Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Life and Times of Philip Dick

Ever since I first started reading science fiction, I've been fascinated by Philip Dick.  At a time when a lot of science fiction has degenerated into mediocre swords-and sorcery or Tolkein wanna be's, Dick's writing still captured the zeitgeist of the 20th, now 21 century.

You won't find beautiful heroines in his books or space travel either. His "robots" in Blade Runner seem as human as the conflicted main protagonist. His main characters are ordinary people, caught up in a web they only dimly understand, where they are relentlessly lied too and manipulated.

 "People cannot put their finger anymore on what is real and what is not real," observes Paul Verhoeven, the one-time Dutch mathematician who directed Total Recall. "What we find in Dick is an absence of truth and an ambiguous interpretation of reality. Dreams that turn out to be reality, reality that turns out to be a dream. This can only sell when people recognize it, and they can only recognize it when they see it in their own lives."

In a 1978 essay he wrote: "We live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups. I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudorealities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives. I distrust their power. It is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing."

Filmed in 1994 by the BBC, A Day in the Afterlife looks back at Dick’s short and often troubled life and his sprawling body of literary work – 44 novels and 121 short stories in total. The film runs 57 minutes and, if you’re interested, you can download three of his works from Open Culture's collection of Free Audio Books.

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