Even readers not particularly well versed in science fiction know Philip K. Dick as the author of the stories that would become such cinematic visions of a troubled future as Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly. Dick’s fans know him better through his 44 novels, 121 short stories, and other writings not quite categorizable as one thing or the other. All came as the products of a creatively hyperactive mind, and one subject to more than its fair share of disturbances from amphetamines, hallucinogens, unconventional beliefs, and what those who write about Dick’s work tend to call paranoia (either justified or unjustified, depending on whom you ask). But Dick, who passed in 1982, channeled this constant churn of visions, theories, convictions, and fears into books like The Man in the High Castle, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ubik, and VALIS, some of the most unusual works of literature ever to carry the label of science fiction — works that, indeed, transcend the whole genre.
But what must it have felt like to live with the guy? The Penultimate Truth About Philip K. Dick (named after his 1964 novel of humanity tricked into living in underground warrens) seeks out the writer’s friends, colleagues, collaborators, stepdaughter, therapist, and wives (three of them, anyway), assembling a portrait of the man who could create so many textual worlds at once so off-kilter and so tapped into our real worries and obsessions. Each of these interviewees regards differently Dick’s dedication to the pursuits of both literary achievement and psychonautical adventure, his complicated conception of the true nature of reality, his at times unpredictable behavior, and his penchant for encounters with the divine. Director Emeliano Larre and writer Patricio Vega’s 2007 documentary reveals one of the most fascinating personalities in late 20th-century letters, though, as any professor of literature will tell you, we ultimately have to return to the work itself. Fortunately, Dick’s personality ensured that we have a great deal of it, all of it unsettling but greatly entertaining. Readers taken note. You can Download 14 Great Sci-Fi Stories by Philip K. Dick as Free Audio Books and Free eBooks.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.