Fruitful, Consuming Paranoia: A Sci-Fi Master’s Madness

Tuesday, September 21st, 2004

In Fruitful, Consuming Paranoia: A Sci-Fi Master’s Madness, Sam Munson reviews I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick:

It’s difficult to imagine a writer who could have appreciated the adaptation of his works into a series of increasingly bad movies more than Philip K. Dick. The progression from Blade Runner through Total Recall to Paycheck has all the hallmarks of one of his stories — black irony, psychological degradation and the implication of a vast conspiracy organized to deceive and persecute one man. The young Dick would have written it as a dark comedy, the older as a bizarre Christian fable.

Dick’s journey from neurotic bohemian to full-blown religious psychotic is as fascinating a tale as anything he ever wrote. And it has fallen into capable hands in Emmanuel Carrère’s I Am Alive and You Are Dead.

Philip K. Dick was never particularly sane:

He was born in Chicago in 1928. After his parents’ divorce, his mother Dorothy took him first to Washington, D.C., and then to Berkeley, Calif. Philip was a withdrawn and sensitive child, subjected to both Freudian and Jungian therapy by the time he was 15. His anxious, self-dramatizing mother lived, in Mr. Carrère’s phrase, in a state of excited “bovarysme.” It’s not surprising, given these circumstances, that Dick turned toward literature, and particularly toward the fantastic and grotesque.

In his early 20′s, after an adolescence colored by his mother’s subtle domination and his fears of latent homosexuality, he published his first science-fiction story and decided he’d found his vocation. From his beginnings as an unknown and frustrated writer of science fiction, he became a theological guru and existential mascot to the burgeoning counterculture, a highly respected author in a small but explosively broadening field; he finished as a prematurely aged, functional-but-insane casualty of LSD and scores of other drugs, writing an interminable religious text called the Exegesis. He died in 1982, after achieving his first substantial material success with the sale of the movie rights to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novel that would become Blade Runner.

In the last decade of his life, Philip K. Dick “came to the conclusion that reality as we know it is an illusion used by the Roman Empire to numb the minds of Christians.” Riiiiggghhhht.

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