Philip Kindred Dick (December 16 1928 - March 2 1982), often known by his initials PKD, was an American science fiction writer who had a profound effect on the genre. He was hailed by and was friends with a number of prominent science fiction authors such as Robert Heinlein, yet he received little recognition from the general public during his lifetime. By the 1990s his works had become some of the most popular of all of science fiction, with Dick gaining both general acclaim and critical acceptance.

Discarding the optimistic and simple worldview of Golden Age science fiction, Dick consistently explored the themes of the nature of reality and humanity in his novels. An influential precursor of the cyberpunk sub-genre, Dick brought the anomic world of Southern California to many of his works. He is also one of the first great exponents of the sub-genre known as alternate history in his novel The Man in the High Castle. He also produced a tremendous number of short stories and minor works which were published in pulp magazines.

His works are characterized by a constantly eroding sense of reality, with protagonists often discovering that those close to them (or even they themselves) are secretly robots, aliens, supernatural beings, brainwashed spies a la The Manchurian Candidate, hallucinating, or some combination of the above.

Dick experimented with mind-altering drugs, though he often denied that they were any great influence in his work.

Table of contents
1 His Youth
2 Dick and his visions
3 His death
4 Dick's influence on others
5 Bibliography
6 External links

His Youth

Dick's parents divorced when he was young and the family uprooted to California. He went to high school in Berkley and briefly attended the University of California-Berkley. He sold records and was a disk jockey before selling his first story in 1952. He sold his first novel in 1955. He wrote full-time, more or less, from that time forward. The 1950's were a hardscrabble time for Dick, so much so that, as he once said, "we couldn't even pay the late fees on a library book." He associated with the pre-1960's counterculture of California and was sympathetic to the Communist Party. In 1963, he won the Hugo Award for The Man in the High Castle. Though Dick was hailed as genius at this time in the SF world, the literary world as a whole was as yet unappreciative, and so he could only published books at low paying SF publishers. Consequently, while he would regularly publish novels for the next several years, he continued to struggle financially and psychologically. Dick was opposed to the Vietnam War and had a file at the FBI as a result. Dick married five times, eventually having a son, Christopher.

Dick and his visions

On February 2, 1974, (A date which he would write of frequently, later calling 2-3-74 for some reason) he was recovering from the effects of sodium penthanol administered after the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth. Answering the door to receive a delivery of additional pain killers, he noticed the woman delivering the package was wearing a pendant with the intersecting arcs called "vesicle pisces". After her departure, Dick began experiencing strange visions, which may have initially be attributed to the painkillers, but after weeks of these visions the cause becomes less clear. He experienced what he described as laser beams shooting through his mind and geometric patterns, and occasionally brief pictures of Jesus Christ and ancient Rome. As the pictures increased in length and frequency, Dick claimed that he began to live a double life, one as Philip and one as Thomas, a Christian persecuted by Romans thousands of years ago. Despite his current and past drug use, Philip accepted these visions as reality, believing that he had been contacted by a god-entity of some kind, which he referred to as Zebra, God, and most often VALIS. VALIS is an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System, he used this term as the title of one of his novels, he later theorized that it was a satellite of some kind which used beams to communicate with people on Earth. He claimed that the being used what he called "disinhibiting stimuli" to prep the subjects for the communication, in his case the vesicle pisces.


Most observers of this phenomena would conclude Dick's visions were a brief psychotic episode, and they might be correct in that assumption. However, what has allowed the mystery of Dick's experiences to endure are reports of several even more intriguing incidences. One such event, during an encounter with the VALIS, Dick learned that his son was in danger of perishing from an unnamed malady. His son was only an infant, and routine check-ups on the child had shown no trouble or illness. Dick insisted that thorough tests be run to insure his son's health. The doctor eventually complied, despite the fact that there were no apparent symptoms. During the examination doctors discovered an inguinal hernia, which would have killed the child if an operation was not quickly performed. The child survived thanks to the operation, which Dick accredited to the VALIS. Another related event was an episode of Glossolalia. Dick's wife wrote down the phonetic sounds she heard, and they later discovered that he was speaking an ancient dialect of the Greek language, which he had never studied.


Regardless of the apparent evidence that he was somehow experiencing a divine communication, to Dick was unable to ever fully rationalize the events. For the rest of his life, he struggled to fully comprehend what was occurring, questioning what was reality, what was sanity, and excising what thoughts he could into an 8,000 page, million word journal dubbed the Exegesis. He spent sleepless nights furiously writing into this journal, in some instances high on large quantities of amphetamines, which lend to its eclectic tones. A recurring theme in the Exegesis is his hypothesis that history had been stopped in the 1st century, and that the "[Roman] Empire never ended". He saw Rome as the pinnacle of materialism, and that after forcing the Gnostics underground 1900 years earlier had kept the population of the Earth as thralls to worldly possessions. Dick believed that VALIS had contacted him and unnamed others to induce the impeachment of Richard M. Nixon, who Dick believed to be the Emperor incarnate.

As time went on, he became increasingly paranoid, imagining plots against him perpetrated by the KGB or FBI, who he believed were constantly laying traps for him. At one point he alleged that they had broken into his house and pilfered various documents, though later he stated that he probably committed the burglary himself, and forgotten it later.

His later works, especially the Valis trilogy, were heavily autobiographical, many with 2-3-74 references or influences. Dick was also a voracious reader of works on religion, philosophy, metaphysics, and Gnosticism, and these ideas found their way into many of his stories. His final novel was The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Dick's works may be compared with those of William S. Burroughs. (Dick is arguably less scathing and more philosophical.)

His death

Philip K. Dick died of a stroke in 1982. Ultimately, he never learned what caused his strange visions or what VALIS wanted, if it wanted anything. It has been theorized that Dick suffered from epileptic discharges in his temporal lobe. This can cause subtle, non-disabling seizures which can cause feelings ranging from a general disorientation to what are construed as "psychic" experiences. The myriad of symptoms which go along with these discharges read like a summary of the last decade of Dick's life, and are better defined in an article of the topic of temporal lobe seizures. Part and parcel to these kind of seizures is a behavioral phenomenon called "hypergraphia", where the subject begins obsessively documenting their experiences usually in journal form. Even with these logical explanations, the whole array of Dick's life is very odd, and some events simply cannot be explained at this time.

Dick's influence on others

Like other more famous science fiction authors, several of Dick's stories have been made into movies. Most of these are only loosely based on Dick's original story, using them as a starting-point for a Hollywood action-adventure story. While the most admired is Ridley Scott's classic movie Blade Runner, the action film Total Recall faithfully translates a number of Dick themes, albeit with uncharacteristic violence.

Philip K. Dick is often cited as a major influence on the Cyberpunk movement led by William Gibson, but as this work, and titles as diverse as the inventive Eye in the Sky and Martian Time Slip, the moving Galactic Pot Healer, the complex and yet delicate The Man in the High Castle and the chilling yet deeply moving A Scanner Darkly show, there was much more to his genius than just influence.


Short stories

"Beyond Lies the Wub"
"The Gun"
"The Little Movement"
"The Skull"
"The Variable Man"

"The Builder"
"The Commuter"
"The Cookie Lady"
"The Cosmic Poachers"
"The Defenders"
"The Eyes Have It"
"The Great C"
"The Hanging Stranger"
"The Impossible Planet"
"The Indefatigable Frog"
"The Infinities"
"The King of the Elves"
"Martians Come in Clouds"
"Mr. Spaceship"
"Out in the Garden"
"Piper in the Woods"
"Planet for Transients"
"The Preserving Machine"
"Project: Earth"
"Second Variety"
"Some Kinds of Life"
"The Trouble with Bubbles"
"The World She Wanted"

"A World of Talent"
"The Last of the Master"
"Adjustment Team"
"Beyond the Door"
"Breakfast at Twilight"
"The Crawlers"
"The Crystal Crypt"
"The Exhibit Piece"
"The Father-thing"
"The Golden Man"
"James P. Crow"
"Jon's World"
"The Little Black Box"
"Of Withered Apples"
"A Present for Pat"
"Prize Ship"
"Prominent Author"
"Sales Pitch"
"Shell Game"
"The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford"
"Small Town"
"Strange Eden"
"Survey Team"
"Time Pawn"
"Tony and the Beetles"
"The Turning Wheel"
"Upon the Dull Earth"

"Captive Market"
"The Chromium Fence"
"Foster, You're Dead!"
"The Hood Maker"
"Human Is"
"The Mold of Yancy"
"Psi-man Heal My Child!"
"Service Call"
"A Surface Raid"
"Vulcan's Hammer"
"War Veteran"

"A Glass of Darkness"
"Minority Report"
"Pay for the Printer"
"To Serve the Master"

"The Unreconstructed M"


"Explorers We"
"Fair Game"
"Recall Mechanism"
"War Game"

"All We Marsmen"
"The Days of Perky Pat"
"If There Were No Benny Cemoli"
"What'll We Do With Ragland Park?"

"Cantata 140"
"A Game of Unchance"
"Novelty Act"
"Oh, to be a Blobel!"
"Orpheus with Clay Feet"
"Precious Artifact"
"The Unteleported Man"
"The War with the Fnools"
"What the Dead Men Say"

"Project Plowshare"
"Retreat Syndrome"

"Holy Quarrel"
"We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"
"Your Appointment Will Be Yesterday"

"Faith of our Fathers"
"Return Match"

"Not By Its Cover"
"The Story To End All Stories"

"A. Lincoln, Simulacrum"
"The Electric Ant"

"Cadbury, the Beaver Who Lacked"

"The Different Stages of Love"
"The Pre-persons"
"A Little Something For Us Tempunauts"

"The Exit Door Leads In"

"I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon"
"Rautavaara's Case"
"Chains of Air, Web of Aethyr"

"The Alien Mind"

"Strange Memories Of Death"

"The Day Mr. Computer Fell Out of Its Tree"
"The Eye of The Sibyl"
"Fawn, Look Back"

"Goodbye, Vincent"


"The Name of the Game is Death"


1955:Solar Lottery ;1956:The World Jones Made
The Man Who Japed
;1957:Eye in the Sky
The Cosmic Puppets
;1959:Time Out of Joint ;1960:Dr. Futurity
Vulcan's Hammer
;1962:The Man in the High Castle ;1963:The Game-Players of Titan ;1964:Martian Time-Slip
The Simulacra
Clans of the Alphane Moon
The Penultimate Truth
;1965:The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb
;1966:The Crack in Space
Now Wait for Last Year
The Unteleported Man
;1967:Counter-Clock World
The Zap Gun
The Ganymede Takeover with Ray Nelson
;1968:Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep ;1969:Ubik
Galactic Pot-Healer
;1970:Maze of Death
Our Friends from Frolix 8
;1972:We Can Build You ;1974:Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said ;1975:Confessions of a Crap Artist ;1976:Deus Irae with Roger Zelazny ;1977:A Scanner Darkly ;1981:Valis
The Divine Invasion
;1982:The Transmigration of Timothy Archer
The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike
;1985:Radio Free Albemuth
Puttering About in a Small Land
In Milton Lumky Territory
;1986:Humpty Dumpty in Oakland ;1987:Mary and the Giant ;1988:The Broken Bubble
Nick and the Glimmung (for children)
;1994:Gather Yourselves Together

Movie adaptations of Philip K. Dick's works


External links