Saturday, August 12, 2006

More Dick than is good for you

Have (I hope) finished my toil on something that's taken longer than expected. The chap I've been working with has been very accommodating and I'm just tightening up his good work. But it needed thinking about from various angles and I was almost done when I realised how I'd written us into a corner. Now it is done. Phew.

So I can throw myself at the 12,000 words due in by the end of the month, some of which requires my being knowledgeable about a bloke called Phil from Istanbul. To help, I am currently reading Michael Grant's "From Alexander to Cleopatra - the Hellenistic World". This is because I have a clever wife.

I also have clever friends. Having watched Matthew Sweet present highlights from Edinburgh last night (and steal the word "TARDIS" into it, too), this morning I discover Phil has written for the Guardian a piece about Philip K Dick.

It's a good summary of the crazy-arsed dude (and I am terrible envious), though I think it misses something important. Dick was hugely prolific, but only a small percentage of his many publications are actually any sort of cop.

This was something of a bummer to discover, having keenly absorbed his work in my teens. Back then, a wise friend advised which to read - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Dr Bloodmoney, We Can Build You, Valis, Ubik, The Man In The High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Mary and the Giant and A Scanner Darkly (though YMMV and shit). Everything since then has been a bit of a disappointment.

I suspect this is less to do with me just getting older and more discriminating, and may be down to Dick's editors. Writing under the influence and all through the night until he'd met his wordcount, Dick would sometimes forget the names of his protagonists or things he'd already done to them.

It happens in stories (and I've had to compensate before for characters who've returned from the dead, or have swapped genders in a couple of paragraphs). And his free-wheeling brilliance is at its best when approaching some semblance of structure.

But this is just a guess based on my own sorry prejudice. It may also be that Dick's mania was like pretty much everything else in life - occassional greatness from the morass of the okay.

Mary and the Giant is not sci-fi, and is about a girl in a record shop falling for the wrong guy. It really struck a chord with the me aged 17 and I can't really recall why. I think it was just a nice story, about being misunderstood and unsure in love, and generally well meaning but fuck-knuckled. The only other thing I remember is that the giant used cheap, wooden picks on his record player.

(Other) Phil's article has made me: hotly envious; want to see the film, and; look up Mary on Abebooks.


Philip said...

Dick was hugely prolific, but only a small percentage of his many publications are actually any sort of cop.

...although a surprisingly high percentage are about cops.

I don't entirely agree (but then, I wouldn't, being a huge Dick fan). It's perfectly true that a lot of his work consists of cheque-hunting potboilers, but there's usually a streak of sheer inspiration throughout that raises even those books above the formulaic.

Genuinely dull Dick books are very rare indeed. In addition to the ones your friend (quite rightly) recommended, I'd say Eye in the Sky, A Maze of Death, We Can Bulid You, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer are all well worth a read.

Of course, if he had been better-edited, and not obliged to churn out quite so much product by his lifestyle and environment, his genius would probably be far more widely recognised, so I'm not necessarily arguing with you there.

Thanks for the kind comments about the piece.

Paul Rhodes said...

Martian Time Slip is an interesting one - at least as a period piece, transplanting contemporary society's ills into the not-very-far future of 1994. Central to it is a theory of autism which seems quite bizarre today, but may have been less so then (apparently autism was for some years thought to be a form of schizophrenia).