December 17, 2013

Starting Philip K. Dick

Next up in my START HERE project is Philip K. Dick, another author I've long intended to try. The reading pathway for Dick, written by Steve Randolph, is more loosely structured than the previous ones. I chose two of the recommended novels to serve as my introduction to Dick's massive catalog.

→ I began with EYE IN THE SKY, which I would not actually recommend as a starting point, because it was only so-so.

The book opens with an accident at a particle accelerator that causes a tour group to fall into the beam. Despite the science-y premise, everything else that happens is more fantastical and absurd. When the accident victims regain consciousness, they find the world has changed in ways that are either terrible or terrific, depending on which character you ask. As the strange new world becomes more menacing, the characters have to figure out what's going on and how they can get back to the world they know.

I liked some of the plot ideas, though others didn't do much for me. The book is definitely more focused on plot than character -- the people in the story are fairly one-dimensional, and their actions often didn't make a ton of sense. It was a quick and reasonably entertaining read, but dated in both style and content.

→ I found THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE to be a far more interesting and better executed book. It's not flawless, and it's also very much a product of its time (it was published in 1962), but I do recommend it.

In this alternate history, Germany and Japan were the winners of World War II and divided up the United States. Most of the novel takes place in the Japanese-controlled Pacific States of America (the west coast), a relatively benevolent occupation in which whites have second-class status but are still mostly allowed to carry on with their lives and livelihoods. Things are less pleasant for non-Germans in the Nazi-controlled east.

The plot follows a number of characters of different backgrounds who are dealing with situations both political and personal. As the text jumps between the characters and we find out how their problems are interconnected, we get a good sense of how this world operates. I appreciated the way that the premise and facts of the world are revealed gradually, without ever requiring big chunks of exposition. On the other hand, I could have done without some of the large chunks of philosophy and social commentary.

On the whole, I found the story engrossing and the setting well-developed. I was dissatisfied by how the plot resolved, but that may have been because I'd been led to expect something else. After I read Matt Ruff's THE MIRAGE last year, I saw many reviews comparing it to this book. The two novels have parallels, but the stories are quite different.

What other Dick novels or stories should I read or avoid? I've bought THE PHILIP K. DICK READER, a collection of his short stories, and I intend to dip into it soon.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At the New York Times' Opinionator, Marie Myung-Ok Lee argues that the Internet is a welcome distraction: "While I still have epiphanic moments while staring out my window like a proper author, or am inspired by a long article in the New York Review of Books, I am just as often prompted by a random bit I've gleaned on a friend's Twitter feed as it speeds by, or the latest ha-ha list from BuzzFeed."


Iphy said...

I've mostly read his novels and not much of his short story work. In my opinion if you want to know about PKD's writing, you should read "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch". It's also my favorite; but that's independent of my opinion that it is really a good way to be exposed to what PKD is doing.

Lisa Eckstein said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I've added it to my list.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Philip Dick's work is much loved, though it's taken my three novels to get it. The first I read was "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said," which was the basis for the movie "Bladerunner." I read it as a teen - but I seem to have forgotten everything about it, even whether I liked it. In college I tried "Man in the High Castle," which was highly recommended and I found myself vaguely disappointed. I don't know; I didn't quite buy the alternative history? Finally, I read "A Scanner Darkly" right before the 2006 movie version came out. I liked that one best. Maybe because it doesn't try very hard to be futuristic. It is a novelization of post-hippie SoCal drug culture with some paranoiac tech additions. That's my Dick experience so far.

Lisa Eckstein said...

Thanks for sharing your experience with this author, Glenn. I liked the movie of A Scanner Darkly, and I'll have to give the novel a try.

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