For those few of you who follow this blog, you are probably wandering what happened. Did I lose interest? Of course not. I did go ahead with my original plan and continued to read PKD’s oeuvre in chronological order (as best I could and given what was available to me at varying price points). That is until I stumbled onto his mainstream novel Gather Yourselves Together. After that arduous slow long read I was awkwardly baffled. This was not the PKD I knew. I could not reconcile this book with my (albeit limited) perception of the prolific and mind-bending sci-fi author I obsessively admired. It was not in any sense phildickian. My conclusion? I knew nothing about him; I’ve never even bothered to read any of his biographies (of which there are many). Corrective action was required.
My next step was to do some research. Through it I learned that although Gregg Rickman was PKD’s chosen biographer, Lawrence Sutin’s Divine Invasions is considered to be the official biography of PKD. After some more digging I settled on the following five accounts to start on (with ease of access and lower price points being the main determining factors) and begin the process of better understanding PKD the person-author:
- Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin – all my research suggests that this volume is considered the official PKD biography. In my opinion it is thorough and well researched, but still does not give a complete picture. Also, at the time of the writing of this biography, Anne Dick’s PKD biography remained unpublished; and in some places, it is evident that Sutin’s source material is Anne’s.
- The Search for Philip K Dick by Anne R Dick – a must read written by PKD’s third wife. Some consider it to be slightly biased. I don’t know enough to offer an opinion on that matter, but it does give critical insight into his most productive years. Nonetheless, despite her groundbreaking best efforts, it’s a fragment of his life.
- I am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick by Emmanuel Carrere – a solid psychological attempt, with fictional elements, geared towards an improved understanding of PKD the man. It is an easy read, but glosses over some periods of PKD’s life. I don’t think he had a choice. A synthesis of PKD’s complex life is by its very nature encyclopedic. If Larry and Anne couldn’t do it, how could he?
- Philip K. Dick (NBM Comics Biographies) by Laurent Queyssi and Mauro Marchesi – a French graphic novel. One of the many things I learned from reading through these biographies is that PKD has a high standing in the literary world of France. This biography is by no means thorough, but it does offer a series of vignettes highlighting key moments of PKD’s life in an easy to read graphic format.
- Philip K. Dick, Wikipedia – the ubiquitous biographical online Wikipedia summaries always offer a bland factual summary. On occasion a good starting point, but I always assume they are incomplete and despite their ease of access, I consider them a lower level source.
Alas, after reading these, I felt no closer to understanding PKD the man. At best, all I could conclude was that he was a complex individual, a prophetic ‘mad’ genius of sorts, who led a tumultuous financially distressed life with many tortuous relationships. A life where he could be cruel and kind. I learned, that he had a twin sister named Jane who died soon after birth; that he wanted so badly to break into the mainstream, but perhaps recalcitrantly settled to be the unrecognized king of the sci-fi literary world; that his drug addiction was fueled by prescriptive drugs, not the leisure-pleasure drugs of the 1960s; and that although he was sickly, he projected a hypnagogic manipulative intellectual strength that bended people to his will. There is more. So much more.
In short, what I’ve read so far is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are many more biographies and archived PKD materials that I may never get a chance to read. I could spend multiple galaxy spanning lifetimes reading thru all of PKD’s work and related material, and nonetheless come no closer to a better empathic understanding of the reality of PKD the man. I now realized that I had to make some selective decisions and work my way outward thru his many biographies, writings, and adaptations if I was to have the barest glimmer of a chance to understand his rich output.
In addition to the four above biographies that I completed to date, I continue my studies by taking on Gregg Rickman’s To the High Castle, Philip K. Dick: A Life, 1928-1962 and Philip K. Dick: In His Own Words, and Paul William’s Only Apparently Real. If possible, I’d also like to access the Archives held by the Philip K. Dick Estate and the Philip K. Dick Papers held by California State University at Fullerton (no plan yet as to how I will accomplish that).
Furthermore, I’ve decided to amend my reading order of his fiction (both sci-fi and mainstream). Below is the latest list I settled on:
- The Man in the High Castle (written in 1961, published in 1962, won the 1963 Hugo Award).
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, originally titled “The Electric Toad; Do Androids Dream?”; “The Electric Sheep”; “The Killers Are Among Us! Cried Rick Deckard to the Special Man” (written in 1966, published in 1968, nominated for the 1968 Nebula for best novel).
- Ubik, originally titled “Death of an Anti-Watcher” (written in 1966, published in 1969).
- A Scanner Darkly (written in 1973, rewritten in 1975, published in 1977, won the 1979 Graouilly d’Or award for best novel presented at the Festival de Metz in France).
- The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (written in 1964, published in 1965, nominated for the 1965 Nebula for Best Novel).
- Radio Free Albemuth, originally titled “Valisystem A” (written in 1976, published in 1985, a prequel of sorts to the Valis trilogy).
- Valis (written in 1978, published in 1981).
- The Divine Invasion, originally titled “Valis Regained” (written in 1980, published in 1981, a sequel to “Valis”).
- The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, originally titled “Bishop Timothy Archer” (written in 1981, published in 1982, considered to be a work of fiction, not a science fiction novel; but it is also the third and final book of the VALIS trilogy.)
- Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (written in 1970, rewritten in 1973, published in 1974, won the 1975 John W. Campbell Award for best novel; also nominated for the 1975 Hugo for best novel and the 1974 Nebula for best novel).
- Deus Irae, in collaboration with Roger Zelazny; originally titled “The Kneeling Legless Man” (written in 1964-75, published in 1976).
- We Can Build You, originally titled “The First in Your Family” (written in 1962; published in November 1969 as “A. Lincoln, Simulacrum” in Amazing, with the final chapter written by editor Ted White; published in 1972 by DAW sans White’s final chapter).
- Martian Time-Slip, originally titled “Goodmember Arnie Kott of Mars” (written in 1962, published in August 1963 in shorter form as “All We Marsmen in Worlds of Tomorrow”, published in 1964).
- Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb (written in 1963, published in 1965. Phil had proposed two titles: “In Earth’s Diurnal Course” and “A Terran Odyssey”; nominated for the 1965 Nebula for best novel).
- The Simulacra, originally titled “The First Lady of Earth” (written in 1963, published in 1964; a portion of this novel was adapted for use in “Novelty Act,” a story published in February 1964 in Fantastic).
- Time Out of Joint (written in 1958, published in 1959).
- Now Wait for Last Year (written in 1963, rewritten in circa 1965, published in 1966).
- Galactic Pot-Healer, originally titled “The Glimmung of Plowman’s Planet” (written in 1967-68, published in 1969).
- Clans of the Alphane Moon (written in 1963-64, published in 1964).
- The Zap Gun (written in 1964, serialized November 1965 and January 1966 as “Project Plowshare,” in Worlds of Tomorrow, published in 1967 in book form).
- A Maze of Death, originally titled “The Name of the Game Is Death” (written in 1968, published in 1970).
- Solar Lottery, originally titled “Quizmaster Take All” (written in 1953-54, published in 1955). The U.S. published version differs from the U.K. published version entitled “World of Chance” (published in 1956). This is considered to be PKD’s first published full length sci-fi novel.
- The Cosmic Puppets, originally titled “A Glass of Darkness” (written in 1953, published in 1956 in Satellite, published in 1957 in slightly expanded form as half of an Ace Double).
- Eye in the Sky, originally titled “With Opened Mind” (written in 1955, published in 1957).
- Confessions of a Crap Artist (written in 1959, published in 1975).
- Puttering About in a Small Land (written in 1957, published in 1985).
- The Owl in Daylight. Phil’s last novel project. (Unpublished, perhaps I’ll be fortunate enough to read it in the next life).
I also reserve the right to pepper this blog with supplemental material analyzing his inspirations, short stories and adapted works as I progress through it. Plus, I plan to produce a chronological bibliography—it will not be accurate–that will include where to source the specific listed reading items. I had a difficult time finding any conclusive lists, and even those that I found relevant often failed to direct me on how to access or purchase any of his listed novels, short stories, or essays. As a matter of fact, I’m still on a quest for a digital copy of one of PKD’s earliest sci-fi writings: Stratosphere Betsy. Then, if and when I get through the above amended reading list, I’ll begin discriminatively reading his other works. But, I may on occasion deviate from the master plan.
For those of you who plan to join me on this journey, I hope these writings spur you to dig deeper into the meta-reality of PKD the man. And please, feel free to comment, encourage, or even criticize.
Disclaimer: this is an amateur attempt, and I claim no academic or inside knowledge. I am only a fan, and in no way affiliated with PKD. I’ll make sure to credit my sources, but errors will be made, and I will be solely responsible. Feel free to correct me, but please do so with a gentle hand. Let’s talk first.