A Scanner Darkly – Phillip K. Dick

January 4, 2009

Wow.  This is my first novel by Phillip K. Dick (in fact, my first anything – I haven’t even seen Bladerunner).  It was amazing.  The novel is beautifully written to convey to truly screwed up nature of the drug culture and one particular man, Bob Arctor, who got caught up in it by trying to do a good thing.  Both the imagery and the writing style itself bring the confusion and warped thinking of people who are totally brain fried through to the reader.  Some passages reminded me of several Pink Floyd songs in their ability to help someone who hasn’t been there (at least not that far) understand.

A Scanner Darkly is set in a near or maybe even current future (at the time of writing anyway, in 1977) in Orange County, California.  The main character, the aforementioned Bob Arctor, is an undercover nark who has also become an addict.  As the book continues, Bob’s brain is gradually burnt out to the point he doesn’t realize he is both the nark and the suspect being narked on.  It is wickedly funny in many passages, but also very sad since Bob started out truly trying to help get what he believes to be a dangerous substance off the streets, and ends up having his own life destroyed by the same drug.  How this happened and why would be spoilers, but let me tell you, it is very depressing at the end.  And it is made even more so by the author’s note.  Dick basically says in the suthor’s note ‘This is what it is like to be in that life.  We didn’t know what we were getting into.  The price we paid could have been avoided if we had just stopped partying and tried to grow up, but dammit man it’s a high price for just wanting to have fun.’  He follows it with a list of his friends he dedicated the book to and based the characters on, all of whom who had died or suffered permanent brain damage from drug use.  Very touching, but a serious bummer.  I plan to follow it up with some Douglas Addams.

A Scanner Darkly cover