Not like I do, anyway. Philip K. Dick (1928˝82) is the only prolific author whose whole life's work I can justly claim to have read through twice, picayune exceptions notwithstanding. The fact that my eyes may have passed over on second attack some of the lesser posthumous novels or the massive volumes of letters is surely compensated for by the fact that I've reread Ubik, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Martian Time-Slip, A Scanner Darkly, and a couple of other faves three, four, even five times since my discovery of Dick, long ago, at age fifteen. He was my "favorite writer" ten years before the start of the republishing boom (Vintage began reissuing his novels in 1991ˇeighteen titles so far, eighteen more to come in the next two years) and was as formative an influence on me as marijuana or punk rockˇas responsible for beautifully fucking up my life, for bending it irreversibly along a course I still travel. I find I need to spill this now, not (I hope) merely to establish provenance but to get on paper, before it is too late to recall, some glimpse of what that special condition known as Dickheadedness meant in the lost years after his death and before his recent and ongoing canonization. Also, I need to warn you: Dick's "official shelf" as built by Vintage's heroic efforts is growing ever more strange and misleading as it makes contact with the outer reaches of his vast and woolly catalogue. So I offer myself as a native guide.
The world doesn't need another introduction or apologia. There have been plenty, probably the best being Steve Erickson's 1990 LA Weekly piece. I took my own crack at it in the Salon.com Reader's Guide two years ago. By now nobody needs persuading that Dick is some kind of important figure, but anyone who has cracked one of the books knows he presents problems, foremost in the disastrous unevenness of his prose, even within the space of a given page. He's that type of great writer: Dickens and Highsmith are others. Russians will tell you Dostoyevsky is, too, and that we don't know this because translators have been covering his ass. Dick's ass, though, is uncoverable. In the words of Bob Dylan, another prolific and variable artist whose oeuvre offers pitfalls for newcomers, "I'm in love with the ugliest girl in the world!"
I'd read maybe a dozen of Dick's novels before I encountered the word oeuvreˇand maybe forty before I dared use it in a sentence. Dick visited France ("I had the interesting experience of being famous") in 1974 and there possibly heard the word applied to his work. By that time his generous irony had mostly covered over his raw sense of rejection by the literary establishment ("The only non-SF writer who ever treated me with courtesy was Herbert Gold, who I met at a literary party in San Francisco") and he might have enjoyed the use of the word but likely wouldn't have identified much. I'd like to propose an alternative term, irv. We'll speak of Dick's irv.
This summer Vintage will republish Dr. Bloodmoney, Time out of Joint, Clans of the Alphane Moon, and The Simulacra. Not a bad batch, not bad at all. In particular, Dr. Bloodmoney is one of Dick's most novelistic and humane books of the early '60s (along with The Man in the High Castle and Martian Time-Slip) as well as one of the most sensitively and capably (maybe I should say least-badly) written. Time Out of Joint is a dark- horse favorite set in a Cheeveresque '50s suburb and incorporating the flavor of Dick's realist novels (unpublished during his lifetime) into a pataphysical˝Twilight Zone framework, marred only by a piss-poor ending. Clans is a cruel and antic psychiatric farce, written as if cribbed from the DSMR-IV; Simulacra, a murkily overpopulated Balzac-ian social panorama. Bloodmoney and Time are crucial books. Clans and Simulacra, if not exactly ideal entry points to the irv, don't shame it.