A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick

He wondered how much of the insanity of the day—his insanity—had been real, or just induced as a contact lunacy, by the situation.

I'd heard of A Scanner Darkly just in the course of reading Dick's other writings, but I got more interested in it when I heard it was being made into a movie (like so many of his other stories), this time by the guy behind "Waking Life."

The book follows Fred, an undercover narcotics agent who is posing as Bob Arctor, a dealer of the mind-bending Substance D. The drug, however, is eating away at Fred/Bob's brain, to the point where he's becoming two different people, and no longer realizes he's investigating himself.

Dick takes us into Fred/Bob's mind, allowing us to experience the disorientation as his identities grow apart. The effects of Substance D are particularly well-illustrated by the character Jerry Fabin, who sees aphids all over himself and spends his days trying to rid himself of them. The whole book works as a "Don't Do Drugs" public service announcement.

Dick's other obsession, aside from the nature of identity and reality, seems to be the New Testament. In the introduction to I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon, Dick describes a theory in which time is an illusion, we're all living in the first century AD, and Christ is in fact coming back soon, but we've been deluded into thinking centuries have passed. In A Scanner Darkly (the title itself is a reference to Paul's "a glass darkly"), Bob Arctor imagines time to be a loop: "The First and Second Coming of Christ the same event, he thought; time a cassette loop. No wonder they were sure it'd happen, He'd be back."

Even as the outcome of the story seems inevitable, Dick manages to twist the story again, once again toying with identities. When I got to the third act of the book, the tone seemed quite different and I wasn't sure I liked it anymore, but the payoff at the end was worth it.

A scary and sad prediction of life in the 90s (it was written in 1977), but worth a read.

Fed to jonathan's brain | August 03, 2006 | Comments (0)


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