Of all American writers, none have got the genre-hack-to-hidden-genius treatment quite so fully as Philip K. Dick, the California-raised and based science-fiction writer who, beginning in the nineteen-fifties, wrote thirty-six speed-fuelled novels, went crazy in the early seventies, and died in 1982, only fifty-three. His reputation has risen through the two parallel operations that genre writers get when they get big. First, he has become a prime inspiration for the movies, becoming for contemporary science-fiction and fantasy movies what Raymond Chandler was for film noir: at least eight feature films, including â€œTotal Recall,â€ â€œMinority Report,â€ â€œA Scanner Darkly,â€ and, most memorably, Ridley Scottâ€™s â€œBlade Runner,â€ have been adapted from Dickâ€™s books, and even moreâ€”from Terry Gilliamâ€™s â€œBrazilâ€ to the â€œMatrixâ€ seriesâ€”owe a defining debt to his mixture of mordant comedy and wild metaphysics.
But Dick has also become for our time what Edgar Allan Poe was for Gilded Age America: the doomed genius who supplies a style of horrors and frissons. (In both cases, it took the French to see it; the first good critical writing on Dick, as on Poe, came from Europe, and particularly from Paris.) Like Poeâ€™s, Dickâ€™s last big book was a work of cosmic explanation in which lightning bolts of brilliance flash over salty oceans of insanity. Poeâ€™s explanation of everything was called â€œEureka.â€ Dickâ€™s was â€œVALIS.â€ The second, literary Dick is now in the Library of America ($35), under the excellent editorial care of Jonathan Lethem, a passionate devotee, who also provides an abbreviated chronology of Dickâ€™s tormented life. Four of the sixties novels are neatly packed together in the handsome black covers: â€œThe Man in the High Castle,â€ â€œThe Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,â€ â€œDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?â€ (the original of â€œBlade Runnerâ€), and his masterpiece, â€œUbik.â€
(via SF Signal)