I'm a big fan of the science fiction books of Philip K. Dick, the late author who will no doubt gain new fans now that Ben is reading a dog-eared copy of "VALIS" on "Lost." The PKD novel most people are familiar with is "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - it's assigned in college classes and the movie "Blade Runner" was made from it.
Like all of PKD's best work, "Androids" mixes pathetic/sympathetic humans with the most bizarre pseudo-scientific things the author can dream up. A bounty hunter administers empathy tests to see if a being is human or not - if not, he blows their head off. Meanwhile, he desperately saves money to upgrade his electronic pet from a sheep to a goat.
I'm also partial to "A Scanner Darkly," where a cop investigates himself without knowing it; "Eye in the Sky," where people's skewed world views become reality; and "Galactic Pot-Healer," which uses a giant alien named Glimmung as a metaphor for socialism.
Philip K. Dick's "In Milton Lumky Territory" will be published in April, continuing Tor Books' line of reissues of the author's overlooked non-science fiction work.
My two favorite PKD books, though, aren't sci-fi: "Voices from the Street" and "Humpty Dumpty in Oakland" are early career efforts that had gone unpublished and underpublished, respectively, until Tor Books dusted them off in 2007. A third old gem, "In Milton Lumky Territory," will be reissued on April 29.
In these novels, PKD drops the hilariously predictive futures and explores pathetic characters of his own time. "Oakland," for example, follows Al Miller, the ultimate loser of a used-car dealer who can't get his life together - largely by his own doing.
These three books were written between 1952-60, but were rejected by publishers, forcing PKD to switch to sci-fi (and making me wonder if he vaguely parodied the genre even as he pushed its boundaries). Today, "Street" and "Oakland" stand as delicious time capsules of the suburban expansion of 1950s northern California, while "Milton" spans the Western U.S.
You don't need to understand cars, radios or typewriters to get lost in these characters' daily struggles - you just have to be a human being (or a top-of-the-line android).
- By John Hansen,
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