With a bunch of his stuff having been adapted to film, and a growing awareness of his contributions to American literature, Philip K. Dick has only grown in popularity since his death in 1982. But he's a complex, difficult writer, and getting into him in the past few years has proven difficult—thanks to money-hungry publishers like Vintage, who've blindly published everything they can of his (good or not, finished or not), and Hollywood, which is content to happily, frequently, and radically alter Dick's literary concepts.
Vintage's latest attempt to cash in is Vintage PKD, whose street date cleverly coincides with the release of A Scanner Darkly, Dick's latest novel to be foisted onto the big screen. (See Film, pg. 52.) Vintage PKD collects some excerpts from Dick's novels, a few of his short stories, an essay, and some letters—and, at first, it appears as useless, disposable, and shallow as any other awkwardly assembled anthology.
And, true, it's disjointed, and has little of the depth or intelligence that one would get from—god forbid—actually reading an entire book by Dick. But that said, and for what it is, Vintage PKD is a solid collection. The excerpts from Dick's major novels stand on their own, albeit a bit unsteadily, and the selected short stories are great—most notably there's "The Days of Perky Pat," about a post-apocalyptic world where people play with dolls to remind them of how life used to be, and "A Little Something for Us Tempunauts," which has time travelers getting stuck in an interminable temporal loop. The best two things in the book, however, are the rarer selections: With "The Lucky Dog Pet Store," Dick explains why he writes science fiction, despite the fact that he earned so little doing it that he and his wife could only afford to eat horsemeat purchased from the local pet store. There's also "The Zebra Papers," wherein Dick lays out the complex ideas that would eventually worm their way into Ubik. In these pieces, one gets what's usually absent in these sorts of hastily assembled collections, and something that makes Vintage PKD worth your time and cash: a genuine, unique look into Dick's writing process, his motivations, his existence, all as he cranks along, eating horsemeat and defining a marginalized genre. ERIK HENRIKSEN