Monday, October 01, 2007

"A Scanner Darkly" by Philip K. Dick

Okay, so sue me...I'm on a Philip K. Dick trend. I recently discovered the creative and philosophical writings in his stories and am hooked. This recent book is yet another Dick story that has been turned into a movie. The movie "A Scanner Darkly" was released last year and had mild success but the beauty in the movie was the creativeness in the filmmaking process.

But just like any other book turned movie, there are some missing points and of course the books are just plain and simply better.

This book is a very interesting look at the drug culture, but done in a sci-fi view. This poignant, at times, story takes place in a near future dystopian California. In this culture the police work mostly undercover to track down dealers. The idea is not to bust the small time dealer but to reach their source. Here lies also a bit of a corporate twist on things. It seems that the drug of choice that is wiping out people's free will, not to mention brain functions, is Substance D. Substance D addicts when gone to far experience a split in their brain hemispheres where they then suffer from shared delusions, thus losing all hopes of being a functioning member of society. Then they seek recovery from New Path, a facility which specializes in substance D patients.

Throughout most of the the source of Substance D is thought to be imported from Russia. But as it turns out Substance D has a darker secret.

The title is a reference to a passage in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13, which states:

"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

The scanner part of the title is that the main character Agent Fred is ordered to keep a close eye on Bob Arctur, who is suspected of being high up in the eschelon of dealers. Well, the twist is that Agent Fred's undercover self IS Bob Arctur. He wonders if the scanners will see him clearly or darkly. In Chapter Eleven of the novel, Bob Arctor / Fred, thinks to himself:

"What does a scanner see? I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner … see into me — into us — clearly or darkly? I hope it does see clearly, because I can't any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone's sake, the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we'll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too."

This book is full of some really funny stuff at times. Many of the "drug induced" conversations between Bob Arctur and his stoner roommates are just hilarious, such as when one buys a 10 speed bike from a "street vendor." They count only 7 gears so how can it be a 10 speed? 2 in front and 5 in back, 7. They then have to go out on the street to ask a "neutral" party how many they count, this neutral party explains the process, but the conversation beforehand is simply hilarious.

The book also has many poignant sections, especially when dealing with those who have succombed to the finality of Substance D. One of my favorite quotes here is when Bob Arctur is taken to New Path due to destroying his brain, he is called a loser by the staff. Donna, Bob's girlfriend, then tells the staff, "It is easy to win."

The book is also based loosely on the author's real life experience and at the end the book is dedicated to Philip K. Dick's friends that "didn't make it." At this point he lists his friends by name and how they were affected by drugs...most of them deceased.

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