Philip K Dick: the writer who witnessed the future

Forty years for the reason that dying of the sci-fi writer – whose tales have impressed movies like Blade Runner and Minority Report – Adam Scovell explores how prophetic his work has been.

Introduction: Philip K. Dick’s Prophetic Vision

I’m in passport management. I can see my face on a display screen. The expertise recognises me and lets me via. I scan codes exhibiting my vaccination standing and up to date Covid check outcomes. The machines assess the information relating to my well being and microbiology. By means of into the ready room, individuals are staring into little screens. A unusually massive quantity have the digital camera flipped, and are capturing their faces at totally different angles, as in the event that they’ve forgotten what they appear to be. I open my laptop computer and take part. I give my particulars to an organization to enter the digital realm. Adverts tailor-made to my persona pop up. They know me higher than I do know myself.

That is 2022. And 2022 is a Philip k Dick novel.

Writers of science fiction typically really feel extra prescient than others. Whether or not it is the menace to ladies’s rights within the work of Margaret Atwood, the architectural and social dystopias of JG Ballard’s novels, or the internet-predicting world of E M Forster’s The Machine Stops (1909), the style is replete with prophetic writers coping with ever extra acquainted points.

Out of all such writers, few appear a extra unlikely seer of our occasions than the US writer Philip k Dick, who died 40 years in the past at the moment on the age of 53. In a remarkably prolific 30-year interval of labor, Dick authored 44 novels and numerous brief tales, variations of which went on to redefine science fiction on display screen – particularly Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), which was based mostly on Dick’s story Do Androids Dream of Electrical Sheep? and Paul Verhoeven’s Complete Recall (1990), which took his 1966 brief story We Can Bear in mind It for You Wholesale as its supply materials. Extra just lately Dick’s novel The Man within the Excessive Fort (1962) has been become successful Amazon sequence.

The person behind the visionary worlds

Dick was not merely an efficient author of unusual fictions, however an uncommon individual in his personal proper. Burdened by deteriorating psychological well being, visions, and what he alleged had been all method of paranormal experiences – lots of which had been woven into his expansive oeuvre – Dick had a troubled and fragmented relationship with actuality. Within the Seventies, the writer started to expertise two parallel timelines of his personal life, his ideas invaded in 1974 by what he informed interviewer Charles Platt was a “transcendentally rational thoughts”, one thing he had many names for, however mainly VALIS; an acronym for Huge Lively Dwelling Intelligence System. It grew to become the topic of one in every of his late semi-autobiographical works, the 1981 novel VALIS, printed not lengthy earlier than his dying.

Dick’s tales posited the ubiquitousness of the web, digital actuality, facial recognition software program, driverless vehicles and 3D printing – Stan Nicholls
Whether or not his visions had been medical or supernatural, one factor is evident: Dick had a startling means to foreshadow the fashionable world. Celebrated science-fiction and fantasy writer Stan Nicholls suggests Dick’s work is prescient as a result of it explored the longer term via the then-present. “His tales posited the ubiquitousness of the web, digital actuality, facial recognition software program, driverless vehicles and 3D printing,” Nicholls tells BBC Tradition – whereas additionally stating that “it is a false impression that prediction is the first goal of science fiction; the style’s hit fee is definitely not superb in that respect. Like all the most effective science fiction, his tales weren’t actually in regards to the future, they had been in regards to the right here and now.” Certainly, Dick’s incorporation of on a regular basis facets of post-Conflict America into his futures has meant that his worlds possessed a surreal familiarity.

However, the way in which he additionally anticipated specific technological and societal developments stays hanging. “He had plenty of scientific photographs of the way in which the longer term would work,” says Anthony Peake, writer of the biography A Lifetime of Philip k Dick: The Man Who Remembered the Future (2013). “As an illustration, he had an idea that you’d have the ability to talk promoting to individuals straight, that you simply’d have the ability to know them so properly that you would goal the advertising exactly to their anticipations. And that is precisely what is occurring on-line.”

Peake might be referring to any variety of Dick’s tales, probably the most well-known on this regard being the 1956 story The Minority Report, tailored for the cinema in 2002 by Steven Spielberg. Display screen variations have typically latched on to the invasive nature of promoting in his work, but the author explored the theme in way more element than as merely a background aesthetic (which is the way it manifests on display screen).

Within the 1954 brief story Gross sales Pitch, for instance, the concept of aggressive but unnervingly personalised promoting finds fruition in a demented machine that always markets itself on the story’s protagonist. Within the 1964 novel The Simulacra, then again, promoting is embodied by a mechanical fly-like creature. As he writes within the novel, the “business, fly-sized, started to buzz out its message as quickly because it managed to drive entry. ‘Say! Have not you generally stated to your self, I am going to guess different individuals in eating places can see me!'”. It is a bodily equal of spam or tailor-made adverts popping up on social media.

Dick’s political concepts

Dick’s work typically had a political dimension, too. The Man within the Excessive Fort, for instance, imagines another historical past by which the Nazis received World Conflict Two. In lesser-known works similar to Eye within the Sky (1957), this politics is extra of its interval. Within the novel, a bunch of individuals turn into caught in numerous totally different worlds conjured by every particular person, due to a malfunctioning particle accelerator. The narrative focuses particularly on a world dreamed up by a communist member of the group who has been dismissed from the laboratory for holding such beliefs. The twist is that the world conjured with apparent over-the-top Marxist leanings is, in reality, the product of the lab safety chief who can be a communist however in secret. The e-book confirmed that Dick’s politics couldn’t be simplified into an easy description of left or proper, as he was biting in his assaults on each the McCarthy-esque witch hunts of the interval in addition to the extra evangelical leanings of communism.

Dick argued we had been present in a simulation. Elon Musk prompted controversy fairly just lately by successfully venturing the identical thought – Anthony Peake
Dick was altogether anti-establishment: his tales function authorities and corporations constantly abusing their energy, particularly with regards to surveillance. His worlds are ultra-commodified and their residents hooked on materialism, whereas superstar, media and politics meld to create nightmarish, authoritarian eventualities, often topped off with a heavy dose of technocracy and forms.

This forms manifested itself in numerous kinds all through his work. In his 1974 novel Movement My Tears, the Policeman Mentioned, set in a dystopian 1988 the place the US is once more dominated by a dictatorship, a singer and TV host known as Jason Taverner wakes as much as discover himself in a world by which he’s immediately not well-known and lacks the numerous paperwork now required to keep away from being arrested and despatched to a labour camp.

Taverner might wrestle to get past the essential spot checks and cordons in Movement My Tears, however different Dick characters wrestle to do probably the most basic items, even in their very own properties. Within the 1969 novel Ubik, a personality finally ends up arguing with the door to his condo, as he would not have the change to get in through its coin-operated mechanism. The door even threatens to sue him when he tries to interrupt it down. Each side of the lived expertise turns into commodified in Dick’s work, a side that feels deeply poignant. Dick sees a paywall future, the place the facilities of our personal properties all require a token providing, even when at the moment that providing is private info moderately than unfastened change.

The Simulation Hypothesis

Placing apart Dick’s means to foreshadow the longer term we now take as a right, his most unnerving imaginative and prescient was of the world itself in the end being a simulation. Dick’s actuality was already a fragile and sophisticated one. In lots of his later books, the concept of actuality being a façade grew as a dominant theme. “Dick argued we had been present in a simulation,” Peake suggests. “Elon Musk prompted controversy fairly just lately by successfully venturing the identical thought.”

Whether or not his visions had been, as he believed, a product of glitches within the simulation or his fading psychological well being, one factor is for sure: the world by which the work of Philip k Dick is widely known at the moment feels ever nearer to those imagined by this most original and distinctive of writers.

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