Philip K Dick

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Philip K. Dick

Philip Kindred Dick (16 December 19282 March 1982), often known by his initials PKD, and sometimes by the pen name Richard Phillips, was an American science fiction writer and novelist who changed the genre profoundly. Though hailed during his lifetime by peers such as Stanisław Lem, Dick received little public recognition until after his death, when several popular film adaptations of his novels introduced him to a larger audience. His work is now some of the most popular in science fiction, and Dick has gained both general acclaim and critical respect.

Discarding the optimistic and simple world-view of Golden Age science fiction, Dick consistently explored the themes of the nature of reality and humanity in his novels, which were populated by common working people, rather than galactic elites. Foreshadowing the cyberpunk sub-genre, Dick brought the anomic world of Southern California to many of his works. His acclaimed novel, The Man in the High Castle (1963, winner of the Hugo Award), is a pioneering work bridging the genres of alternative history and science fiction. He also produced a tremendous number of short stories and minor works which were published in pulp magazines.

His works are characterized by a constantly eroding sense of reality, with protagonists often discovering that those close to them (or even they themselves) are secretly robots, aliens, supernatural beings, brainwashed spies, hallucinations, dead, from another time or some combination of the above.

Early life

Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Dorothy Kindred Dick. His father, Edgar Dick, was a fraud investigator for the United States Department of Agriculture. He had a twin sister, Jane. They were born six weeks premature, and Jane died on 26 January 1929. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to California.

Dick's parents divorced when he was young, and he grew up with his mother. He went to high school in Berkeley and briefly attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in German. He sold records and was a disc jockey before selling his first story in 1952. He wrote full-time, more or less, from that time forward. He sold his first novel in 1955. The 1950s were a hard-scrabble time for Dick, so much so that, as he once said, "we couldn't even pay the late fees on a library book." He associated with the pre-1960s counterculture of California and was sympathetic to beat poets and the Communist Party. There is some dispute regarding the latter and Dick later admitted to being literally thrown out of at least one of their rallies. In 1963, he won the Hugo Award for The Man in the High Castle. Dick was opposed to the Vietnam War and had a file at the FBI as a result.

Though Dick was hailed as a genius at this time in the SF world, the literary world as a whole was as yet unappreciative, and so he could only publish books at low-paying SF publishers. Consequently, while he would regularly publish novels for the next several years, he continued to struggle financially and psychologically. Even in his later years, he continued to have financial troubles. In the introduction to the 1980 short story collection "The Golden Man", Dick writes:

"Several years ago, when I was ill, Heinlein offered his help, anything he could do, and we had never met; he would phone me to cheer me up and see how I was doing. He wanted to buy me an electric typewriter, God bless him--one of the few true gentlemen in the world. I don't agree with any of the ideas he puts forth in his writing, but that is neither here nor there. One time, when I owed the IRS a lot of money and couldn't raise it, Heinlein loaned the money to me. I think a great deal of him and his wife; I dedicated a book to him in appreciation. Robert Heinlein is a fine looking man, very impressive and military in stance; you can tell he has a military background, even to the haircut. He knows I'm a flipped out freak and still he helped me and my wife when we were in trouble. That is the best in humanity, there; that is who and what I love."

This excerpt shows not only that Dick was continually having monetary troubles, but also the regard other SF writers had for him. Robert Heinlein was Dick's opposite in almost every way--certainly in politics, lifestyle, and writing style--yet they admired each other's work. Dick said of Heinlein in the same introduction, "...I consider Heinlein my spiritual father, even though our political ideologies are totally at variance."

Dick and his visions

In his youth, around the age of thirteen, Dick had a recurring dream for a number of weeks. He dreamt that he was in a bookstore, trying to find an issue of Astounding Magazine. This issue, when he found it, would contain a story called "The Empire Never Ended", which would reveal to him the secrets of the universe. As the dream repeated, the pile of magazines through which he was searching got smaller and smaller, but he never reached the bottom of it. Eventually, he became anxious that discovering the magazine would drive him mad (like the Lovecraftian Necronomicon, promising insanity to its readers). Shortly thereafter, the dreams stopped. They never returned, but the phrase "The Empire Never Ended" would appear in his later works. Template:QuoteSidebar

On 20 February 1974 he was recovering from the effects of sodium pentothal administered after the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth. Answering the door to receive a delivery of additional painkillers, he noticed the woman delivering the package was wearing a pendant with what he called the "vesicle pisces". (He probably was referring to the intersecting arcs of the vesica piscis.) After her departure, Dick began experiencing strange visions. Although this may have initially been attributed to the painkillers, after weeks of these visions, such a rationale becomes less probable. Throughout February and March of 1974 he received a series of visions which he collectively referred to as 2-3-74, shorthand for February/March of 1974. He described his initial visions as laser beams and geometric patterns, and occasionally brief pictures of Jesus and ancient Rome, which he would glimpse periodically. As the pictures increased in length and frequency, Dick claimed that he began to live a double life, one as himself and one as Thomas, a Christian persecuted by Romans in the 1st century C.E. Despite his current and past drug use, Dick accepted these visions as reality, believing that he had been contacted by a god-entity of some kind, which he referred to as Zebra, God, and most often VALIS.


VALIS is an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System; he used this term as the title of one of his novels (and continued the theme in at least three more books) and later theorized that VALIS was both a "reality generator" and a means of extraterrestrial communication. VALIS has been described as one node of an artificial satellite network originating from the star Fomalhaut in the Pisces constellation. According to Dick, the Earth satellite used "pink laser beams" to transfer information and project holograms on Earth and to facilitate communication between an extraterrestrial species and humanity. Dick claimed that VALIS used "disinhibiting stimuli" to prep the subjects for communication, in one case the symbol of the vesicle pisces. He wrote about this experience and his beliefs that the Roman empire never ended in detail in his essay, "How To Build A Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later".

At one point, during an encounter with the VALIS, Dick learned that his infant son was in danger of perishing from an unnamed malady. Routine checkups on the child had shown no trouble or illness; however, Dick insisted that thorough tests be run to ensure his son's health. The doctor eventually complied, despite the fact that there were no apparent symptoms. During the examination doctors discovered an inguinal hernia, which would have killed the child if an operation was not quickly performed. His son survived thanks to the operation, which Dick accredited to the "intervention" of VALIS.

Another event was an episode of glossolalia. Dick's wife transcribed the sounds she heard him speak, and discovered that he was speaking Koiné Greek, an ancient dialect which he had never studied. As Dick was to later discover, Koiné Greek was originally used to write the New Testament and the Septuagint. However, this was not the first time Dick had experienced glossolalia. A decade earlier, Dick claimed he was able to think, speak, and read fluent Latin under the influence of Sandoz LSD-25.

In his essay, Will the Atomic Bomb Ever be Perfected, And if so, What becomes of Robert Heinlein? Dick mentions that he began seeing pink light during an LSD experience, eight years before he wrote and attributed the so-called pink lasers to VALIS.


Regardless of the feeling that he was somehow experiencing a divine communication, Dick was unable ever to fully rationalize the events. For the rest of his life, he struggled to fully comprehend what was occurring, questioning his own sanity and perception of reality. He transcribed what thoughts he could into an 8,000 page, million word journal dubbed the Exegesis. He spent sleepless nights furiously writing into this journal, in some instances high on large quantities of amphetamines, which no doubt contributed to its eclectic tone. A recurring theme in the Exegesis is Dick's hypothesis that history had been stopped in the 1st century, and that the "Roman Empire never ended." He saw Rome as the pinnacle of materialism, which, after forcing the Gnostics underground 1900 years earlier, had kept the population of the Earth as slaves to worldly possessions. Dick believed that VALIS had contacted him and unnamed others to induce the "impeachment" of Richard M. Nixon, whom Dick believed to be the current Emperor incarnate.

As time went on, he became increasingly paranoid, imagining plots against him perpetrated by the KGB or FBI, who he believed were constantly laying traps for him. At one point he alleged that they had been responsible for a burglary at his house in which various documents had been stolen. However, he later stated that he had probably committed the burglary himself, and then forgotten he had done so.

His later works, especially the Valis trilogy, were heavily autobiographical, many with 2-3-74 references or influences. Dick was also a voracious reader of works on religion, philosophy, metaphysics, and Gnosticism, and these ideas found their way into many of his stories. The final novel to be published during his life was The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, though many more were published posthumously, most notably Lies, Inc. Dick's works may be compared with those of William S. Burroughs, though Dick is arguably less scathing and more philosophical.

Marriages and children

Dick married five times, and had two daughters and a son. All marriages ended in divorce.

  • May 1948, to Jeanette Marlin (lasted six months)
  • June 1950, to Kleo Apostolides (divorced 1958)
  • 1958, to Anne Williams Rubinstein (children: Laura Archer, born 26 February 1960) (divorced 1964)
  • 1966 or 1967 (sources conflict), to Nancy Hackett (children: Isolde, usually called "Isa") (divorced 1970)
  • 18 April 1973, to Tessa Busby (children: Christopher) (divorced 1976)


Philip K. Dick died of a stroke in 1982 without having learned what had caused his strange visions. It has been theorized that Dick suffered from epileptic discharges in his temporal lobe. This can cause subtle, non-disabling seizures which can cause feelings ranging from a general disorientation to visions often construed by the victim as "psychic" experiences or epiphanies. This particular region of the brain allows for differentiation of reality and fantasy and is very sensitive to epileptic discharges. The symptoms which go along with these discharges read like a summary of the last decade of Dick's life. Part and parcel to these kind of seizures is a behavioral phenomenon called "hypergraphia", where the subject begins obsessively documenting his or her experiences, usually in journal form.

After his death (he was disconnected from life support on 2 March but his EEG had been isoelectric for five days prior to that), his father Edgar brought his son's body to Fort Morgan, Colorado. When his twin Jane had died, a tombstone had been carved with both of their names on it, and an empty space for Philip's date of death. After fifty-three years, that final date was carved in, and Philip K. Dick was buried beside his sister.

Dick's influence

Like other more famous science fiction authors, several of Dick's stories have been made into movies. Most of these are only loosely based on Dick's original story, using them as a starting-point for a Hollywood action-adventure story. While the most admired is Ridley Scott's classic movie Blade Runner (based on Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) the action film Total Recall faithfully translates a number of Dick themes (in particular from Dick's short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale), as does Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Minority Report. All, however, introduce uncharacteristic violence and replace the typically nondescript Dick protagonist with an action hero.

Dick was apprehensive about how Blade Runner would treat his story; he refused to do a novelization of the film and was critical of it during production, especially with Ridley through articles. When given an opportunity to see some special effects sequences of Los Angeles 2019 Dick was amazed the environment was "exactly as how I'd imagined it!" Following the screening Dick and Ridley had a frank but cordial discussion of Blade Runner themes and characters, and although they had differing views Dick fully backed the film from then on. Tragically Dick passed away from a stroke less than four months before the release of the film.

John Woo's 2003 film, Paycheck, was a very loose adaptation of Dick's short story, and suffered greatly, both at the hands of critics and at the box office.

The 2002 film Impostor is based on Dick's 1953 short story of the same name. Starring Gary Sinise and Madeleine Stowe, the film includes two of Dick's most common themes: mental illness, which diminishes the sufferer's ability to discriminate between reality and hallucination, and a protagonist persecuted by an oppressive government.

The film Screamers (1995) was based on a Dick short story Second Variety; however, the location was altered from a war-devastated Earth in the story to a generic science fiction environment of a distant planet in the film. Second Variety has been cited as an influence on the scenes set in the machine-dominated future of The Terminator (1984) and its sequels.

The French film Barjo is based on Dick's non-sf book Confessions of a Crap Artist.

It has been noted, though the connection (if any) is unknown, that the subjective reality created by the cryonic Life Extension system in Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky and its Spanish original, Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) strongly resembles that of 'half-life' in Dick's Ubik. The 1998 movie The Truman Show bears a similar resemblance to Dick's novel Time Out of Joint. The 1999 David Cronenberg film "eXistenZ" features a reference to "Perky Pat", a recurring name from Dick's books, and takes as its theme virtual reality, on a number of levels.

Since his death, Dick has featured as a character in a number of novels and stories, most notably Michael Bishop's The Secret Ascension (1987; published in the UK under the author's preferred title Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas), set in a Gnostic alternative universe where his non-genre work was published but his science fiction is banned by a totalitarian USA in thrall to a demonically possessed Richard Nixon. Other fictional appearances by Dick include the short play Kindred Blood in Kensington Gore (1992) by Brian W. Aldiss and the Faction Paradox novel Of the City of the Saved... (2004) by Philip Purser-Hallard.

K. W. Jeter's Doctor Adder series has a radio disk jockey who is obviously Dick. Orval Wintermute, translator of the Nag Hammadi codices and major figure in Dick's VALIS mythos lends his name to an artificial intelligence in William Gibson's Neuromancer. Dick's influence is particularly evident in Jonathan Lethem's novels, such as Gun, With Occasional Music (1994), Amnesia Moon (1995), and Girl in Landscape (1998). Hints at Dick's VALIS can also be found in Lethem's last novel, The Fortress of Solitude (2003). Richard Linklater name-checked Dick in the climactic sequence of his experimental film Waking Life(2001) and is currently working on a film adaptation of Dick's A Scanner Darkly employing a similar rotoscoping process to the earlier film.

One influence that may be considered unusually distant from science fiction within "culture space" is the composition by Tod Machover, and performance, of an opera VALIS.


Best-known novels

Novels by year

The Game-Players of Titan
Solar Lottery
The World Jones Made
The Man Who Japed
Eye in the Sky
The Cosmic Puppets
Time Out of Joint
Dr. Futurity
Vulcan's Hammer
The Man in the High Castle
The Game-Players of Titan (ISBN 0679740651)
Martian Time-Slip
The Simulacra
Clans of the Alphane Moon
The Penultimate Truth
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb
The Crack in Space
Now Wait for Last Year
The Unteleported Man
Counter-Clock World
The Zap Gun
The Ganymede Takeover with Ray Nelson
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Galactic Pot-Healer
A Maze of Death
Our Friends from Frolix 8
We Can Build You
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
Confessions of a Crap Artist
Deus Irae with Roger Zelazny
A Scanner Darkly
The Divine Invasion
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer
The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike
The Unteleported Man (expanded edition)
Lies, Inc.
Radio Free Albemuth
Puttering About in a Small Land
In Milton Lumky Territory
Humpty Dumpty in Oakland
Mary and the Giant
The Broken Bubble
Nick and the Glimmung (for children)
Gather Yourselves Together

Short stories

The short stories of Philip K. Dick have recently been republished in five omnibus volumes, as follows:

  1. The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford and Other Stories, ISBN 0806511532
  2. We Can Remember It for You Wholesale and Other Stories, ISBN 0806512091
  3. Second Variety and Other Stories, ISBN 0806512261
  4. The Minority Report and Other Stories, ISBN 0806512768
  5. The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Stories, ISBN 0806513284
Beyond Lies the Wub
The Gun
The Little Movement
The Skull
The Variable Man
The Builder
The Commuter
The Cookie Lady
The Cosmic Poachers
The Defenders
The Eyes Have It
The Great C
The Hanging Stranger
The Impossible Planet
The Indefatigable Frog
The Infinities
The King of the Elves
Martians Come in Clouds
Mr. Spaceship
Out in the Garden
Piper in the Woods
Planet for Transients
The Preserving Machine
Project: Earth
Second Variety
Some Kinds of Life
The Trouble with Bubbles
The World She Wanted
A World of Talent
The Last of the Masters
Adjustment Team
Beyond the Door
Breakfast at Twilight
The Crawlers
The Crystal Crypt
Exhibit Piece
The Father-thing
The Golden Man
James P. Crow
Jon's World
The Little Black Box
Of Withered Apples
A Present for Pat
Prize Ship
Prominent Author
Sales Pitch
Shell Game
The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford
Small Town
Strange Eden
Survey Team
Time Pawn
Tony and the Beetles
The Turning Wheel
Upon the Dull Earth
Captive Market
The Chromium Fence
Foster, You're Dead! In German:
The Hood Maker
Human Is
The Mold of Yancy
Psi-man Heal My Child!
Service Call
A Surface Raid
Vulcan's Hammer
War Veteran
A Glass of Darkness
Minority Report
Pay for the Printer
To Serve the Master
The Unreconstructed M
Explorers We
Fair Game
Recall Mechanism
War Game
All We Marsmen
The Days of Perky Pat
If There Were No Benny Cemoli
What'll We Do With Ragland Park?
Cantata 140
A Game of Unchance
Novelty Act
Oh, to be a Blobel!
Orpheus with Clay Feet
Precious Artifact
The Unteleported Man
The War with the Fnools
What the Dead Men Say
Project Plowshare
Retreat Syndrome
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Holy Quarrel
We Can Remember It For You Wholesale
Your Appointment Will Be Yesterday
Faith of our Fathers
Return Match
Not By Its Cover
The Story To End All Stories
A. Lincoln, Simulacrum
The Electric Ant
Cadbury, the Beaver Who Lacked
The Different Stages of Love
The Pre-persons
A Little Something For Us Tempunauts
The Exit Door Leads In
I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon
Rautavaara's Case
Chains of Air, Web of Aethyr
The Alien Mind
Strange Memories Of Death
The Day Mr. Computer Fell Out of Its Tree
The Eye of The Sibyl
Fawn, Look Back
Goodbye, Vincent
The Name of the Game is Death

Film adaptations of Philip K. Dick's works



  • Carrere, Emmanuel. Bent, Timothy. (translator) (2005). I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick. Picador. ISBN 0312424515 [reviewed by Michael Saler in the Times Literary Supplement, 5 August 2005, page 10]
  • Dick, Ann R. (Former Wife). (1995). Search for Philip K. Dick, 1928-1982: A Memoir and Biography of the Science Fiction Writer. Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 0773491376
  • Mason, Daryl. (2006). The Biography of Philip K. Dick. Gollancz. ISBN 0575072806
  • Sutin, Lawrence (Official biographer). (1991). Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick. Citadel Press; Rep edition. ISBN 0806512288
  • Williams,Paul. (1986). Only Apparently Real - The Worlds of Philip K. Dick. Entwhistle Books. ISBN 0934558310


  • Apel, D. Scott. (1999). Philip K. Dick : The Dream Connection. The Impermanent Press. ISBN 1886404038
  • Lee, Gwen (ed). What If Our World Is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations Of Philip K. Dick. Overlook Press. ISBN 1585673781

See also

External links


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