To the Encyclopedia Dickiana To the Short Stories of PKD Thanks to all who Helped Odds & Ends of PKDiana Search for text in this Site
To the Novels       To the Short Stories      To the Credits           Essays & Extras         Search this Site

PKD Research Survey

       Many books and aricles have been written on the life and career of Philip K. Dick, the late, great Californian master of the science fiction novel. But how useful are these various efforts to explain PKD to the semi-serious student of the Master's work? To which should one turn for details of PKD's life, his philosophy, his novels and short stories?
    Perhaps a survey of the surveyors is needed? As publisher of FOR DICKHEADS ONLY, a fanzine dedicated to the study of Philip K. Dick's work, I find the following materials most often stacked around me as I do my research.

    The first of these is Gregg Rickman's To The high Castle, Philip K. Dick: A Life 1925-1962. (1989). I turn to this volume when I wish to find information on the publishing circumstances of PKD's early novels and short stories. For instance, one can look in the index under SOLAR LOTTERY and find nineteen citations, many of which are useful toward gaining an idea of why, when, and how PKD's first science fiction novel came to be published by Ace Books in 1955 (and as WORLD OF CHANCE by Rich & Cowan in 1956 in the U.K.). Most of KD's early novels and many short stories are covered in similar depth. Of course, To The High Castle (TTHC) is primarily a biography and as such has details of PKD's life from birth until 1962 when he wrote his Hugo Award-winning novel THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. The only fault to this study of Rickman's to my mind is that Rickman appears to have certain idee fixes concerning PKD's childhood -- for example, it is here that we find mention and detailed exposition of PKD's supposed child molestation at the hands of one of his family. Also, there is too much reference to various psychological authorities to bolster Rickman's ideas. Well, perhaps the fault is mine; I have little time for psychological 'theorizing.'

    Fortunately, there is another biography to complement Rickman's. This is Lawrence Sutin's Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (1989). To a researcher more interested in the history of PKD's novels themselves, this book lacks the concentration of Rickman's To The High Castle -- it covers PKD's complete career in slightly less pages than Rickman spends on the first 34 years. But it is useful, nevertheless, in that, between the two studies, one can build a more complete picture of how each of PKD's novels came to fruition. And as biography it of course lacks Rickman's psychological emphasis and is, thus, a more sympathetic portrait of the Master.

    To these two indispensible biographical works one must add, in book form, Paul William's Only Apparantly Real (1986). this slim volume of mostly interview material between Williams and PKD covers the events that surround the mysterious break-in of PKD's apartment in 1971 and touch on his 2/3-74 'Valis' experiences. As a friend of PKD's as well as his literary executor, Paul Williams perhaps comes closest to a feel for PKD as he was in real life. Only Apparently Real also includes in an appendix the definitive chronological ordering of PKD's work by order of composition -- a matter that has been somewhat shrouded in confusion.

    There are two interviews available in book form: Gregg Rickman's In His Own Words (1984) and The Last Testament (1985). The first of these I find most useful as in it PKD discusses each of his novels with much digression into his life, his influences and the art of writing. The second volume delves more into PKD's philosophy and visions.

    Some interview material is also available on audiocassette. Notable is Gregg Rickman's Piper In The Woods (1987) and John Boonstra's interviews of 1981. There may be more.

    But now we're getting into the realm of the hard-to-come-by: the cassettes, the 'zines, the scholarly works, the obscure publications. There are many of these, one needs only to turn to the listings in Levack's PKD: A Philip K. Dick Bibliography (1981) -- if you can find a copy of this rare book -- ot the more accessible Galactic Central bibliography, PKD:Metaphysical Conjurer, A Working Bibliography (1990) to find a feat of PhilDickiana large enough to satisfy any fans appetite.

    Before taking a look at some of these more obscure items we must mention a few other important works without which a study of PKD cannot begin to be complete. The first of these is In Pursuit Of VALIS: Selections From The Exegesis (1991), compiled by Lawrence Sutin. This, apart from a few excerpts, is the lengthiest extraction of material from PKD's obsessive, mostly hand-written, notes that he wrote from 1974 till his death in 1982. Much is related here by PKD himself on his 2/3-74 mystical experiences and on many of his novels including VALIS, THE DIVINE INVASION, A MAZE OF DEATH, EYE IN THE SKY, A SCANNER DARKLY, FLOW MY TEARS, THE POLICEMAN SAID, and others. Mostly it is interpretation and theorizing as PKD tried to sort out the meaning of his visions and how his books tied into it all somehow. Until a complete edition of 'The Exegesis' is published (not planned at this time), this volume will have to serve to give us some idea of what it's all about. As a selection from a million-word project, In Pursuit Of VALIS has its faults, mainly in that a particularly fascinating excerpt will be unceremoniously cut off in mid-flight, as it were, leaving the reader grasping futilely at a glimmer of understanding only to see it wink out with the abrupt editing. Still, another indispensible volume for the comitted Dickophile.

    In the academic world, quite a few books have been written and compiled on PKD. Most recent of these is On PKD: 40 Articles From Science Fiction Studies (1993). this volume of scholarly essays cannot be easily summarized. Suffice it to say that on every page there is much to think about: some of it startling, suggestive and illuminating, and some of it boring, idiotic and impenetrable. However, the book includes an interesting Introduction and a listing of all the PKD material housed in the California State University at Fullerton archives as well as a controversial Letters section, PKD's Foreward to his short-story collection, THE PRESERVING MACHINE, and Stanislaw Lem's "A Visionary Among The Charletans." This is a book no student of Philip K. Dick can afford to be without.

    There are other academic-type books available, some serving as introductions to PKD's work and others which focus more on specific works. Of the former, I will mention Douglas Mackey's Philip K. Dick (1988), hazel Pierce's Philip K. Dick (1983) and Kim Stanley Robinson's The Novels Of Philip K. Dick (1984). Of the latter, these bear mention: Philip K. Dick (1983) edited by Greenberg and Olander, and Mind In Motion: The Fiction Of Philip K. Dick (1987) by Patricia S. Warrick. There are many more.

    Perhaps the single greatest resource for the Dickophile is the complete, 30-edition collection of The Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter (1982-92), edited by Paul Williams. This publication ceased after ten years in 1992 but is still available from the publisher. Each issue of PKDS, as it is known, contains a wealth of information on Philip k. Dick-related matters, including letters from fans, writers, critics and essays from same. Occasional interviews can also be found and much material on the stories and novels of PKD, even including some of Dick's correspondence with his publishers, excerpts from the Exegesis, photographs, theories, reviews, important essays, new editions, upcoming events such as movies, plays and musical works based on PKD's works. And a whole lot more. Now I've used the word 'indispensible' a lot in this survey but if there is one set of items that are truly so it is the collection of the The Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter.

   Luckily for PKD fans the The Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter was replaced in 1992 by Radio Free PKD, edited by Greg Lee, and our own more occasional effort, FOR DICKHEADS ONLY.

    Radio Free PKD has access to much of the material left over from the PKD Society files and is an ongoing forum for the discussionand dissemination of PKD's work and life. This is the zine to keep us up to date on the life after life of Philip K. Dick.

    For Dickheads Only focuses in each issue on one of PKD's science fiction novels and includes letters from fans, reader want lists, xeroxed covers of ancient editions and essays on the novel at hand. A popular feature is the 'fave PKD story horse-race where readers vote for their favorite PKD story. The most recent issue concerned itself with SOLAR LOTTERY.

    Now we must turn to the many and varied articles and interviews available (or not: much of this material seems to exist only in xerox form) in small press publications and science fiction magazines of various quality. A mere listing of the most prominent will have to do here.

    An interesting and lengthy interview with PKD, conducted by Gwen Lee and Doris E. Sauter can be found in Starlog #165, April 1991, and another by Gregg Rickman in Argosy Nov 1990. And Twilight Zone Magazine, June 1982, has an interview with John Boonstra, while in Science Fiction Eye, Vol.1, #2, August 1987 we find another interview conducted with PKD by Richard Lupoff. Perhaps the oldest interview available is the one in Science Fiction Review, #19, August 1976, conducted by Daniel DePrez. And maybe the best of the lot is that by Charles Platt found in Platt's book Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction. (1980). This book can still be found in libraries and occasionally in the used-book stores. And there are more intervies scattered about here and there. For the interested reader, acquiring one of the Philip K. Dick bibliographies mentioned above will be the best bet to find them.

    In the world of 'other media' we must, of course, mention the two versions of the film BLADERUNNER (1982) based on PKD's novel  DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? The first videocassette version of this movie is the standard pan-and-scan version dating, perhaps, to 1983. This was recently superseded by the 'Director's Cut,' letter-boxed version of 1993. Also, Carolco has produced a cersion of TOTAL RECALL (1991) which was based on PKD's short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale." This videocassette came out in 1992.

    In audiocassette form -- though I don't know where you'll be able to get them from -- can be found tapes of PKD's radio versions of his short stories, "The Defenders" and "Colony". The originals I have to hand are copyrighted 1986 by a company called 'Radio Showcase', address unknown. And a recent reading of PKD's short story, "The Short, happy Life Of The Brown Oxford" by Ed Begley Jr. is also out there somewhere. There are a few other items in this form but are just too obscure to mention here.

    So, that should be enough for any fan of Philip K. Dick and his work who is willing and ready to take the next step into obsession! But be warned! Once in the world of PKD you may find, like Barney Mayerson of THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH, that you can never be sure if you'll ever get out again.

-- Dave Hyde Jan 1994. {This article appeared in Slipstream in 1994}




























Return to