Arthur Chappell

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BOOK REVIEW- PHILIP K. DICK A SCANNER DARKLY 1977 Science Fiction Masterworks #20 Gollanz

 

Science fiction meets Autobiographical fiction in one of the most original, heartfelt and moving novels ever written.

 

Dick had a major drug problem in the early 1970s that ruined his healthy, creative output and his marriage. Much of that is reflected in this William S Burroughs style novel.

 

In a near future US, the drugs war is a losing battle for the authorities and a new drug has appeared on the scene, known as Substance D, or Death. Highly addictive, and mind altering, Death can separate the right and left hemisphere halves of the brain, creating disorientation and loss of identity and loss of creative ability.

 

The Scanners are cops who wear scramble suits designed to hide their identity and appearance even from each other. Fred, a Scanner, is assigned to go undercover to infiltrate a group of Substance D users including Bob Arctor, who dreams of an affair with elusive dealer, Donna.

 

Fred uses sophisticated surveillance technology and witnesses Bob and friends getting increasingly paranoid, with many often funny discourses going on in their confused drug induced states of mind.

 

Fred is eventually pulled in by his superiors as in infiltrating the household (without the scramble suit) he has become an addict to Death himself, so much so that he does not realize that he is in fact Bob Arctor, the very man he is investigating.

 

Sent to a rehabilitation unit and driven there by Donna, herself an undercover cop, Bob / Fred is given a new identity and learns that the farm he is to work is actually secretly a source for the organic Substance D. Despite being set up and virtually ruined by his fellow cops for the new infiltration, he sets out to smuggle evidence out for them, exposing the Death dealers once and for all.

 

An amazing novel that only occasionally reminds you that it is science fiction. A film version, using Rotoscope animation, was released in 2006, and stays remarkably faithful to the novel.

 

A postscript to the novel lists the friends PKD lost to drug abuse up to the books publication.

 

Copyright. Arthur Chappell

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