Review: A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick

Paranoia and a slow descent into madness (4 stars)

“Happiness, he thought, is knowing you got some pills.”

A Scanner Darkly follows Bob Arctor, a narcotics undercover agent that lives among junkies trying to find the source of a drug named substance D, or slow death. He wears a “scrambler suit” when dealing with his superiors, so that not even they now his true identity – and he is simply called Fred – until one day he is called to spy on none other than Bob Arctor himself.

This is a narrative of a slow descent into madness as Fred/Bob Arctor’s identity gets scrambled. There are pa parallels as to how the drugs are affecting the left and right hemispheres of his brain and how his dual personalities are getting mixed together.

Add to this surveillance paranoia, questions about social roles and the nature of identity, VERY bad trips and you have psychedelic sci fi at it’s best. The description of “junkie logic” is incredible, that simulacrum of real logic that only makes sense when you are deep under the influence. Who after all can you trust when you can’t trust your own mind?

The version I read also had a post-face in which the author described how many of the friends that served as basis for characters in the novel died or went insane. It really reminded me how the visceral edge of the book came after all from Philip K. Dick’s own biography.

“But the actual touch of her lingered, inside his heart. That remained. In all the years of his life ahead, the long years without her, with never seeing her or hearing from her or knowing anything about her, if she was alive or happy or dead or what, that touch stayed locked within him, sealed in himself, and never went away. That one touch of her hand.”

Guilherme Solari is a Brazilian writer and journalist from Sao Paulo, Brazil. He has written about movies, literature and videogames for some of Brazil’s biggest news sites. He is the author of THE CASCAVEL CHRONICLES, a love letter to 80's action movies, as well as the cyberpunk CYBERSAMPA series.