Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Scanner Darkly

Philip K. Dick
Published 1977
Recommended for: drug users, acid-fantasy

Read from January 08 to 11, 2013 
Reviewed by Carol
★ ★ ★

I've started and restarted this review a number of times. With that in mind, I'm going to take a page from mark monday ( and share a multi-perspective review.

The .gif summation:


Recipe for A Scanner Darkly:

1. Take moderate amounts of the drug of your choice (recommend one with highly hallucinogenic and paranoiac qualities)
2. Allow to simmer while reading Less Than Zero
3. Stir in a random amount of a second drug (preferably one with potential for permanent brain damage--current versions of the recipe recommend bath salts)
4. Allow to cook in brain pan on high heat
5. Watch Rush, the movie.
6. Rinse and repeat until brain fully cooked

The literary critic:

Wandering, borderline incoherent narrative. Half-hearted attempt to tack on conspiracy theory at the end, which might have been effective had there been more building earlier. The story did surprise me in a couple of places, notably (view spoiler) which, while genius, does miss the consequence point he seems to want to make; and in the plot twist at the very end. Like the main character, Bob Arctor/Fred, PKD seems of two minds about the book: does he want to tell a story of extreme consequences to deliberate recreational drug use, or does he want to tell a mystery noir, with undercover agents, spying, illegal drug running, and conspiracies?

That said, character creation was brilliant. Each has his own way of interacting with drugs, his own purpose and own experience, and the intersections were fascinating. Barris with his experimental genius. Luckman with his pursuit of pleasure, Donna with her strangely drawn and arbitrary drug-use lines (ha-ha), and Charles Freck with his sad effort to self-medicate mental illness. I'm sure several of the conversations came out of real life; they are too absurd not to.

The psychological evaluation sections were interesting, and a clever device to give the reader insight into the world and Arctor, although the mumbo-science passed through my own tired brain. Stylistically, the language was essentially prosaic, but occasionally a phrase would catch my attention and stop me in my tracks with meaning:

"It will be a hindsight I won't even get to have. Somebody else will have to have it for me."

"And then he thought, Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then, briefly. Under very specialized conditions, such as today."

The personal:

Been there, done that. I get PKD and his motivations, I really do. His Author's Note was quite powerful, especially when he says "these people wanted to keep having a good time forever." Except it his book skipped the good time, the gentle slide into drug dependency, the slip of control from choosing to needing, personal charm eroded into manipulation. Had he done so, my sympathy for the characters would have been greater and my connection to the story deeper. I would have enjoyed it more if there had been more than the tiniest shred of redemption, some elements of joy and abandon to show the sheer delight of the "children playing in the street."

Three and a half tabs stars.

Cross posted at

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