Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Predictions of Philip K. Dick

Like so many writers of science fiction, the visions of Philip K. Dick have proved prophetic again and again. The world of 'plastic' in terms of gated communities and credit cards was described in 'Through a Scanner Darkly'. Another story of his described a situation very much like that of Second Life.

In Dick's novel, 'The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch', published in 1965, overpopulation had forced expansion into space. As colonies like Mars were uninhabitable in natural terms, the 'homes' for the colonists were very austere and depressing, without gardens or any aesthetic improvements. Colonisation was not voluntary, but rather imposed on individuals by the U.N. A 'virtual world' was the only means by which many of the colonists remained sane. The novel was written long before personal computers were invented. Philip Dick used 'dollhouses' and miniature worlds as the medium, with interaction between the players enhanced by special drugs that allowed them to believe they had become the dolls or avatars, enjoying a superior existence only as long as the drug remained active. In 'Three Stigmata', it was the P.P. Layout Company that manufactured both the 'Perky Pat' and 'Walt' dolls as well as the illicit substance known as 'Cand-D' that operated to create a collective hallucinogenic experience for its users.

This is only a small part of the novel, but the concept has become part of our era in the form of 'Second Life'. Being able to use an avatar in a world in which each 'resident' can participate in creating, modifying, expanding as well as interacting with other residents in real time takes Philip Dick's concept to another level. Where 'Three Stigmata' described the 'Perky Pat' fantasy as a means of escape from a negative reality controlled by the sinister P.P. Layout Company for its own profit, 'Second Life' is a voluntary exploration by residents of other realities intended only to enrich the first life.

Philip Dick, like many writers of speculative or science fiction, used the genre as a vehicle for his own spiritual, social and philosophical concerns. The tale was rather depressing, in fact, like many of his works, with an underlying lesson as to the possible ultimate effect of overpopulation of this Earth. Drug use and abuse was another recurring topic in both his fiction and non-fiction. Like many artists and writers, Philip Dick was fascinated by drugs, especially those with 'reality-altering' potential, but he had very negative feelings about them as well. His own life was punctuated by personal catastrophes, acts of self-destruction and chronic depression. Despite that, he continued to maintain his faith in humanity and his incredible genius never was allowed to become dormant. He continued to write prolifically until his death.

The official site of Philip K. Dick is at:


I believe he was one of the greatest thinkers of the latter half of the 20th century. His writing was extremely uneven, with flashes of great brilliance but much that could have been improved in technical terms. Despite this, he has emerged as a far greater writer historically than most and his fame will endure. Like many writers, he never was fully acknowledged by the world during his lifetime, and struggled with chronic poverty, exacerbated by his propensity to marry and divorce again and again.

Of his own vision in literature, Philip Dick wrote: 'I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards. Okay, so I should revise my standards; I'm out of step. I should yield to reality. I have never yielded to reality. That's what SF is all about. If you wish to yield to reality, go read Philip Roth; read the New York literary establishment mainstream bestselling writers….This is why I love SF. I love to read it; I love to write it. The SF writer sees not just possibilities but wild possibilities. It's not just 'What if' - it's 'My God; what if' - in frenzy and hysteria. The Martians are always coming.'

Of his faith in human potential, he wrote: 'I mean, after all; you have to consider we're only made out of dust. That's admittedly not much to go on and we shouldn't forget that. But even considering, I mean it's a sort of bad beginning, we're not doing too bad. So I personally have faith that even in this lousy situation we're faced with we can make it. You get me?'

Finally, I personally can identify with Philip Dick's own motivation in writing. He described the force that drove him as: 'I am a fictionalising philosopher, not a novelist; my novel & story-writing ability is employed as a means to formulate my perception. The core of my writing is not art but truth. Thus what I tell is the truth, yet I can do nothing to alleviate it, either by deed or explanation. Yet this seems somehow to help a certain kind of sensitive troubled person, for whom I speak. I think I understand the common ingredient in those whom my writing helps: they cannot or will not blunt their own intimations about the irrational, mysterious nature of reality, &, for them, my corpus is one long ratiocination regarding this inexplicable reality, an integration & presentation, analysis & response & personal history.'


MarcLord said...

The Martians Are Always Coming

Beautiful. I haven't read much P.K. Dick. Quite honestly, I find him to be a mind-altering substance, and he scares me. Somehow a person who amplifies thoughts you're already thinking can be the one who really gets under your skin. So a little of him goes a long way.

Yet Blade Runner is probably my favorite movie of all time. It's an existential valentine. And it seems obvious that Vonnegut based one of his recurring characters, Kilgore Trout, on P.K.D.

Freyashawk said...

You are absolutely correct. Philip Dick often has terrified me as well, like a psychic mirror that showing us possibilities that could take us to the edge of the abyss or even send us plunging downwards.

'Blade Runner' is a tremendous film, but I liked the original story even more. I often think about the cult he described that required its devotees to use the 'black box' to experience the life of the saint, ever trying to climb the steep mountain while being pelted with stones and missiles...

Kind of a spiritual GameCube or X Box... That man was a seer!