Dick, Philip K(indred)
DICK, Philip K(indred)
(b. 16 December 1928 in Chicago, Illinois; d. 2 March 1982 in Santa Ana, California), science fiction author best known for The Man in the High Castle (1968) and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), which inspired the motion picture Blade Runner (1982). Dick was admired for his complex, thoughtful novels and is often ranked among the best of twentieth-century writers.
Dick was the son of Joseph Edgar and Dorothy (Kindred) Dick. Dick's father worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture but deserted his family in 1931 to go to California to become a radio talk show host. Dick's twin sister died in infancy, and the family moved to Berkeley, California, in 1929. After his parents' divorce in 1933 Dick moved with his mother to Washington, D.C., where he attended boarding school. In 1939 they moved back to Berkeley. Dick graduated from Berkeley High School in 1945.
From 1948 to 1952 Dick worked at a Berkeley record store. One of the customers was Jeanette Marlin, whom he married on 14 May 1948. Dick's drug and alcohol addictions and mental instability made him almost unbearable to live with, and the stormy marriage officially ended on 30 November 1948.
In 1947 Dick began writing fiction with an eye toward publication, finally publishing a short story in 1951 in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He became a prolific writer and in 1952 decided to write full-time. In June 1950 he married Kleo Apostolides. When more than one of his stories would appear in a single issue of a magazine, Dick would sometimes use the pen names Richard Phillips and Jack Dowland to give the illusion that the stories were by different authors. In 1958 he divorced Kleon and married Anne Williams Rubenstein, with whom he had one daughter. They divorced in 1964.
Dick published nineteen novels and one collection of short stories during the 1960s. He tried to break out of science fiction by writing modernist, realistic novels, but these did not find publishers. In 1962 his most acclaimed novel, The Man in the High Castle, was published. It is a multilayered narrative with thematic depth, heralding the many complex novels to come. In this alternate history tale, Germany and Japan have won World War II and divided North America between them. The main character, Mr. Tagomi, tries to find ways to relieve Americans from the horrors of Nazi brutality. The book is built around one of Dick's most important themes: distinguishing what is real from what is not real. For example, an underground novel, an alternate history in which Germany and Japan lose World War II, circulates in Japanese-held territory. The Man in the High Castle explores such issues as whether fiction can accurately convey reality and whether it is possible to separate wishful thinking from fact. Dick said that he spent seven years in the libraries at the University of California, Berkeley, researching the societies of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan before writing the novel. Even though it was his most popular novel, with a market for sequels, he could not bear to revisit the evil of Nazi society. In 1963 The Man in the High Castle earned the Hugo Award for the best science fiction novel of the past year.
In his 1965 novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Dick focuses on the issue of perceived reality versus actual reality by inventing a civilization in which a dope dealer poses as God. The inspiration for the novel came from a vision Dick had in 1963 while looking at the sky: a malevolent, steely face glared down at him, and he saw that it was God. Visions subsequently visited him ever more frequently, until he believed he was receiving divine revelations that he could translate into fiction. Thus the novel marks two important trends in Dick's writing: autobiographical details (drug addiction, in this case) and mysticism based on visions.
On 18 April 1967 Dick married Nancy Hackett. They had one daughter. In 1968 he published Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, later released as Blade Runner (1982) after the motion picture title. In this tale Dick investigates what defines people as human beings. Androids that look and feel to the touch exactly like human beings are illegally loose in a grim future American society, but they lack emotions, setting them apart. It was Dick's conclusion that empathy is the defining aspect of humanity.
The year is 1992 in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?—after World War Terminus, a nuclear war that poisoned the atmosphere, killing most living things. A living animal is a commodity, something of great value that serves as a status symbol as well as an investment. Even so, most "animals" are actually machines designed to look and behave like real animals. Protagonist Rick Deckard keeps an electric sheep on the roof of his home, where he cares for it as if it were alive—a wearisome process because it serves to remind him that he is wasting his time on a fake animal.
Deckard is an android hunter, and the novel tells of one day in his life in which he tracks down and kills six superbly designed androids that are pretending to be human in San Francisco. His encounters with the androids are unsettling; as he destroys each one, he becomes less certain that they are not living beings as well as machines. His day is counterpointed by the day of John Isidore, who works at a clinic for artificial animals. He is a member of a subclass called "specials," people who are not allowed to breed because of low intelligence or mutations caused by radiation. Isidore befriends three of the androids Deckard hunts and tries to show them how to empathize with other beings. Through Deckard and Isidore's experiences, Dick explores the problems people encounter respecting life and each other in an age when technology increasingly intrudes on the most intimate parts of life, and how people who rely on machines may become detached from both life and themselves.
Dick's health was deteriorating markedly by the 1970s, and he seemed to be nearing outright insanity. In 1972 he was committed to a hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he was miserable because of the harsh treatment meted out to patients. Even so, he managed to cut back on his intake of pills and alcohol, replacing them with other obsessions, such as world peace, antiabortionism, and his visions. He was released from the hospital later in 1972.
He divorced Nancy and on 18 April 1973 married Tessa Busby, with whom he had one son. He left her in 1976 and again divorced. The prospect of a motion picture being made of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? excited him. In 1982 he saw an advanced screening of Blade Runner, the tale's motion picture title, and he was happy with it. A few days later he died of heart failure. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Fort Morgan, Colorado.
Dick's reputation grew after his death. During the 1980s all of his writings came back into print. His story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" inspired the motion picture Total Recall (1990), which was a popular success, creating the prospect of more of Dick's fiction being made into movies. Some critics, perhaps extravagantly, regard Dick as one of the twentieth century's best novelists because of the depth and complexity of his best works.
The Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick (1992) offers insight into Dick's mysticism and work habits. In Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction (1980), Charles Platt offers a portrait of Dick and a short interview with him. Alexander Star offers an outstanding introduction to the major issues of Dick's life and work in "The God in the Trash: The Fantastic Life and Oracular Work of Philip K. Dick," New Republic 209, no. 23 (6 Dec. 1993): 34–42. An obituary is in the New York Times (3 Mar. 1982).
Kirk H. Beetz