Monday, September 24, 2007

Five More Novels by Philip K Dick
Here's my pick of the Dick books I've been reading since doing this post.


The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982)
At some point in the early '80s, a sci-fi fanzine asked Ursula K Le Guin what she thought of Dick's recent work. Le Guin had always been Dick's most vocal supporter and had corresponded with him for years. It's surprising, then, that she claimed she didn't like the recent novels because Dick's portrayal of female characters had become one-dimensional - misogynistic even.

At first, Dick felt incredibly angry and was heard to say some pretty snide things about his old friend. Pretty soon, though, he came to the conclusion that she was actually quite right. To make amends, he wrote his next book entirely from the first-person perspective of a very likable female protagonist.

The results are nothing short of stunning. Transmigration is not a sci-fi book but it certainly doesn't feel like a last-ditch attempt to get a "mainstream" novel published. Just like William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, the move into non-speculative territory seems entirely natural. All the key themes are in place and nothing feels contrived or watered down.

Transmigration is similar, in many ways, to Valis. Both books are highly autobiographical, emotionally intense and absolutely hilarious. In either case, the opening chapter has the pacing and impact of a good stand-up routine. This isn't the easiest PKD book to track down but it is absolutely essential.

Ubik (1969)
Funny. A deeply odd caper that finds God in the most unlikely places. For those of you who read The Zap Gun on my recommendation, Ubik packs a similar punch.

Dr Bloodmoney (1965)
Another odd one. Also known as How We Got Along After the Bomb, Dick's tale of post-nuclear survival is actually rather pastoral in places and extremely dark in others. This is probably a result of the deep ambivalence PKD felt about the time he spent as a "country squire" in rural California - an ambivalence also reflected in the more well-known Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which is also highly recommended.

Now Wait for Last Year (1966)
Underrated! This is one of PKD's most atmospheric and emotionally resonant novels. Don't sleep on it!

Martian Time Slip (1964)
A pretty interesting mixture of pulp fiction silliness and radical anti-psychiatry. As compassionate and though-provoking a book about schizophrenia as one could hope to read - but in space!

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