Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (4/5)

The back says: Cops and criminals have always been interdependent, but no novel has explored that perverse symbiosis more powerfully than A Scanner Darkly. Bob Arctor is a dealer of the lethally addictive drug called Substance D. Fred is the police agent assigned to tail and eventually bust him. To do so, he has taken on the identity of a drug dealer named Bob Arctor. And since Substance D – which Arctor takes in mammoth doses – gradually splits the user’s brain into two distinct, combative entities, Fred doesn’t realize that he is narcing on himself.

I say: I saw the film/animation version of this a few years ago when I was high on my Keanu wave, and loved the trippy feel of confusion. However, I could barely remember much of the plot – just some bits here and there – so it was almost like encountering this for the first time.

I also believe there were some changes in the film – I’ll have to re-watch it to see.

This novel was just as trippy as I remember the film being. We are, of course, dealing with drug addicts of various degrees and most of their conversations sound just like you would imagine they would; completely nonsensical. I will have to point out here that Fred knows that he is Arctor at the beginning of the novel, but as it progresses, and he uses more and more Substance D, he starts getting his personalities confused. I love the absurdity of Fred listening to conversations he had as Arctor and being completely appalled at the sheer nonsense of it all.

Absolutely brilliant.

Arctor lives in a house with two friends, and the more drugs they do the more paranoid they get. It’s amazing the way that Dick managed to sprinkle in that paranoia in small doses here and there, never really allowing it to take over the entire plot, but remaining close enough for me to start second guessing everyone. Their own theories were full of rubbish, of course, but sometimes they did manage to get eerily close to the truth. But being the heavy drug addicts that they were they soon forgot most of what they had previously discussed.

As much as I love this, there are a few things about this novel that I didn’t like; first it was all of the technical jargon that went straight over my head. This is science fiction so I have no idea how plausible any of it is, but it got a tad too heavy every now and then. Even when they were talking about a faulty car it went a bit too in depth and I got bored.

Another thing that was confusing was the ‘scramble suit’ – a suit that Fred wore that scrambled his voice and continuously kept flashing millions of physical features and thus impossible for anyone to identify him. Although I understand how this is meant to work since I saw it in the film; merely reading about it would have confused me.

It still sort of does actually, but whatever.

Finally, I simultaneously love and hate the ending. In a way it was pure perfection out of a philosophical point of view, if one wants to go that way. But if merely focusing on the plot, I thought it was a bit insufficient. I wanted more answers and explanations, but alas, it was not meant to be.

This wasn’t as fast paced and action filled as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but it was the same excellent writing, and I would have loved to live inside of PKD’s mind for a day or two.



*This is my twenty-fifth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).

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