A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm continually surprised, now with my third read, how much fun I have with this novel. How much fun I have with the bugs. Or how much fun I have with the missing gears on the bike. Or how much fun I have with Bob, Fred, or whoever the hell the main character is. :) By the end, he is entirely nameless.
I think, more than anything, I love the philosophy that is snuck in at random moments or explored in long stretches without a direct reference. PKD's afterward is very nice and also very sad, but the core idea is not lost.
We were all just kids not wanting to grow up, but the punishment was entirely out of scope with that crime.
This is, ostensibly, a novel about drugs, but it is also something much deeper.
It is a novel about ennui, confusion, paranoia, and the senseless horror of living a world that cannot know what it wants, or if it does, refuses to give an inch when it comes to forgiving itself. You might say it is a hell of our own creation. Deep? Not really. Kinda obvious. But so obvious that we continually forget the fact and get caught up in our continual confusion until we utterly forget it. And then, when we have someone pipe up with the pithy observation that we're living in a hell of our own creation, we laugh and get a hammer and kill the poor fool or get him hooked on drugs or send him to a mental institution or we follow him around like some guru and shave our heads and no one pays him any mind anyway.
Hello, Phil! Oh wait, you died right after you FINALLY got out of poverty when they made Blade Runner. You lived in abject poverty all your life... and now we have movie after movie after movie made from your legacy.
Yep. Sounds about right. Welcome to the Empire. It never ended.
This is my second time reading this wonderful novel, and I see no reason to revise any of my initial impressions. It's still very enjoyable... Again. Maybe I have a soft spot in my heart for all those wonderful novels that either deal with the nature of reality, of conscious identity, of drug use, or just plain consequences of one's actions.
Fortunately for me, I've got so many of my favorite themes in one novel. To me, it builds on the success of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and only mildly resonates with any overt SF gadgethood. Instead, it speculates wildly about the people who use and the people who suffer, showing us all how much worse the punishment is for what is, in effect, a victimless crime.
A discussion about Pot? If so, it is rather early in the turning of the wheel. We're shown people having fun despite the darkness of their lives and despite the heavy consequences, whether by huge mental instability, outright madness, incarceration, brainwashing, and last but not least, inequity of justice.
Maybe the last isn't as obvious until you read the author's afterward, or maybe it'll bash you over the head as you roam the fields. Either way, Death is only an inversion of self, and the faster a person runs toward fulfilling themselves through drugs or hedonism, the faster they lose everything that matters in their lives.
PKD's dark universe and exploration of the mind falling apart, of draconian measures tearing harmless people apart, of the absolute irony of the end of the novel... all of it is a testimony of heartbreak in the midst of humor.
I happen to know a bit about PKD's life. He wasn't the drug fiend that people made him out to be. He smoked some pot and dropped a few tabs of acid in his life, but he was also a man of his times. He WROTE as a man of his time. He was more interested in philosophy and the nature of reality, religion, and the mind that most writers, but that's not to say he was anything other than paranoid. He was. And that was the main feature of most of his great novels. Counterculture was his passion. So was questioning the fabric of reality.
Some of his last novels exemplify this. A later brain tumor cannot explain away the devotion to these threads of themes, although I think we can all agree that it did make him a bit obsessive about it.
Regardless, this was first and foremost a deliberate novel set out to deliberately show the blurred definitions between the norms and the abnorms, the crazies and the sane, the users and the clean. Everything was merely a reversal in the glass. Narcs and pushers were practically the same, and the funniest bits of the book had to be either the antics of the friends or the deliciousness of having our MC ironically persecute himself every step of the way.
What a beautiful novel. Not my absolute favorite of his works, but it is crazy good.
Now, off to re-watch the great Linklater film!
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