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A Scanner Darkly


Philip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly
average rating is 4 out of 5

Science Fiction, Dystopia, Psychological, Crime

R. Alex Jenkins

A Scanner Darkly is set in the future on the streets of California, in a sort of cops versus drug dealer universe.

I enjoyed it and you will too if you're interested in drug dealing and covert narcotics operations. It's reminiscent of work by American authors such as Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson - authors I used to enjoy when I was younger - in its sprawled out trippy dialogue and day-to-day approach. The text is often humorous, spaced out and strangely intelligent, but sometimes cryptic and hard to understand like masks worn at a party to obfuscate appearances.

Throwaway and funny in places, bizarrely profound in others, technically classified as sci-fi, it often reads like psychological drama.

Set in the future, there's an unmissable 1970s feel about things, like retro sci-fi with oddly out of place furniture and decor. References to bell-bottoms, Sony walkmans and Oldsmobiles, for example. The musical references are cool too: Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin (All Is Loneliness) as a reminder that this was written in 1977 and semi-autobiographical. There is a LOT of drug talk with many valid references and also imaginary concoctions.

The overall message is dystopian and complex and ultimately doomed. We behave like chickens in a giant planetary coop, reared for our product while feeding on delicious grain and worms, to be entertained before the inevitable culling and disposal process. There's a wider power out there that no-one can fully discern, something to do with the government maybe, constantly observing us like Big Brother in 1984.

Even though very different to 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' - Philip K. Dick's most famous work - there are obvious similarities such as the Rorschach test occasionally administered to government agents, similar to the Voight-Kampff test from Do Androids, 10 years earlier, although the former test is for brain frazzlement rather than to determine if you're an android posing as a human.

The dialogue is Tarantino-esque, almost, with huge complexity between seemingly ordinary personalities.

Overall I didn't enjoy this quite as much as I hoped. The plot is rambling and really off its head in places and sometimes hard to understand what's going on.

A Scanner Darkly is a frighteningly vivid reminder that nothing is important until the drugs eventually run out, money dries up and friends become scarce.

This is an anti-drugs book, reminding you that drug consumption is a hit or miss affair. When it's simply habit, all you do is cope.

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