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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.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,1481101,108 (3.99)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)
  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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» See also 144 mentions

English (104)  Spanish (2)  French (2)  German (1)  Slovak (1)  All languages (110)
Showing 1-5 of 104 (next | show all)
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 |
The ending *almost* redeemed this to three stars, but the writing style throughout was so... frustrating and confusing. I really love the concept of this book and I committed to finishing it because of the idea and the premise, but I struggled to make sense of Dick's writing style. And not just because this was a book about drugs -- I get that, and I get the effect he intended. But the actual writing was frustrating to get through. ( )
  emma_mc | Feb 17, 2020 |
This book tested my ability to follow the story of a protagonist with a deteriorating personality and relate to the culture of drug usage and addiction that led to that. I was unsuccessful relating to that culture in spite of the author's marvelous imagination and his ability to make the descent of the protagonist believable.

The protagonist is an undercover narcotics agent who poses as drug user Bob Arctor. Bob shares his house with two other users, Barris and Luckman, and has a girlfriend, Donna, who is a small-time dealer. Bob is addicted to Substance D—the “D” standing primarily for Death—and is ostensibly using Donna to find the source of this drug. Bob, using the alias Fred, is assigned to monitor the group at Bob’s house, but by necessity, that means he must monitor himself as Bob or blow his cover. The use of "scramble suits" that modify what others see when someone wears them, and allow Bob to masquerade as Fred, is the primary science fiction element in the novel.

When surveillance of Bob’s house intensifies because of suspicious behavior, so do acts of sabotage occurring against Bob. When the government installs monitoring equipment in his house, Bob and his housemates almost die from somebody tinkering with his car. As Fred, he finds himself reviewing the recordings of Bob and his friends, and in so doing finding himself in difficult discussions with his supervisor and fellow agents about the results. Fred also becomes disassociated from Bob, reaching a point where his/their mind is unable to guess each other’s actions. The title of the novel refers to the surveillance tool and the consequences when Bob/Fred cannot comprehend what he sees. It is also an allusion to the biblical phrase "through a glass darkly" (1st Corinthians 13:12).

The author is at his best in depicting how Substance D has damaged Bob's brain, splitting his personae and resulting in a decline into a state near brain death. Just as this process starts, Barris comes to the police and offers information that will get Bob busted as a major drug dealer-conspirator. Fred’s cover is blown, and he is placed in a detoxification program of "New-Path", where he takes on the name Bruce, his mental functions severely deteriorated.

The novel is loosely plotted, often going on tangents that help reinforce a sense of the drug community’s frame of mind (such as it is!). Along that line, the paranoia that Bob/Fred suffers is never confirmed. Was Barris the one sabotaging Bob’s belongings? Dick refers time and again to the capricious behavior of people on drugs and how one betraying whim does not necessarily link to others. Further, why is New-Path growing Substance D—outright greed and opportunism, or perhaps a means of gaining control of people who otherwise would resist being told what to do?

This is both a story about a community of drug users and one about the split personality of one man. The first chapter focuses on a friend of Bob who must cope with hallucinatory aphids, mirroring Bob’s own descent at the end. In an author’s note, Dick dedicated the book to friends from his own drug-using community, not condemning their choice but fully cognizant of the consequences they suffered. This is a book I would recommend only if you have already read some of Philip K. Dick's better novels like Ubik and The Man in the High Castle (my favorite). ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Jan 16, 2020 |
Between all the great imaginative novels PKD has written, this is by far my favorite (and that really says something. I love them all). Less sci-fi than most of his work, the novel is set in the near future amidst a group of junkies addicted to a drug called Substance D. The main protagonist, Robert Arctor, is an undercover cop who slowly gets destroyed by addiction. It is full of strange drug trips that are kind of funny - until they gradually stop being fun and everything starts falling apart.

This book spoke to me on an emotional level when I first read this as a teenager on a camping site near Amsterdam. I deeply felt with Arctor who is slowly being ground to pieces by a system he does not fully understand, for some greater good he knows nothing about. I have re-read this twice since, and can absolutely see myself re-reading it at least once every decade. I love the scene where Donna furiously rams her enemy, the Coca Cola truck, trying in vain to make it pay for all the fucked-up stuff society does to ordinary people who can't fight back. ( )
2 vote Alexander.Winnefeld | Nov 30, 2019 |
The title refers to scanners and perception, surveillance and the relationship we have with ourselves. The book is driven by the drug culture of the 60s. Both worlds come together, and really this is a book about paranoia and loneliness, in all their forms. The plot is essential, but at the same time just background - a thread to hang all the characters' stories off.

My main problem reading the book was that the film was so vivid it really stuck in my head. If you haven't read or seen either, definitely read the book first, otherwise you'll have Keanu Reeves' voice narrating everything.
After reading it though, I saw the film again. It is close indeed, and very well done. But it missed the depth of the book, the build up of paranoia, and the climax of what can only be called 'love', which is given more space and anger in the written version. ( )
  6loss | Nov 7, 2019 |
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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.
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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