An Interview With Philip K. Dick From Science Fiction Review


by Daniel DePerez

[From: Science Fiction Review, No. 19, Vol. 5, no. 3, August 1976]

SFR: How about starting with the untitled book you’ve just sold. That’s going to Bantam and Doubleday?

DICK: No, just to Bantam. Bantam will attempt to sell it to a hardcover publisher, but they own theÖthey’re the prime purchaser, and they will offer itÖ.Doubleday does not have a policy of buying any book which has already been bought by a paperback house, so they are eliminated by their policy, but there are a number of other houses who might do it — the hardcover. ButÖ

SFR: The paperback will come out first, though?

DICK: I really don’t know how they work that. I honestly don’t know. Bantam is the prime purchaser, though.

SFR: How can you describe the novel?

DICK: Well, that’s the most difficult question of all to answer, I’ve found. I would actually prefer not to describe the novel. For one thing, they purchased it from the rough draft, and there’ll be many changes in the final draft, and I wouldn’t want to have it freeze in the rough draft form. I know it seems strange not to be able to answer a question like that, “What is the novel about?”, I always say, well, if somebody asked Shakespeare, “I understand you’re writing a play called ROMEO AND JULIET, what’s it about?” If he were to give an oral description of it, it’d probably sound like a terrible bomb. And after he got halfway through describing it, he’d begin to realize it sounded like a terrible bomb, and he would probably not write it. So, short oral synopses do not give adequate account of books. Let’s say it’s the story of an alternate universe, and of a tyrant named Ferris F. Fremont, who’s President of the United States, and in 1968, after having shot the Kennedys, Dr. King, Jim Pike, Malcolm X, everybodyÖGeorge WallaceÖso that he is elected by a very large vote, there not being any real contenders, and sets out to destroy the two-party system. And it’s the story of a group of people who manage to overthrow him.

SFR: Is this going to be marketed as a science fiction novel?

DICK: Oh yes, it’s definitely science fiction, because the people who overthrow him are picked at random by an extraterrestrial satellite communications system which informs them what to do, and what information will bring down the tyrant, Ferris Fremont. And coordinates their efforts through direct radio communications with the satellite, which has been in orbit around the Earth for several thousand years, and periodically intervenes when tyrannical governments become too tyrannical. There seems to be no other way to depose them.

SFR: Then what about the collaboration between you and Roger Zelazny? How did that come about?

DICK: Well, that came about because I started DEUS IRAE, and I couldn’t finish it because of my lack of knowledge of theology. And I met Roger in ’68, and asked him if he would help me with the book, and he said he would, and he did, and his knowledge was adequate, and we were able to finish it, but it still took twelve years for the two of us to write the book, and it was very arduous for us to write. And we just sold that in England for a very large sum of money, so we finally will get some money out of it. I don’t think we will get much in this country, but we will get something on the English sale.

SFR: The bookstores in Portland are selling out of the book.

DICK: Well, it’s sold pretty well in this country. It’s sold over 5,000 copies in the United States, so we will make some money. But the English sale was good, it was between 8,000 and 9,000 dollars, and we hope for other good foreign sales.

SFR: Why do you think your books have sold so well in foreign countries, and not as well in America?

DICK: Well, the first answer that comes to mind is “Damned if I know.” Perhaps it’s the general attitude towards science fiction in European countries, accepting it as a legitimate form of literature, instead of relegating it to the ghetto, with the genre, and regarding it as sub-standard. The prejudice is not there in France, Holland, England, and Germany, and Poland that we have in this country against science fiction. The field is accepted, and it doesn’t have anything to do particularly with the quality of my writing, it has to do with the acceptance of the field of science fiction as a legitimate field. Bear in mind that many, many of the English writers wrote science fiction: Ian Foster, of course we always think of George Orwell, Huxley, and it’s just natural. It wasn’t a step down, into the gutter for them to do it, and it would be here. If Norman Mailer were to write a science fiction novel — an inter-galactic novel — I doubt if he would. Saul Bellow wrote me recently, and he said he is writing science fiction, and he of course in a very fine writer, so maybe the ghetto walls will break down here. But I think it is the fact that they have a high regard for science fiction there. And I think also one of the reasons — especially in France — is that they’re aware that it’s a field of ideas. The science fiction novel is a novel of ideas, and they’re interested in the ideas. There’s an intelligentsia in Europe among the students that appreciates the ideas. You don’t have the equivalent intelligentsia here. We just don’t have that interest in books of ideas that they have there. They appreciate the philosophical and other types of ideas in science fiction, and look forward to science fiction novels. They have a voracious appetite for them.

SFR: That would probably be the same reason, then, why science fiction books sell so well on college campuses.

DICK: Sure, yes, absolutely. I got a letter from a German editor. There are science fiction political organizations — right-wing and left-wing — there, too, that there’s no equivalent for here at all. One of them, the left-wing one, voted me a vote of solidarity, and I thought that was neat. It was something like the Workers and Peasants for Science Fiction Gameinschaft. And it was clear to me from the letter that we just have nothing like that here, a kind of political science fiction groups, where they see them in terms of the sociological and political ideas and the effects on society of the 1984 type of novel — the dystopian novel. They take those dystopian novels very seriously there, they really do. I think another thing in the fact that the American people are apolitical. The dystopian novels don’t really signify anything to the American people, because the American people are so politically naïve that the dystopian novels don’t seem significant to them, you know what I mean? They don’t have the relevance to them that they would have to the European people.

SFR: The Americans seem to get more out of things like Tolkien.

DICK: Right, fantasy. But in Europe they’re more politically aware, and in fact they will read political things into novels which are not there actually. I’ve read a lot of European criticism of my writing in which they see a lot of sociologic and political science type ideas which isn’t there at all. “The Decomposition of the Bourgeois Structure of Society” I think was the name of one article about my writing, and how I had subverted the bourgeois society by destroying its fundamental concepts in a most subversive way. A way so deviously clever that I never mention politics. And this was so fundamental that the whole thing would collapse — the bourgeois society would collapse like a house of cards if I would just write two more books like UBIK. The fact that no political ideas were ever mentioned in UBIK merely showed how subversive this book was in undermining bourgeois society.

SFR: With reasoning like that, you could say the same thing about a Buster Keaton film.

DICK: Oh, certainly. That’s your really subversive thing, where there’s no political ideas expressed at all. It’s too fundamental to be articulated.

SFR: How did you come to discover the I CHING so far ahead of most people in this country?

DICK: Well, I was interested in Jung. Jung wrote the introduction to the Wilhelm Baines translation, and I came across it in aÖI’m not sure. I guess I came across it in a list of Jung’s writings, and sent away for the I CHING in order to read Jung’s introduction. And after reading Jung’s introduction, I became interested in the I CHING. And I really had no intention of getting involved with the I CHING. I wasn’t interested in Sinology at all, and I just got hooked right away, after reading Jung’s introduction, and began to use it immediately. Jung also wrote an introduction to the Tibetan BOOK OF THE DEAD, and I got involved in that for the same reason.

SFR: About what year was this?

DICK: Oh, uh, 1960.

SFR: The reason I asked was that, in EYE IN THE SKY, while the characters are in Arthur Sylvester’s mind-world, the personnel director of the research firm has to consult an oracle-like book to decide whether or not to hire the main character, and that reminded me very much of the I CHING.

DICK: I’d never heard of the I CHING then. I didn’t hear of it until 1960.

SFR: It was just a strange coincidence, then?

DICK: Just a coincidence. Just until you mentioned that, I didn’t know that. I’ll have to go read that. But it’s another example of whatÖPaul Williams wrote the article on me in ROLLING STONE, and said I’m precognitive, and maybe it’s an example of precognition. Good lord!

(At this point, Philip K. Dick’s can of Mother’s Pride orange soda

crawled across his brand new coffee table for about five inches.)

SFR: I’ve only seen that happen a couple of times.

DICK: My can of orange soda just levitated itself. But one of the things I have noticed is that when I write a book — I mean, I’m not sure if I’m precognitive or not — but I have noticed that when I write a book, very often the events of my life will later resemble events described in the book. This is really true, and it has become quite frightening to me. For instance, I wrote THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH before I had ever seen LSD, seen anybody take LSD, or read anything much except maybe one article by Huxley about LSD. Certainly nothing much about LSD, just the kind of romanticism of Huxley, who spoke of, you know, the kind of la-de-da, you know, opening all the doors as if it was just a magic key. And the horrific trips were something of course that he did not go into. Paul Williams simply did not believe I had written that book before I had had any contact with LSD. He checked with people before he was willing to believe that. And I have found thatÖI have found, for instance, in writing a book, that after I have written a book, a year or so later I will meet a girl by the same name as the girl in the book, with the same age, and many of the same characteristics. So close, in fact, that perhaps the girl could sue, claiming that the character was based on her. One case, I even gave the girl’s boyfriend’s name correctly. The girl’s name is Cathy, and the boyfriend is Jack. After I had written the book, I met a girl named Cathy, and she was nineteen, and she had a boyfriend named Jack, and I thought later, you know, “I know I wrote that book before I ever met the other girl, Cathy.” In real life, the Cathy that I met had a friend who was a police inspector, and she had some kind of strange relationship with him. He apparently busted her, but held back the bust in order to get information from her. In the book, that was exactly what occurred. That’s in FLOW MY TEARS, THE POLICEMAN SAID, that she had — that Cathy has this relationship with Inspector McNulty. And I cannot account for these very, very close details. They’re eerie, they’re really eerie. The fictitious girl and the real girl both had an inspector friend who had power over her, to get information from her. Well, perhaps Paul Williams is correct, in this precognitive thing.

SFR: I was just going to ask if you’d ever met any of your characters. For instance, have you, since writing MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, met Mr. Takgomi?

DICK: No, I haven’t. I certainly would like to, because I certainly was very fond of him. MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE was an anomaly in my writing. I had given up writing. I had actually decided to give up writing, and was helping my wife in her jewelry business. And I wasn’t happy. She was giving me all the shit part to do, and I decided to pretend I was writing a book. And I said, “Well, I’m writing a very important book. And to make the fabrication convincing, I actually had to start typing. And I had no notes, I had nothing in mind, except for years I had wanted to write that idea, about Germany and Japan actually having beaten the United States. And without any notes, I simply sat down and began to write, simply to get out of the jewelry business. And that’s why the jewelry business plays such a large role in the novel. Without any notes, I had no pre-conception of how the book would develop, and I used the I CHING to plot the book.

SFR: Do you foresee yourself ever using the I CHING as heavily in writing a book as you did in MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE?

DICK: No, never again, because the I CHING failed me at the end of that book, and didn’t help me resolve the ending. That’s why the ending is so unresolved. The I CHING, uhÖI did throw the coins for the characters, and I did give what the coins got — the hexagrams — and I was faithful to what the I CHING actually showed, but the I CHING copped out completely, and left me stranded. And since I had no notes, no plot, no structure in mind, I was in a terrible spot, and I began to noticeÖthat was the first time I noticed something about the I CHING that I have noticed since. And that is that the I CHING will lead you along the garden path, giving you information that either you want to hear, or you expect to hear, or seems reasonable, or seems profound, up to a certain point. And then, just about the time that it’s gotten your, you know, your credulity is there — you’re willing to trust it — just about the time you’ve given it your faith and trust, it will zap you with the most malevolent, wrong information. In other words, it sets you up. It really does, it really sets you up. I regard the I CHING as a malicious spirit. As actually spirit, an animation. I think it is an evil book, and I no longer use it. And I don’t recommend that people –I certainly do not recommend that people make important decisions on the basis of it. The more important the decision, the more it tends to hand you an answer which brings tragedy into your life. And I say that asÖafter using it for years and using it quite extensively. It is a liar. It speaks with forked tongue.

SFR: In the Paul Williams article, he mentions that you no longer take amphetamines, but that your body still goes through the same reactions when you’re writing.

DICK: Yes, that’s correct. I was evaluated at Hoover Pavillion Hospital at Stanford, which has the highest reputation on the West Coast for diagnostic evaluation — equivalent, say, to Yale on the East Coast — and they said I was taking it for a placebo effect of some kind. They couldn’t figure outÖblood tests showed that the amphetamines never reached my brain. They were baffled for the reason that I was taking them. So I stopped taking them. And I work the same way. I work at breakneck speed, and then I just crash for days. I literally sleep for days afterward, and I go through the entire cycle, and give all the evidence of having been wired all the time I was writing, and then crash afterward, and yet there’s no amphetamines involved whatsoever. And this book I just sold to Bantam I wrote in twelve days. Which was the kind of thing I did when I took a great deal of amphetamines, and wrote all day and all night. That’s 70,000 words in twelve days.

SFR: Could you write under any other kind of schedule, or would you want to?

DICK: Once I start a book, I like to just go through and finish it, because there’s more chance of authentic continuity that way. I could never adopt this thing you hear about writing ten pages a day, writing from 9-5. You do your ten pages, and when you’re done them, you stop. If you’re hot, you’re hot. If you’re hot, you’re gonna write until you drop. If you’re cold, you could sit in front of the typewriter forever. So if I’m hot, I will just write. Before I wrote the novel in those twelve days, I took notes for 30 months before I was able to get started on the novel. For 30 months I was unable to find the handle for a novel. The second I found the handle for the novel, I did it in 12 days. So, you have the attempt to write a novel in a single, uninterrupted burst. If I could have it my way, I wouldn’t even sleep while I was writing a novel, I’d just sit and start at page one, and write it straight through. If you’re hot you should never stop. And I will never let anything interrupt me when I’m writing, which, I suppose, is why my girlfriend is moving out. She discovered that, uhÖwell, one time I was sitting there writing, and she came in and she said, “Could this friend of mine use your bathroom?” And I just had a hysterical fit. I had to stop writing so he could come in and use the bathroom. And I just went all to pieces. I was just terrible. I was like Beethoven. You know, Beethoven use to have these terrible tantrums. And I had a terrible tantrum. I carry it all in my head, and even though I had all these extensive notes, I never referred to them, I was carrying the notes in my head. And I know of no other way to write.That’s the only way I know how to write.

SFR: So whenever the next novel comes up depends on when you get the next handle?

DICK: Exactly. I could go for a year, I could go two years, I could go two weeks. This one, I was beginning to think I’d never get the handle. I had done almost 300,000 words of notes, and I was really beginning to think I would never get a novel out of it. And one day I was just thinking — just sitting there thinking — and all of a sudden the handle came to me. And the next morning I sat down and began to write. And within twelve days I had a complete rough draft, which I sold to Bantam. After 25 years of writing, I’ve learned one way of doing it, and I just don’t know of any other way of doing it. The only exception, say, would be the collaboration with Roger Zelazny, where I’d do a part, and Roger would do a part, and I’d do a part, and years would go by between our parts. And we lost a lot of money from having to spend so many years writing it. But, as I say, I was in difficulty, and simply didn’t have the background for the book, and needed his assistance.

SFR: Had he been thinking of something along those lines himself?

DICK: I think he justÖhis broad knowledge of things permitted him to pick it up. He’s a very educated person, and a very skillful writer, and he was just an ideal person for those two persons. I like the parts that Roger wrote. I think he wrote some very funny parts. The pogo stick part that he wrote was the funniest part of the book. I was very pleased with what he did.

SFR: Do you think science fiction has a purpose beyond entertainment?

DICK: Well, it all depends on what entertains you. Some people are entertained by a Beethoven quartet, and if another person walks in who likes Jimi Hendrix, he hardly regards what he hears coming out of the phonograph as entertainment. It’s gonna be difficult for him to believe that you’re being entertained when you’re listening to a Beethoven quartet. Here we have to go into semantics; what do you mean by “entertained”? Something that you find interesting and fascinating certainly is entertainment. Like, would you describe Milton’s PARADISE LOST as entertainment? Is that an entertaining novel — or poem? I mean, I enjoy reading it. I suppose I would have to say I find it entertaining. If you mean, “Does science fiction have a didactic purpose?” — a message in the bourgeois sense of the novel as the “message novel”, that teaches some moral, it somehow improves the reader, the reader goes away after having read it a better person, he now knows something he did not know before (presumably about life). I have never accepted the bourgeois concept that the novel must do that, anyway, be it science fiction or any other kind of novel. I was thinking of a book like Donleavy’s THE GINGER MAN, which is highly entertaining — I think it’s a great novel — but I don’t think that it made me a better person by reading it. I think aesthetics must be separated from morality here, andÖwell, you look at the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and you can say, “Well, does this make you a better person, or do you just enjoy looking at it?”, and the bourgeois person will always say it makes you a better person, because he is always thinking in terms of self-improvement. And the artist is always thinking of aesthetics. And it all depends on whether you’re a member of the bourgeois — you will always say, “A good book is one which makes you a better person,” and the aesthetic or artist-type will always say, “The aesthetic values are end values in themselves.”

I can prove my point. Does listening to one of Beethoven’s quartets of the third periodÖhow does it make you a better person? I don’t think anybody could ever show that listening to, say, the 13, 14, 15, or 16th quartets made you a better person. There’s certainly no message, because they’re abstract, so you’re forced finally to admit that you listen to them either because you’re compelled to, out of some sense of duty — that you ought to listen to good music — or you enjoy them, in which case you are back to entertainment. And I think that what we have to do is redefine entertainment to include enjoyment of very fine aesthetic works, in which case, I don’t think science fiction need have any other purpose.

SFR: So it would probably be the publisher, more than anyone else, who would say, “Buy this book, it will make you a better person.” And the writer who would say, “Buy this book, I think you’ll enjoy it”?

DICK: Well, the publisher would want to sit on both stools. He would say, “It’s full of sex, violence, action, and perversion, and all these things will make you a better person if you read about them.” He’ll have it both ways. I think the writer falls in love with his characters, and wants the reader to know of their existence. He wants to turn what are people known only to him into people known to a fairly large body of readers. That’s my purpose. My purpose is to take these characters, who I know, and present them to other people, and have them know them, so that they can say that they’ve known them, too, and have enjoyed the pleasure of their company. And that is the purpose that I have, which, I suppose, is a purpose beyond entertainment.

The basic thing that motivates me is that I have met people in my life, who I knew deserved to be immortalized, and the best I could do — I couldn’t guarantee them immortality — but I could guarantee them an audience of maybe 100,000, like girls that I’ve met, or drinking buddies I’ve had, turn them from just somebody that I knew, and two or three other people knew, that I could capture their idiosyncratic speech mannerisms, their gentleness, their kindness, their humility, and make them available to a large number of people.

That’s my purpose. So, I suppose in a way I have a purpose beyond entertainment. But I certainly wouldn’t say that this is why people ought to write, or that they ought to write for any purpose beyond entertainment. But this is why I write. Always.

Especially I like to write about people who have died, whose actual lifetimes are over with, and who linger on only, say, in my mind and the minds of a few other people. I happen to be the only one who can write them down, and get their speech patterns down, and record incidents of great nobility and heroism that they have shown under very arduous conditions. I can do this for them, even though the people are gone. I have written about girls that I admire greatly, who are so illiterate that they would never read the book, even if I were to hand it to them. And I’ve always thought that was rather ironic, that I would make this attempt to immortalize them, when they were so illiterate that they could not or would not read the damn thing themselves.

But that isn’t really the purpose of the book anyway. The purpose of the book is that other people should read it, and seeÖand I can convey my admiration for these girls, and my admiration for their heroism, my admiration for my drinking buddies, and the heroism that they showed, and the humor that they showed, and the love that they showed, and the wit that they showed, and the humanity that they showed. And get that down, and leave that as a permanent — or semi-permanent trace — in the stratum of society in which we live.

SFR: So you donít necessarily try to control your characters, you let them write their own stories pretty much?

DICK: Very much so, yes, definitely. I try to remember — I write dialogue and develop scenes — how my friends did talk, and what they did say, and how they did behave, and how they did interact with one another, and the jokes they played on each other, and the games they played with one another, and so on. I want them to be themselves, and I don’t try to manipulate them. The last thing I want to do is put my ideas into their mouths, and have them spout my philosophy. That’s the last thing I want to do. That would probably be the furthest from the authentic thing that I want to achieve. So, although I write idea novels, I’m concerned more with the person facing the idea, the idea as extrapolation into a make-believe society, especially a dystopia. But the persons themselves are free to speak and act and be as they really were. And always to be themselves, and never to be just extensions of myself.

SFR: With the economics of sf as they are, why have you sold so many of your things to Ace and Doubleday, when they are so low-paying?

DICK: Well, I haven’t sold anything to Ace for a long time, really. I sold OUR FRIENDS FROM FROLIX 8 in, I think, 1970, but I don’t sell to Ace anymore, and that was an anomaly — I just needed the money. I think there are 16 Ace titles, and they were all in the early part of my career.

As far as Doubleday goes, I had a very good relationship with Larry Ashmead, the editor-in-chief of Doubleday, and I liked the hardcover editions, and I didn’t realise that the advances were miniscule. They were $1500. Now, I should have known that was miniscule, because that was what Ace was giving me, and I knew that was miniscule, and two things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. Now, I should have known that, but what happened was that the paperback sometimes paid very heavily, like UBIK (which was – Doubleday novel). Doubleday paid $1500 for UBIK but then the paperback people paid $10,000, of which I got $5,000. So you see, when you added it together, it wasn’t all that bad. And I got $9,500 for DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? in the paperback, so the very low Doubleday advance didn’t bother me.

Then it started to bother me, finally, when I wrote my anti-dope book, A SCANNER DARKLY. And I realized I had written a really great novel. Actually I had finally written a true masterpiece, after 25 years of writing, and my agent wrote back when he read the first part, and he said, “You’re absolutely right, this is exceptional material.” And then he went out and sold it to Doubleday for the same old goddamn two thou — by that time they were up to $2500 — still Mickey Mouse money. “Here is this masterpiece, and we are going to pay you $2500 for it.” And I fired my agent, and I prepared to buy the manuscript back from Doubleday, and I could never raise the money to buy it back from Doubelday. I couldn’t get enough cash to buy it back. And Simon & Schuster offered to buy it from Doubleday for $4000, so I would get a little more money (Larry Ashmead having then gone to Simon & Schuster). But Doubleday refused to relinguish it. They said $3000 was their limit for science fiction, and then they admitted $4000 was their limit, and then they turned around with A SCANNER DARKLY, and turned it over to their trade department, to sell it as a trade book, and there is no limit in the advance to a trade book. So they weren’t limited to $3000. And they’ve got a masterpiece, and they put out almost no money at all.

So the next book then, I sold to Bantam for $12,000, and Doubleday was just out of luck. Doubleday said on the phone, very bitterly, “You’re mercenary.” And I said, “No, I have to eat. I have to live. That’s what we have here. I owe the IRS $4,700. I can’t afford to sell you a novel for $3000.” And, of course, I especially couldn’t if I could sell it to Bantam for $12,000.

I never really got angry until this book, A SCANNER DARKLY. I knew the book was worth a great deal of money. I knew that it was really a fine book, and I worked five years on it. And I knew that I was being gypped. It was the first time in 22 or 23 years that I really realised I was being terribly gypped — just gang-banged is what it was. And Doubleday was crowing about this great book, and they were going to go to town. They were going to do this and do that with it, and I kept saying, “Well, why don’t you give me a little more money? I mean, if you recognise the quality of the work, and you have such plans for itÖ” and that’s when they said, “You’re mercenary.” And so they didn’t get a shot at the next book. And they know it.

REG NOTE: It should be remembered that Phil is speaking of moneys advanced to him in anticipation of money earned by the book. There are royalty rates by which earnings are figured — so much per copy sold. In the long run an author doesn’t lose any money by accepting a low advance if the book sells enough copies to earn the advance and more in royalties. However, Doubleday has a policy (the last I heard) of never reprinting a new hardcover of their science fiction line — no matter how well it sells. A trade book, however, will be reprinted in hardback for as long as it sells well. So Doubleday’s decision to publish A SCANNER DARKLY as a trade book is to Phil’s advantage, and will probably increase the paperback advance as well. And I have never heard of Doubleday cheating on royalty statements.

Nevertheless, most authors always need money, and live in the financial short-run. Too, a large advance is a sign of prestige and success.

SFR: So then, it’s a case of word getting around now that if you want a Philip K. Dick novel, you’re going to have to pay $12,000 or more?

DICK: That’s correct. When you start out, you take what you can get. When I started out, I was paid $1,000 by Ace, and then later, $1500. Therefore, I was actually getting more money than new writers are getting now from Laser, because of the inflation factor. I’m talking about all the way back to 1955, I was getting $1,000. So they’re really getting less. The thing is, when you’re starting out, you take what you can get. You’re glad to get in print, and I think that’s a proper attitude. It’s just that when you’ve been writing for twenty-five years, and you’ve wonÖfor instance, my novel FLOW MY TEARS, THE POLICEMAN SAID won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and I got about $3500 in toto for it. That is $2500 advance, and about $1,000 on the paperback. So I got about $3500 in all for the American sales on that novel which won that award. I worked on that from 1970 until 1973. Four years I worked on that novel, four years for that sum of money.

Well, then I wrote A SCANNER DARKLY, my anti-dope novel, and that’s the first time I really realized I was being burned. And I was so mad. I felt I had written a novel equal to ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. I felt that what ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT was to war — that anybody that read it would never pick up a rifle as long as they lived — that anybody who ever read A SCANNER DARKLY would never drop dope as long as they lived. In it I had all my friends who are now dead or crazy from dope, sitting around laughing and talking, you know, and then they all go crazy and die. It broke my heart to read it, it broke my heart to do the galleys. I did the galleys two weeks ago, and I cried for two days after I did the galleys. Every time I read it I cry. And I believe that it is a masterpiece. I believe it is the only masterpiece I will ever write. Not that it’s the only masterpiece I have ever written, but the only one I will ever write, because it is a book that is unique. And when I got $2500 for all this work, I knew I was being burned. Because there were human beings in that book who have never been put down on paper before.

And the person who came along and saved that book was Judy-Lynn del Rey at Ballantine. Larry Ashmead at Doubleday turned the manuscript over to her to see if Ballantine wanted to buy the paperback rights, and she said, “Well, I’m not interested in books on drugs. But I’ll read it anyway.” And she was the first person to say, “This book is not your standard book. It’s not your science fiction book, it’s not your standard anything.” And then she had me completely revise the book. She showed me how to develop the characters, and when she got through working with me on that book, itÖsheÖI meanÖthat didn’t get me any money, I still didn’t get any money, but I’ve written a great novel, you know, and I finished the galleys two weeks agoÖshit, it wasn’t two weeks ago, I mailed them off last MondayÖand I was sitting there crying and crying afterwards, you know, and I’ve read it a number of times now. You’d think by now that the shock effect would wear off. They’re all taking dope, and they’re all happy, and they’re all wonderful people. Then the terrible destruction of their brains begins, and they begin to lose contact with reality, and they begin to gyrate around, and they no longer can function. And by the time the book ends, the protagonist is lucky if he can clean out a bathroom — clean out a toilet. Every time I read it, it has the same effect on me. The funny parts are the funniest parts ever written, and the sad parts are the saddest parts ever written, and they’re both in the same book.

My new book, the one I just sold to Bantam, has a lot to do with Christianity, and it’s going to make two groups of people mad; the Christians and the non-Christians. They’re both going to be furious. The Christians are going to be mad because it doesn’t fit any conception they have of Christianity, and the non-Christians are going to be mad because it has to do with Christianity at all. It has to do with what my idea of what it is. I did 30 months of research into the origins of Christianity, and the Greek mystery cults, such as the Orphic religion, and also into neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, and so on. I have very powerful beliefs, and I have experienced very powerful religious experiences, but they do not fit the doctrines of the Church, particularly. Yet I will stick by them as authentic.

In fact, right in front of me now, we have a book called ANGELS, ELECT AND EVIL, which is a study of angelology. I, for instance, believe that angels exist. I believe there are atmospheric spirits of a higher order than human beings, that we cannot see, that are extremely powerful, and have extremely powerful effects on our lives when they care to. I think most of the time they don’t care to. I know that we are under the protection of a powerful extraterrestrial intelligence, and if you want to call it God, fine. If you don’t want to call it God, fine. In my book, it’s called VALIS, which stands for Vast Active Living Intelligence System. I prefer that word to God. And it intervenes in human affairs to regulate them, and coordinate them, and ameliorate our conditions.

SFR: Right now, the first reports are coming back from our probes on Mars. What effect, if any, would news of life on Mars have on humanity?

DICK: You mean the average person?

SFR: Yes. What would it do to their thoughts of themselves, and their place in the universe?

DICK: All right. Yesterday, Chairman Mao died. To me, it was as if a piece of my body had been torn out and thrown away, and I’m not a Communist. There was one of the greatest teachers, poets, and leaders that ever lived. And I don’t see anybody walking around with any particularly unhappy expression. There have been some shots of people in China crying piteously, butÖI woke my girlfriend up at 7:00 in the morning. I was crying. I said, “Chairman Mao has died.” She said, “Oh my God, I thought you said ‘Sharon was dead’.” — some girl she knows. I think I would be like that. I think there would be little, if any, real reaction. If they can stand to hear that ChairmanÖthat that great poet and teacher, that great man, thatÖone guy on TV — one Sinologist — said “The American public would have to imagine as if, on a single day, both Kennedys, Dr. King, and Franklin D. Rossevelt were all killed simultaneously,” and even then they wouldn’t get the full impact of it. So I don’t really think that to find life on Mars is going to affect people. One time I was watching TV, and a guy comes on, and he says, “I have discovered a 3,000,000-year-old humanoid skull with one eye and two noses.” And he showed it — he had twenty-five of them, they were obviously fake. And it had one eye, like a cyclops, and had two noses. And the network and everybody took the guy seriously. He says, “Man originated in San Diego, and he had one eye and two noses.” We were laughing, and I said, “I wonder if he has a moustache under each nose?

People just have no criterion left to evaluate the importance of things. I think the only thing that would really affect people would be the announcement that the world was going to be blown up by the hydrogen bomb. I think that would really effect people. I think they would react to that. But outside of that, I don’t think they would react to anything. “Peking has been wiped out by an earthquake, and the RTD — the bus strike is still on.” And some guy says, “Damnit! I’ll have to walk to work!” So? You know, 800,000 Chinese are lying dead under the rubble. Really. It cannot be burlesqued.

I think people would have been pleased if there was life on Mars, but I think they would have soon wearied of the novelty of it, and said, “But what is there on Jupiter? What can the life do?” And, “My pet dog can do the same thing.” It’s sad, and it’s also very frightening in a way, to think that you could come on the air, and you could say, “The ozone layer has been completely destroyed, and we’re all going to die of cancer in ten years.” And you might get a reaction. And then, on the other hand, you might not get a reaction from people. So many incredible things have happened.

I talked to a black soldier from World War II who had entered the concentration camp — he had been part of an American battalion that had seized a German death camp — it wasn’t even a concentration camp, it was one of the death camps, and had liberated it. And he said he saw those inmates with his own eyes, and he said, “I don’t believe it. I saw it, but I have never believed what I saw. I think that there was something we don’t know. I don’t think they were being killed.” They were obviously starving, but he says, “Even though I saw the camp, and I was one of the first people to get there, I don’t really believe that those people were being killed by millions. For some reason, even though I myself was one of the first human” — notice the words “human beings” — “human beings to see this terrible sight, I just don’t believe what I saw.” And I guess that’s it, you know. I think that may have been the moment when this began, was the extermination of the gypsies, and Jews, and Bible students in the death camps, people making lampshades out of people’s skins. After that, there wasn’t much to believe or disbelieve, and it didn’t really matter what you believed or disbelieved.

SFR: Just two days ago, I was waiting for a bus in Stockton, and a man sat down on the bench next to a woman sitting next to me, and he started off by talking about how high prices were. Then he said, “Things haven’t been the same since World War II. You can’t believe in anything anymore.” So it seems like a turning point for a lot of people.

DICK: Yeah. I think that, like in my writing, reality is always a soap bubble, Silly Putty thing anyway.

In the universe people are in, people put their hands through the walls, and it turns out they’re living in another century entirely. This is a feeling I’ve had ever since I started writing, which is from 1951 on, that if I discovered that this entire building that we’re sitting in now — this apartment — was a mock-up — a dummy — and extraterrestrial intelligences were looking through one-way ceilings at us, I think that for several minutes I would be amazed. But I think I would get over it after a couple of minutes. And when you realize that — you know what I mean? — that it would not permanently affect my equilibrium. There would be an initial shock, but I often have the feeling — and it does show up in my books — that this is all just a stage.

And this comes out in my new book that Bantam bought. The guy realizes — I mean, he’s just an ordinary person like us, and it traces him from growing up in Berkeley, and it’s semi-autobiographical — and the satellite which has been orbiting Earth, suddenly reveals to him that it’s actually A.D. 70. That it’s the first century A.D. That everything he sees is just so much gingerbread over the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire is still in control. And nothing has really happened since the year 70, and that they have just kept plastering more layers of gingerbread over it, and that he has to deal with this problem. He has to deal with the tyranny which is really that of the Roman Empire. And I’m willing to admit that I halfway believe that.

In other words, thatÖI read the new Britannica article on time, and that some of these basic categories of perception that we have, like time and space, are not only difficult to define — time being very difficult to define — but maybe illusory. I mean change may be illusory, you know, it may be A.D. 70. It may be that we’re still living in the Roman Empire. It may be just that we keep pasting more and more layers of gingerbread to disguise it, so that we think, you know, that there’s been these successive changes, and actually there hasn’t been, and so on.

If somebody were to take that new book of mine and say, “How much of this book is fact, and how much of this book is fiction?” I wouldn’t be able to tell them. I really wouldn’t be able to tell them. And when my Bantam editor comes out here, he’s going toÖthere’s a lot of questions he wants to know, because he’s beginning to get the uneasy impression that I believe a lot of what I say in my new book. And when he talks to me, he’s going to get an even uneasier impression when I say, “I have a very strong feeling that we’re in a kind of maze that has been built for us. And we’re being tested, and run through the maze, and evaluated, and hindered from time to time, and notes are being taken.” And I always feel that we’re being timed. We are being timed. But I really have that feeling very strongly, and so nothing would really surprise me.

I feel as if causality itself has ceased to be. Ever since Hume demonstrated so beautifully that causality is merely custom. Ever since I read the book — not necessarily since he wrote it, but ever since I read it — I have had the feeling that perhaps much of what we take to be ironclad chains of events are nothing but mere custom, mere sequence, mere progression, and are not so ironclad.

I remember that I read in ROLLING STONE one time that the Brahmin goes through two cycles: during one part of its cycle, it sleeps, and during one part of its cycle, it dances. We all think we’re in the part of the cycle where Brahmin is awake and dancing. In actuality, we’re in the part of the cycle where Brahmin is asleep, but, Brahmin is waking up. And when Brahmin wakes up, this world that Brahmin is dreaming, will disappear.

And when I read that, I thought, “Well, that just about expresses my basic view, in my books, although I hadn’t known that.

SFR: They’re all dealing with the point where Brahmin is waking up.

DICK: Right, right. This is a very crucial stage now, because Brahmin is not completely asleep. Brahmin is waking up. And when it wakes, this dream world will disappear — parts of it will begin to vanish right before our eyes, as it begins to wake up. Brahmin is not dancing, Brahmin is sleeping, but soon it will dance.

I think we’ve reached the most crucial time in 2,000 years. I think that there has already begun, some titanic process of revelation to man, of what man is, where he came from, what his role is, and that is very much connected with Brahmin waking up. Because if Brahmin is asleep, we, too, are asleep. That everything is asleep, because there is nothing that is not Brahmin. And as we wake up, we remember — it’s a form of remembering — and we remember suddenly who we really are, where we came from, andÖ

I really believe in this, and it’s in my new book, and I know that Bantam editor is going to want all that taken out. He’s going to say, “Phil, I don’t know. I think you really believe all this stuff, don’t you?” And I’m going to have to say to him, “Well, when the white man says jump, I jumps.”

But the fact of the matter is, I reallyÖIn my book, the character suddenly remembers — the satellite has him remembering, going back 2,000-3,000 years, and he remembers his origins, and they’re not on Earth, they’re from beyond the stars. And I honestly believe that.

In the Greek Orphic religion, they — that was the mystery that you learned. You recovered your memory. It’s called anamnesis, which was the loss of amnesia. You remembered your origins, and they were from beyond the stars. They weren’t all that successful, but I think now the time has come, where that kind of memory will return to human beings. Long-term memories, which are buried in each of us, which is very much associated with Jung’s racial unconscious, you see. And when we begin to remember, then we can begin to understand what our real role is, because the two are very closely identified: the memory of that very long, long life-span, and what we should do.

We will understand what right conduct is. And I think that it will spook the Jesus freaks. And I say that as an ardent Christian, but I think it will spook most Christians. I think they will discover that they have been worshiping planes that they made out of tinfoil, to attract other planes. It’s not going to be what they expect at all.

Actually, I don’t think we can say till the memory sets in, till that anamnesis sets in. And when it sets in, as it begins to occur, it will be the great turning of the cosmic wheel for mankind, and the universe.

I’m very optimistic about it. I think it’s gonna be a really exciting thing. And although I put down drugs, and I certainly donít recommend that anybody take them, I think that some of the people who took LSD experienced a little of this. And I think that there was a certain validity in what, like, Huxley said about the doorways of perception. And Castenada, too, and things like that — people who were working with some of the mescaline-type drugs — that there is another reality very close, that’s impinging on our reality, and will probably very soon break through to our reality. Either we will break through to it, or it will break through to us. But the two will impinge on the other, and we will suddenly discover aÖwe are in a world which has more dimensions to it than we had thought.

I guess that means I’m taking my own writing as more fact than fiction than I used to. I don’t think I ever took it as completely fiction, I always, you know, was reaching for an answer. Groping for an answer to the question of “what is real?” “What is reality?” And I think I am finally beginning to get a sense of what is real. And one of the things that is not real is time. There’s no doubt about it. Change and time are not real. The Greek philosopher Parmenides was the first one to come forth and say that the universe does not really change. There is some underlying structure that is always the same. If we could only find out the nature of that, and reach down to it. And it is somehow symmetric, and that was about all he could say about it; that it was somehow symmetric.

SFR: Thank you, Mr. Dick.

3 thoughts on “An Interview With Philip K. Dick From Science Fiction Review

  1. Great interview. I like what he has to say about waking up to higher dimensions of reality and that kind of thing. I’ve always been interested in the Orphic Mysteries, which I researched in college, and HIndu and Buddhist cosmologies and so on. Too bad he didn’t have better trips on LSD but he seems to have had quite a few trips without it even though I’m not so sure how good they were. I’m sorry I never had a chance to hang around with Phil Dick. I didn’t really know about him until I read his obituary in some communist newspaper and didn’t read him until around the time Blade Runner came out. I have read all of his novels and short stories plus the book of his Exegesis writings and Shifting Realities. What a brilliant guy was he. This makes me want to read all of his stuff again.

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