Philip K. Dick books and adaptations

I may have seen Blade Runner several times as well as Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, and binge-watched Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, but I can’t say I have picked up any Philip K. Dick’s books and read them which seemed like a huge blind spot to me, so I bought a few and read them. What I admire about his futuristic writing was his ability to create stories that defined Science Fiction, but more importantly, his imaginings included the ancient questions. Why are we here? What is reality and how do we define it? How to live? Why live?

The morality of life and how we interact with one another has been philosophized and dramatized since the Greeks stepped on the stage and Hamlet soliloquized “To Be or not to be.” So it’s fascinating when eternal questions are applied to the future. To me, this is the value of Dick. His writing style is blunt and minimalistic. The books that created the most empathy were my favorites (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) while other characters were too dark for me to enjoy (A Scanner Darkly). Philip K. Dick’s short stories from the 1950s, and his 60s and 70s experiences with drugs as well as his predictions of the future influenced a host of directors, writers, and the audience for decades–certainly my entire lifetime–affecting my notions of the future and scaring me in the process. Only a few film adaptations can translate the unsettling world of Dick’s stories with satisfaction; the world presented in a Philip K. Dick story satirizes society and keeps me skeptical of the promises of technological progress while making the crazy world of today bearable when compared to the future. That’s Science Fiction.

I’ve come to believe it’s better to read Dick than watch a film adaptation, albeit the adaptations have moments of innovation and worthy scenes. What are your favorite movie scenes? I want to buy more of his books. Which stories resonate with you?

37 thoughts on “Philip K. Dick books and adaptations

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        1. Me, too. That’s next on my shopping list. The Minority Report book is only103 pages long. I think that’s a clue to why some of the adaptations fall flat. It’s hard to stretch a story to 2 hours when it was not created in the first place to be that long. Too much tampering and stretching change the story so much that diehard fans fail to appreciate the movie version. Or it was just a badly made movie. Philip K. Dick and Stephen King both share this problem. Their fantastic stories are just hard to see on the screen–better off left to the imagination. The brain can handle the strange world better than the eyes on the screen.

  1. I have only read ‘Do Androids…’, and then only because of my love for Blade Runner, after watching that film. I have seen all the films mentioned, but unfortunately not ‘The Man In The High Castle’. I was never a real reader of science fiction, despite enjoying films on the subject..
    I was very taken with the fragile character played by Samantha Morton, in ‘Minority Report’. I could well-imagine a time when such savants might be used to predict crimes, and the existence of a ‘Precrime’ department to arrest people in advance.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. I’m well aware of our shared love for Blade Runner. It baffled me why I had not bothered to pick up the book. I liked the book a lot and it was fun to notice the differences between the two texts.
      As for Man in the High Castle, a collegue suggested it to me since I was looking for a good series to watch on television. I find episodes fit my lifestyle and I have grown weary of one bad film after another. I have found high quality series in this format. Anyway, I wasn’t aware that “The Man in the High Castle” was the Hugo winner for Philip K. Dick. Speculative fiction is interesting. Imagining a different outcome of WWII sounded fascinating to me. Hence, I started watching the series. I’m only in the first season and there are three, and I’m half way through the novel. The Amazon Prime series is interesting and entertaining so far. It does feel improbable, but I’m going along with the ride because I’m curious to see how it pans out. I do like the dynamic of Joe Blake who finds himself in the nest of a high-ranking Nazi while he slowly becomes a rebel after falling in love with the female protagonist, Juliana, played by the talented Alexa Davalos. I also approve of Rufus Sewell who plays the wicked Nazi perfectly.
      Total Recall film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of my all-time favorite films. I just loved the special effects, at the time, quite innovative and shocking.
      Yes, with Samantha Morton. She gave an authentic portrayal as the head pre-cog. I got a kick out the dork who had a crush on her. And you have guessed correctly if you thought I loved Tom Cruise in the role. The eyeball replacement segment was creepy and haunting of the film.

      1. I had a big crush on Samantha too. Still have. It goes without saying it may well have been a better film without Tiny Tom, but you might guess I would think that. 🙂 I haven’t got Amazon video, so hope they may release TMITHC on DVD at some stage, as it’s my type of thing. I am currently watching a series on streaming catch-up called ‘Vikings’, starring Gabriel Byrne. Violent stuff, and feels authentic. x
        https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2306299/characters/nm0000321

        1. I LOVE Vikings. It’s historically sound, too. Kimmel sucks me in with his big, blue eyes. What I loved most about the series was the character Athelstan and his relationship with Ragnar. Love how Christianity and Viking concepts of God and mythology are constantly at battle as much as the battle on the blood-soaked fields.

  2. I haven’t read any of his stuff, Cindy, but blunt and minimalist appeals to me, especially within the confines of Science Fiction. You’ve piqued my curiosity, though I very rarely indulge in Science Fiction–film or literature.
    That said, I absolutely love “Blade Runner”, the movie. It is one of my all time favorite films. I love how it is really “just” a noir dressed up as Science Fiction. I could go on and on about Blade Runner. It is so beautiful. So devastating and, yet, so strangely hopeful. You’ve inspired me to watch it again. Excellent post. Thanks.

    1. Hi Pam! I appreciated the noir of “Blade Runner”. The book doesn’t have that feel, but as a separate text, it’s still easy to read and interesting. Dick’s writing is like Hemingway in that it’s presented simply. Dick has written a lot of short stories and like Hemingway, I suspect his stories are better than his novels. I haven’t read enough of Dick to justify the claim. Just a supposition.
      Anyway, I bet you would like series “Man in the High Castle” and you might like the novel, too.

  3. the essential PKD reading experience is the Valis Trilogy. Only after reading these three philosophical novels is one able to grasp the intent and implications of Dick’s cosmic view of reality.

    1. Thank you for the tip! I’m just learning about him at a later age in my life. I think that reading his work now I will “get” more than had I read his work as a teenager or young adult. I see his trilogy was written at the end of his life. Looking forward to the voyage. Thanks for commenting.

  4. I’d read a lot of Dick’s books in my jurassic era, and re- read Man in the High Castle, just before we watched the series, which my hubby was really looking forward to and enjoyed. I wish now I hadn’t re-read the book, I found the series endlessly disappointing and too far removed from the original. What I did really like was a series on TV based on his shorter stories, called Electric Dreams, and had some really good actors in, Brian Cranston, Steve Buscemi, & Timothy Spall to name a few.

    1. Hi Fraggle. I am glad to get your input. My hubby found the televsion series iffy at best. I am usually more forgiving having the tendancy to focus on scenes and characters and the historical details of the setting and try to ignore the whole composition. I’m only half way through season one. I don’t know if I’ll make it through season three. The book is so brief and interesting. I don’t see how it can go three seasons. Like Peaky Blinders, the story ended after season 2 and should have stopped. Epics rarely work for me.

  5. My brother Richard was a voracious reader of Sci Fi – had a massive collection of paperbacks. I’ve only participated in Sci Fi via film (Shame on me) – which as you note is not often an accurate or just depiction of the Literature. Dune however are the Sci Fi books I was inspired to read after having watched the movie, but mainly the superb mini series And I loved the books too. As you say Sci Fi is important and amazing in that it raises all the important questions about life – stirs us to ponder and seek the answers.
    So Why don’t read the books? I don’t really know? I believe in their value. I watch the movies, but …
    I must watch the second Blade Runner movie again though. I did like it the first time – others did not. Of course the original is a Classic, but I want to evaluate the second again and see if it might reach that level. ???
    Thank you.

    1. I’m with you, JC. I’d be happy to rewatch it again. I’d have to turn the volume down, though, to drown out the score which assaulted my ears to distraction. 😉
      I’m having fun now reading the books. I have read Heinlein and other canonical Science Fiction writers. I do enjoy the genre.

  6. You’ve inspired me to add some Philip K. Dick to my reading list. He was the inspiration for a project we did in Graphics I, I still did not pick up any books at that time. Now I really feel like I should. I’m much more into science fiction than I cared to admit when I was younger.

  7. Great post Cindy 🙂 I am a huge fan of Philip K. Dick and I love the film adaptations as well. I love Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, Total Recall (the 1990 version of course) and Minority Report. The production values on each film is just amazing whether it be the futuristic cities of the films and so on. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

  8. Great post. I’ve read and watched a hell of a lot of Philip K. Dick’s works over the last year and also find the writing full of ideas and to the point too. All of his short stories are fascinating with great twists and turns; especially his early ones. The novels and films mentioned above are of course to a very high quality (mostly). The one novel I read and was stunned by its brilliance was UBIK. I’m surprised and not surprised it hasn’t reached the big screen yet as it is even more mind-bending that his other works. It’s about telepaths, emapths, imaginary netherworlds and corporate fraudsters; nothing is ever as it seems as the whole story is like one big trip. Highly recommended.

  9. Funny, I’m a huge fan of dystopian stories, but I’ve never read one of his books. As for the film adaptations, Blade Runner is the best. I also loved The Adjustment Bureau (very underrated).

  10. Found everything in the comments 🙂 Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep? is the book I fell in love as a young teenager. It was my first dystopian novel, but I was a seasoned reader of sci fi literature. This kind of literature shaped me the way I am today 🙂

    1. Oops. No, as a writer of the genre, that is what he did-predict and imagine the future.
      One thing is for sure, he sure influenced a great many others who took his stories and created cool movies and reboots.

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