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Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick (December 16, 1928- March 2, 1982) was an award-winning, prolific science fiction writer known for stories that focus on the nature of human identity and reality. Dick desired mainstream success and wrote over 40 novels and 120 short stories in his lifetime, with most written in the latter decades of his life. Posthumously, his acclaim and critical appreciation have only grown, and many of his stories have been adapted into feature films and television shows.

Philip K. Dick: Biography

Philip K. Dick was born December 16, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois. He was a twin, but his sister died six weeks later. Being a twinless twin profoundly affected Dick. In his grade school years, he invented imaginary playmates to fill the loss.1 The "phantom twin" is a recurring theme in many of his works, such as in "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" (1966) and "Minority Report" (1956).

Philip k dick, portrait of Philip k dick, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Philip K. Dick was known to be eccentric and introspective.

The Dick family moved to San Francisco while Philip was very young. Much of his formative years were spent in California, and most of his fiction takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area. While in grade school, teachers noted his inclination for storytelling despite his average grades. At age twelve, he read his first science fiction magazine, Stirring Science Stories. In high school, teachers remarked he was highly intelligent but very quiet.1

Dick attended the University of California, Berkeley, but ultimately dropped out due to persistent anxiety. While undeclared as a major, he took courses in psychology, philosophy, history, and zoology. His studies in these subjects inspired the major recurring themes in his written works, such as the alternative history in The Man in a High Castle (1962). Major themes related to psychology and philosophy, such as identity and reality, are common in his works as well.

Much of Dick's writing career was characterized by paranoia, financial instability, drug use, and paranormal experiences. Many of the characters in his stories face similar struggles. During his college years in the 1950s, Dick was often visited and questioned by FBI agents due to the leftist activity during the McCarthy anti-communist era. Well into the 1960s, Dick often mentioned in speeches and interviews that he believed he was under surveillance by the FBI.

Philip K. Dick: Books, Influence, and Literary Career

Dick started writing science fiction in 1952 when he was 23 years old but initially found little success. In 1955, he debuted his first novel, Solar Lottery. Major themes throughout his books are paranoia, the surveillance state, the paranormal, drug use, alternative realities, and authoritarian governments. Dick heavily influenced the science fiction genre, particularly his stories about reality versus simulation, existential dread within a dystopian world, and the overreliance of modern life on technology. Many of his stories inspired cult-favorite films of the 80s and 90s, such as Bladerunner (1982), Total Recall (1990), and the Terminator series.

Dick's paranoia and many phobias strained his relationships. He married at least five times. Friends remarked that Dick was very charismatic, but his tendency to construct and live in his own reality was difficult to live with. Dick often shared his home and was considered a safe haven for obtaining and using drugs. Many of his experiences during the 1960s and 1970s inspired the semi-autobiographical novel A Scanner Darkly (1977), which portrays recreational drug culture and its abuses.

In the last ten years of his life, Philip K. Dick claimed to have experienced a series of paranormal phenomena. He journaled extensively, recording hundreds of thousands of words describing what had happened to him. According to Dick, he was visited by a higher intelligence. He synthesized his concept of the deity as a Vast Active Living Intelligent System, which became the acronym and title for his semi-autobiographical novel VALIS (1981). Excerpts from his journal were published posthumously as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (2011).

On February 17 and 25, 1982, Philip K. Dick suffered two strokes, leaving him braindead. On March 2, 1982, he was removed from life support and declared dead.

Philip K. Dick: Short Stories

Philip K. Dick wrote short stories for nearly a decade before any commercial success. He continued to write short stories throughout his life and regularly submitted them to magazines. Below are two of his most famous short stories.

Philip k dick, magazine cover, StudySmarterMuch of Dick's short fiction was published first in science fiction magazines.

"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"

First published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, this short story follows blue-collar worker Douglas Quail, who dreams of visiting Mars. Unbeknownst to him, he actually has been to Mars but has had the memories suppressed. He contacts the Rekal Corporation to implant false memories to satisfy his urge to travel to Mars. The story tackles themes of false and real memories and how creating and accessing memories affect the way one constructs their reality and identity. It was later adapted into a film titled Total Recall, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"The Minority Report"

John Anderton has created a system for predicting and preventing future crimes called Precrime. Three mutants with physical abnormalities, known as Precogs, are kept hostage while computers decipher their brainwaves to articulate predictions. Anderton becomes marked as a suspect for a murder of a person he doesn’t even know. The Minority Report refers to the dissenting vision of the future that is inevitably created by one of the Precogs. The story deals with themes of authority versus individual freedom and the implications of predicting the future and fate. The story first appeared in the magazine Fantastic Universe in 1956.

Philip K. Dick: Novels

Below are two of Philip K. Dick's most famous novels.

The Man in the High Castle

Philip K Dick's first commercial success, The Man in the High Castle, won the 1963 Hugo Award. World War II and its history affected Philip K. Dick so much that it inspired him to write the alternate history novel, which follows interconnected characters' lives against the backdrop of superpowers vying for world domination. It's an alternate history where the Axis powers win World War II. In The Man in the High Castle, the United States was colonized by Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. White people live as second-class citizens in the Pacific States of America, ruled by Japan, while the East Coast is controlled by Nazi Germany. Characters chasing their life dreams are caught in a web of political intrigue, and often people are not what they seem. The book inspired a television adaptation with the same name.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Aka Blade Runner (1968)

A final world war has decimated Earth and nearly all of its natural fauna. In an effort to preserve the integrity of human genetics, mass emigration leads to the colonization of other planets. In a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, Rick Deckard works as a bounty hunter that kills androids, robots that are nearly indistinguishable from humans. Most androids are produced as servants for humans, but many rebel and escape to other planets. Having animals is rare and a status symbol. Poor people can only afford realistic-looking mechanical replicas, and Deckard keeps an electric black sheep on his roof. The story explores human nature and its diminishing capacity for empathy in a world that is nearly devoid of any other life. The story inspired the cult film Blade Runner (1982), starring Harrison Ford.

Philip K. Dick: Bibliography

Philip K Dick wrote 44 novels and 121 short stories (with 14 as collections). Below is a select bibliography

Philip k dick, Bookshelf of Philip k dick books, StudySmarterPhilip K. Dick was a relentless writer.

Novels

Solar Lottery (1955)

The Cosmic Puppets (1957)

Vulcan's Hammer (1960)

The Man in the High Castle (1962)

The Simulacra (1964)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

Ubik (1969)

A Scanner Darkly (1977)

VALIS (1981)

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982)

Short stories

Philip K Dick's short stories below are grouped by year. Most first appeared in magazines and were later compiled into collections.

1952

"Beyond Lies the Wub"

"The Gun"

1953

"The Variable Man"

"The World She Wanted"

1954

"Adjustment Team"

"The Golden Man"

1956

"The Minority Report"

"Vulcan's Hammer"

1957

"Misadjustment"

1963

"The Days of Perky Pat"

"If There Were No Benny Cemoli"

1965

"Retreat Syndrome"

1966

"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"

"Your Appointment Will Be Yesterday"

1969

"The Electric Ant"

"The War with the Fools"

1974

"The Pre-persons"

"A Little Something for Us Tempunauts"

1980

"Rautavaara's Case"

"Chains of Air, Web of Aether"

1987

"The Day Mr. Computer Fell Out of Its Tree"

"The Eye of the Sibyl"

"Stability"

Philip K. Dick Quotes

Below are three quotes by Philip K. Dick.

The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words."

-Philip K. Dick, I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon, "How To Build A Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later" (1986).

Many of Dick's novels are concerned with authority and corporate control. He is commenting on the media's power to define words and, ultimately, the meaning of events that transpire before us all.

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."

- Philip K. Dick, VALIS, Chapter 5 (1981)

A recurring theme for Dick is our perception and construction of reality. He often questioned the concept of an independent reality and believed that we all create our own reality. However, there are still events that occur beyond our control, and we must face them whether we want to or not.

There is no route out of the maze. The maze shifts as you move through it, because it is alive."

- Philip K. Dick, VALIS, Chapter 3 (1981)

Dick experienced paranormal phenomena later in his life. This had a profound impact on his worldview. In his VALIS trilogy, he defined what he believed to be an intelligent higher life form. He believed that the universe was self-conscious, alive, and constantly reacting to our interactions with the world around us.

Philip K. Dick - Key takeaways

  • Philip K. Dick was a prolific science fiction writer, publishing over 40 novels and 120 short stories.
  • His work is mostly concerned with the nature of human identity and reality.
  • Dick was inspired by his studies in psychology, philosophy, history, and zoology.
  • Later in life, Dick was profoundly affected by paranormal phenomena.
  • His later works were concerned with constructing his concept of a higher intelligence.

1 Sutin, Lawrence. Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (1989)


References

  1. Fig. 1 - https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fe/Philip_K_Dick_in_early_1960s_%28photo_by_Arthur_Knight%29.jpg by Arthur Knight is licensed by CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)
  2. Fig. 2 - https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/Satellite_science_fiction_195612.jpg by Renown Publications / Frank Kelly Freas is licensed by CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)
  3. Fig. 3 - https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8f/Dick_bookshelf_color.jpgby Before My Ken is licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0

Frequently Asked Questions about Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick died from complications due to a stroke.

World War II and its history affected Philip K. Dick so much that it inspired him to write an alternate history novel, The Man in the High Castle.

Philip K. Dick wrote over 40 novels and 120 short stories.

Philip K. Dick was inspired by his studies in college in history, philosophy, psychology, and zoology.

Philip K. Dick is a prolific science fiction author known for stories that focus on the nature of human identity and reality.

Final Philip K. Dick Quiz

Question

How did Philip K. Dick die?

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Philip K. Dick died from complications due to a stroke.

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When did Philip K. Dick die?

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March 2, 1982

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When was Philip K. Dick born?

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December 16, 1928

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How was Philip K. Dick affected by the loss of his sister?

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He invented imaginary playmates to fill the loss and the “phantom twin” is a recurring theme in many of his works.

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How did World War II affect Philip K. Dick?



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Answer

World War II and its history affected Philip K. Dick so much that it inspired him to write an alternate history novel, The Man in the High Castle.

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How many books did Philip K. Dick write?



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Philip K. Dick wrote over 40 novels and 120 short stories.

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How was Philip K. Dick inspired?



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Answer

Philip K. Dick was inspired by his studies in college in history, philosophy, psychology, and zoology.

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Who is Philip K. Dick?


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Answer

Philip K. Dick is a prolific science fiction author known for stories that focus on the nature of human identity and reality.

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How were many of Philip K. Dick's short stories first published?

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In science fiction magazines

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Philip K. Dicks paranormal experiences inspired him to write which novel?

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VALIS

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What are two of Dick's most popular novels?

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The Man in the High Castle

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What are two of Dick's most famous short stories?

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“The Minority Report”

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How many novels did Dick write?

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Over 40

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How many short stories did Dick write?

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Over 120

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What is a recurring theme in the works of Philip K. Dick?

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Human identity and our perception of reality

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What is The Man in the High Castle about?



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The Man in the High Castle is about several characters navigating their lives against the backdrop of Japanese and German superpowers vying for world domination.

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When was The Man in the High Castle published?


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1962

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The Man in the High Castle depicts an alternate history to what major world event?


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World War II

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What is the key event that triggers the alternate history of The Man in the High Castle?

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The successful assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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Who is Robert Childan?

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An antique shop owner who dreams of returning to his former social status before the Japanese colonized America.

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Who is Frank?


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Frank Frink is a Jewish man who starts his own jewelry business after he is fired from his previous job.

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Who is Tagomi?

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He is a representative of the Japanese Trade Comission

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Who is “The Man in the High Castle”?

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“The Man in the High Castle” refers to the author Hawthorne Abendsen

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Who is Juliana?

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Frank Frink's ex wife and judo teacher.

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How does Juliana prevent the assassination of Hawthorne Abendsen?

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She realizes that Joe Cinnadella is an assassin and kills him.

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Tagomi prevents the deportation of which character?

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Frank Frink

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Tagomi learns that Baynes is a

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spy and Nazi defector

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Nazi Germany has secret plans to

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drop a nuclear bomb on Japan

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Characters refer to which ancient Chinese text for guidance?

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I-Ching

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Hawthorne Abendsen turns out to actually live in

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a suburb

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