Friday, June 04, 2010

So Philip K Dick needed a co-writer eh?

Ed here: Attacking Philip K. Dick's literary style is becoming a popular sport. Clunky he was in his early ulp days but he became a much better stylist as he worked along. But why let that spoil the fun?

What Philip K Dick needed was a co-author
by Darragh McManus
Despite his brilliant imagination, Philip K Dick's prose was often dreadful. But who are the other literary greats who could have done with a helping hand?

And there was a view out. Limited, no larger in fact than a comb of bees' wax. But still the thick plastic revealed the emptiness beyond, and he went over to fixedly peer. Sol, blinding, filled a portion of the panorama and he reflexively reached up to click the black filter into use. And, as he did so, he perceived his hand. His artificial, metallic, superbly efficient mechanical hand.
The above passage is from an established classic by a revered author, but what an awful piece of writing. Especially its nadir, that syntactical atrocity, "to fixedly peer"."

To fixedly peer? Shudder. How can three short words form such a clunky, unwieldy, barely readable piece of English? More to the point, how did it ever pass Philip K Dick's editors, or his own internal censor?

Rereading The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch recently, I had a rather strange thought: Dick should have written factual, rather than fictional, books. He obviously had a brilliant mind, with one of the most fantastic, and fantastical, imaginations I've ever come across. His ideas seemed to come from some bizarre but divine repository only accessible to this most unique of writers.

Dick took outlandish, almost inconceivable ideas and worked them through, making them real and plausible through the strictures and structures of a formidable intelligence and singular aesthetic. Churning out fascinating, distinctive books at a fierce rate, he was hugely ambitious and original.

for the rest go here:


Fred Blosser said...

What a twit.

Ed Gorman said...

I agree. For one thing Dick was ahead of his time in the kind of paranoid characters he created. He admired Kenneth Fearing's poetry and crime novels and you can sure see the same terror and suspicion in all of Dick's characters. He's never gotten sufficient credit, even from some of his admirers, for his forlorn but very modern characters. Let the whiz kids have their say. Who cares.

Todd Mason said...

To say nothing of the utter grace of his prose when he could take the time, at the height of his abilities. Yeah...that utterly clumsy THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE.

McManus clearly has read widely in the field, given how Dick has hardly been the only writer with a certain mind-blowing ideation.

Matt said...

This Guardian article is the equivalent of a blog troll crying for attention. Comment for me, please!

And saying Dick's prose would benefit from more "flair, wit, elegance" reminds me of debates from the late '90s when readers would hold serious discussion about their favorite overstylized Annie Proulx sentence.

I remember one reader using the adjective, "chewy."


Randy Johnson said...

In reading some of the comments over there, the writer got a bit of critical thought. Which he took with grace I'll admit.

Gonzalo B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gonzalo B said...

I haven't read much of his SF but the "mainstream" novels that Forge has been releasing as of late are pretty good. They remind me of Richard Yates and John Cheever and they are pretty well written in spite of what this guy might think.

Peter L. Winkler said...

I haven't reread Dick lately, but my lasting of what I read was that Dick's ideas were superior to his style. Also, one must remember that Dick often wrote books very fast while taking amphetamines because he needed money badly. That may explain the inconsistent quality of his writing and the confusing ending of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

Not every story, or novel, can be a gem.

The Man in the High Castle still stands as one of the best SF novels ever written. And deservedly so.