Dick, Philip K. (1928-1982)

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Dick, Philip K. (1928-1982)

Author of 26 novels and 112 short stories, Philip K. Dick started his career as a science fiction writer in 1952. He was awarded the Hugo Award, a presentation made by fans, for his novel The Man in the High Castle in 1962, but he had to wait until the late 1970s to receive critical acclaim rivalling his popular reputation. His novels are uneven in quality, most containing powerful social satire. Dick has been immensely influential in contemporary science fiction writing, identifying many of the prominent concerns of cyberpunk, particularly consumerism, the cyborg, issues surrounding memory, surveillance, and mediated or artificial reality. Bladerunner (1982), the film version of his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), has become a central reference point for critical discussions of both science fiction and modern technologically driven society.

Dick's career can be roughly divided into three main stages. In the 1950s, after he had been expelled from the University of California at Berkley, he produced fiction for magazines and Ace books. Writing against a backdrop of McCarthyism, the first novels Dick produced present satirical dystopias, exaggerating aspects of contemporary social experience. Solar Lottery (1955) presents an economic

dystopia, The World Jones Made (1956) concerns the power of the police, Vulcan's Hammer (1956) the rise of a computer technocracy, and The Man Who Japed (1956) examines the totalitarianism inherent in democracy. These novels also established his interest in themes of political power and messianic figures.

It is, however, the consideration of different levels of reality and the world of appearances imposed upon ordinary characters which marks out Dick's work as radically creative and culturally astute. The Eye in the Sky (1957), The Cosmic Puppets (1956), and Time Out of Joint (1959), which all have structural inconsistencies in the worlds they portray, each deal with shifting realities and characters who defy illusion. These convoluted plots circle the issue of defining the real from the ersatz, which is a predominant theme throughout Dick's work.

The Man in the High Castle (1962), which earned Dick his Hugo Award, also debates the same theme. It is an alternate history, where the Allies have lost World War II. The novel stands out from his earlier work because it is less allegorical; its length allows Dick the space for deeper characterization and to dwell on ambiguity and irony. From this point Dick writes about existence within depleted environments and derelict worlds, particularly the harshness visualized in the Martian colonies. In The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1964) Dick concentrates on the use of drugs which allow Martian colonists to escape the severity of their lives. Dick's fiction often explores the social use of drugs, including their economic and psychological effects. This interest culminates in A Scanner Darkly (1977), where drugs promote such powerful illusions that they preempt reality.

Flow My Tears the Policeman Said (1974) was nominated for both the Nebula (writers) and the Hugo (fan) awards and it won the John W. Campbell Award, which is presented by academic writers for the best science fiction novel of the year. The book marked a stage in which Dick was ready to cast aside the more traditional conventions of science fiction, e.g., time travel, space colonies, technology, aliens, and telepathy, in order to focus on the more philosophical concerns of mainstream writing. He wrote a series of non-generic novels during the 1950s, but only one—Confessions of a Crap Artist (1975)—was published in his lifetime. His last novels, VALIS (1981), The Divine Invasion (1982), and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982) combine autobiography and realism with the metaphysical search for God.

Dick will be most remembered for Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep?, which best exemplifies his preoccupation with the nature of humanity, realized in the dystopia of a society that has wiped out animal life and supplanted it with androids. It is a novel of deep existential insight which expands its hardboiled genre for the popular market. Dick died of a stroke just before the completion of Blade Runner. In acknowledgement of his achievements, the Philip K. Dick award was established after his death to recognize the best novel of the year published originally in paperback.

—Nickianne Moody

Further Reading:

Gillespie, Bruce, editor. Philip K. Dick: Electric Shepherd. Mel-bourne, Norstrilia Press, 1975.

Olander, J. D., and M. H. Greenberg, editors. Philip K. Dick. New York, Taplinger, 1983.

Robinson, K. S. The Novels of Philip K. Dick. Michigan, UMIResearch Press, 1984.

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Dick, Philip K. (1928-1982)

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