not paranoid--synchronistic.

Dana Beal dana at
Sat Jul 20 18:34:43 EDT 2002

This Generation Needs a Paranoid's Paranoid

The distance between the world we live in and the world depicted in 
science fiction has narrowed dramatically in recent years. Novels 
that once seemed futuristic because they featured pocket computers, 
palm-sized phones and genetically enhanced people have become dated - 
artifacts from a recent past. Minuscule by tradition, the science 
fiction market has contracted further, making it even more difficult 
for writers to find an audience.

The most dramatic exception is Philip K. Dick, a wildly original, 
amphetamine-addled genius who was married five times and found time 
to write 36 novels and 130 short stories in a 30-year career that, 
despite his productivity, kept him nearly broke for most of his life. 
Twenty years after his death, Mr. Dick has gained literary 
respectability and is one of the hottest properties in Hollywood.

Mr. Dick's books and stories were mainly out of print and seemed 
destined for oblivion when he died in 1982. Now his short stories 
have been collected in a five-volume set published by Citadel Press 
that shows the evolution of his ideas. Vintage Books is embarked on a 
mammoth effort that will bring more than 30 of his books into print, 
slickly packaged to appeal to readers who would never be caught dead 
with an old-fashioned pulp novel.

Mr. Dick's fortunes began to change just after his death when one of 
his more popular books appeared as the cult film "Blade Runner," a 
classically Dickian tale of a cold-blooded police state that enslaves 
man-made human beings - called "replicants" - and murders them when 
they attempt to go free. Since "Blade Runner," Mr. Dick's work has 
been the basis of five movies, with three others in development.

His writing stands apart from much of science fiction because it is 
driven more by characters and ideas than by technology. His best work 
recalls the intellectual puzzles of Jorge Luis Borges, particularly 
"The Circular Ruins," in which Borges's central character discovers 
that he is a figment of someone's imagination.

The engine that makes Mr. Dick's stories go is a pervasive and finely 
articulated paranoia about government, technology, personal 
relationships - and the nature of reality itself. His books are often 
based on the eerie premise that workaday reality is actually a 
projection, produced by drug-induced hallucinations or manipulated by 
omnipresent and sinister powers-that-be. It's a generous, 
all-encompassing paranoia for a post-"X-Files" America in which 
institutions like the C.I.A. and F.B.I. seem too inept to oppose the 
kind of threat we feel around us. In Philip Dick's world, reality 
itself can be the culprit, and his current popularity suggests a 
willingness by readers to embrace the premise that nothing is ever 
what it seems to be - and that free will matters little as we make 
our way through life.

Mr. Dick's paranoid style is displayed quite nicely in the two films 
based on his work that were released this year. In "Minority Report," 
Tom Cruise plays a cop who works for a crooked "precrime" bureau that 
uses clairvoyants to anticipate murders, then arrests the would-be 
criminals before they commit them. The movie ends with the guilty 
fingered and the innocent exonerated, and everyone living happily 
ever after. In the Dick story, however, the corrupt precrime 
enterprise grinds on and on with its wrongs undetected.

Hollywood is crazy for Mr. Dick's plots, but much less fond of his 
bleak conclusions. The most faithful film rendering of a Dick story 
to date, which also appeared this year, is "Impostor," which stars 
Gary Sinise as a government scientist who is charged with being an 
alien, replicant suicide bomber who has killed the real scientist and 
taken his place. The good doctor is firmly convinced of his innocence 
until reality undergoes a violent, Dickian shift, and the world comes 
apart. The studio is said to have been quite upset about the dark 

Philip K. Dick came by his paranoia and suspicion quite naturally. 
His parents were an unhappy, mismatched couple who somehow allowed 
his twin sister, Jane, to starve to death shortly after birth. Baby 
Philip would clearly have followed suit had not a visiting doctor 
rescued him at the last minute. The constant references to doubles in 
Mr. Dick's stories flow from his self-confessed fixation on his 
missing twin, who wasted away in a "normal" middle-class home where 
neither parent seemed to notice that something was terribly wrong 
with the children.

The soulless androids that populate many of his stories are the 
fictional replicants of his distant, government-issue parents - a 
disengaged mother and a germ-phobic father whose fear of disease kept 
young Philip imprisoned in his crib at a time when most small 
children are crawling and learning to walk.

A bizarre childhood produced a peculiar adult. Mr. Dick suffered 
depression and agoraphobia, a fear of public places. He became 
addicted to amphetamines, which lifted his depression but deepened 
his paranoia. Stoked up on drugs, he would write for days on end, 
projecting his phobias and fixations onto paper.

The deepening interest in Mr. Dick makes it inevitable that there 
will be a movie about his life - pitchmen are probably describing it 
as "A Beautiful Mind on Speed." He expected posthumous fame and was 
suspicious of it. In one of his novels a character named Philip Dick 
is imprisoned by a sinister government agency and told that his books 
will be written and published under his name even in the event of his 
death. Philip K. Dick craved literary recognition. But had fame 
arrived in his lifetime, one gets the feeling that he would have seen 
it, as he saw just about everything, as part of some sinister plot.

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So what do you think of that Stock Market? Are we re-living 1930, or 
what? Gotta turn this Staples fella onto  VALIS, TRANSMIGRATION OF 


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