Author: Philip K. Dick
Genre: Science Fiction
Publishing Date: August 17, 2006 (first published January 1st 1977)
Paperback: 288 pages
Stand Alone or series: Stand alone
Summary: (from Goodreads)
Bob Arctor is a dealer of the lethally addictive drug Substance D. Fred is the police agent assigned to tail and eventually bust him. To do so, Fred takes on the identity of a drug dealer named Bob Arctor. And since Substance D--which Arctor takes in massive doses--gradually splits the user's brain into two distinct, combative entities, Fred doesn't realize he is narcing on himself.Review:
Caustically funny, eerily accurate in its depiction of junkies, scam artists, and the walking brain-dead, Philip K. Dick's industrial-grade stress test of identity is as unnerving as it is enthralling.
I can't even begin to explain this story in a tidy little paragraph. Since the book was made adapted into a movie though, I'll let the trailer do the summarizing:
See what I mean? A Scanner Darkly is basically the story of one man, Fred/Bob Archer, and his experiences with Substance D. As Fred dives deeper and deeper into the world of drugs, personal identity and questions of friendship are brought to the forefront.
Apparently all of Philip K. Dick's books are slightly autobiographical and this one gains a lot from the author's personal experiences. It adds a sense of believability to the story which is important with a story as disjointed and exaggerated as this. Even though A Scanner Darkly is a more extreme version of our current drug culture, anyone who's been around drugs will recognize certain characteristics throughout the book. I've really known people who carry around various bicycle parts and books on the most random subjects you can imagine. This becomes one of the few solid points of the story.
I also thought the story was made stronger by the author's note at the end. I couldn't help but relate to where Dick was coming from. Even though I've never been addicted to drugs, the high cost of happiness is something that resonated with me. He says, "If there was any 'sin,' it's that these people wanted to keep on having a good time forever..." There comes a time when sometimes the cost of happiness is just too much. When the punishment is too much to bear and there's nothing left to do but move on.
My biggest issue with the story is the ending. Even though I actually enjoyed the way it ended, everything felt rushed and unexamined. The decent into madness was too quick to be completely satisfying and there were some loose threads I would have liked wrapped up. I also think Dick's depiction of women was problematic. There was a sense that women had no genuine role in society and that their only true contribution was as sexual fodder for male characters. All of the characters were kind of depressing though so I'm probably not being entirely fair, but it really stuck out to me. Whenever there was a female character there was usually the threat of sexual violence or violation that was unnecessary.
There's a quote that says you are what you continually do and I think this book sort of reinforces that idea. There's this sense that all the characters are good people, but they continue to do not so good things. Yet the people around them, who don't use drugs, are not so good people who follow all the rules. So the question then becomes, who are the genuinely good people? What makes a man a man? Is it circumstance or something more? I know that seems a bit silly, but the question of personal identity is one Dick toys around with a lot in this story. Fred forgets that sometimes you are what you pretend to be.
Interesting and worth checking out. You can't really read this book without thinking of Trainspotting (which is actually better in my opinion). I look forward to watching the movie and seeing if the filmmakers were able to actually make Dick's idea a little more orderly.
Rating: 6. Good, but might not be for everyone