Robert A. Heinlein and Philip K. Dick: Contrast and Compare

Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein

Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick

 

This essay by Gary Westfahl first appeared on Locus Online March 1, 2005.

Here are some excerpts:

Of course, one can readily epitomize the ways in which these authors are significantly different . . .  the characters that most interest them stand at opposite ends of the social spectrum . . . As Karl Marx would sum things up, Heinlein identifies with the aristocracy, Simak with the bourgeoisie, and Dick with the proletariat. More prosaically, the Heinlein Hero owns the office building; the Simak Hero runs a nice little shop on its ground level; and the Dick Hero sweeps his floors every night.

and

. . . it is not surprising that the polarizing changes in America during the 1960s moved Heinlein and Dick to opposite ends of the political spectrum. Heinlein, horrified by the counterculture and everything it represented, hardened into a bitter reactionary, eventually endorsing (in To Sail Beyond the Sunset) a longed-for President Patton’s policy of shooting drug dealers on sight. Dick embraced the counterculture, freely experimented with drugs, and announced a fervent admiration for young Americans and their liberal, liberating philosophies. For that reason, when commentators discuss the time when Heinlein happily purchased a new typewriter for a temporarily down-and-out Dick, this is presented as evidence of Heinlein’s amazingly generous spirit, his willingness to help individuals in need even if they were people he otherwise had reason to abhor.

I respectfully disagree. I think that Heinlein gave Dick a typewriter because he could recognize a soul brother when he saw one. And I would argue that, when one considers the qualities that made those writers great, the qualities that distinguish the wondrous novels and stories written in the first two decades of their careers, one must conclude that they are, in fundamental ways, exactly the same sort of writer.

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30 Years of Future: Essential Cyberpunk

iO9cyberPic

Via iO9, Diana Biller writes:

It’s now been over three decades since cyberpunk first exploded, and in that time we’ve seen gorgeous movies, read fascinating books, and seen dozens of offshoots like steampunk (and my new favorite, deco punk) develop. Here are the 21 cyberpunk books you absolutely must read.

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Philip K. Dick, “Confessions of a Crap Artist” (1959, published in 1974): Insanity of the Bourgeois Marriage

Neither Kings nor Americans

As everyone knows, Philip K. Dick wrote several non-science-ficition novels in his life.  He had hoped to make a career in “mainstream” writing but never quite escaped his branding as a science-fiction pulp writer.  Thankfully these novels that he wrote have been published.  The division between his science-fiction and “mainstream” work is dubious.  Many of his science fiction tales deal with mundane questions of marriage, work, and politics.  This is why his work always seems so familiar to us.  Eye in the Sky is set fully in this world.  Most of Time Out of Joint is set in a familiar world.  Even publishers fail to make the distinction, perhaps for marketing purposes.  In the Vintage publication of his work, Confessions of a Crap Artist, is labelled as Fiction/Science Fiction.

crapartist1

In Confessions of a Crap Artist: A Chronicle of Verified Scientific Fact, 1945-1959 we are confronted with the adaptability of…

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Philip K. Dick Again

I just finished Lawrence Sutin’s Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (1989, Harmony Books).  Enjoyed every page. Instead of reviewing the entire book, I want to share two good parts.

Page 265 features a classic PKD parable mixing scientific knowledge with divine wisdom. Phil wrote this in 1979:

A new ambulance is filled with gasoline and parked. The next day it is examined. The finding is that its fuel is virtually gone and its moving parts are slightly worn. This appears to be an instance of entropy, of loss of energy and form. However, if one understands that the ambulance was used to take a dying person to a hospital where his life was saved (thus consuming fuel and somewhat wearing the moving parts of the ambulance) then one can see that through hierarchical outranking there was not only no loss but in fact a net gain. The net gain, however, can only be measured outside the closed system of the new ambulance. Each victory by God as intelligence and will is obtained by this escalation of levels of subsumation, and in no other way.

I like it. We live in a closed system. Also, back on page 246, Sutin tells of a writer named K. W. Jeter, who

called attention to the similarities between Phil’s novels and those of William S. Burroughs – such as an invading alien virus occluding human faculties (for Burroughs, the virus was language). Jeter and Phil even performed their own Burroughs-influenced “cut-up” writing experiment, scrambling texts from Roderick Thorp’s The Detective, Melville’s Moby Dick, and the New Testament Book of Acts.

Blues For Horselover Fat: William Gibson on Philip K. Dick

From PhilipKDickfans.com, William Gibson says, “Remarkable the number of Phil Dick’s fans who have no desire to read any other sf. It always impressed me. ‘Well, no, I don’t read that stuff…. But do you know this guy Dick?’ How did they get on to him? Word of mouth…. He was the only product of the American genre sf scene you could give to hardened Burroughs and Pynchon fanatics without wincing a little. Because, at his best, he was truly Dread, the poplit equivalent of certain moments in rock when an improvised guitar line comes scything out at you like a snapped cable and cuts the mind-body dichotomy eight ways from Sunday…. Reading him, sometimes, I’d get this image: man typing at a kitchen table maybe, stoked on dex and twenty cups of coffee, typing fast; just making it all up, and somehow behind it all his admirable desire to drive us all, if only for a few seconds at a time, straight of our wretched minds.”

 

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