I am a fan of science fiction.
Not a rabid fan, a fanatic, an aficionado or any other writerly words (I’m still looking for a time to use verisimilitude, the ultimate writer’s word), but I do appreciate a good sci-fi yarn and I’ve read a fair amount.
Some of my faves: Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead), Ursual K. LeGuin (The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed), Alfred Bester (The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination and especially his short story, Fondly Fahrenheit), Niven‘s Ringworld and The Mote in God’s Eye (with Jerry Pournelle), Heinlein‘s Starship Troopers, Frederik Pohl‘s Gateway, Asimov, Bradbury, and the list goes on.
I tell you that about myself so you know that, while I am not a sci-fi reader of the utmost authority, I do have a pretty good idea of the lay of the land. And it is from this platform I ask:
Is Philip K. Dick the greatest sci-fi writer ever?
You should know this about me, too, though it may seriously reduce my credibility: I have never read a word written by Philip K. So why, you might ask, would I deign to ask such a question?
A couple of nights ago, I saw the movie The Adjustment Bureau.
Going in, I didn’t know it was from a Philip K. Dick story (the K. stands for Kindred, by the way). I watched the movie and was totally intrigued by the premise (although left only mildly liking the movie) and was not surprised when the end credits rolled and I found out the original story was penned by Mr. Dick. It left me wanting to read the original to find out if the sci-fi master would really have God come in and solve all the problems (sorry for spoiling the ending but you would have figured it out — it’s Hollywood, after all).
Now, I realize there are some of you reading this blog who may be thinking to themselves: Philip who?, so here’s an overview of the man that will probably make you realize you know more of him than you may think.
Philip K. Dick published 44 novels and over 120 stories from the time of his first in 1951 to his death in 1982 (at a far-too-young 53 years old). So far, 10 of his works have been made into movies:
The aforementioned Adjustment Bureau (from the story ‘Adjustment Team’), Paycheck (a sad attempt starring Ben Affleck), Impostor starring Gary Sinise (worth finding at the video store), A Scanner Darkly (animated drug/cop tale with Keanu Reeves), Next starring Nicholas Cage (I haven’t seen it personally — I developed a dislike for Mr. Cage’s work), and his three most famous: Minority Report starring Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall (from the story ‘We Can Remember it for You Wholesale), and Blade Runner from the story ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (if not the best sci-fi flick ever made, certainly in the top 5).
Any of those ring a bell?
A few more of his pieces are said to be in development, including The Man in the High Castle, for which he won a Hugo award, King of the Elves, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and Ubik, named by Time magazine as one of the top 100 novels published since 1923.
So why the sudden fascination with this writer, Bruce? You haven’t even read any.
The reason I write this blog is this: if you’ve seen any of these movies (some good, some bad, some ugly), you’ll know that they all do one thing… they make you think. Mr. Dick had an amazing imagination and way of looking at the world, so much so it’s impossible to see one of these features, no matter the quality of the film making, and not come away feeling affected and thinking about things in a different way. I so much like what he came up with that, even without reading his work , I’m convinced his writing must leave him near the pinnacle of the sci-fi world, waving from the balcony with the like of Bradbury and Asimov.
It makes me want to go out and read some of his books.
If you do some research, you’ll find Mr. Dick had some issues (including the belief that part of a reborn Gnostic lived inside him), but I won’t get into that now. He died in 1982, before Blade Runner was released, and had financial difficulty all through his life.
The movies made from his work since his death have grossed over a $1 billion.
Life can be a bitch, can’t it?