Philip K. Dick’s Final Interview


by John Boonstra


[source: Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 3, June 1982, pp. 47-52]

Editor’s note: When John Boonstra conducted the following interview with Philip K. Dick, he never thought that it might be Dick’s last. Dick himself was in excellent spirits and was looking forward to the premiere of Blade Runner, based on one of his novels, with considerable excitement. Boonstra’s introduction – which we’ve left unaltered – reflects its subject’s optimism. In late February, however, Dick suffered a massive stroke, and now, he has died in a California hospital on the morning of March 2. His death makes the following interview all the more poignant, particularly the hopeful note on which it ends.

Philip K. Dick may be a household word – in Hollywood, at least – by year’s end. With his sf novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? filmed by Ridley Scott as Blade Runner, and with the Disney studio budgeting an equally large sum for the forthcoming Total Recall, based on his story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” fresh attention is certain to come to Dick’s thirty years of outstanding work.

Among his peers he has never been underrated. “Dick has been …casting illumination by the kleig lights of his imagination on a terra incognita of staggering dimensions,” wrote Harlan Ellison in Dangerous Visions. Brian Aldiss has favorably compared Dick’s “ghastly humor” to Dickens and Kafka. And Norman Spinrad states the case as plainly as possible in his introduction to the Gregg Press edition of Dr. Bloodmoney: “Fifty or one hundred years from now, Dick may well be recognized in retrospect as the greatest American novelist of the second half of the twentieth century.”

From his first book (Solar Lottery) through his most recent (The Divine Invasion), Philip Kendred Dick has focused on the struggle – in all walks of life, in every occupation – to see beyond the illusions that separate mankind from the possibility of authentic being; to recognize the human among the androids. His genius weds a core of memorable characters to paradoxical plots rich with philosophical inquiry, but a brief description can’t explain how entertaining this eclectic mix invariably proves to be.

In the late 1960s, Dick showed increasing interest in drug-induced altered states of consciousness, but The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, often cited as LSD-based, was completed before Dick’s minimal exposure to hallucinogens. Similarly, some of Dick’s earlier novels (The Cosmic Puppets, Eye in the Sky) presage his controversial visionary episodes of recent years – episodes which he’s described in print and which have formed the basis of his recent fiction. He holds that a higher consciousness – possibly the unleashed right hemisphere of his own brain, possibly an alien or angelic entity – seized temporary control of his body and effected lasting changes in his life. It provided him with verifiable information that, in one case, diagnosed an unsuspected birth defect in his young son.

Dick’s thirty-four published novels and six short story collections are so uniformly good that it seems a shame to single out any. But if I had to be marooned with a half-dozen, I’d take Dr. Bloodmoney, about nuclear war and the psionic abilities of a homunculus called Happy; Martian Time-Slip, where daily life on the miserable Mars colony is upended by an autistic child; Time out of Joint, featuring the marvelously named Ragle Gumm, unknowing linchpin of Western civilization; Confessions of a Crap Artist, a mainstream novel of devastating love glimpsed through the funhouse-mirror mind of one glorious fool; and VALIS and The Divine Invasion, which describe God’s return to this globe after His – and/or Hers – puzzling absence.

VALIS is set in a present-day reality identical to our own, except for its protagonist’s contention that “the Roman Empire never ended.” Such revelations send Horselover Fat, who is either mad or enlightened, after the new Messiah – a two-year-old girl. The closest this tour de force comes to conventional sf is its account of a film that contains encoded information on the Messiah’s whereabouts; the entire book grew from a draft which was that movie’s plot. The Divine Invasion brings the themes of VALIS into a recognizable sf future of spacecraft and social changes. The actual God of the Old Testament appears as a young boy who must lose his amnesia (a concept called anamnesis, crucial to Dick’s recent work) to defeat the powers that hold the earth in illusion. Along for the ride are the boy’s all-too-human “father,” Herb; the prophet Elijah; and a pop singer suspiciously similar to the author’s favorite, Linda Ronstadt.

But it seems a shame to single out just half a dozen of Dick’s novels. I can’t exclude Ubik’s world of devolving forms, or the Hugo-winning novel of the Axis victory, The Man in the High Castle, in which the eastern half of the United States is controlled by Nazi Germany and the western half by Japan. Or Clans of the Alphane Moon. Or Dick’s bitter eulogy to the drug culture, A Scanner Darkly. And as Phil Dick is only fifty-three, there is the promise of more to come. He may just be hitting his prime.

TZ: Your forthcoming novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, is essentially a non-sf literary work based on the mysterious death in the desert of your friend Bishop James Pike, and I’ve been told that you wrote it in lieu of doing a novelization of the Blade Runner screenplay. Why did you choose to write a book with openly religious themes instead of a lucrative, all-but-certain bestseller?

Dick: The amount of money involved would have been very great, and the film people offered to cut us in on the merchandising rights. But they required a suppression of the original novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, in favor of the commercialized novelization based on the screenplay. My agency computed that I would accrue, conservatively, $400,000 if I did the novelization. In contrast, if we went the route of rereleasing the original novel, I would make about $12,500.

Blade Runner’s people were putting tremendous pressure on us to do the novelization — or to allow someone else to come in and do it, like Alan Dean Foster. But we felt that the original was a good novel. And also, I did not want to write what I call the “El Cheapo” novelization. I did want to do the Timothy Archer novel.

So we stuck to our guns, and at one point Blade Runner became so cold-blooded they threatened to withdraw the logo rights. We wouldn’t be able to say, “The novel on which Blade Runner is based.” We’d be unable to use any stills from the film.

Finally we came to an agreement with them. We are adamant about rereleasing the original novel. And I have done The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.

Now, the payment on that novel is very small. It’s only $7,500, which is just about minimum these days. It’s because in the mainstream field I am essentially a novice writer. I’m not known. And I’m being paid on the scale that a new writer coming into the field would be paid on. The contract is a two-book contract, and there’s a science fiction novel in it. And it pays exactly three times for the science fiction what is being paid for Timothy Archer.

TZ: Have you begun the sf novel?

Dick: I’ve done two different outlines. I’ll probably wind up laminating them together and making one book out of it, which is what I like to do, develop independent outlines and then laminate them into one book. That’s where I got my multiple plot ideas. I really enjoy doing that, a paste-up job. A synthesis, in other words.

This second novel is not due until January 1, 1983, so I’ve got time. Right now I’m just physically too tired to do the typing. It looks like it’s going to be a good book, too. It’s called The Owl in Daylight.

Simon and Schuster wanted Archer first, and I wanted to do it first. Of course, I may find that I made a very great error, because it may not turn out to be a successful book. It may be that I’ve lost the ability to write a literary novel, if indeed I ever had the ability to do so. It’s been over twenty years since I’ve written a non-science-fiction novel, and it’s very problematical whether I can write mainstream, literary-quality-type fiction. This is definitely an unproven thing, an X factor. I may find that I’ve turned down $400,000 and wound up with nothing.

TZ: I don’t consider VALIS science fiction. It could have been published as a mainstream novel and gotten who knows what kind of attention that way. I’m sure it got more response with its sf wrapping than it would have otherwise. But it is quite literary itself; marginal sf, at best.

Dick: I would call VALIS a picaresque novel, experimental science fiction. The Divine Invasion has a very conventional structure for science fiction, almost science fantasy; no experimental devices of any kind. Timothy Archer is in no way science fiction; it starts out the day John Lennon is shot and then goes into flashbacks. And yet the three do form a trilogy constellating around a basic theme. This is something that is extremely important to me in terms of the organic development of my ideas and preoccupations in my writing. So for me to derail myself and do that cheapo novelization of Blade Runner — a completely commercialized thing aimed at twelve-year-olds — would have probably been disastrous to me artistically. Although financially, as my agent explained it, I would literally be set up for life. I don’t think my agent figures I’m going to live much longer.

It’s like Dante’s Inferno. A writer sent to the Inferno is sentenced to rewrite all his novels — his best ones, at least — as cheapo, twelve-year-old hack stuff for all eternity. A terrible punishment! The fact that it would earn me a lot of money illuminates the grotesqueness of the situation. When it’s finally offered to me, I’m more or less apathetic to the megabucks. I live a rather ascetic life. I don’t have any material wants and I have no debts. My condominium is paid off, my car is paid off, my stereo is paid off.

At least, this way, I attempt the finest book I can write — and if I fail, at least I will have taken my best shot. I think a person must always take his best shot at everything, whether he repairs shoes, drives a bus, writes novels, or sells fruit. You do the best you can. And if you fail, well, you blame it on your mother, I guess.

TZ: How do you compare the VALIS trilogy to the rest of your work?

Dick: I jettisoned the first version of VALIS, which was a very conventional book. That version appears in the finished book as the movie. I cast around for a model that would bring something new into science fiction, and it occurred to me to go all the way back to the picaresque novel and have my characters be picaroons — rogues — and write it in the first person vernacular, using a rather loose plot. I feel there’s tremendous relevance in the picaresque novel at this time. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man is one; so is The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. I see this as a protest form of the novel, a repudiation of the more structured bourgeois novel that has been so popular.

I’m reprocessing my own life. I’ve had a very interesting ten years starting in 1970 when my wife Nancy left me and went off with a Black Panther, much to my surprise. As a result of which I hit bottom. I mean, I just fell into the gutter, I crashed into the streets in shock when this happened.

I was very bourgeois. I had a wife and child, I was buying a house, I drove a Buick and wore a suit and tie. All of a sudden my wife left me and I wound up in the street with street people. And after I climbed out of that — which was ultimately a death trip on my part — I thought, “Well, I’ve got some interesting first-hand material that I’d like to write about. I will recycle my own life in the terms of a novel.” Having done that in A Scanner Darkly, I was faced with what to do next. It took me a long time before I felt that I had what I wanted.

Now, prior to that I tended to view people in terms of the artisan. I worked for eight years in retail. I managed one of the largest record stores on the West Coast in the fifties, and I had worked at a radio repair shop when I was in high school. I tended to view people in terms of “the tv repairman,” “the salesman,” and so forth. Then later, as a result of my street experience, I tended to view people as essentially rogues. I don’t mean lovable rogues, I mean unscrupulous rogues out to hustle you at any moment for any reason. I found them endlessly fascinating. And I didn’t see people of this type adequately represented in fiction.

TZ: Sometimes the world at large strikes me as being an sf novel, and not necessarily a pleasant one. I often have the feeling that I am living in the future I was reading about fifteen years ago. I wonder what that’s like from your perspective, having written the stuff I was reading when I was an adolescent.

Dick: Oh, Jesus, I agree with you completely. My agent said, after he finished The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, “You know, in your science fiction they drive things called flobbles and quibbles, and in this one they drive Hondas — but it’s still essentially a science fiction novel. Although I can’t explain exactly how.”

It’s really as if the world caught up with science fiction. The years went by and the disparity, the temporal gap, began to close until finally there was no temporal gap. We were no longer writing about the future. In a sense, the very concept of projecting it ahead is meaningless, because we are there, literally, in our actual world. In 1955, when I’d write a science fiction novel, I’d set it in the year 2000. I realized around 1977 that, “My God, it’s getting exactly like those novels we used to write in the nineteen-fifties!”

Everything’s just turning out to be real. That creates within science fiction a completely fantastic type of novel which is set on the planet “Mordaria” or “Malefoozia” in another galaxy. And all the Malefoozians have eighteen heads, and sixteen of them have a sexual act together. In other words, no connections with Earth, none of the social satire and comment you get in works like Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano. Which is a perfect example; you might just as well go downtown to the big business offices and just walk in and sit down, as read Player Piano.

TZ: In earlier interviews you have described your encounter, in 1974, with “a transcendentally rational mind.” Does this “tutelary spirit” continue to guide you?

Dick: It hasn’t spoken a word to me since I wrote The Divine Invasion. The voice is identified as Ruah, which is the Old Testament word for the Spirit of God. It speaks in a feminine voice and tends to express statements regarding the messianic expectation.

It guided me for a while. It has spoken to me sporadically since I was in high school. I expect that if a crisis arises it will say something again. It’s very economical in what it says. It limits itself to a few very terse, sucinct sentences. I only hear the voice of the spirit when I’m falling asleep or waking up. I have to be very receptive to hear it. It sounds as though it’s coming from millions of miles away.

TZ: What made you into a writer? You were saying it wasn’t for the money. When did you make your first sales, and how long were you writing before that?

Dick: I started my first novel when I was thirteen years old. That’s the honet-to-God truth. I taught myself to type and started my first novel when I was in the eighth grade. It was called Return to Lilliput.

I made my first sale in November of 1951, and my first stories were published in 1952. At the time I graduated from high school I was writing regularly, one novel after another. None of which, of course, sold. I was living in Berkeley, and all the milieu-reinforcement there was for the literary stuff. I knew all kinds of people who were doing literary-type novels. And I knew some of the very fine avant-garde poets in the Bay area — Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Philip Lamantia, that whole crowd. They all encouraged me to write, but there was no encouragement to sell anything. But I wanted to sell, and I also wanted to do science fiction. My ultimate dream was to be able to do both literary stuff and science fiction.

Well, it didn’t work out that way. I was reading a lot of philosophy at that time. My wife came home one day from school and said, “What is it you’re reading again?”

I said, “Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed.”

She said, “Yeah, I mentioned that to my instructor. He says you’re probably the only human being on the face of the earth who at this moment is reading Moses Maimonides.” I was just sitting there eating a ham sandwich and reading it. It didn’t strike me as odd.

TZ: You mention one of your wives. I know you’ve been through a couple of marriages…

Dick: At least. There’s more. I hate to say how many — an endless succession of divorces, all stemming from recklessly engaged-in and seized-upon marriages. I still have a good relationship with my ex-wives. In fact, my most recent ex-wife — there are so many that I have to list them numerically — and I are very, very good friends. I have three children. My youngest is seven, and she brings him over all the time.

But the reason all my marriages break up is I’m so autocratic when I’m writing. I become like Beethoven: completely bellicose and defensive in terms of guarding my privacy. It’s very hard to live with me when I’m writing.

TZ: You’ve said that many of the characters in your fiction are thinly disguised variations of people you’ve known personally.

Dick: That is correct.

TZ: What effect has this had on them?

Dick: They hate my bloody guts! They’d like to rend me to shreds! I expect that someday they’ll all fall on me and beat the crap out of me.

I find that you can only develop characters based upon actual people; there’s really no such thing as a character that springs ex nihilo from the brow of Zeus. Tendencies are extracted from actual people, but of course the people aren’t transferred intact. This is not journalism, this is fiction.

The most important thing is picking up the speech pattern, picking up the cadence of actual spoken English. That’s the main thing I look for — the little mannerisms, the word choice.

TZ: We’ve talked about your mainstream writing and your science fiction. What about fantasy writing? Did you ever write for The Twilight Zone?

Dick: No. But I would have welcomed the opportunity. I did some radio scripts for the Mutual Broadcasting system, and I wrote fantasy-type things for them.

I always lie to myself and tell myself that I never really want to do fantasy, but the record does not bear me out. The record shows that my original interest was that kind of Twilight Zone fantasy, fantasy set in the present. But you couldn’t make a living writing this kind of stuff, while you could make a living writing science fiction. In 1953 there were something like thirteen science fiction magazines, and in June of that year I had stories in seven of them simultaneously — all science fiction. I published thirty stories in 1953.

TZ: Why did you temporarily give up writing at the end of that decade?

Dick: By the year 1959 the science fiction field had totally collapsed. The readership had shrunk down to 100,000 readers total. Now, to show you how few readers that is, Solar Lottery alone had sold 300,000 copies in 1955.

Many writers had left the field. We could not make a living. I had gone to work making jewelry with my wife. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t enjoy making jewelry. I had no talent whatsoever. She had the talent. She is still a jeweler and a very fine one, making gorgeous stuff which she sells to places like Neiman-Marcus. It’s great art. But I couldn’t do anything except polish what she made.

I decided that I’d better tell her I was working on a book so I wouldn’t have to polish her jewelry all day long. We had a little cabin, and I went over there with a sixty-five-dollar portable typewriter made in Hong Kong — the “e” key was stuck on it. I started with nothing but the name “Mister Tagomi” written on a scrap of paper, no other notes. I had been reading a lot of Oriental philosophy, reading a lot of Zen Buddhism, reading the I Ching. That was the Marin County zeitgeist at that point, Zen Buddhism and the I Ching. I just started right out and kept on trucking. It was either that or go back to polishing jewelry.

When I had the manuscript finished, I showed it to her. She said, “It’s all right, but you’ll never make more than $750 off of it. I don’t even see where it’s worth your while to submit it to your agent.”

I said, “What the hell!” And The Man in the High Castle was bought by Putnam’s for $1500, which isn’t a great deal more than she had prophesied. It did get tremendous reviews. Part of that was due to the good fortune that it was picked up by the Science Fiction Book Club. Had it not been picked up by them, it would not have won the Hugo Award, because the edition would have been too small.

I must admit that I had thought for years about writing an alternate-world novel in which the Axis won World War II. I did start without written notes, but I had done seven years of research at the closed stacks in U.C.-Berkeley. And I looked at Gestapo documents, because I could read some German, marked “For the eyes of the higher police only.”

I had to structure out the decisions that the Nazis would have had to make, the changes in history that would have permitted them to win that war. It would be a very long list of things that would have had to happen, and they’re not all in Man in the High Castle. Just for example, Spain would’ve had to grant them the right to go through, you know, from France to take Gibraltar and close off the Mediterranean. That war was not really as close a call as we thought it was. I mean, it is just not that easy to defeat Russia — as certain people in history have found out. I hope we’re not about to find that out ourselves.

TZ: Let’s get back to Blade Runner. What turned you 180 degrees in your attitude toward the production?

Dick: You know, I was so turned off by Hollywood. And they were really turned off by me. That insistence on my part of bringing out the original novel and not doing the novelization — they were just furious. They finally recognized that there was a legitimate reason for reissuing the novel, even though it cost them money. It was a victory not just of contractual obligations but of theoretical principles.

And although this is speculation on my part, I think that one of the spin-offs was that they went back to the original novel. Because they knew it would be reissued, you see. So it is possible that it got fed back into the screenplay by a process of positive feedback. I was such a harsh critic of Hampton Francher’s original screenplay, and I was so outspoken, that the studio knows that my present attitude is sincere, that I’m not just hyping them. Because I was really angry and disgusted.

There were good things in Fancher’s screenplay. It’s like the story of the old lady who takes a ring into a jeweler to have the stone reset. And the jeweler scrapes all of the patina of years and years and shines it up, and she says, “My God, that was what I loved the ring for — the patina!” Okay, they had cleaned my book up of all of the subtleties and of the meaning. The meaning was gone. It had become a fight between androids and a bounty hunter.

PKD Interview with John Boonstra

I had this vision in my mind then that I would go up there and be introduced to Ridley Scott, and be introduced to Harrison Ford, who’s the lead character, and I’d just be so dazzled I’d be like Mr. Toad seeing the motorcar for the first time. My eyes would be wide as saucers and I’d just be standing there completely mesmerized. Then I would watch a scene being shot. And Harrison Ford would say, “Lower that blast-pistol or you’re a dead android!” And I would just leap across that special effects set like a veritable gazelle and seize him by the throat and start battering him against the wall. They’d have to run in and throw a blanket over me and call the security guards to bring in the Thorazine. And I’d be screaming, “You’ve destroyed my book!”

That would be a little item in the newspaper: “Obscure Author Becomes Psychotic on H’wood Set; Minor Damage, Mostly to the Author.” They’d have to ship me back to Orange County in a crate full of air holes. And I’d still be screaming.

I started drinking a whole lot of scotch. I went from a thimbleful to a jigger glass and finally to two wine glasses of scotch every night. Last Memorial Day I started bleeding, gastrointestinal bleeding. And it was because of drinking scotch and taking aspirin constantly and worrying about this whole goddamned thing. I said, “Hollywood is gonna kill me by remote control!”

One is always haunted by the specter of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who goes there and they just grind him up, like in a garbage disposal.

TZ: All of that changed when you saw David W. People’s revised screenplay?

Dick: I saw a segment of Douglas Trumbull’s special effects for Blade Runner on the KNBC-TV news. I recognized it immediately. It was my own interior world. They caught it perfectly.

I wrote the station, and they sent the letter to the Ladd Company. They gave me the updated screenplay. I read it without knowing they had brought somebody else in. I couldn’t believe what I was reading! It was simply sensational — still Hampton Francher’s screenplay, but miraculously transfigured, as it were. The whole thing had simply been rejuvenated in a very fundamental way.

After I finished reading the screenplay, I got the novel out and looked through it. The two reinforce each other, so that someone who started with the novel would enjoy the movie and someone who started with the movie would enjoy the novel. I was amazed that Peoples could get some of those scenes to work. It taught me things about writing that I didn’t know.

The thing I had in mind all of the time, from the beginning of it, was The Man Who Fell to Earth. This was the paradigm. That’s why I was so disappointed when I read the first Blade Runner screenplay, because it was the absolute antithesis of what was done in The Man Who Fell to Earth. In other words, it was a destruction of the novel. But now, it’s magic time. You read the screenplay and then you go to the novel, and it’s like they’re two halves to one meta-artwork, one meta-artifact. It’s just exciting.

As my agent, Russell Galen, put it, “Whenever a Hollywood film adaptation of a book works, it is always a miracle.” Because it just cannot really happen. It did happen with The Man Who Fell to Earth and it has happened with Blade Runner, I’m sure now.

TZ: It’s great to hear that.

Dick: Oh, yeah. It’s been the greatest thing for me. I was just destroyed at one point at the prospect of this awful thing that had happened to my work. I wouldn’t go up there, I wouldn’t talk to them, I wouldn’t meet Ridley Scott. I was supposed to be wined and dined and everything, and I wouldn’t go, I just wouldn’t go. There was bad blood between us.

That David W. Peoples screenplay changed by attitude. He had been working on the third Star Wars film, Revenge of the Jedi. The Blade Runner people hired him away temporarily to do the script by showing him my novel

I’m now working very closely with the Ladd Company and, I’m on very good terms with them. In fact, that’s one of the things that’s worn me out. I’ve been so amped-up over Blade Runner I couldn’t work on The Owl in Daylight.

I hear the film’s going to have an old-fashioned gala premiere. It means I’ve got to buy — or rent — a black tuxedo, which I don’t look forward to. That’s not my style. I’m happier in a T-shirt.


[source: The Patchin Review, No. 5, Oct/Dec 1982, pp. 2-6]

John Boonstra, a journalist on The Hartford Advocate,

conducted two long telephone interviews with Philip K. Dick last year

and wrote them up in a piece for
Twilight Zone magazine.

When Boonstra suggested that we might be interested in the parts of his

interviews that were not used in
Twilight Zone, we readily agreed.

He turned over to us the complete, verbatim tape transcripts,

from which we have excerpted the following segments,

with our own notes added.

Philip K. Dick

interviewed by John Boonstra

(When this interview was recorded, in June 1981, Philip K. Dick had recently refused to do a novelization of the Blade Runner movie, and had written The Transmigration of Timothy Archer instead. He was waiting somewhat nervously to hear whether David Hartwell, his editor at Timescape Books, liked the novel. — Ed. [Charles Platt])

Timothy Archer is essentially the third novel in a trilogy of which Valis is the first and The Divine Invasion is the second; which is sort of interesting because each book is unique. It really was necessary for me to do the novel, as a projection of thematic material going back years and years and years in my writing, in stuff even as early as Eye in the Sky and Time Out of Joint. Those themes are constant preoccupations with me, they unfold by their own inner, organic drive, and I don’t really have the option of aborting that process and just suddenly going into a completely commercialized thing aimed at twelve-year-olds. Literally aimed at twelve-year-olds; we were told the cheapo novelization would have to appeal to the twelve-year-old audience. And it would be entirely derived from the screenplay, so there would be no room for me to do anything. I may find that I’ve turned down $400,000 and wound up with nothing (if Timothy Archer had been rejected). But I never went into writing for money, anyway. And there is also the very real possibility that if I tried to do the cheapo novelization I would actually fail to do it, literally could not write a commercial novel that would be something that would sell millions of copies. I mean, they’re talking about projected sales of from two million to six million copies. And I could prove to be without that talent — because it does take talent, to do that kind of book. Then I would be in an ignominious and shameful situation where I’d debased myself fruitlessly; I wouldn’t have the money, and I would have failed. I kind of foresaw that as the ultimate bad scenario of all the possibilities.”

“I’ve managed to put into Timothy Archer two very good characters, the Bishop himself and the protagonist, a young woman, a lot more educated than I am, a lot smarter than I am, a lot more rational than I am. I was very much into a post-partum depression after I finished writing it, because I was so happy enjoying her company, listening to her dialogues. I really fell in love with her. She’s entirely fictional, as far as I know. An ad-hoc creation, like Pallas Athena from the brow of Zeus. Out of nothing.

“To present the Bishop, I needed a protagonist who was smart enough to understand him, and loving enough to forgive him. That’s a tall order, because the Bishop is a very mercurial, complex person, who does many things which are dubious, ethically. She intellectually understands what he’s doing, and she’s able to love him; in a sense she is more profoundly a wise person than the Bishop himself.

“The climax of the book is the effect on her of his death. She says that it turned her into a machine; when she heard that he was dead in Israel, she devolved to the level of a machine and lost her own human nature, in a period where she is just tragically reified, and knows it. But at the end of the book, a Sufi scholar who is giving seminars in Sausalito is able to restore her to the state of a human being. So it is not a bummer ending; it is a very positive ending.”

(At this time, Dick was extremely depressed about the Blade Runner project, having seen only an interim script.)

“I was supposed to go up there (to the studio). They called me up and called me up, and I temporized and temporized. I thought — no, I’ll go up there and I’m on a diet, so I can’t eat the rich foods they’ll serve me, and what I’ll really hope for is a whole lot of free cocaine, and there won’t be any free cocaine, and I’ll be real pissed because of that. I’ll keep querulously, petulantly saying, “Where’s the cocaine?” and they’ll say, “No, that’s a myth, you’ve been reading TV Guide.”

“I have been up there to another film project, the little Capitol Pictures one, called Claw. (Based on his short story “Second Variety,” with a screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, and subsequently retitled Screamers.) They’re very nice. I really like them. Every change that’s made, they send me a copy to get my opinion. They just treat me like a human being. In other words, I am able to discriminate between essentially reputable people up there, and these high-pressure types. Shit, Blade Runner started yelling at me because, in an article that I wrote in the Select TV Guide, I mentioned androids. They said, “That’s very dangerous talk, mentioning androids in connection with this film. We’re not using the word android.” Well, it seems hard to avoid a word that’s in the title of your own book. And they wanted to know how I’d gotten hold of a copy of the screenplay. “How did you get hold of it?” they said, with the emphasis on the word “you,” you know?

“The sets, I’m sure, are marvellous. Russell (Russell Galen, Dick’s representative at the Scott Meredith agency) called me up and said, “You’ve got to go up there.” Well, in a way it’s a Chinese finger-trap. If the sets are that good, maybe I’ll go up there and fall into the mode that exists now in science fiction, where the special effects and the sets are everything. And as an author I can’t afford, as a practical matter, to adopt that ideology, because it reduces the author to merely setting up a simple plot-outline in which special effects can be brought in. His job is very much a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

“Ridley Scott is a director who has a visual sense rather than a narrative sense. This is not a matter of insulting Ridley Scott. He thinks visually, and of course this is why he’s in movies. It is perhaps the way it should be. But I am an author, and I think in narrative terms, in terms of a story line.”

….(Much later in the same conversation, Dick talks about The Man in the High Castle, which leads him subsequently into some thoughts on modern U.S. politics.)

“Avram Davidson, at F&SF, did a lot to get that book promoted. Tony Boucher called it a failure; I heard him review it on the radio, and he said that it was not a science-fiction novel, it was actually just a mainstream novel, once you got past the alternate-world premise. Later he came up to me and said that he now felt that it was a breakthrough novel. Donald Wollheim said, “It is sick, dated, and not science fiction.” But most of the criticism was very positive.

“There were something like eleven different things that would have had to happen, for the Germans to win the war. And they’re not all in The Man in the High Castle. For example, there was almost no way they could have defeated Russia. I mean, it is just not that easy to defeat Russia. As certain people in history have found out! I hope we’re not about to find that out ourselves; another campaign directed at taking Moscow in three weeks is going to wind up like all of the other campaigns. I can see Reagan and Haig, you know, sitting there and saying, “Well, hell, man, you know, we’ll be in Moscow in three weeks.” And somebody says, “You know, that expression “three weeks” rings a bell. I think I’ve heard that expression before. It has something to do with a long Russian novel by Tolstoy, and the French….” So Haig says, “Well, all right, four weeks. But we’ll definitely have NATO’s tanks in Moscow within four weeks. That’s assuming this nice weather holds out.”

“You know, it’s almost worth writing a story about Haig and Reagan figuring if the bombing should just hold out another week, there’d be no problem.

“I was reading Deuteronomy last night, and some of the notes by Rabbi Hertz, who is the late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire. Deuteronomy goes back to pre-literate days among the Jews; it actually was formulated before they had a written language. I thought, My God, the injunction in the Torah — in Deuteronomy — about caring for the needy, caring for the sick, caring for the poor, caring for the helpless, caring for the disadvantaged, are built into this thing which is maybe 3,000 years old, and has worked for 3,000 years. And now we’re hearing that kids don’t get hot-lunch programs, and the elderly don’t get social security, and everybody will have to get by on his own. We’re not seeing the clock turned back to 1912, before the graduated income tax was enacted; we’re seeing it turned back to Imperial Rome, where I think it was Seneca who said, “There’s no use giving food to the starving. It’ll just prolong their miserable lives.” Rabbi Hertz quotes him. The Roman attitude was that being hungry, poor, and sick, you deserved to die anyway. Aristotle, Plato, Virgil, Seneca and all of these people, don’t even include it as a virtue — they actually include it as a vice, that you would help the needy. We’re now seeing a return to the old imperial system of, “Let the disadvantaged sink to the bottom, let ’em die.” This is so tragic and so inhumane.

“But I can’t work up any animosity toward Reagan. I see him as caught up in historic trends that are so powerful, he was literally brought to power, the way Hitler was, which was legally and by a very large majority. And look what happened last week with Tip O’Neill’s fight against Reagen’s budget cuts. Did you see Tip O’Neill standing there at that microphone? The guy was ruined. His face was sagging, he was shaking. You didn’t even have to have the sound on.

“I must admit that when I got into the Torah and discovered the humane elements of this ancient system of beliefs, for me it was probably one of the great moments of my life. And I still read it — I was reading it last night. There is one thing in Deuteronomy where he says, “You must always pay the hired man before sunset. For he is poor and has his heart set on it.” And in the notes Rabbi Hertz has for that, there is: “The workman is so poor that unless he is paid by sunet, he will not be able to buy food for his family.” I just lay there thinking about that, “For he is poor and has his heart set on it.” It is so incredible that we have fallen away from something that was so basic to our civilization, for maybe as many as 2,000 years.

“We are in a time when there is a cruel spirit across the land, and it seems to be gathering momentum. I have some very close, personal friends who are showing symptoms of great cruelty, and interest only in their own individual welfare. These are people who at one time had been in the anti-war movement, very idealistic, and are now exhibiting a complete narcissism, a “me-first” type of thing. When I gave some money to the Quakers for refugee relief in Cambodia, where the people there were starving in the camps a couple of years ago, my friends actually jeered at me for doing this. They said, “Pol Pot will love all that rice you’re sending him. It’ll never get to the refugee camps.”

“Well, it did get to the refugee camps, and now Phnom Penh is a thriving city again. But I was made to feel as if I had done something that was so stupid as to be absurd, in trying to help this dying civilization. It looked like there would be no Cambodian civilization any more; even the customs would be gone.

“I don’t want to take credit for this, because I may not be able to do it, but I approached the Quakers recently, after having worked through them on some other projects, and proposed to them that they start a project working with the Hanoi hospital, which helps children who have birth defects from Agent Orange in Vietnam. They’re very tragic birth defects, so awful that I didn’t even know that half of them existed. I would like to see some of those children brought over here, like those Hiroshima babies, do you remember that? I really think this is something we’ve got to do.”

(Note: In a subsequent interview with John Boonstra in September 1981, Dick was optimistic about Blade Runner, having seen a new draft of the script. Past differences between himself and the studio were repaired. However, he did not live to see the final version of the movie, with many character-developing scenes cut, first-person voice-over added, and an explicitly happy ending grafted on. It may be that his original perceptions of the project, and the people managing it, were more accurate in the long term. –Ed.)

10 thoughts on “Philip K. Dick’s Final Interview

  1. I just love Scanner Darkly my favourite one of his books, no surprise was the guy a bit mad manic etc comes with the terroirty.
    but a simulation as it turns out it well may be

  2. Phiilp K Dick…Advances the Mind to a New and Wonderful Heightened State of Awareness Only Few are Able too Achieve…for this I say Thank you to All the Men Who Advance Intelligent Thinking…

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