I have to post this as vindication, for all my students who complained about my showing Blade Runner and making them do their first paper on it, for years in first-year composition.
I had a terrible nightmare this morning that had to have been something straight out of Dick, now that I think about it. It was just terrible, a flashback from my previous job. In the dream I sat for seemingly hours, trying to write three 15-second "stories," the details and order of which kept changing the entire time I was writing them, the whole time sitting in someone's ratty bedroom on some really uncomfortable upholstery. When I woke up, I was so sore, I could barely hobble to the bathroom.
They oughta do a study on how many people's dreams get polluted by waking up with NPR news bleed-thru into their dreams.
Anyway, I wasn't dreaming of electric sheep, but I do have a Dick novel I would option for a screenplay in a heartbeat. I'm not going to say which one it is, though. Someone else might get it first. [grin]
Philip K. Dick: A Sage of the Future Whose Time Has Finally Come
Published: June 8, 2007
Philip K. Dick was still an obscure pulp novelist known mainly to teenage boys when a friend predicted that he would one day have more impact on the world than celebrated writers like William Faulkner, Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut. The prediction seemed almost delusional in the 1960s, when Dick was popping pills around the clock and churning out novels in a science fiction ghetto from which he seemed destined never to escape.
He did get out, but only posthumously. And with his recent celebration as the sage of futurism, and his pervasiveness on bookshelves and in Hollywood, the early predictions about the growth of his influence have come to seem prescient.
Dick was largely unknown to the general public at the time of his death in 1982. Most of his novels and short stories were out of print and seemed destined to stay that way. Things began to change after his favorite and best written novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” was introduced to the country in the form of the now classic movie “Blade Runner.”
The film struck a number of chords in the real world. Its vision of the polyglot, environmentally ruined Los Angeles spawned the phrase “Blade Runnerization” among urban planners who recognized it as a frighteningly likely vision of things to come. In recent years, movies based on Dick’s work —“Minority Report,” “A Scanner Darkly,” “Next” — have become a cottage industry in Hollywood. Numerous other projects, including a film based on his life, are said to be in the works.
The movie craze carried over into the book world, where publishers have pushed more than 30 of Dick’s novels and scores of his short stories back into print, this time with book covers and promotional material designed to appeal to mainstream readers. The rehabilitation hit a literary high note earlier this month, when the Library of America issued “Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s,” which placed him in the company of Henry James, Saul Bellow, Faulkner and other heavyweights.
Dick wrote his share of bad novels, which is hardly surprising given that he wrote stoked up on drugs and suffered no end of paranoid delusions. His best books distinguish themselves from ordinary science fiction by focusing not on technology, but on the toll that technological advances often take on human values — and on the soul itself.
Dick was fully engaged in the science of cybernetics — which supposes a similarity between machine and human functioning — and deeply alarmed about what he saw as the encroachment of programmable machinery into human life.
His writing was shaped by the legitimate worry that human beings were merging with the technology that was supposed to be serving them and becoming less human (which is to say, more machine-like) in the bargain.
Androids in much of science fiction are cast as entertaining house pets. Dick’s androids are sinister and potentially dangerous, because they lack the leavening spark of humanity.
The science fiction writer’s job is to survey the future and report back to the rest of us. Dick took this role seriously. He spent his life writing in ardent defense of the human and warning against the perils that would flow from an uncritical embrace of technology. As his work becomes more popular, readers who know him only from the movies will find it even darker and more disturbing — and quite relevant to the technologically obsessed present.