. Dick made several unsuccessful attempts to write himself out of the science-fiction literary ghetto in the 1950s and 1960s, so I can only imagine what he’d say now that the Library of America has added him to the black-jacket club. This appreciation by critic John Clute strikes the right note, I think. Here he is on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, a member of the canonized quartet, which most people know only as the basis of the inferior film Blade Runner:

Note how much sadder and more savage the book is than the big noisy athletic sentimental movie. Note that World War Three is long over; that there is no future on the Ruined Earth; that any awareness conveyed of the end of the world in this book and in any Dick book is conveyed in a tone of disinteredness that burns the eye: just as in the works of J.G. Ballard, his contemporary in many ways. Note that the whole complicated quasi-thriller action of the tale takes place within 24 hours, note the professional skill of Dick’s use of this narrative device. Note that the electric pets and the androids convey a tacit pathos, because they will not last much longer than we will. Note also (in radical contrast to Blade Runner) how subtly Dick depicts the androids’ fatal flaw: that though they scatter affect over the page, they cannot viscerally adhere to their own lifelines, there is no song in the bone about continuing the gene. Unlike us Dick humans, they are not resigned to continue regardless. Note that we learn how deeply Dick loves those characters he depicts experiencing a fragile small glow of resignation.

I still hold out hope that the 1970s works, including the tragic masterpiece A Scanner Darkly will get their own set of black duds in the future.       

One thought on “PKD in the black

  1. Scott Stiefel says:

    If by “inferior” you mean untrue to the story, that’s self-evident. They took the material and ran with it. If you’re saying the movie was inferior on its own terms, you’re just wrong.

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