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Paperback A Scanner Darkly Book

ISBN: 1400096901

ISBN13: 9781400096909

A Scanner Darkly

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Book Overview

Substance D is not known as Death for nothing. Undercover narcotics agent Bob Arctor is desperate to discover the ultimate source of supply, but to find any kind of lead he has to pose as a user. Without realising what is happening, he is soon as addicted as the junkies he works among.

Customer Reviews

7 ratings

Disappointing first PKD

I still plan on reading a man in the high Castle but there wasn’t a lot to this story. My favorite part is the way that paranoia is expressed, but there’s just not much else going on. If you’re not going to have a plot, just make it a short story. There are no likable characters, switch isn’t a dealbreaker for me, but it’s worth noting.


Let’s just say it’s Philip K. Dick’s favourite Philip K. Dick book for a reason.

A Scanner Darkly

The movie version of "A Scanner Darkly" was one of the most original films I saw last year. I loved it; the animation was innovative and fascinating, while the movie itself was hypnotic. Philip K. Dick has been responsible for writing the novel versions of several recent great films (including "Minority Report") and I was curious to read some of his work. After reading "A Scanner Darkly" I discovered why Richard Linklater made the film version the way he did. The subject matter of the film, its atmosphere could be caught in a live-action film; but I doubt it would have been as good. The book is great! Whether it's better than the movie or not, I really can't say...I barely paid attention to the plot of the movie, it was the animation that kept my eyes glued to the screen. The book is very close to the movie; Fred is an undercover narcotic agent trying to bust Bob Arctor, a man who's believed to be a big-time drug dealer of Substance D (as in death), a drug that causes split personalities in people. Scanners (hidden cameras) have been installed in Arctor's house so the police can have 24-hour surveillance; There's only one problem; Fred is Bob Arctor. He's doing surveillance on himself. His fellow workers don't know this because employees where a scramble suit (a suit which scrambles their facial features and vocal patterns, the movie couldn't have done a better job with it). Bob's life is relatively simple; He hangs out at his house all day dropping D with his two drug-addicted roommates James Barris (the most memorable character in both film and novel) and Ernie Luckman and hangs out with his drug-dealing girlfriend Donna. The only real BIG differences between novel and film are that in the movie, a character named Charles Freck (who plays a small but memorable role in the book) takes the place of a character named Jerry Fabin. And the ending of the book is more drawn out than it is in the film. Hopefully, I've made it clear that this is not a novel of science fiction but rather a novel about drugs. Science fiction does play a small role, but it doesn't deserve top billing. But drugs aren't 100% of it either. The book also captures the paranoia people felt after the Watergate scandal and it does all of it so well. This is a terrific book and is worthy of a read. I guarantee that if you see the movie you'll realize how good the translation to screen was. GRADE: A-

A Disturbing Tract for Both Sides of the Brain

I have always felt that PKD was the type of author who could really blow me away with his mind-expanding ideas. Unfortunately his other novels that I previously read struck me as overrated, as the ideas failed to gel into coherent stories. However, he hits the bullseye with "A Scanner Darkly" which has to be one of best novels. Taking place in a dysfunctional near-future, the story revolves around the new drug called Substance D. (The only glitch in this book is that PKD places the story in the 1990's, and PKD's vision of the future from back in the 70's is a bit distracting in its inaccuracies). Substance D causes a disconnect between the left and right sides of the brain, causing a split personality syndrome in which both of the user's selves are active simultaneously and compete with each other. The main character, Bob Arctor, is an undercover cop who poses as a dealer, and his undercover self has been assigned to watch his dealer self. At first he realizes the bureaucratic mistake, but as he falls deeper and deeper into the world of Substance D, Bob can no longer perceive the difference between his two selves and descends into a schizophrenic nightmare. Bob's deteriorating state becomes a very disturbing tract from PKD on the nature of one's identity, the destruction of the self through drug abuse, and the reality or un-reality of the self's replacement. Also, in PKD's future the drug war becomes a class war, as the "straights" need the users as a class of non-persons to manipulate and to experiment on. This may just be the way users see the world, and PKD shows us that it may not be a farfetched conspiracy theory. This is a truly troubling look into the world of damaged and ruined minds, from a man who just may have been there himself.

The Slow Train to Oblivion, expertly documented

There is an old adage about writing: "Write what you know"--as quoted verbatim from Hemmingway, among many others, this proverb is a key to mastering the craft. One's best work originates from principle experience, core emotions; the rest is just window-dressings, technique for transition. Philip K. Dick, one of the most prolific authors of science fiction for the later half of the twentieth century, wrote about what he knew: paranoia, `big brother', psychological disruptions, drug abuse; and the sci-fi `trimmings' of aliens, techno-dystopias, etc. usually served as interesting backdrops. As a mad, bad, meth-snortin' horsemeat lovin' pulp master, the dominant themes Dick experienced during his relatively short(ened) life appear again and again in the bulk of his work, though rarely so coherently expressed as in his tragic masterpiece, _A Scanner Darkly_.The `basics:' Bob Arctor is a drug dealer who is also Fred, a narc working undercover with the LAPD to bust a big time drug dealer named...Bob Arctor. Bob/Fred's drug of choice, Substance D(eath), gradually splits the user's brain into two separate halves, corroding the interaction between the hemispheres and rendering one a split-personality veering chaotically close to schizophrenia. Bob doesn't realize he's Fred, and vice-versa (except in moments of rare epiphany). As anyone who has read VALIS can attest, the real-life events from which this story is based occurred to Dick in the beginning of the `70's, and most of his fiction afterward were attempts for him to glean and get down the life-shattering experience. _A Scanner Darkly_ was debatably his most successful attempt, and certainly his most lucid.For all the futuristic flourishes, the bulk of _A Scanner Darkly_ basically describes the everyday existence of Orange County drug users. The dissipation of the body and slow decay of the mind; the rupturing of the moral core for the immediate high; life on the downward spiral--it's all documented here, in harrowing fashion. Among the endless repetitive conversations and breakdown-ruminations, there are a few moments of outstanding imagery-the Connie/Donna face-melt and the flower-field being the most prominent in recollection--the first hideous, the second serene--both chilling to the bone given the circumstances.Never a literary stylist, Dick's simple prose veered from elegant to downright amateurish, making some of his lesser/cryptic works a bit of a slog, yet in this particular volume, the author's heart can be found in the characters, environments, and overall pathos; the feel of catharsis is prevalent throughout and made abundantly clear in the coda:"They wanted to have a good time, but they were like children playing in the street; they could see one after another of them being killed--run over, maimed, destroyed--but they continued to play anyhow."A melancholic, mad masterpiece.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't...

The first time I read this book left me with somewhat ambivalent feelings. I was and still am a great fan of Dick's work, and Scanner Darkly is clearly one of his best, brimming with black humour and insane plot concepts. However, I was somewhat irritated by some of its elements, which sounded like a typical ex-addict's attempt to evade all responsibility by blaming drugs. "It wasn't my fault that I wrecked my whole life and hurt everyone around me, it was those horrible drugs! I'm going to write a book about them so that everyone will see how bad they are!" Evil drug dealers injecting hard drugs into innocent girls who then deteriorate into old hags in six months... just like the stuff I heard in school, but not necessarily true. Later I realized that the novel is far deeper than that, though. First of all it isn't a document, but rather a depiction of how it felt to be involved in the disaster that was 60-70's drug culture, and of the agonies of addiction. And second, it showed the true tragedy of the hippie era. In the book, everyone's basically either a head, wasting their brains with a plethora of substances and burning their life away, or then a straight, existing in a plastic limbo that cannot properly called a life at all. Bob Arctor chose the career of undercover narc when he realized how empty his proper life was, and his comment about the Lions Society (?) he was lecturing to about drugs was quite revealing too. "Substance D cannot destroy their brains, because they have none" (taken from memory) So I think the book is a criticism aimed at the emptiness of society which drove masses of bright young people to drop out and play around with power tools without care... and with results that the book depicts disturbingly well. Luckily there is a third way, but I don't think it was a real option for most people then.

Try to hang on

Reading this book is akin to the pleasure of being lost in the city you live in and suddenly realizing that you are only three blocks from home. After every page in this novel, I was dragged further from coherence and deeper into the split ego of a cop who is an addict trailing an addict who is a cop. The very fiber of reality is arbitrary; good and evil tango to a song hummed by insanity. As one follows Arctor's attempts to reconcile his addiction, his past and his future, it seems that ultimately we are empathizing with madness: it is impossible to offer consolation, just learn what you can and get the hell out.I have never experimented with mind-altering drugs, and after reading this I don't think I have to. In the 3 or 4 days it took me to read this, I was completely submerged in the world in which Arctor plodded, eager to reach resolution. If you are looking for a narrative style like none other and characters that seem to stare at you from the pages, get this book. Be forewarned: Stories of this kind have been known to cause compulsive reading habits.
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