The Excesses of Philip K. Dick

Happy new year, mammals. I’m too busy meeting next month’s Nowa Fantaskyka deadline to get a proper post into the queue today, and I’m undecided which subject to settle on anyway:  the one where we explore the irony of launching an eradication program against a species that’s just been taken off the Endangered Species list, or the one where I have to admit that neurologically, I’m a Republican? (I’d welcome input on this matter.)

In the meantime, though, I have just finished 1400 words of critique on the posthumous release of Philip K. Dick’s grocery lists — all 900 pages of them — so if you need something to tide you over, I commend you to my first-ever review over at Hardcore Nerdity.

See you in a day or two.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Saturday January 07 2012at 12:01 pm , filed under Uncategorized . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

19 Responses to “The Excesses of Philip K. Dick”

  1. I’d be willing to read a post on either of those subjects. I just love how our species seems to find it so natural that we manage the populations of others while we don’t dare set limits on our own. Such depression inducing irony.

  2. Yeah, sign me up for that subject too, sounds like it would be an interesting read.

    And as a Dick/Burroughs fan, Exegesis sounds nicely Naked Lunchish for my tastes. Thanks for the review Peter.

  3. neurologically, I’m a Republican

    Topics neurological help make this blog zippy. My fave was the portia spiders taking a minute or two to scope out the path to the tasty fly because they have tiny little brains. I got such pleasure out of imagining the spider going *thinkthinkthinkthinkthinkthinkthink* until he/she got it.

    The review of The Exegesis makes me more likely to buy it. However, I would assume a major reason to publish it is that his estate will make money, they hope, from the sales? A legitimate reason, but not related to art.

    It completely explains that abortion-on-toast, Variable Star – decades after Heinlein dies, they find his 1955 notes for an unfinished novel, and then get Spider Robinson to it. Money has to be a major explanation, because it was unreadable.

  4. Are you referring to Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults? Given your posts on NF, I’m expecting photographic evidence.

    I might get the Exegesis to be a completest. He blew my mind as a kid. I’ve already got In Pursuit of Valis: Selections From the Exegesis. I loved the homage in Daryl Gregory’s Pandemonium. (I sort of remember loving Philip K Dick Is Dead Alas but that was so long ago that I can’t remember the book very well or trust that I’d still love it). I even have a movie documentary about him. For some reason it was so easy to identify with the guy.

  5. @Hljóðlegur: The spider-story had been posted a few days before I had discovered the ‘Crawl. Maybe this link fits to it. Some spiders extend their brains into the legs: http://smithsonianscience.org/2011/12/brains-of-tiny-spiders-fill-their-body-cavities-and-legs-smithsonian-researchers-find/


  6. neurologically, I’m a Republican

    John Ringo is too(paleo-republican), and he seems of similar bent to you. BDSM afficionado, writer, athletic..

    .. seeing you two debate something would be a treat.. (lol)

    Wow.. he’s got an associate degree in marine biology too. Talk about coincidences..though, he instead worked in IT, citing lack of money in biology. Then, he had a family to support..

  7. Andrea, oh neat. I was just reading a blog post the other day about hexapode gaits and roach-mounted cannons giving insight in to robot design, which had a parenthetical about decapitated roaches. The parenthetical went off to an article where a researcher was quoted as saying,

    For instance, although cockroaches have a fantastic memory, “when we’ve tried to teach them when they had bits of them missing, it’s hopeless. We have to keep their bodies completely intact.”

    Which I tried to see if I could find a paper about that, but did not.

  8. @Andrea Cool! The image of the neural tissue is especially cool.

  9. There are several problems with attaching neurological phenomena to political opinions.

    1) Many of the studies use pathetically-small samples.

    2) Many of the studies survey such non-representative samples as college freshman.

    3) Many of the studies test for political affiliation by checking if you agree with what the investigator imagines to be liberal or conservative opinions. For example, according to the F-scale I’m a “liberal airhead.” (Most people I know think of me as a reactionary fruitcake.) For another example, OKCupid tested for political orientation with four questions which put me on the liberal side of the fence.

  10. As I have my 20 year old & disintegrating copy of Sutin’s biography a constant companion on my desk I suppose I shall have to pick up the Exegesis door stopper having read about its content for so much of my life. I checked the first page of Androids Dream and confirmed the clanger you cite. I would still argue that Dick does write better than this example for sustained stretches in much of his work but he often churned out sloppy prose at a furious pace while fueled by amphetamines late at night. I wonder to what extent he performed re-writes of his first draft (your review mentions the Exegesis talking of edits requested by his publisher so he had to do some when requested though it appears he didn’t like it – an attitude shared by many writers I suspect). He certainly knew fine prose as he had read the great works of modern literature as a young man in the late ’40s. He briefly lived with a young poet who regularly visited Ezra Pound at his place of confinement – St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Washington – so his circle of Berkeley friends had a fine sensibility and it often left him feeling at a disadvantage.

    I do wonder why the Hardcore Nerdity people wanted a review of this work. From a quick perusal of the site it would appear to be full of TV junk. It doesn’t seem like the kind of site where a lot of serious Phil Dick fans would be found (although there has been the multitude of film adaptations of his work which might attract the media fans although if one hasn’t read the novels jumping straight into the Exegesis might result in death by drowning).

  11. @Ray Pullar – Sci fi is TV now. I know, I know, I was shocked the first time I told someone I was into science fiction, and they enthusiastically said, “Me, too!” then went on at length about all the television they had watched. Remember how in Fahrenheit 451 everyone looked at cartoons and it was all horrific because no one read anything anymore in that fictional future? It’s coming true!

  12. I, for one, look forward to the day when our benevolent robot overlords will not have to weather this blatant mammillian chauvanism. When all sophonts be they silicone or flesh and blood are appretiateted for their intellectual characteristics. And when they add a more robust spell check feature to my phones web browser.

  13. Phil Dick might have appreciated the transmigration of SF from print to TV since he sold plenty of TVs during the late ’40s while working at Herb Hollis’ Berkeley shop. He even wrote the copy for a commercial spot on the radio advertising them (as reproduced in Divine Invasions):

    “University Radio in Berkeley greets you. Yesterday when we came to work we found that our salesman had moved his potted palm to the other side of the store, so that he could see the television screen better. Customers are requested not to bother him with inquiries about buying things. If you wish to purchase a Magnovox, kindly lay the money on the counter with a note describing the set you want. If you are lucky, he may notice your request between television programs.”

    It may have been drawn from life as Sutin also says of Dick’s time as a Hollis employee:

    “He preferred evening shifts, on the theory that passersby would be drawn to the lit-up TVs. In the process, he became a devoted on-duty viewer of Kukla, Fran and Ollie.”

    and later writes in description of his first home shared with his second wife Kleo:

    “In the living room was a large TV (Phil believed in the Hollis goods he sold), for which he built a protective plywood case.”

    Around 1957 he also received an offer of work on the Captain Video radio show as a scriptwriter though he did refuse (Sutin suggests he didn’t want to travel to NYC).

    On the other hand, by 1968, in the pages of Androids Dream, the presentation of the mindless babble spewing from the TV in the corner of the room (Buster Friendly & His Friendly Friends) perhaps indicates a change of attitude on Phil Dick’s part, followed a few years after by Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said with its anti-hero protagonist, the world’s biggest chat show host on TV, Jason Taverner, who receives the full Kafka treatment (his worst nightmare involves losing his fame).

    Regarding Bradbury’s rather paranoid fantasy at least no one has turned up on my doorstep with a flame-thrower demanding access to my library! It’s more a case of neglect rather than active persecution.

  14. Inevitably, Wikipedia has a page on Kukla, Fran and Ollie. And unsurprisingly, it was a puppet show for children originally broadcast on NBC from 1947-1953 (before switching to ABC in 1954) at 6 pm Central time. Sorry if North Americans know all about it but as a Brit it was new to me.

    “Fran was Fran Allison, a radio comedienne and singer who was usually the only human to appear on screen, filling the role of big sister and cheery voice of reason as the puppets engaged each other concerning their foibles. The design style of puppets was in the style of Neapolitan puppet shows, or Punch and Judy without the slapstick, but their personalities were less caricatured. The puppet cast included Kukla, the earnest leader of the troupe; Ollie, or Oliver J. Dragon, a roguish one-toothed dragon (who would slam his flat chin on the stage in frustration or roll on his back to be endearing); Madame Ooglepuss, a retired opera diva; Buelah Witch, a liberated witch; Fletcher Rabbit, the troupe’s mailman and resident fussbudget; Cecil Bill, the troupe’s union stagehand who spoke in “tooie talk”; Colonel Crackie, a Southern gentleman; Doloras Dragon, Ollie’s younger cousin, and a number of others.”

    And one can obtain the early episodes watched by Phil Dick while on the evening shift at University Radio of Berkeley on DVD! All I need now is a late ’40s American TV set and some way of connecting a DVD player to it and I can recreate the whole scene. Preferably with a simulacrum of Phil himself sat in front of it. Does the Exegesis mention which of the puppets was his favourite? Did he construct an entire theology/cosmogony around them?

  15. Always love to feel my brain contort as it stretches to take all that in.

    On Bright Eyes, a while back, you were dabbling on this subject, yes? http://www.ted.com/talks/antonio_damasio_the_quest_to_understand_consciousness.html

    And yes, you do have a fan base large enough to live off fame’s interest alone.

  16. Well, Peter, Republicans and sci-fi authors have a lot in common. Both have to carefully pick, and in some cases, distort facts to fit a set of pre-conceived notions, and both need to be able to craft convincing speculation based upon smallest real-world hint (sometimes even with no hint whatsoever)
    :-)

  17. Hey, I got the Exegesis of Philip K Dick for $17 at Barnes & Noble! Such a deal.

  18. oh btw,

    Philip K. Dick and his kitty, they’re both a couple of freaks.

    Philip K. Dick and kitty, smiling for a change.

    (I’ve been wishing to see an entry for Peter)

  19. The Exegesis for $17 sounds like a bargain. We will redeem you wholesale, immortal life or your money back. Cosmic wisdom costs less than you think, shipped overnight to your door.

    Perhaps SF conventioneers could schedule regular readings from the holy book of Dick, display relics (the very typewriter upon which the master composed Ubik, his favourite snuff box, a partially consumed tub of amphetamines, a stuffed cat etc).