The novel The Man in the High Castle bridged the genres of alternate history and science fiction, earning Dick a Hugo Award for Best Novel in . Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, a novel about a celebrity who awakens in a parallel universe where he is unknown, won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel in . "I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards," Dick wrote of these stories. "In my writing I even question the universe; I wonder out loud if it is real, and I wonder out loud if all of us are real."
In addition to his novels, Dick wrote approximately 121 short stories, many of which appeared in science fiction magazines. Although Dick spent most of his career as a writer in near-poverty, nine of his stories have been adapted into popular films since his death, including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly and Minority Report. In 2005, Time Magazine named Ubik one of the one hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923. In , Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series.
The family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. When Philip turned five, his father was transferred to Reno, Nevada. Dorothy refused to move, and she and Joseph were divorced. Joseph fought her for custody of Philip but did not win it. Dorothy, determined to raise Philip alone, took a job in Washington, D.C. and moved there with her son. Philip K. Dick was enrolled at John Eaton Elementary School from 1936 to 1938, completing the second through the fourth grades. His lowest grade was a "C" in written composition, although a teacher remarked that he "shows interest and ability in story telling." In June 1938, Dorothy and Philip returned to California.
Dick attended Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California. He and Ursula K. Le Guin were members of the same high school graduating class (1947), yet were unknown to each other at the time. After graduating from high school he briefly attended the University of California, Berkeley as a German major, but dropped out before completing any coursework. At Berkeley, Dick befriended poets Robert Duncan and poet and linguist Jack Spicer, who gave Dick ideas for a Martian language. Dick claimed to have been host of a classical music program on KSMO Radio in 1947. From 1948 to 1952 he worked in a record store. In 1955, Dick and his wife, Kleo Apostolides, received a visit from the FBI. They believed this resulted from Kleo's socialist views and left-wing activities. The couple briefly befriended one of the FBI agents.
In , Dick won the Hugo Award for The Man in the High Castle. Although he was hailed as a genius in the science fiction world, the mainstream literary world was unappreciative, and he could publish books only through low-paying science fiction publishers such as Ace. Even in his later years, he continued to have financial troubles. In the introduction to the short story collection The Golden Man, Dick wrote: "Several years ago, when I was ill, Heinlein offered his help, anything he could do, and we had never met; he would phone me to cheer me up and see how I was doing. He wanted to buy me an electric typewriter, God bless him—one of the few true gentlemen in this world. I don't agree with any ideas he puts forth in his writing, but that is neither here nor there. One time when I owed the IRS a lot of money and couldn't raise it, Heinlein loaned the money to me. I think a great deal of him and his wife; I dedicated a book to them in appreciation. Robert Heinlein is a fine-looking man, very impressive and very military in stance; you can tell he has a military background, even to the haircut. He knows I'm a flipped-out freak and still he helped me and my wife when we were in trouble. That is the best in humanity, there; that is who and what I love."
The last novel published during Dick's life was The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. In , Dick donated his manuscripts and papers to the Special Collections Library at California State University, Fullerton where they are archived in the Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Collection in the Pollak Library. It was in Fullerton that Philip K. Dick befriended budding science-fiction writers K. W. Jeter, James Blaylock, and Tim Powers.
On February 20, 1974, Dick was recovering from the effects of sodium pentothal administered for the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth. Answering the door to receive delivery of extra analgesic, he noticed that the delivery woman was wearing a pendant with a symbol that he called the "vesicle pisces". This name seems to have been based on his confusion of two related symbols, the ichthys (two intersecting arcs delineating a fish in profile) that early Christians used as a secret symbol, and the vesica piscis. After the delivery woman's departure, Dick began experiencing strange visions. Although they may have been initially attributable to the medication, after weeks of visions he considered this explanation implausible. "I experienced an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind, as if I had been insane all my life and suddenly I had become sane," Dick told Charles Platt.
Throughout February and March 1974, he received a series of visions, which he referred to as "two-three-seventy four" (2-3-74), shorthand for February-March 1974. He described the initial visions as laser beams and geometric patterns, and, occasionally, brief pictures of Jesus and of ancient Rome. As the visions increased in length and frequency, Dick claimed he began to live a double life, one as himself, "Philip K. Dick", and one as "Thomas", a Christian persecuted by Romans in the 1st century A.D. Despite his history of drug use and elevated stroke risk, Dick began seeking other rationalist and religious explanations for these experiences. He referred to the "transcendentally rational mind" as "Zebra", "God" and, most often, "VALIS". Dick wrote about the experiences in the semi-autobiographical novels VALIS and Radio Free Albemuth.
At one point Dick felt that he had been taken over by the spirit of the prophet Elijah. He believed that an episode in his novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said was a detailed retelling of a story from the Biblical Book of Acts, which he had never read.
In time, Dick became paranoid, imagining plots against him by the KGB and FBI. At one point, he alleged they were responsible for a burglary of his house, from which documents were stolen. He later came to suspect that he might have committed the burglary against himself, and then forgotten he had done so. Dick himself speculated as to whether he may have suffered from schizophrenia.
Philip K. Dick died in Santa Ana, California, on March 2, . He had suffered a stroke five days earlier, and was disconnected from life support after his EEG had been consistently isoelectric since losing consciousness. After his death, his father Edgar took his son's ashes to Fort Morgan, Colorado. When his twin sister, Jane, died, her tombstone had both their names carved on it, with an empty space for Dick's death date. Brother and sister were eventually buried next to each other.
Dick was "resurrected" by his fans in the form of a remote-controlled android designed in his likeness. The android of Philip K. Dick was impanelled in a San Diego Comic Con presentation about the film adaptation of the novel, A Scanner Darkly. In February 2006, an America West Airlines employee misplaced the android, and it has not yet been found.
In , French writer Emmanuel Carrère published I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick, which the author describes in his preface in this way:
The book you hold in your hands is a very peculiar book. I have tried to depict the life of Philip K. Dick from the inside, in other words, with the same freedom and empathy – indeed with the same truth – with which he depicted his own characters.Critics of the book have complained about the lack of fact checking, sourcing, notes and index, "the usual evidence of deep research that gives a biography the solid stamp of authority. It can be considered a nonfiction novel about his life.
Writer-director John Alan Simon is making a semiautobiograhical film based on Philip K Dick's novel Radio Free Albemuth starring Shea Whigham as the author. It will open in .
A 2008 film titled Your Name Here, by Matthew Wilder, will feature Bill Pullman as science fiction author William J. Frick, a character based on Philip K. Dick.
The short story "Orpheus with Clay Feet" was published under the pen name "Jack Dowland". The protagonist desires to be the muse for fictional author Jack Dowland, considered the greatest science fiction author of the 20th century. In the story, Dowland publishes a short story titled "Orpheus with Clay Feet", under the pen name "Philip K. Dick". In the semi-autobiographical novel VALIS, the protagonist is named "Horselover Fat"; "Philip", or "Phil-Hippos", is Greek for "horselover", while "dick" is German for "fat" (actually a cognate of thick).
Although he never used it himself, Dick's fans and critics often refer to him familiarly as "PKD" (cf. Jorge Luis Borges' "JLB"), and use the comparative literary adjectives "Dickian" and "Phildickian" in describing his style and themes (cf. Kafkaesque, Orwellian).
Alternate universes and simulacra were common plot devices, with fictional worlds inhabited by common, working people, rather than galactic elites. "There are no heroes in Dick's books," Ursula K. Le Guin wrote, "but there are heroics. One is reminded of Dickens: what counts is the honesty, constancy, kindness and patience of ordinary people." Dick made no secret that much of his ideas and work were heavily influenced by the writings of Carl Jung, the Swiss founder of the theory of the human psyche he called "Analytical Psychology" (to distinguish it from Freud's theory of psychoanalysis). Jung was a self-taught expert on the unconscious and mythological foundations of conscious experience and was open to the reality underlying mystical experiences. The Jungian constructs and models that most concerned Dick seem to be the archetypes of the collective unconscious, group projection/ hallucination, synchronicities, and personality theory. Many of Dick's protagonists overtly analyze reality and their perceptions in Jungian terms (see Lies Inc.), while other times, the themes are so obviously in reference to Jung their usage needs no explanation. Dick's self-named "Exegesis" also contained many notes on Jung in relation to theology and mysticism.
Mental illness was a constant interest of Dick's, and themes of mental illness permeate his work. The character Jack Bohlen in the 1964 novel Martian Time-Slip is an "ex-schizophrenic". The novel Clans of the Alphane Moon centers on an entire society made up of descendants of lunatic asylum inmates. In 1965 he wrote the essay titled Schizophrenia and the Book of Changes.
Drug use was also a theme in many of Dick’s works, such as A Scanner Darkly and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Dick was a drug user for much of his life. According to a 1975 interview in Rolling Stone, Dick wrote all of his books published before 1970 high on amphetamines. "A Scanner Darkly was the first complete novel I had written without speed," said Dick in the interview. He also experimented briefly with psychedelics, but wrote The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, which Rolling Stone dubs "the classic LSD novel of all time," before he had ever tried them. Despite his heavy amphetamine use, however, Dick later said that doctors had told him that the amphetamines never actually affected him, that his liver had processed them before they reached his brain.
The Man in the High Castle occurs in an alternate universe United States ruled by the victorious Axis powers. It is considered a defining novel of the alternate history sub-genre, and is the only Dick novel to win a Hugo Award. Philipkdickfans.com recommends this novel, along with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik, as an introductory novel to readers new to the writing of Philip K. Dick.
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch utilizes an array of science fiction concepts and features several layers of reality and unreality. It is also one of Dick’s first works to explore religious themes. The novel takes place in the twenty-first century, when, under United Nations authority, mankind has colonized the solar system's every habitable planet and moon. Life is physically daunting and psychologically monotonous for most colonists, so the UN must draft people to go to the colonies. Most entertain themselves using "Perky Pat" dolls and accessories manufactured by Earth-based "P.P. Layouts". The company also secretly creates "Can-D", an illegal but widely available hallucinogenic drug allowing the user to "translate" into Perky Pat (if the drug user is a woman) or Pat's boyfriend, Walt (if the drug user is a man). This recreational use of Can-D allows colonists to experience a few minutes of an idealized life on Earth by participating in a collective hallucination.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the story of a bounty hunter policing the local android population. It occurs on a dying, poisoned Earth de-populated of all "successful" humans; the only remaining inhabitants of the planet are people with no prospects off-world. Androids, also known as andys, all have a preset "death" date. However, a few andys seek to escape this fate and supplant the humans on Earth. The 1968 story is the literary source of the film Blade Runner (). It is both a conflation and an intensification of the pivotally Dickian question, What is real, what is fake? Are the human-looking and human-acting androids fake or real humans? Should we treat them as machines or as people? What crucial factor defines humanity as distinctly 'alive', versus those merely alive only in their outward appearance?
Ubik uses extensive networks of psychics and a suspended state after death in creating a state of eroding reality. A group of psychics is sent to investigate a group of rival psychics, but several of them are apparently killed by a saboteur's bomb. Much of the novel flicks between a number of equally plausible realities; the "real" reality, a state of half-life and psychically manipulated realities. In 2005, Time Magazine listed it among the "All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels".
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said concerns Jason Taverner, a television star living in a dystopian near-future police state. After being attacked by an angry ex-girlfriend, Taverner awakens in a dingy Los Angeles hotel room. He still has his money in his wallet, but his identification cards are missing. This is no minor inconvenience, as security checkpoints (manned by "pols" and "nats", the police and National Guard) are set up throughout the city to stop and arrest anyone without valid ID. Jason at first thinks that he was robbed, but soon discovers that his entire identity has been erased. There is no record of him in any official database, and even his closest associates do not recognize or remember him. For the first time in many years, Jason has no fame or reputation to rely on. He has only his innate charisma to help him as he tries to find out what happened to his past and avoid the attention of the pols. The novel was Dick's first published novel after years of silence, during which time his critical reputation had grown, and this novel was awarded the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. It is the only Philip K. Dick novel nominated both for a Hugo and for a Nebula Award.
In an essay written two years before dying, Dick described how he learned from his Episcopalian priest that an important scene in Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said -- involving its other main character, Police General Felix Buckman, the policeman of the title -- was very similar to a scene in the Book of Acts. Film director Richard Linklater discusses this novel in his film Waking Life, which begins with a scene reminiscent of another Dick novel, Time Out of Joint.
A Scanner Darkly is a bleak mixture of science fiction and police procedural novels; in its story, an undercover narcotics police detective begins to lose touch with reality after falling victim to the same permanently mind altering drug, Substance D, he was enlisted to help fight. Substance D is instantly addictive, beginning with a pleasant euphoria which is quickly replaced with increasing confusion, hallucinations and eventually total psychosis. In this novel, as with all Dick novels, there is an underlying thread of paranoia and dissociation with multiple realities perceived simultaneously. It was adapted to film by Richard Linklater.
VALIS, is perhaps Dick’s most postmodern and autobiographical novel, examining his own unexplained experiences (see above). It may also be his most academically studied work, and was adapted as an opera by Tod Machover. VALIS was voted Philip K. Dick‘s best novel at the website philipkdickfans.com. Later works like the VALIS trilogy were heavily autobiographical, many with "two-three-seventy-four" (2-3-74) references and influences. The word VALIS is the acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System; it is the title of a novel (and is continued thematically in at least three more novels). Later, PKD theorized that VALIS was both a "reality generator" and a means of extraterrestrial communication. A fourth VALIS manuscript, Radio Free Albemuth, although composed in , was discovered after his death and published in 1985. This work is described by the publisher (Arbor House) as "an introduction and key to his magnificent VALIS trilogy."
Regardless of the feeling that he was somehow experiencing a divine communication, Dick was never fully able to rationalize the events. For the rest of his life, he struggled to comprehend what was occurring, questioning his own sanity and perception of reality. He transcribed what thoughts he could into an eight-thousand-page, one-million-word journal dubbed the Exegesis. From until his death in , Dick spent sleepless nights writing in this journal, often under the influence of prescription amphetamines. A recurring theme in Exegesis is PKD's hypothesis that history had been stopped in the 1st century A.D., and that "the Empire never ended". He saw Rome as the pinnacle of materialism and despotism, which, after forcing the Gnostics underground, had kept the population of Earth enslaved to worldly possessions. Dick believed that VALIS had communicated with him, and anonymous others, to induce the impeachment of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, whom Dick believed to be the current Emperor of Rome incarnate.
The most famous film adaptation is Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (based on Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). A screenplay had been in the works for years before Scott took the helm, with Dick being extremely critical of all versions. Dick was still apprehensive about how his story would be adapted for the film when the project was finally put into motion. Among other things, he refused to do a novelization of the film. But contrary to his initial reactions, when he was given an opportunity to see some of the special effects sequences of Los Angeles 2019, Dick was amazed that the environment was "exactly as how I'd imagined it! Following the screening, Dick and Scott had a frank but cordial discussion of Blade Runner's themes and characters, and although they had incredibly differing views, Dick fully backed the film from then on. Dick died from a stroke less than four months before the release of the film.
Total Recall based on the short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale", evokes a feeling similar to that of the original story while streamlining the plot; however, the action-film protagonist is totally unlike Dick's typical nebbishy protagonist, a fearful and insecure anti-hero. The film includes such Dickian elements as the confusion of fantasy and reality, the progression towards more fantastic elements as the story progresses, machines talking back to humans, and the protagonist's doubts about his own identity. Total Recall 2070 a single season Canadian TV show (22 episodes), based on thematic elements from "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and interwoven with snippets of other Dick stories, is much closer in feel to both Dick's works than the better-known films based on them. The main character is aptly named David Hume.
Dick's story "Impostor" has been adapted twice: first in for the British anthology television series Out of This World and then in for the movie Impostor. Impostor utilizes two of Dick's most common themes: mental illness, which diminishes the sufferer's ability to discriminate between reality and hallucination, and a protagonist persecuted by an oppressive government.
The film Screamers was based on a Dick short story "Second Variety"; the location was altered from a war-devastated Earth to a generic science fiction environment of a distant planet. A sequel, titled Screamers 2, is currently in production.
The French film Confessions d'un Barjo (Barjo in English-language release) is based on Dick's non-science-fiction book Confessions of a Crap Artist. Reflecting Dick's popularity and critical respect in France, Barjo faithfully conveys a strong sense of Dick's aesthetic sensibility, unseen in the better-known film adaptations. A brief science fiction homage is slipped into the film in the form of a TV show.
The live action/animated film, A Scanner Darkly was directed by Richard Linklater and stars Keanu Reeves as Fred/Bob Arctor and Winona Ryder as Donna. Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson, actors both noted for drug issues, were also cast in the film. The film was produced using the process of rotoscoping: it was first shot in live-action and then the live footage was animated over.
A radio drama adaptation of Dick's short story "Mr. Spaceship" was aired by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yleisradio) in 1996 under the name Menolippu Paratiisiin. Radio dramatizations of Dick's short stories Colony and The Defenders were aired by NBC in radio as part of the series X Minus One.
Other fictional post-mortem appearances by Dick include:
A 2005 play entitled 800 Words: the Transmigration of Philip K. Dick by Victoria Stewart re-imagines Dick's final days.
"It is hyperreal. It is a universe of simulation, which is something altogether different. And this is so not because Dick speaks specifically of simulacra. SF has always done so, but it has always played upon the double, on artificial replication or imaginary duplication, whereas here the double has disappeared. There is no more double; one is always already in the other world, an other world which is not another, without mirrors or projection or utopias as means for reflection. The simulation is impassable, unsurpassable, checkmated, without exteriority. We can no longer move "through the mirror" to the other side, as we could during the golden age of transcendence.