There’s a pretty good article over at Wired about The Second Coming of Philip K. Dick, specifically his popularity as a source for the Hollywood-movies machine these days.
At a time when most 20th-century science fiction writers seem hopelessly dated, Dick gives us a vision of the future that captures the feel of our time. He didn’t really care about robots or space travel, though they sometimes turn up in his stories. He wrote about ordinary Joes caught in a web of corporate domination and ubiquitous electronic media, of memory implants and mood dispensers and counterfeit worlds. This strikes a nerve. “People cannot put their finger anymore on what is real and what is not real,” observes Paul Verhoeven, the one-time Dutch mathematician who directed Total Recall. “What we find in Dick is an absence of truth and an ambiguous interpretation of reality. Dreams that turn out to be reality, reality that turns out to be a dream. This can only sell when people recognize it, and they can only recognize it when they see it in their own lives.”
Like the babbling psychics who predict future crimes in Minority Report, Dick was a precog. Lurking within his amphetamine-fueled fictions are truths that have only to be found and decoded. In a 1978 essay he wrote: “We live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups. I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudorealities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives. I distrust their power. It is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”
Viewed in this context, Dick’s emergence in Hollywood seems oddly inevitable. His career itself is a tale of alternate realities. In the flesh he was the ultimate outsider, pecking out paranoid visions that place the little guy at the mercy of the corporate machine. Yet posthumously he feeds the machine, his pseudoworlds the basis of ever more elaborate entertainments doled out by the megacorporations we pay to stuff our heads. How he made the leap from pulp-fiction writer to Hollywood prophet is a tale almost worthy of the man himself.
I really must read more of this man… maybe I’ll find some good stuff in Bangkok? I hope so!