A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

Welcome to the new blog! To celebrate this very beautiful and unique new home for my ramblings, we’ll go with a book that is beautiful and unique too – Dick’s A Scanner Darkly.

It is also perfect as a launch review for me because this book makes no fucking sense and neither do I.

A Scanner Darkly is the tale of an undercover cop, the circle of drug users he’s posing in, and his gradual struggle to make heads or tails of reality. While set in a dystopian California, it draws heavily from Dick’s own time living in 70s drug culture California, and it never really feels any other period. This is the juiced up, Sci-Fi’ed, fictionalized account of what could have been happening around him.

Now, I sometimes didn’t understand what was going on, or where Dick was going with things. I often got lost in the banality of the characters’ paranoia and bickering. A book about a bunch of drug addicts, people who are often confused and afraid, is never going to be a masterpiece of clear happy thinking. But there was never any point where that got too much.

There are two things that make A Scanner Darkly great. There is the atmosphere; the sense of really being there in the room with these jittery, febrile characters, of being in a time and place as the sun and the drugs suffocate thinking. There is the plot; the tension of wondering will catch up to our cop protagonist first, his head or his superiors or his friends, the sense of possible shock at all times. Together, they make this book a genuine trip in its own right.

There’s probably a bunch of stuff done less well I could point to. It’s certainly hard sledding at one point. And I can see it falling flat as a pancake for people who didn’t get those strengths out of it I did. But the thing is, I don’t particularly want to point at the book’s failings. I want to love it.

A Scanner Darkly is an idiosyncratic book. It is dense, opaque, and sometimes harsh, a tribute to those “punished entirely too much” and who “made the decision to move out in front of a moving car” to use Dick’s own words. Its power lies as much in what it makes you think after as what you read on the page. But those who connect with it will, have done, largely, love it. Or some similar emotion. In fact, maybe the best way to describe my feelings are to quote Dick again:

“That was terrible, where can I get some more”.

4 thoughts on “A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

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