Our Phildickian Worldrnby Jesse Walkerrn••”^’^ ^^y^^ A ^ ^ j/^y^^’^ V’^^’^’A/v/U–rn^^^^^/V^S/VJ^/.’VNl^ggi.,,^rnSometime during the last decade, the Philip K. Dick cultrncame out from underground. Those of us who spent thern1980’s trying to explain our affection for this pulp writer no onernelse had heard of, this author of surreal science fictions andrnbleak realistic novels, have watched both pop culture and thernacademy discover and embrace his darkly comic work. Rockrnlyrics allude to his plots. Films—four so far: Blade Runner, TotalrnRecall, Confessions d’un Barjo, and Screamers—are adaptedrnfrom his stories. Tenured literary scholars investigate his books;rnin France, they gather at annual conventions. His face gracesrnthe cover of the New Republic, and his life and ideas are discussedrn(ineptly) in the Weekly Standard. His ghost is occasionallyrnsighted, Elvis-style, by credulous fans. His name has become,rnas one friend puts it, “the ungainliest adjective in thernlanguage”—as in, “this Phildickian situation.” Anyone who hasrnread Dick will understand the expression.rnMost articles about Dick in the popular press quickly launchrninto a list of essential titles, typically Time Out of joint (1959),rnConfessions of a Crap Artist (written in 1959, published inrn1975), The Man in the High Castle (1962), Martian Time-Sliprn(1964), The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), Do AndroidsrnDream of Electric Sheep? (1966/1968), Ubik (1969), FlowrnMy Tears, the Policeman Said (1970/1974), A Scanner Darklyrn(1977), ALIS (1978/1981), and The Transmigration ofTimothyrnArcher (1982). The writer will then add a few favorite titles ofrnhis or her own—I myself am partial to Mary and the Giantrn(1953/1987), We Can BuildYou (1962/1972), Now Wait for LastrnYear (1966), and Galactic Pot-Healer (1969). There is a lot tornbe said for this approach: Dick could produce polished prosernwhen given a chance, but more often was forced to supportrnhimself and his families by churning out novels at a breakneck,rnpill-fueled, inevitably sloppy speed. It makes sense to direct beginnersrnto his most accomplished novels, lest they be turnedrnJesse Walker writes from Seattle.rnawav by, say, the incredible widening plot holes of The PenultimaternTruth.rnYet the importance of Dick’s work ultimately lies not in anyrnparticular plots he spanned or characters he devised. Dick willrnbe remembered for the vision that underlies his entire body ofrnwork: frightening yet funny, paranoid yet hopeful, with few barriersrnerected between the extraordinary and the apparentlyrnmundane. Dick wrote about the importance of maintainingrnone’s humanity even when trapped in inhuman situations. Tornthat end, he created remarkably human protagonists, consciouslvrnavoiding the larger-than-life heroes who had dominatedrnscience fiction’s alleged Golden Age of the 1930’s andrn1940’s. The archetypal Dick hero is a small businessman or bureaucraticrnfunctionary with a nagging wife and a nagging suspicionrnthat the entire universe exists only in his imagination. Thernarchetypal Dick plot will conclude with the protagonist discoveringrnthat he is wrong: the entire universe actually exists only inrnsomeone else’s imagination. Yet he will soldier on, and tend tornhis failing marriage, even as the cosmos collapses around him.rnIn The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Earth faces arnSatanic invasion from outer space. As the very fabric of realityrnis infected by an evil alien presence, the foremost thought onrnour hero’s mind is whether he will ever reconcile with hisrnex-wife.rnWhich leads us to an important point. It is sometimes saidrnthat in Dick’s worlds, nothing is as it seems, but that is not exactlyrntrue, ^bur neighborhood may be a Potemkin village, yourrngirlfriend may be a police agent, and your life thus far may bernan implanted memory; a lemonade stand, on closer examination,rnmay prove to be a piece of paper bearing the wordsrn”lemonade stand,” and the United States may, on closer examination,rnprove to be ancient Rome. But you still live in thatrnneighborhood, and that girifriend still loves you. The concreternbonds that people form are still real, even if none of thosernpeople are who they say they are. And the moment of divinern18/CHRONICLESrnrnrn