Sep 27 2008 11:53am

Waiting for the Mail: Philip K. Dick

Recently, I wrote a little bit about my obsession with the mail. It’s literally the first thing I ask about when I get home from work, “Did we get anything interesting in the mail?”

I think my wife thought this was a passing fad, something I was asking only because there actually was something coming in the mail. But no, I want to know what came in the mail, regardless of what it is. I often spend time looking through worthless catalogs (OMG, not too long ago I got Oriental Trading Company and ULINE catalogs on the same day...HEAVEN!) that do not sell anything I would buy.

Sometimes, I get things in the mail that are actually useful and cool. The other day, I received copies of the Library of America Philip K. Dick books: Four Novels of the 1960s and Five Novels of the 1960s and 70s. Jonathan Lethem selected the books to be collected and wrote notes on the text.

I will admit that I’d read only a a little Philip K. Dick before I got these books. My big experience has been with movies based on his work, like Bladerunner, Total Recall, and A Scanner Darkly (I’ve missed out on Screamers so far), all of which I’ve liked with varying success (Total Recall is completely a guilty pleasure that I find hard to watch today, but the other two I really enjoyed). I liked what I read, and wanted to read more, but wasn’t sure what to get next. These books solve that conundrum nicely.

The first book collects the novels The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Ubik. The second book collects Martian Time-Slip, Dr. Bloodmoney, Now Wait for Last Year, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, and A Scanner Darkly. With these two books you get all the major novels that Dick wrote.

On top of that, you get a comprehensive timeline of Dick’s life, and notes based on the text, which speaks to the English/Philosophy degree that I earned in college. The books from Library of America are archival quality, so they’ll last a long time.

Now, I will admit, these books aren’t cheap, running $35 for the first book and $40 for the second, and Amazon typically doesn’t offer any discount on them (although you might be able to get a discount through other means like a Borders or Barnes & Noble card).

But think about it, if you bought the four novels new in the first book separately, you’d pay anywhere from $25 - $30 for them. And they’d likely be paperback. With these books, you’re getting superior quality hardcover editions of all these books. I’m very impressed with these editions, and I’m excited that they’re now part of my collection.

Even more important, these are the first science fiction works collected by the Library of America other than Lovecraft. Which makes them the first modern science fiction work collected. My hope is that they bring out more science fiction works in Library of America editions. Some Asimov, or Leiber, or Silverberg would be very cool.

[Image taken from my Flickr account; used with my permission.]

Kerry Kuhn
1. Kerry
I have the first of those books and it is very nice. I bought it because 2 of the novels in it are in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
I hadn't realized that Dick was the first science fiction author they had done as I also have two volumes of Raymond Chandler from them.
Ceph Alopod
2. capriciouscephalopod
I stumbled across these by accident (already had some paperbacks of uncertain quality in my shopping cart), and with Amazon's Euro prices they actually turned out cheaper than separate paperbacks.

Now if I only had enough time and quiet to properly digest them... stupid work.
Debbie Moorhouse
3. GUDsqrl
I'm sure they're lovely books, but buying them would be hard to justify as I already have copies of all those novels. In fact, I'm only missing six of Dick's novels to complete my collection!

If/when money ceases to be an object, however....
Felicity Shoulders
4. Felicity
Slightly off topic (I myself like the way the matching Vintage paperback spines of his novels decorate a shelf)...there's another movie adaptation of a P.K. Dick story that doesn't get much attention. Impostor with Gary Sinise. It was completely panned and had horrible trailers, so it made no money and no media impact.

I haven't read the short story it's based on, so I don't know how faithful it is, but I liked it -- very classic, psychological sci-fi. I guess the reviewers weren't on the same wavelength. Anyway, it's well worth Netflixing.
Debbie Moorhouse
5. GUDsqrl
That's the third time recently someone's mentioned Impostor. I'm beginning to think there's another film out there called Serendipity!

My PKD books don't match. Some are Gollancz, some are Vintage, some are ancient, most are paperbacks, one's a It's what's inside that counts! :D
Ragi Gonçalves
6. TheRagi

Well, both the short story and the movie develop and end in a very similar way.

The movie has a nice Gary Sinise vs. Vincent D'Onofrio theme, and the whole setting is quite nice.
Darren Hawkins
7. wincingatlight
I'm not even sure how to feel about a Dick collection that doesn't include _Valis_.
8. KtistecMachine
If you want to watch all Philip K. Dick movie adaptations, don't neglect "Confessions d'un Barjo" based on his one contemporary fiction novel, "Confessions of a Crap Artist". The French have always respected Philip K. Dick more than we Americans; I suspect his translator is really good. Also, having read more than half the novels listed, you can't call a compilation of his important novels comprehensive without including his trilogy: "Valis", "The Divine Invasion" and "The Transmigration of Timothy Archer".
Sandi Kallas
9. Sandikal
In response to #8, I suspect the reason the French have appreciated PKD more than the Americans is due less to translation than to their love of surrealism and absurdity. It's somethine we Americans are only just now coming around to.
Debbie Moorhouse
10. GUDsqrl
The ambition of watching all PKD adaptations was shaken to its foundations by "Minority Report". Maybe one day it will pick itself up off the floor and try again!
John Klima
11. john_klima
@10 "Minority Report" ugh! I was so disgusted by that I wiped the memory of it from my mind. I was totally pleased with "A Scanner Darkly."

I'm not sure that I want to watch all adaptations of PKD stuff...
Torie Atkinson
12. Torie
@ 10 & 11

What?! You didn't like Minority Report? How is that possible? I loved it, though I haven't read the story. But as a movie it's fabulous: good pacing, solid characters, great world-building, some genuinely funny moments, and a coherent plot. Does it deviate heavily from the source material?
Sandi Kallas
13. Sandikal
Torie--I liked the movie "Minority Report" also. I almost didn't see it because I think Tom Cruise is a highly over-rated actor. But, I thought it was a terrific science fiction movie. I read the short story much, much later and I loved it too. However, it's very different from the movie. The thing to keep in mind is that the movie was made 2002 and the book was written in 1956. I don't know if you can make a movie based on a 46 year old science fiction story without making significant changes. The movie is definitely closer to the original story than "Blade Runner" was to "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?".

I try to judge movies and the books they're based on as different entities.
Nuno Fonseca
14. nfonseca
Why does everyone persistently forgets PKD's short stories? 5 superbly annotated volumes of consistently good to very good science fiction that can still be bought. Don't miss out on these.
Felicity Shoulders
15. Felicity
GUDsqrl said:
My PKD books don't match. Some are Gollancz, some are Vintage, some are ancient, most are paperbacks, one's a It's what's inside that counts! :D

Well, I admit it's a fairly new project with me to have them match. I have some massive short story collections, and a beautiful TPB of Do Androids Dream? that doesn't match. That was the first TPB I ever bought, flabbergasted that an airport bookshop* had something I wanted to read but amazed at the price for a paperback. But recently I've been shelling out for Vintage.

*Airport bookshop, rather than a real bookshop that happens to be in an airport.
John Klima
16. john_klima
@12 I cannot bring myself to like ANYTHING that Tom Cruise is involved in. I can barely watch his movies. I feel the same way about Nicholas Cage.

I thought Minority Report started strong, but it lost me about halfway through. I watched the film on fast speed just to see where it went. It just felt like too many disparate points being forced together. I like the concept, and I like that even knowing the 'future' that Cruise's character can't change enough things to avoid the prediction...but it just didn't hold together for me.

As @13 states, it's hard to make a several decades old story into a modern film without changing it. I usually consider the two things as separate beasts or else I wouldn't be able to watch most film adaptations. So, it wasn't differences between the story and the movie that shot it down for me. It was mostly Cruise.

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