dana at cures-not-wars.org
Sat Jul 20 18:34:43 EDT 2002
This Generation Needs a Paranoid's Paranoid
By BRENT STAPLES
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.
Forum: Join a Discussion on Today's Editorials
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
TIMOTHY ARCHER-- and the IBOGAINE STORY.
More information about the Ibogaine