One ridiculous goal I have is to read every book by Philip K. Dick. It sounds even more ridiculous as I write that here, but I promise it’s not an obsessive goal, just something I think I can do. At my current pace though, I’m not going to accomplish this any time soon. I have to break up reading his books with reading other things, since I realized early on that too much PKD at once can’t be healthy for anyone’s mental state.
At last count, I’ve read 15½ (I’m in the middle of one now) of his 40 or so published novels. People don’t ask me all the time what my favorite PKD books are, so here are my top five:
- The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
- Time Out of Joint
- Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
- Confessions of a Crap Artist
Time Out of Joint would be a good book for someone who is interested in him but doesn’t know where to start. You might be tempted to first read VALIS, since you’re probably aware of it if you know anything about him at all. I don’t think that’s a good idea, because you might come away with the impression that he was crazy. He was, of course, but he can also be entertaining, which VALIS is only intermittently.
On to the locations, most of which were taken from Lawrence Sutin’s excellent biography Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick. Follow the links for more details on each location.
Philip K. Dick was born prematurely in Chicago, along with a twin sister who wouldn’t survive, in 1928.
After living in Colorado and Washington D.C. as a child, he moved to Berkeley, California with his mother in 1938. He would live mostly in California for the rest of his life. As a teenager he worked at two stores in Berkeley, first as a salesclerk at University Radio and Electronics, which sold radios, tvs, etc., and later at the record store Art Music.
He moved out of his mother’s house in 1947 to the upper floor of a warehouse at 2208 McKinley Avenue in Berkeley. His first marriage at age 19 not long after moving out would only last six months. He met his second wife Kleo at Art Music, and they were married in 1950, living in Berkeley from ’50-’58. He published a large number of short stories in the ’50s, but he and his wife were still poor. The infamous Lucky Dog Pet Shop where Dick reportedly bought the horse meat he survived on during this time was near this house on San Pablo Avenue.
Shortly after moving to Point Reyes Station, California with Kleo in 1958, he had an affair with a neighbor named Anne who would become his third wife after he and Kleo split up. After his divorce from third wife Anne in ’64, he married his fourth wife Nancy in ’65 and they lived together in San Rafael from ’65-’68.
He moved to a house in Santa Venetia with Nancy in 1968, and after they divorced and she moved out, it would become known as the “hermit house”.
He would get married one last time in 1973, and he and his fifth wife Tessa lived in an apartment in Fullerton, California.
His sci-fi was beginning to be recognized in the early ’80s, finally earning him some money, and he was thrilled after seeing some footage of the upcoming Blade Runner based his book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. You can read the letter he wrote to the production company here.
In 1983, Dick had a stroke while living in an apartment in Santa Ana, California where he moved in 1976 after he and Tessa split up, and he died in a hospital at the age of 53. His grave is next to his twin sister Jane in Fort Morgan, Colorado.
Just a bit about the movies based on his books and short stories: the only two that are successful as adaptations are Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly. Out of those two, only A Scanner Darkly does a good job of really capturing the feeling of his books, especially the paranoia when reality breaks down. Minority Report’s look of the future is interesting, but Tom Cruise does not make a good PKD protagonist. He’s better though than Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall. I’m curious to see what they do with the Total Recall remake starring Colin Farrell scheduled to come out this summer, and I hope they draw more on the short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” than on the first movie.
Paycheck, starring Ben Affleck (based on a not-so-great short story of the same name), is the worst of the bunch, beating out even the awful Imposter with Gary Sinise, although Paycheck might just be one of the worst movies ever made. Radio Free Albemuth, starring Alanis Morissette of all people, doesn’t look much better, but we’ll see if it’s ever released. You can watch the trailer for that one here.