Scanning Sheep Darkly

Philip K. Dick (1928-82) remains one of the most baffling & intimidating authors of the 20th century.

His genre was science fiction, but his large body of writings & ideas extend far beyond; reaching into the worlds of film, music, art, and philosophy.   Like many great artists, PKD had his share of failures; was largely unknown when he wrote; financially insecure most of his life; and died relatively young.  Today he has a rabid cult following [2], and is deserving of a wider reading audience.

Sci-fi Classics by PKD

Sci-fi Classics by PKD

Reading is the keyword, as you’ve likely already seen many of his adapted films [3].  Disney is still attempting to animate one of his early short stories: The King of the Elves (1953) [1], which would presumably amuse Dick, if he were still alive.

Philip Dick’s masterpiece is A Scanner Darkly (1977), which also happens to be the best film adaptation of any of his works; faithfully screen-played, & intelligently directed by Richard Linklater in 2006.  The decision to animate was a must, due to the ‘scramble suit’ concept; and it’s arguably Keanu Reeves’ best film performance, in an all-star cast.

A Scanner Darkly the book, is terrifying– best described in a Village Voice review on the back flap as, “an industrial-grade stress test of identity… maybe the most unnerving drug novel ever written.”

PKD at his best warped a readers mind, blurring the lines between reality & paranoia; while describing real emotions & illustrating profound insight into human interactions. He imagined and wrote about our modern world of NSA & Intelligence Agencies spying on everybody, fifty years ago.  Philip Dick had vision.

Phil Dick also lived much of his life, as and among the world of drug addicts, which is surely the reason for his inconsistency in writing.  His fractured genius is largely ignored and/or misunderstood.  Below is a clip from The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick (2001), the best film attempt at a posthumous documentary from those who (mostly) knew the subject personally:


PKD’s other best-known novel is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968); which was adapted into Blade Runner (1982), just before his death from a series of strokes.

Unfortunately, film director Ridley Scott’s vision, betrays any serious understanding of PKD’s writings and worldview.  Dick imagined a totalitarian future– along the lines of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury.  What Scott creates in this sci-fi “film classic,” is sanitized & caricatured Hollywood, with neither edge nor subtlety.  In other words, it’s no longer PKD; which explains why the film dates so poorly (compared to the novel), and has been re-cut so many times.


Instead of settling for film mediocrity; dial 481 on your mood organ (awareness of the manifold possibilities in the future open to you), and read the book instead–only 216 pages. [4]