Philip K. Dick – Writing between prophecy and madness

Unimpressed, Rick Deckard, played by a really young Harrison Ford, sits opposite Rachael, played by Sean Young. Wrapped in the smoke of her cigarettes, which puts the whole scenery in a fog, he asks his questions while not letting the camera out of view, which shows one of her eyes in close-up. Is the woman in black a Replicant? An android? The test will show. Only this test can distinguish man from replicant, in a world in which not even replicants themselves know whether they are humans.

Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” was released in 1982 and went down next to Stevens Spielberg’s “ET.” Nevertheless, the film, only recently released in cinemas, may be one of the defining films of the genre. Something the film has in common with the author, because the literary basis “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” should have been Philip K. Dick’s first filmed story. Dick saw another test screening. Just before “Blade Runner” came to the screen, he died of a stroke at the age of 50.

Somewhere Adolf Hitler has also won the war

Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman said once, that Philip K. Dick was for the second half of the last century, what Franz Kafka was for the first half. Even in Dick’s countless stories, the constant shortage of money and the low fees for science fiction stories made him a diligent writer, the characters often grope in the dark about what is happening around them, as well as about themselves. They are more a pawn than a player because as an author, Dick did not always focus on the classic science fiction hero. It is the reactions and the life in the future of the 2nd row and the average consumer, who interest Dick.

The fact that Philip K. Dick had a loyal, albeit manageable fan base during his lifetime, was also due to this fact. The right half of his works appeared at a time when America was in love with technology and sent people to the moon. In Star Trek, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, as the noblest thing on earth and vulcan, explored the galaxy where no one had ever been before. While Dick wrote about a future run by androids that ruled the world, leaving nuclear wars or companies behind. Or when he took the reader right into such a completely different parallel universe, as in his first small success, the novel “Der Mann im hohen Schloss,” better known as the Amazon Prime film adaptation “The Man in the High Castle”. Dick, influenced by Richard Nixon as president, tormented by paranoia, drew up an alternative vision of the future, in which the USA had been divided between the winners Germany and Japan after the Second World War. While the Americans have mostly resigned themselves to it, even serve in the SS, weekly newsreels are repeatedly brought to the surface, showing a world, in which the Third Reich and Imperial Japan were crushed. The story may be one of the more lurid of its kind, in fact, Dick wrote it when money was once again particularly scarce, but nevertheless, it focuses on one of its primary themes: What is reality? What is truth? And do we want to know for sure? His story is like the literary variant of quantum theory, in which countless universes can coexist, or particles can exist millions of light years apart yet are one and the same particle. Sounds confusing? Yeah, it is. But that’s why there are so few who really understood quantum physics or write stories like Philip K. Dick.

“Reality is what refuses to disappear when I stop believing in it.”

Philip K. Dick

But let’s go back to Rachael. She’s a young woman with long brown hair. The little brunette girl who appears in many of his stories. The image of a woman, who is not coincidentally like those with whom the author had been married, despite his withdrawn lifestyle. But there’s more to this little brunette girl.

His lifelong companion died as a one-year-old infant

Philip K. Dick’s twin sister Jane died when they were a little over a year old. The family had just moved from Chicago to the West Coast. We can assume Dick didn’t really remember his sister. But all his life he always had the feeling that she would accompany him. Dick, who was repeatedly driven by visions with or without drug use, must have appeared in some moments as if his sister were standing next to him in blood and flesh. And he recreated it countless times, Rachael from “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” is just one of those Jane’s. In the end, the siblings were reunited. The parents had a common grave laid out for the twins, the nameplate of one half of the cemetery remained empty for almost 50 years, then her brother followed Jane. I wonder what it’s like to know all your life, that there’s a grave waiting for you up there on the mountain. Maybe Jane was also the driving force behind, why Dick kept creating alternative worlds, hoping to find his sister in one of these worlds.

“Philip K. Dick is practically the Charles Dickens of science fiction in his density and attention to detail.”

Ridley Scott

Today the name Philip K. Dick is more common, although still unknown. But at least there is a good chance that almost everyone has already seen a film version of his books, or at least one of the many films inspired by Dick, as in the case of “Matrix” or “The Truman Show.” This too is sometimes proof of why we are still so interested in his stories today. Dick died on March 2, 1982, but what he left us can confidently be described as “at the pulse of time.” With “Minority Report” Steven Spielberg filmed a near future in which the police know about a crime before it happens. And put the criminal behind bars before the criminal even planned his crime. Sometimes also before he even had the idea to action. Many police officers which uses predictive policing may see this as wishful thinking, while a computer algorithm tells them where the chances of crime are unusually high. However, in Dick’s story it was mutants who predicted the crimes, if the predictive policing algorithm were a human being, he would have to deal with not unjustified accusations of racism.

We can’t believe our eyes

And are we even today still sure what is real and what is not real? If you can’t afford a real holiday to Mars, you can at least remember it. This is the plot of “Total Recall”, in which a construction worker has his memories fed into his brain, as he fought as a secret agent on Mars. Dick didn’t know it yet, but neurologists think it’s an entirely realistic scenario. Whether the brain retrieves a real memory or an artificially added one, the processes and the re-experience by the person are identical.

But we don’t even have to go into the future, let’s stay in the present. Via mobile phone apps, faces of actresses can be exchanged for those of porn stars. Only the trained eye has a chance to recognize this immediately as fake. Who can still be sure, that the politician on the news program really said the words that you heard and saw on the other side of the screen? That sentence, I only believe what I have seen, has lost its meaning.

Philip K. Dick wrote at a time when the words Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality did not even exist. Yet Google’s fluffed data glasses were only the prelude to a world in which reality is spiced up with virtual elements. Microsoft’s Hololense glasses are already approaching perfection in this project. And virtual reality, the complete immersion from the real world, is becoming easier and easier. Some may still remember the pixelated avatars of Second Life. Currently, a new Second Life is programmed, in which the player can literally immerse. How far away are we from scenarios as described in “Matrix,” in which lifeless people only experience their lives virtually, and do not even know it?

In the end, Philip K. Dick also belongs in the series of science fiction authors, whose stories have something prophetic about them. Which, by the way, is not a particularly reassuring thought, is it? Already during his lifetime, he reported soberly and seriously of an encounter with a woman, who assured him, that some of his fictional stories were true.

Where people can learn humanity from androids

But even with Dick, there is sometimes a glimmer of hope, but it is not rarely the people who bring something like humanity into Dick’s dystopias. In “Blade Runner” also, one or two replicants take on the role of human compassion. And in a story that humanity has fled underground because of a nuclear war, the robots built for warfare, makes peace and works on a plan to prevent people from starting the fight again, immediately after they return to the surface. At this point, Dick even explicitly designed a counter-model to today’s widespread fear, that artificial intelligence might one day decide, that it was sensible to protect the earth from humans.

On the other hand, the exception confirms the rule. When Amazon Prime recently filmed ten different short stories in a series, other robots were also at work. Those that humans had not created to make war, but to produce consumer goods industrially. The war came anyway, in the end, the factory only produced for scattered groups of people who couldn’t handle all the frills. However, when they set off to the factory to stop polluting the nature with their products, the result is the realization that the human are robots, too. Created by the factory. Because there were no people after the war, and someone must continue to consume, right? A typical story by Philip K. Dick.

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