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A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly (1977)

by Philip K. Dick

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5,05778891 (4.01)120
  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 73 (next | show all)
This was the second time I've read this book, and the first time I rather disliked it – it made me really depressed. (And I was also busy trying to figure out specifically WHY my brother picked it to give me as a gift)!
However, this time I liked it much more – I read it all in one day, staying up way too late to finish it. I think that it's one of those books that really benefits from a second reading – knowing how things turn out allows you to go back and see implications that one might have missed the first time around.
‘A Scanner Darkly' is a very anti-drug book. But it's not merely anti-drug, it's also deeply distrustful of police, government and rehab, suggesting, through a slightly-science-fictional premise, that users of drugs, although victims of their own bad decisions, may also be dupes of authority. ("Just ‘cause you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you.")
Based, autobiographically, on a period in Philip K. Dick's own life, the book portrays the mentality of addiction extremely believably, as he tells the story of Bob Arctor, an undercover police narc who gradually loses sight of his own identity: is he ‘Officer Fred,' an upstanding member of society – or is he really Bob, one of a houseful of junkies who live for their next fix of Substance D – the drug they accurately call "slow death"?
Who is supplying Substance D, and what is the agenda behind it? ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
A bit rough around the edges, but a brilliantly insightful novel. Though some of the sci-fi elements feel forced into the story (as indeed they were--Dick worried he wouldn't be able to sell a work of contemporary fiction), the story remains compelling for its honesty and its humanity. Better still, it retains Dick's insights into our inhumanity, our crass unconcern for one another and what a long, arduous struggle it is to simply care about another person--or, indeed, to care about ourselves. And in this book, because it is so close to Dick's own experiences (the dedication at the end is genuinely beautiful), I think Dick accomplishes his vision more perfectly than in anything else I've read so far. A friend once told me he wanted to write a dystopian novel in which the horrible dystopia was that in the future, everything is the same as it is today. But I think with A Scanner Darkly, Dick had long ago beat him to the punch. ( )
1 vote Snoek-Brown | Feb 7, 2016 |
I decided to start reading some of the work of Phillip K. Dick and for now I'm relying on the titles available at my local library. When I picked up A Scanner Darkly, I didn't know anything about it other than that they made a "rotoscope" film about a decade ago but I never saw the movie and didn't pay enough attention to know the plot. Reading the synopsis on the back of the book was very intriguing...it sounded like sort of weird split-personality situation where the protagonist was a policeman who was hunting after himself. As I started reading the book, I realized that my interpretation of the synopsis was a little bit off, but the book was still intriguing.

The story revolves around the protagonist, a man named Bob Arctor who is a flaky drug user in Southern California living with a bunch of other druggies. He also happens to be an undercover narcotics officer trying to work his investigation up the drug traffic chain to find the big suppliers at the top. The trouble is, Bob actually did start using some of the drugs to maintain his cover and now he's a full-blown addict and is on the verge of a mental breakdown as a result.

There's a lot of internal monolog as both Bob the druggie and Bob the cop and as the book goes on, his psyche becomes more and more segmented to the point that my original reading of the synopsis makes some sense in that Bob the druggie seems somewhat unaware that he's actually a cop and he's very paranoid that he's going to be caught...meanwhile Bob the cop has dissociated himself so much from his other self that he studies and tails the drug user as a separate person. The whole concept is a little trippy (pardon the phrasing) and takes some time to wrap your head around the creative way the scenes play out.

The book is set in the future so there are some sci-fi elements but they are minimal. Remnants of the author's contemporary technology are still in place (the cars, the music, the phones, etc.). Probably the most intriguing piece of futuristic tech is the "scramble suit" that the cop wears when making his official reports or doing other leg work in an official capacity. The scramble suit is a full body suit with high-tech camouflage that "scrambles" the wearer's appearance constantly so that he/she is never recognizable. The technology and use of the suit seems to be yet another factor in Bob's loss of "self" and his mental schism.

A lot of the book is spent with extensive scenes where Bob is talking with his other addict friends in various states of drug use. The language definitely gets R-rated and a lot of times the conversations are semi-random ramblings about life, society, paranoia and corruption. The druggies go back and forth between being super friendly to each other and playing tricks on each other and sometimes being outright antagonistic to one another. I've not personally sat around through lengthy drug-induced conversations but the few times I have interacted with people who have been very drunk or high, their behavior and language seemed very familiar to what was portrayed in this book. The notes at the end of the book indicate that a lot of the content is semi-autobiographical based on Dick's own drug problems and his interactions with fellow users.

Dick indicates that he didn't write the book trying to sell some big anti-drug message but more he wrote it as a sort of memory to his old friends who he's lost over the years to their abuse. It's clear he doesn't condone drug d use and the way the plot plays out it's clear that he'd like to see the drug trade taken down any way possible. More than that though I felt like he was just showing the tragic way that these people's lives are wasted and destroyed and sadly they often get to a point where there is no way to fully recover.

At the end, I can say this was an interesting read. It spun my head in circles at times and left me thinking about things but mostly it just made me sad and frustrated that the drug problem just keeps plugging away even though everybody (at least most people here in the U.S.) are taught and understand from their childhood that truly nothing goocomes of getting into drugs. I understand there are some who "don't have a choice" and that sometimes psychological problems or other influences make a person feel like the risks are outweighed by what they hope to gain. Overall, I felt like this was an okay book but not something I would call a "must read." Still, it left me in a thoughtful place.

3 out of 5 stars ( )
1 vote theokester | Feb 3, 2016 |
Brilliant book about the nature of drug abuse and the plight of drug addicts. Having the story play out through the eyes of a narcotic agent turned addict, and the way Dick handled the bending of reality was weird and wonderful. The ending in particular was masterful and left me contemplating what I had just read. ( )
  hickey92 | Jan 24, 2016 |
My favorite PKD books tend to be those published in the 60s when he was writing wacky fun reality warping sci-fi like [b:Ubik|22590|Ubik|Philip K. Dick|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327995569s/22590.jpg|62929], [b:The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch|14185|The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch|Philip K. Dick|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1338461946s/14185.jpg|1399376], [b:Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep|7082|Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?|Philip K. Dick|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1435458683s/7082.jpg|830939] etc. Of his 70s books that I have read [b:Flow My Tears the Policeman Said|22584|Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said|Philip K. Dick|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1398026028s/22584.jpg|949696] is my favorite, whereas [b:VALIS|216377|VALIS (VALIS Trilogy, #1)|Philip K. Dick|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388200579s/216377.jpg|23607] I could not (as yet) finish. I think the later PKD novels tend to be more serious and introspective though the weirdness is always present.

A Scanner Darkly is one of his early 70s books and I find it more grounded than his earlier books, less insane and a little less fun to read. It is also semi-autobiographical and more melancholy than his other books that I have read. Set in the “near future” of 1992 (it was the future at the time) in a grubby, dystopian California where the general standard of living appears to be very poor and drug addicts possibly outnumber the non-addicts. The novel is mostly centered on Bob Arctor, an undercover narcotics officer who lives among three addicts in a rented house and has a girlfriend who is a small time pusher. Bob’s cover is of course as another addict and his mission is basically to glean enough info form his junkie friends and his girlfriend to locate and arrest the producers of a powerful and popular drug called “Substance D”.

The trouble is Bob is too deep under cover and has become an addict himself, consuming copious amount of this drug which messes up his head to the extent that he begins to have an identity crisis and lose his capacity for clear thoughts. As a police agent, Bob goes under the name Fred and always wear a “Scramble Suit” which prevent people from remembering his appearance so his true identity is known only to himself.

This novel reads more like a thriller or drama about drug abuse than science fiction. The sci-fi elements like the scrambled suit and holographic photos seem to have been shoehorn in to make the novel legitimately sci-fi, because for some reason Dick did not want the book published as a “mainstream” book, possibly because sci-fi is his comfort zone or to avoid alienating his regular readers (just my conjecture).

Fans of PKD’s weird goings-on will find enough to please themselves here I think. There are even some hilarious moments in the book such as the bizarre story of a motorized man-shaped block of hash told by one of the junkies.

Dick is often criticized for writing inelegant prose, I never notice this myself as I have always liked his uncluttered prose, the right tool for the right job of telling his bizarre stories. Flowery or lyrical narrative style seems to be very unsuitable for his material. That said A Scanner Darkly seems to be more well written than his books from the 60s; on the other hand there is much more swearing in this book than I can remember from his earlier books. There is also a little bit of romance, considerable compassion, kindness, and sadness. Elements I do not usually associate with PKD’s works. The saddest part of the book is actually the author’s Afterward at the end of the book.

I would recommend reading this novel then watch the 2006 faithful movie adaptation for maximum appreciation. Not my favorite PKD as there are dull patches here and there but overall a very worthwhile read and one of his more “important” novels.

And now a mini-review of A Scanner Darkly, 2006 movie

It is a good movie with a unique look and good performances by the actors. However, I wish the filmmaker Richard Linklater has shot the movie conventionally instead of employing the "interpolated rotoscope" technology to make the movie look like animation. On the plus side, the movie does look suitably surreal, like junkie's drug addled perspective. Unfortunately, the animated look puts an additional layer between the actors and the audience and causes an emotional disconnection. ( )
  apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (43 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philip K. Dickprimary authorall 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
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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.
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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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679736654, Paperback)

Mind- and reality-bending drugs factor again and again in Philip K. Dick's hugely influential SF stories. A Scanner Darkly cuts closest to the bone, drawing on Dick's own experience with illicit chemicals and on his many friends who died from drug abuse. Nevertheless, it's blackly farcical, full of comic-surreal conversations between people whose synapses are partly fried, sudden flights of paranoid logic, and bad trips like the one whose victim spends a subjective eternity having all his sins read to him, in shifts, by compound-eyed aliens. (It takes 11,000 years of this to reach the time when as a boy he discovered masturbation.) The antihero Bob Arctor is forced by his double life into warring double personalities: as futuristic narcotics agent "Fred," face blurred by a high-tech scrambler, he must spy on and entrap suspected drug dealer Bob Arctor. His disintegration under the influence of the insidious Substance D is genuine tragicomedy. For Arctor there's no way off the addict's downward escalator, but what awaits at the bottom is a kind of redemption--there are more wheels within wheels than we suspected, and his life is not entirely wasted. --David Langford, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:18 -0400)

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A drug dealer of the future periodically moves away from his spaced-out world to become an informer for narcotics agents until he becomes unable to separate his two personalities.

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