Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick

(pb; 1977)

From the back cover:

“Cops and criminals have always had been interdependent, but no novel has explored that perverse symbiosis more powerfully than A Scanner Darkly. Bob Arctor is a dealer of the lethally addictive drug called Substance D. Fred is the police agent assigned to tail and eventually him. To do so, he has taken on the identity of a drug dealer named Bob Arctor. And since Substance D – which Arctor takes in mammoth doses – gradually splits the user's brain into two distinct, combative entities, Fred doesn't realize that he is narcing on himself...”


The paranoid stoner (and bleakly hilarious) loop-logic that forms the first half of A Scanner Darkly turns insidious in the second half, as author Dick explores one of his more full-blown literary hallucinations. The tangents, for all their loopiness, are restrained, dope- and character-true, flip-flopping out of the characters' realities (which are constantly shifting, often on the turn of a word).

Add to this controlled madness the fascinating characters who may or may not be what and who they seem to be: there's Jim Barris, a creepy malicious junkie-roommate of Bob's, who's setting Bob up for a fall – or is Jim trying to save Bob from himself? There's also Donna, Bob's sort-of “girl,” who plays middlewoman in some of Bob's deals, deals that reveal her compassionate personality.

About the last sixty pages or so, Dick's narcotized narrative turns more rambly – there's a major shift in the plot: it's irritating, but okay, because of the subversive line that closes the novel.

Well worth your time, if you can deal with Dick's freak outs. Recommended to fans of Williams S. Burroughs (whose own literary vision were often chemically crazed) and Hunter S. Thompson's more “gonzo” writing.

The animated film was released stateside on July 28, 2006. Keanu Reeves played Bob Arctor. Robert Downey Jr. played James Barris. Woody Harrelson played Ernie Luckman. Winona Ryder played Donna. Rory Cochrane played Charles Freck.

Richard Linklater directed and scripted the film.

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