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A Scanner Darkly (1977)

by Philip K. Dick

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,2031141,105 (3.98)144
Bob Arctor is a dealer of the lethally addictive drug Substance D. Fred is the police agent assigned to tail and eventually bust him. To do so, Fred takes on the identity of a drug dealer named Bob Arctor. And since Substance D--which Arctor takes in massive doses--gradually splits the user's brain into two distinct, combative entities, Fred doesn't realize he is narcing on himself.… (more)
Recently added byprivate library, Count_Zero, imlee, pgkr, YESMORELIGHT, PhilipFrance, Makis, ltbxf4, dayspring83, klstaples93
Legacy LibrariesTerence Kemp McKenna
  1. 10
    Rubicon Harvest by C. W. Kesting (Aeryion)
    Aeryion: The world of Rubicon Harvest seems to be a mixed homage to both Scanner Darkly and A Clockwork Orange in the way the sub-culture of designer drugs are used and abused and how their importance interplay with the expression of self and the experience of perception on reality. The synthetic neurocotic Symphony makes Substance D look like Tic-Tacs. Rubicon Harvest deserves it's place among the medicated plots of these other great postmodern works of spec-fiction!… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 108 (next | show all)
I had a whole lot of fun reviewing this...

http://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/a-scanner-darkly-by-philip...

But there is a serious side:

In the novel, Fred’s mind and brain are regularly tested by police department psychologists, owing to the stress of both maintaining a dual identity, and taking drugs as part of his undercover life. Dick avoids the off-the-shelf cliché’s of ink-blots and electric shocks, as the author describes realistic test scenarios and recognisable neuropsychological tests. Worryingly for Fred, the results of divided visual field and embedded figures tests suggest that his cortical hemispheres are becoming functionally separate, as they gradually lose the ability to communicate and fail to integrate information.

Here, the author melds science-fiction with science-fact, with an inspired reading of Sperry’s work on split-brain patients. Dick was fascinated by Sperry’s discovery that patients with surgically disconnected cerebral hemispheres (a treatment for otherwise untreatable epilepsy)seemed to show a dual or partitioned consciousness. Where previously it was thought that the right side of the brain was largely ‘silent’ and relied on the dominant left, new research suggested that each hemisphere “appeared to be using its own percepts, mental images, associations and ideas” (Sperry, 1993). In Dick’s novel, ‘Substance D’ induces a similar splitbrain disconnection (directly referencing Sperry in some passages), providing an explanation for the protagonist’s increasingly fractionated and incoherent self-consciousness.

Far from being a fantastical notion of a far-flung plot, the idea that psychosis might result from a disengagement of the hemispheres was subsequently discussed in the scientific literature and is still influential today. Dimond (1979) for example, compared patients diagnosed with schizophrenia and split-brain patients, arguing that in both conditions “there is a fundamental failure of in the transfer of information between the two hemispheres”, suggesting “split-brain symptoms are present in schizophrenia”. Although the resemblances between psychosis and the effects of split-brain operations are no longer regarded so highly, clear evidence for differences in the structure and function of the hemispheres in psychosis remains (Gur and Chin, 1999; Pantelis et al., 2003). Perhaps ironically, ideas that many people might have dismissed as imaginative plot, turned out to be reasonable and well informed scientific speculation.


It is from Bell, V. (2006) Through A Scanner Darkly: Neuropsychology and psychosis in Philip K. Dick's novel "A Scanner Darkly". The Psychologist, 19 (8), 488-489. You can see the whole article online: http://cogprints.org/5021/1/VaughanBell_ThroughAScannerDarkly.pdf





( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
I had a whole lot of fun reviewing this...

http://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/a-scanner-darkly-by-philip...

But there is a serious side:

In the novel, Fred’s mind and brain are regularly tested by police department psychologists, owing to the stress of both maintaining a dual identity, and taking drugs as part of his undercover life. Dick avoids the off-the-shelf cliché’s of ink-blots and electric shocks, as the author describes realistic test scenarios and recognisable neuropsychological tests. Worryingly for Fred, the results of divided visual field and embedded figures tests suggest that his cortical hemispheres are becoming functionally separate, as they gradually lose the ability to communicate and fail to integrate information.

Here, the author melds science-fiction with science-fact, with an inspired reading of Sperry’s work on split-brain patients. Dick was fascinated by Sperry’s discovery that patients with surgically disconnected cerebral hemispheres (a treatment for otherwise untreatable epilepsy)seemed to show a dual or partitioned consciousness. Where previously it was thought that the right side of the brain was largely ‘silent’ and relied on the dominant left, new research suggested that each hemisphere “appeared to be using its own percepts, mental images, associations and ideas” (Sperry, 1993). In Dick’s novel, ‘Substance D’ induces a similar splitbrain disconnection (directly referencing Sperry in some passages), providing an explanation for the protagonist’s increasingly fractionated and incoherent self-consciousness.

Far from being a fantastical notion of a far-flung plot, the idea that psychosis might result from a disengagement of the hemispheres was subsequently discussed in the scientific literature and is still influential today. Dimond (1979) for example, compared patients diagnosed with schizophrenia and split-brain patients, arguing that in both conditions “there is a fundamental failure of in the transfer of information between the two hemispheres”, suggesting “split-brain symptoms are present in schizophrenia”. Although the resemblances between psychosis and the effects of split-brain operations are no longer regarded so highly, clear evidence for differences in the structure and function of the hemispheres in psychosis remains (Gur and Chin, 1999; Pantelis et al., 2003). Perhaps ironically, ideas that many people might have dismissed as imaginative plot, turned out to be reasonable and well informed scientific speculation.


It is from Bell, V. (2006) Through A Scanner Darkly: Neuropsychology and psychosis in Philip K. Dick's novel "A Scanner Darkly". The Psychologist, 19 (8), 488-489. You can see the whole article online: http://cogprints.org/5021/1/VaughanBell_ThroughAScannerDarkly.pdf





( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
I had a whole lot of fun reviewing this...

http://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/a-scanner-darkly-by-philip...

But there is a serious side:

In the novel, Fred’s mind and brain are regularly tested by police department psychologists, owing to the stress of both maintaining a dual identity, and taking drugs as part of his undercover life. Dick avoids the off-the-shelf cliché’s of ink-blots and electric shocks, as the author describes realistic test scenarios and recognisable neuropsychological tests. Worryingly for Fred, the results of divided visual field and embedded figures tests suggest that his cortical hemispheres are becoming functionally separate, as they gradually lose the ability to communicate and fail to integrate information.

Here, the author melds science-fiction with science-fact, with an inspired reading of Sperry’s work on split-brain patients. Dick was fascinated by Sperry’s discovery that patients with surgically disconnected cerebral hemispheres (a treatment for otherwise untreatable epilepsy)seemed to show a dual or partitioned consciousness. Where previously it was thought that the right side of the brain was largely ‘silent’ and relied on the dominant left, new research suggested that each hemisphere “appeared to be using its own percepts, mental images, associations and ideas” (Sperry, 1993). In Dick’s novel, ‘Substance D’ induces a similar splitbrain disconnection (directly referencing Sperry in some passages), providing an explanation for the protagonist’s increasingly fractionated and incoherent self-consciousness.

Far from being a fantastical notion of a far-flung plot, the idea that psychosis might result from a disengagement of the hemispheres was subsequently discussed in the scientific literature and is still influential today. Dimond (1979) for example, compared patients diagnosed with schizophrenia and split-brain patients, arguing that in both conditions “there is a fundamental failure of in the transfer of information between the two hemispheres”, suggesting “split-brain symptoms are present in schizophrenia”. Although the resemblances between psychosis and the effects of split-brain operations are no longer regarded so highly, clear evidence for differences in the structure and function of the hemispheres in psychosis remains (Gur and Chin, 1999; Pantelis et al., 2003). Perhaps ironically, ideas that many people might have dismissed as imaginative plot, turned out to be reasonable and well informed scientific speculation.


It is from Bell, V. (2006) Through A Scanner Darkly: Neuropsychology and psychosis in Philip K. Dick's novel "A Scanner Darkly". The Psychologist, 19 (8), 488-489. You can see the whole article online: http://cogprints.org/5021/1/VaughanBell_ThroughAScannerDarkly.pdf





( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
Re-read 5/15/19:
I'm continually surprised, now with my third read, how much fun I have with this novel. How much fun I have with the bugs. Or how much fun I have with the missing gears on the bike. Or how much fun I have with Bob, Fred, or whoever the hell the main character is. :) By the end, he is entirely nameless.

Freaky cool.

I think, more than anything, I love the philosophy that is snuck in at random moments or explored in long stretches without a direct reference. PKD's afterward is very nice and also very sad, but the core idea is not lost.

We were all just kids not wanting to grow up, but the punishment was entirely out of scope with that crime.

This is, ostensibly, a novel about drugs, but it is also something much deeper.

It is a novel about ennui, confusion, paranoia, and the senseless horror of living a world that cannot know what it wants, or if it does, refuses to give an inch when it comes to forgiving itself. You might say it is a hell of our own creation. Deep? Not really. Kinda obvious. But so obvious that we continually forget the fact and get caught up in our continual confusion until we utterly forget it. And then, when we have someone pipe up with the pithy observation that we're living in a hell of our own creation, we laugh and get a hammer and kill the poor fool or get him hooked on drugs or send him to a mental institution or we follow him around like some guru and shave our heads and no one pays him any mind anyway.

Hello, Phil! Oh wait, you died right after you FINALLY got out of poverty when they made Blade Runner. You lived in abject poverty all your life... and now we have movie after movie after movie made from your legacy.

Yep. Sounds about right. Welcome to the Empire. It never ended.


Original Review:

This is my second time reading this wonderful novel, and I see no reason to revise any of my initial impressions. It's still very enjoyable... Again. Maybe I have a soft spot in my heart for all those wonderful novels that either deal with the nature of reality, of conscious identity, of drug use, or just plain consequences of one's actions.

Fortunately for me, I've got so many of my favorite themes in one novel. To me, it builds on the success of [b:Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas|7745|Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas|Hunter S. Thompson|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1394204569s/7745.jpg|1309111] and only mildly resonates with any overt SF gadgethood. Instead, it speculates wildly about the people who use and the people who suffer, showing us all how much worse the punishment is for what is, in effect, a victimless crime.

A discussion about Pot? If so, it is rather early in the turning of the wheel. We're shown people having fun despite the darkness of their lives and despite the heavy consequences, whether by huge mental instability, outright madness, incarceration, brainwashing, and last but not least, inequity of justice.

Maybe the last isn't as obvious until you read the author's afterward, or maybe it'll bash you over the head as you roam the fields. Either way, Death is only an inversion of self, and the faster a person runs toward fulfilling themselves through drugs or hedonism, the faster they lose everything that matters in their lives.

PKD's dark universe and exploration of the mind falling apart, of draconian measures tearing harmless people apart, of the absolute irony of the end of the novel... all of it is a testimony of heartbreak in the midst of humor.

I happen to know a bit about PKD's life. He wasn't the drug fiend that people made him out to be. He smoked some pot and dropped a few tabs of acid in his life, but he was also a man of his times. He WROTE as a man of his time. He was more interested in philosophy and the nature of reality, religion, and the mind that most writers, but that's not to say he was anything other than paranoid. He was. And that was the main feature of most of his great novels. Counterculture was his passion. So was questioning the fabric of reality.

Some of his last novels exemplify this. A later brain tumor cannot explain away the devotion to these threads of themes, although I think we can all agree that it did make him a bit obsessive about it.

Regardless, this was first and foremost a deliberate novel set out to deliberately show the blurred definitions between the norms and the abnorms, the crazies and the sane, the users and the clean. Everything was merely a reversal in the glass. Narcs and pushers were practically the same, and the funniest bits of the book had to be either the antics of the friends or the deliciousness of having our MC ironically persecute himself every step of the way.

What a beautiful novel. Not my absolute favorite of his works, but it is crazy good.

Now, off to re-watch the great Linklater film! ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
In this partly biographical book, PKD sets about telling the tale about the latest Drug on the block, Substance D. It is written from the point of view of Bob Arctor, a drug addict who is living with a couple of other druggies and who spend most of their time completely stoned.

Arctor is an undercover cop, who is living the life to try and get to the source of the Substance D. He starts getting friendly with Donna, who has a contact, and he slowly starts to fall in love with her. His police bosses realise that this Bob Arctor is s critical link, but they don't realise that their spy and Arctor are one and the same person as they all wear scramble suits to protect their identity. As Arctor's brain descends into a drug addled mush he starts to loose all grip on reality and all sense of his identity.

This is tough book to judge and comments on. I think that he has got the decent into partial madness perfect with characters displaying the common traits of drug abuse, and the thing that they see whilst under the influence. It is partially auto biographical, and PKD did have a lots of trips so he knows exactly how to describe when suffering. I particularly like the scramble suits, but the rest is definitely dated now. Most poignant is the list of people that he knew that were either dead or a hollow shell of humanity after substance abuse, and this book is a perfect thing to pass to someone wondering what drugs can do. ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philip K. Dickprimary authorall editionscalculated
久志, 浅倉Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burgdorf, Karl-UlrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gasser, ChristianAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martin, AlexanderTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
North, HeidiCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ochagavia, CarlosCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Webb, TrevorCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
浩生, 山形Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his hair.
Era uma vez um tipo que passava todo o dia a catar piolhos. O médico disse-lhe que não tinha piolhos.
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Robert Arctor halted. Stared at them, at the straights in their fat suits, their fat ties, their fat shoes, and he thought, Substance D can't destroy their brains; they have none.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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