A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly



Bob Arctor uses and sells drugs. His alter-ego, Fred, is a policeman charged with bringing Bob to justice.


I’ve never been a fan of Philip Dick, but that’s based on a very thin acquaintance – primarily his novel The Penultimate Truth (which I bought decades ago and wasn’t bowled over by) and his collaboration with Roger Zelazny, Deus Irae (one of Zelazny’s lesser works). Maybe the occasional short story here or there.

Still, Dick is one of the acclaimed geniuses of ’70s SF, so I thought I should really give him more of a try. I started with this book, which, after all, won several awards. I wish I could say it deserved them.

I seldom have much trouble finishing books. Once I commit to a book, I pretty much always read it to the end. In the e-book era, I’ve made an exception for free e-books by unknowns – if it looks bad in the first few pages, I give up. But for most everything else, I read doggedly on.

This book required a lot of doggedness. Frankly stated, the first 75% of it is just downright bad. There are signs that it was constructed carefully, but not well. Only a mildly interesting, highly implausible, wrapup rescues it from one star status.

An afterword makes clear that for Dick this was a highly personal and slightly autobiographical novel. That’s certainly interesting, but it doesn’t make up for a book that’s just not very well written.

If you’re a fan of Jack Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, or Alfred Bester, this might be for you. Otherwise, I honestly have trouble understanding why the book received the praise it did. It’s a close look at drug culture, with a slight tinge of science fiction and a lot of paranoia. Beyond that, there’s not really much there.

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