Just read a review in NYT about Philip Dick's third wife's memoir/bio, The Search for Philip K. Dick. Anne Dick still lives in Pt. Reyes Station, about 25 miles from where I work, and about the same distance from where I grew up, all in Marin County, CA.
Turns out my favorite book of his, one of my favorite novels, The Man in the High Castle, was from his short residence in West Marin.
I've also lived in Berkeley, which he made his home many years before I did, and in LA, where he preceded me by decades. He sets many of his earth-bound novels and stories in the Bay Area. "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" a short story that became an almost equally fantastic movie, was set in an alternate San Mateo.
Dick's writing is unfriendly. He was beset with psychological burdens, famously paranoia and addiction, but I learned from this review agoraphobia as well. He wrote on a typrewriter in a shed in Pt. Reyes Station, a shed he called The Hovel. He remembered in an interview I read awhile back that he had a psychotic break on his way to the shed one day. That was the source of a trilogy for him.
Married and divorced three times, deceased in 1982, his now-adult children coping well (reportedly) with the strangeness of their home lives and their father's posthumous success, addicted to mind-altering drugs...I don't consider the trade-offs worth it. I am confident he did not so much choose to pay so dearly for his art. And he wasn't particularly successful in his lifetime. What would have happened if he had?
The way he wrote - I call it "unfriendly" for lack of a better term. It's not sloppy, but he passes up opportunities to sweeten it. I'm reading a lot of very clever YA fantasy these days. I'm especially happy having read Suzanne Collins. Like Dick, Collins writes in The Hunger Games about a dystopian, bleak future.
So what's different?
I think with Collins, I could see the weave. It's not that it wasn't skillful - quite the contrary. I just felt that I understood what she was accomplishing, paragraph by paragraph. With Dick, it's never very clear. Information is a character. It changes its moods. It gets sick, dies, goes away, or betrays the other characters. The effect is very unsettling.
Was that the result of planning? Did Dick hide the cogs of his plot more effectively than Collins? Did it have cogs? I wasn't the same reader for their works. Maybe I should read Martian Time-Slip. I gave my aunt and uncle my copy of The Man in the High Castle. (They gave me Alas, Babylon - not a PKD novel...damn, I have a long reading list!) I wonder if the difference is in the reader.
Any PKD fans out there want to tell me what I'm missing?
- Steve Shea
- A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!