Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Philip K. Dick.

For the last year I have devoted most of my leisure reading to the novels of Philip K. Dick. I was first exposed to Dick in 1975 (snigger,snigger,snort) in a college course in Contemporary Science Fiction at PSU. The class introduced me to many new writers including; Ursula LeGuinn, Stanislaw Lem, and Philip K. Dick. Dick was my least favorite of all the writers we read in the class. I thought his ideas sounded interesting, but for me his books were difficult to read. I preferred in my naive youth writers I considered more serious and visionary like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clark. To me Philip K. Dicks weird stories about time running backwards, dystopian futures where companies build artificial animals for people who cannot afford real ones, alternate universes where America loses WWII didn't connect with me at the time. In the 1970's his books written in the 1960's seemed dated to me and in the publishing world he was fading in to obscurity with few of his books still in print. Fortunately his work endured until I was ready for him. It's possible that the release of 'Blade Runner' in 1982 rescued PKD from obscurity. Though a great film it didn't quite capture the true feel of the Phildickian universe portrayed in the source novel, 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep'. The film will be celebrating it's 25th anniversary with a new DVD release and possibly a theatrical release of a new cut. 32 years ago I tried to read 'Do Androids Dream...' and couldn't get past the first few chapters, but now it is one of my favorite books. 'Do Androids Dream...' written in 1968 is set in the near future after a final nuclear war has been fought and the world is crumbling in to dust or 'Kipple" and animals are so rare that to own one is the ultimate status symbol which only the very rich can afford . Ersatz animals are manufactured for sale to people who cannot afford the real thing so they can pretend that they do. Human Androids called 'andys' are also manufactured for slave labor on colony planets where humanity is trying to start over again. This need to manufacture more realistic animals and humans is a highly competitive business andthe powerful Rosen Corporation creates the Nexus 6 an android difficult or perhaps impossible to identify using the standard Voiggt-Kampff scale, a psychological test that in theory separates androids from humans but can mistake the "mentally disturbed" for robots and sophisticated robots for humans. Philip K. Dicks androids are a necessary but annoying aspect of the Phildickian universe. In 'We can build You', historical figures are designed and sold and an authentic model of Abraham Lincoln rebels at being "sold". This conflict between Creator and Created comes from the ancient Gnostic principal of the creator god or Demiurge . Though Dick wrote in the SF genre his work is in a category all it's own and is more theological and philisophical in content. Space Travel, Time Travel, Aliens, Androids are plot devices used to explore more classical themes about the nature of reality, what it is to be human, and what is God. I'm a sucker for old pulp novel paperback versions of his work printed back in the 60's. The cover art on the newer editions is pretty lame.



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