A Review of A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner DarklyA Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very serious book by Philip K. Dick, and it’s another mind f***, but in a very literal way. It’s about the drug culture in the not-too-distant future, and it’s largely autobiographical, if you go by what the biographers write about Dick in the ’70s.

The book is about Fred, an undercover narc who uses a scrambler suit to shield his identity, even from his police bosses, and about Bob Arctor, Fred as he actually is, living a drugged out existence with several roommates and other friends. The primary drug of choice is Subtance D, otherwise known as “death.” As the book evolves, Bob takes more and more in his undercover role, so that at some point Fred, the narc, has his brain addled just like Bob’s.

The bizarre Dick twist begins when Fred is assigned to spy on Bob — himself. Cameras are placed all over his house, and in his scramble suit at another location, Fred spends time viewing what he — Bob — and his roommates do in their house. The dialogue is bizarre, drug addled, and yet witty, almost enjoyable at times. Funny. What’s sad, however, is that Fred/Bob develops a split personality, chemically, due to his Substance D intake and is ultimately taken off the case and sent away for rehab, which is pretty gruesome. I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say that it involves a standard Philip K. Dick plot twist that I found unexpected, and I suppose, somewhat fulfilling.

This book hardly counts as sci fi for me. It’s more of a druggie mystery novel with scramble suit technology throw in to make it “sci fi”-ish. Still, it’s a good novel, albeit gritty. One of the truly sad moments is at the end of the book when Dick dedicates the book to over a dozen friends of his who died or suffered permanent psychosis or brain damage due to their addictions. It serves to make this book really real. It’s a good, quick read, but if you’re expecting typical sci fi or even typical Dick fare, you might be disappointed. I still recommend this book though, as I think it’s well worth the read.

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