“Reality is anything which, once you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” -P.K.Dick
For about the ten years between 1965 and 1975 I read almost nothing but science fiction. In 1966 Leonard Maler gave me a copy of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and my reaction to the book is as hard to describe as the work itself. I was stunned. I read it three or four times over the next few years and possibly two or three other of Dick’s books as well in that time. All my reading came from second-hand book stores and the authors I generally scanned the bins for were Sturgeon, Van Vogt, Sheckley, Clarke, et al, and suddenly, sometime in 1972 I think, Dick’s books began popping up everywhere. Within months I amassed, and read, close to twenty or twenty-five of Dick’s novels and story collections. It seemed strange that after their scarcity I’d find at least one of his books with every trip to the bookshops. Then one day, Petur Sigmundson’s brother Eric, a student at the University of British Columbia told me that Dick was in town for the Science Fiction Convention being held on campus.
Also around this time I was hanging out with Bob Ness who did a radio show called Street Theatre on CKLG-FM. These were the last days of so-called “underground FM” when Bob had free rein to unleash his wild imagination on the airwaves. We did a number of shows together where we’d take his Uher out in the Vancouver night and record our adventures for broadcast the next morning. I called Bob, to whom I’d be raving about Dick for the last few months, and told him he was in town. “You’ve got to get him on the show.”
A couple of mornings later Bob called. He was on the air. “Dick’s here. Come on down.” I turned on the radio and there he was, yakking with Bob. I gulped my coffee, got dressed and headed down to the studio. In all, Dick was on the show for three hours talking about any number of things, most of which I’ve forgotten except that we agreed that Heinlein, whose Stranger in a Strange Land was still a hot seller, was basically a right-wing hack.
Writers, musicians, athletes, etc., are always on the make and, unlike us lesser mortals, automatically succeed with women. Dick was no different. A couple of girls were also in the studio that day and he offered one a ride back up to S.F.U. where she had to make a class. Dick had no car so I volunteered to drive them up. We crammed into the front seat of my VW bus and rattled and shook up Burnaby Mountain and then the two of us rattled and shook back on down again. At the time I was working on a video project and we discussed the fledgling medium. Dick was very interested so I invited him over to my place the next evening to “fool around” with the equipment and see what happens. I had no idea what we’d do.
Word got out and a couple of dozen people showed up the next night. I hadn’t planned on a party and I turned them all away but they all came back. So we had a party. I got Dick to just expound on whatever ideas were on his mind at the time and video-taped him and the various other activities going on. Unfortunately, this video deal I was involved with was basically a scam to get grant money, and involved phony receipts and kickbacks. I was to return my paycheck to the organizers, in exchange for which I’d be able to get on the dole when the project ended. But I kept the money and actually worked on a couple of things. The idea was you’d check out the machines and some tape and then return them when you were through. I didn’t realize that Ralph and the guys weren’t buying tapes, pocketing the money instead, and re-using the same tapes so, sadly, my Dick tape is gone. Among the things I remember him talking about were his days in the classical music record store and how he’d written as many straight novels as Science Fiction, but couldn’t get them published.
He soon got involved with X-Kalay, a rehab house for people with drug problems and I only saw him a couple of more times. Once he came by with another chick he was going after. He’d been talking her up and she didn’t believe he was a famous author. So he brought her by my place because he’d seen my vast collection of his books. He wanted a few for her to read so I agreed to let him have the four he picked if he’d sign four others. Of course, he’d have gladly signed them all and had I thought about how they’d be worth something someday I’d have asked him to do that.
A few months later he split for California. I wrote him a few times but never got any replies. However, he kept writing these psycho-paranoiac letters to Bob Ness about the FBI, etc. This has all been documented but I never checked it out so don’t know how based in “reality” his paranoia really was. I was annoyed that Bob got these letters because he hadn’t read any of Dick’s books and never answered his letters. I was the big fan and I wrote to him a few times. Years earlier, when Dick was a sadly underrated and neglected sci-fi “hack” Leonard Maler and I had predicted that he’d be discovered one day and would probably have a huge cult following. We decided to get in on the ground floor by writing a critical study of his work which, by the way, I realize we were completely unqualified to do. But if Dick had stayed in touch I could maybe have come up with something.
The Library of America, “dedicated to publishing, and keeping in print, authoritative editions of America’s best and most significant writing” has put out their deluxe Dick volume. The current New Yorker has a review of the book by Adam Gopnick. The New York Times review of a couple of months ago is here.
My prediction of forty years ago that Dick would become the object of a cult of readers and that eventually mainstream culture mavens would have no choice but to acknowledge his sur-genius has long since come to pass. Witness the number of Hollywood renditions of his work, pretty much all bogus, with the possible exception of Blade Runner which although as inaccurate as the others is at least true to the spirit of Dick’s insane but entirely on-the-money vision of things as they really are, or might be. (An interesting essay on Dick and the movies, from a Wired Magazine of four years ago is here.) During the brief time that I knew Dick in the early seventies I could have obtained movie rights for all his novels in exchange for some women’s phone numbers but, alas, it was one of many missed opportunities in my life.
Above is a photo of my shelf of Dick novels. (Click on it to see the full-sized image.) It’s probably not all of them because I have a habit of misplacing things. But it’s most of them and I’m guessing that the collection would be worth about a hundred grand now except that they were all read many, many times and are therefore in pretty bad shape.
As a matter of fact I know some are missing because where’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And of four autographed copies (add another million to the value of each of those) I can only find three.
How these came to be signed is slightly amusing. Dick knocked on my door one night. He was with a very attractive young woman who it turns out he’d just met in a bar. She wouldn’t believe he was a published and somewhat famous author. He’d seen my collection of his books so brought her over to see them and borrow a few she could read. I said yeah sure, and he chose four. (It would be interesting to know which four but that was too long ago.) I said, you can have those four if you sign four others. I should have had him sign them all. Of course there were too many but while he was busy signing books I could have made out with his date.
Tomorrow, my other favourite author, Jack Kerouac, hits the big time.