Philip K. Dick

I’m reading a lot of Philip K. Dick at the moment — so far A Scanner Darkly made me a real fan; Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said made me a devotee; and Ubik…well…it’s just amazing.

But if you’re not a fan yet, a potent gateway drug into the world of Philip K. Dick are his collections of short stories. My best guess is that there are four million Philip K. Dick short stories, but this is only a rough estimate based on the number of additional shelves I’ve had to buy to hold my books.

One of these collections, entitled I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon, starts with an introductory essay (originally intended to be a speech) entitled How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later, and it’s almost the best thing in the collection.

How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later is a brief analysis by the author of his writing process and a meandering overview of Dick’s personal philosophy which influenced his prolific creative output.

 I once wrote a story about a man who was injured and taken to a hospital. When they began surgery on him, they discovered that he was an android, not a human, but that he did not know it. They had to break the news to him. Almost at once, Mr. Garson Poole discovered that his reality consisted of punched tape passing from reel to reel in his chest. Fascinated, he began to fill in some of the punched holes and add new ones. Immediately, his world changed. A flock of ducks flew through the room when he punched one new hole in the tape. Finally he cut the tape entirely, whereupon the world disappeared. However, it also disappeared for the other characters in the story… which makes no sense, if you think about it. Unless the other characters were figments of his punched- tape fantasy. Which I guess is what they were.

How to build a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later, Philip K. Dick

The essay weaves in and out of reality, starting with a visit to Disneyland before jumping to a series of fantasies which provide a touchstone for many of Dick’s more trippy novels. Along the way Dick outlines the real world influences for some of his most popular works; some bizarre, some barely believeable, but all fascinating.

I’ve read a lot of the well known Dick classics — Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Man in the High Castle, the usuals — but it wasn’t until I start reading some of the more obscure PKD novels and shorts that I really started to “get” Dick’s writing. And it wasn’t until I read the introduction to I Hope I will Arrive Soon that I started to understand more about the author himself.

You can read How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later as the introduction to the collection I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon, but Uncle Google can also sort you out if you know where to look.

I’m about to read Dick’s biography “Divine Invasions,” so I’ll report back more as I uncover it.

Science fiction writers, I am sorry to say, really do not know anything. We can’t talk about science, because our knowledge of it is limited and unofficial, and usually our fiction is dreadful. A few years ago, no college or university would ever have considered inviting one of us to speak. We were mercifully confined to lurid pulp magazines, impressing no one. In those days, friends would say me, “But are you writing anything serious?” meaning “Are you writing anything other than science fiction?” We longed to be accepted. We yearned to be noticed. Then, suddenly, the academic world noticed us, we were invited to give speeches and appear on panels — and immediately we made idiots of ourselves. The problem is simply this: What does a science fiction writer know about? On what topic is he an authority?

How to build a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later, Philip K. Dick
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