Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Prince of Pulp, Legit At Last

copyright May 6, 2007 The New York Times
A Prince of Pulp, Legit at Last

By CHARLES McGRATH

ALL his life the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick yearned for what he called the mainstream. He wanted to be a serious literary writer, not a sci-fi hack whose audience consisted, he once said, of “trolls and wackos.” But Mr. Dick, who popped as many as 1,000 amphetamine pills a week, was also more than a little paranoid. In the early ’70s, when he had finally achieved some standing among academic critics and literary theorists — most notably the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem — he narced on them all, writing a letter to the F.B.I. in which he claimed they were K.G.B. agents trying to take over American science fiction.

So it’s hard to know what Mr. Dick, who died in 1982 at the age of 53, would have made of the fact that this month he has arrived at the pinnacle of literary respectability. Four of his novels from the 1960s — “The Man in the High Castle,” “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,” “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” and “Ubik” — are being reissued by the Library of America in that now-classic Hall of Fame format: full cloth binding, tasseled bookmark, acid-free, Bible-thin paper. He might be pleased, or he might demand to know why his 40-odd other books weren’t so honored. And what about the “Exegesis,” an 8,000-page journal that derived a sort of Gnostic theology from a series of religious visions he experienced during a couple of months in 1974? A wary, hard-core Dickian might argue that the Library of America volume is just a diversion, an attempt to turn a deeply subversive writer into another canonical brand name.

......
Part of why Mr. Dick’s work appeals so much to moviemakers is his pulpish sensibility. He grew up in California reading magazines like Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories and Fantastic Universe, and then, after dropping out of the University of California, Berkeley, began writing for them, often in manic 20-hour sessions fueled by booze and speed. He could type 120 words a minute, and told his third wife (third of five, and there were countless girlfriends: Mr. Dick loved women but was hell to live with), “The words come out of my hands, not my brain, I write with my hands.”

His early novels, written in two weeks or less, were published in double-decker Ace paperbacks that included two books in one, with a lurid cover for each. “If the Holy Bible was printed as an Ace Double,” an editor once remarked, “it would be cut down to two 20,000-word halves with the Old Testament retitled as ‘Master of Chaos’ and the New Testament as ‘The Thing With Three Souls.’ ”

for the complete article log on here http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/06/books/06mcgr.html?ref=books

Ed here: That's a pretty funny take on Ace Doubles. And I had no idea that "Next" was based on one of my favorite PD stories "The Golden Man." Its opening scene is still one of the most suspenseful paranoid moments in science fiction.

This is generally a well-written article with a few fresh insights and a lot of interesting material.

The exception being the inevitable moment when McGrath says that one doesn't read PD for the prose. I suppose because I too grew up reading Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories (in their death throes), I don't know beans about good writin' either.

But these stories that a new generation of writers find so offensive still work for me maybe for the simple reason that I've always sensed a kindred soul in PD.

A fella's gotta be god damned careful in this life because at any given time a number of people are out to do you harm verbally (whisper whisper whisper) if not physically. Is there a PD story in which the protagonist ISN'T forced out of the small society of which he's a member? Either he's banished or he goes willingly seeking a truth that makes him a laughingstock. Mix in a war-mad government and a drugged and defeated citizenry and you've got the starting point of nearly every short story PD ever wrote.

2 comments:

Bill Crider said...

That is a pretty funny take on Ace Doubles. Also very true.

Todd Mason said...

I'd read the take on Ace Doubles before, but didn't remember that that was Terry Carr's joke till seeing the discussion of this article on the FictionMags list (I think it was John Boston who reminded the assembled).

One brilliant PKD short story that might just start another way is the great horror story "Upon the Dull Earth."

And in their death throes, TWS and STARTLING published some fine writing...and some dross. But Dick was producing so often at such a rate that one wonders if he would've liked a bit more time to polish much of his prose.