Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Book Review: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

I picked up this book from the library because I recognized the title, and an old boyfriend of mine raves about Philip K. Dick, so I thought I would give it a shot.

The plot is convoluted, but I'll do my best to explain it. In the near distant future, the United States is no closer to winning the 'War on Drugs' than it is today. In fact, it's even worse. Large pockets of communities have devolved into drug havens and little can be done to break people from their addictions. A new drug called Substance D is particularly addictive and popular. Those who are hooked eventually come to a point where they either must check into rehab and get clean, or they go crazy. Rehab is an unpleasant option though because it's difficult to kick the addiction and the system is cold, unfriendly and doesn't always work. Essentially it's a last resort before the habit kills the user.

Bob Arctor is an undercover cop who lives deep inside one of these drug pockets in L.A. He's trying to crack the supply chain and has been assigned to spy on the addicts who he has befriended. The only problem is, Arctor is heavily addicted to Substance D himself. Because of his addiction, his brain begins to separate—the left side stops communicating with the right side—and Arctor can no longer recognize himself. This is when he is assigned to spy on himself because his unit believes he is responsible for supplying his friends with large quantities of the drug.

A Scanner Darkly is the best known of Dick's work given that it was released as a film in 2006, starring Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder and directed by Richard Linklater. The film is fantastic, and (from what the old boyfriend says) pretty true to the book. Unfortunately, I couldn't finish the book. I read a good two-thirds of the book before I decided I wasn't interested in reading any more descriptions of car mechanics, or how the brain works.

Dick loves his science, and he fills this book with people who love to talk about science. Given that my brain can neither picture mechanical functions nor does it really care, this was a bit of a snoozefest. The story is interesting though, and if you're willing to read through the parts that might bore you like they did me (who knows, maybe they won't bore you...I'm just not mechanically inclined!) you'll enjoy the book.

I like to call this book Dick Lit, because I think men would be more inclined to read Dick than a woman would. Other writers I would classify as Dick Lit would be Chuck Palahniuk and Chuck Klosterman.

I would say rent the movie and watch Robert Downey Jr. play one of the most interesting characters I've ever seen on screen. Hell, they all do a fantastic job in the movie, even Keanu Reeves. I'd say skip the book entirely and watch the movie if you're really interested, but I'm glad I gave Dick a shot. It was worth it, even if I didn't finish the book.

Rating: 2.5/5 (Unfinished)

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