A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

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Book Information  
AuthorPhilip K. Dick
TitleA Scanner Darkly
GenreScience Fiction
Book Reviews / Comments (submitted by readers)
Submitted by Michael Montgomery 
(Nov 26, 2006)

This is a dark, depressing, nostalgic and surreal story by a man who had strange experiences on drugs, lost friends on drugs, and possessed a memory tainted by drugs. Philip K. Dick states at the end of the book, effectively in his epilogue, that he dedicated the work to those lost friends 'who were punished entirely too much for what they did'. The beauty of this book, A Scanner Darkly, is that it is very much based on the author's life and experiences. There is bitterness, there is hate, there is lost love and regret. Amongst it all there is satire and humour, but mostly dark and cruel.

I have to say that reading this book is more than just reading a story. You are getting the feelings and emotions of a man - Mr. Dick - whose life was a tangled mess. An innocent person robbed by the world and its merciless devices. The drugs and situations that lead to him forgetting his very own person cause him to forget who he really is. When this work is read in a more earnest and compassionate light, we cannot, as a reader, help feeling a deep sorrow for the outcomes and consequences we witness. Childish decisions arising from a lack of interest in life, a state of boredom and all the other emotions we know from the years we spend doing irresponsible things, without care to others, are paid for in blood. This book can invoke a feeling that ones gets when you think 'I wonder what ever became of so-and-so', and we fall into a moment of nostalgia. Perhaps idealist and exaggerated, but nevertheless craving for times and people gone by.

However, this kind of appreciation of the book may not come for some time. You need a while for it to sit in your belly, so to speak. There is a lot of sacrifice, sometimes not even made by the person themselves, but by a higher power. There are certain lessons the characters learn that we, as readers, can also learn from. The story, I am tempted to say, is not necessarily the core of this novel. The recent film adaptation, in my opinion, didn't work for this very reason: it was focused on the story and dialogue too much and not enough on the deeper aspects - the pains and trials of the characters, their moral development and understanding as individuals, their private thoughts and memories that are never revealed verbally. As far as I'm concerned, the film version was something else altogether. It just didn't work.

Anyway, one should read this as you might read the memoirs of a dying man looking back over his life. If you are mature enough to deeply appreciate the message that Dick was trying to give, then you will doubtless remember this book for years to come. What is sad about Dick's Author's Note is that is that he lists himself amongst the 'people who wanted to keep having a good time forever, and were punished for that'. It then strikes you that the other ten or so friends he includes made the basis for his characters, and that in fact what you were reading was a disguised chapter of his very own life. Or, at least, this was how he chose to express it.

On the other hand, I may be speaking dribble. After all, doesn't every book incorporate something from the author's own life. I don't know. Maybe. You decide.

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