The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings



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Stirring Science Stories. I bought it, finally, and carried it home, reading it along the way. Here were ideas, vital and imaginative. Men moving across the universe, down into subatomic particles, into time; there was no limit. One society, one given environment was transcended. Stf [abbreviation for "scientifiction," an early alternate term for "science fiction"] was Faustian; it carried a person up and beyond.

I was twelve years old, then. But I saw in stf the same thing I see now: a medium in which the full play of human imagination can operate, ordered, of course, by reason and consistent development. Over the years stf has grown, matured toward greater social awareness and responsibility.

I became interested in writing stf when I saw it emerge from the ray gun stage into studies of man in various types and complexities of society.

I enjoy writing stf; it is essentially communication between myself and others as interested as I in knowing where present forces are taking us. My wife and my cat, Magnificat, are a little worried about my preoccupation with stf. Like most stf readers I have files and stacks of magazines, boxes of notes and data, parts of unfinished stories, a huge desk full of related material in various stages. The neighbors say I seem to "read and write a lot." But I think we will see our devotion pay off. We may yet live to be present when the public libraries begin to carry the stf magazines, and someday, perhaps even the school libraries.
-- PHILIP K. DICK

"Biographical Material on Philip K. Dick" (1968)
Philip K. Dick attended the University of California, operated a record store, was an advertising copywriter, had a classical music program on station KSMO, lives now in San Rafael, and is interested in hallucinogens and snuff. Born Chicago, December 16, 1928. Although bearded, aging and portly, is a fanatical girl-watcher; does everything but carry a measuring tape. Sold his first story November 1951 and has had no occupation except that of science fiction writer since. Has to his credit twenty-seven books, of which twenty-six are novels. First novel: 1954. In June 1953 had stories in seven magazines simultaneously. Won the Hugo for best novel 1962, Man in the High Castle. Married, has two daughters and young, pretty, nervous wife, Nancy, who is afraid of the telephone. In two years (1963, '64) wrote and sold twelve novels, plus many magazine-length stories. Loves ducks and sheep; lives on a slough where wild ducks pause in their migrations. Lost his seventeen sheep in his most recent divorce action. Has owned a strange variety of cats, including one -- Horace -- who all his life asked an invisible question which no one could answer. Spends most of his time listening to first Scarlatti and then the Jefferson Airplane, then Gotterdammerung, in an attempt to fit them all together. Has many phobias and seldom goes anywhere, but loves to have people come over to his small, nice place on the water. Owes creditors a fortune, which he does not have. Warning: don't lend him any money. In addition he will steal your pills. Considers his best work to be the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? recently published by Doubleday, because it deals with the misfortunes of animals and imagines a society in which a person's dog or cat is worth more as a status symbol (and costs more) than his house or car.


"Self Portrait" (1968)
Chicago: I was born there, on December 16, 1928. It was a frigid city, and the home of gangsters; it was also a real city and I appreciated that. Fortunately, however, my mother and father moved us to the Bay Area in California, and I learned that weather could be good, could be friendly rather than harsh. So, like most people in California, I was not born here but drifted here (I was about a year old at the time).

What, in those days, could be collected as evidence that I would someday be a writer? My mother (who is still living) wrote with the hope of having a literary success. She failed. But she taught me to admire writing . . . whereas my father viewed football games as transcending everything else. The marriage between them did not last, and when I was five they separated, my father moving to Reno, Nevada, my mother and I -- and my grandfather, grandmother, and aunt -- remaining in Berkeley in a huge old blue house.

Cowboy songs were my main love then. Music, in fact, has played a major role throughout my life. But in those days -- when I was six -- I wore a cowboy suit and listened to cowboy music on the radio. That and the funny papers were my whole world.

It is odd to think that a child could grow up during the Depression and not know it. I never heard the word. Of course I knew that my mother was broke most of the time, but I never managed to extrapolate from this. It seemed to me that the dull quality of the society around me -- the city streets and their houses -- came from the fact that all motorcars were black. Traffic progressed like a great and never-ending funeral.

But we had our amusements. In the winter of 1934 my mother moved the two of us to Washington, D.C. This gave me the sudden opportunity to find out what really awful weather was like . . . and yet we enjoyed it. We had our sleds in winter and our Flexies (sleds with wheels) in summer. In Washington, summer is a horror beyond the telling of it. I think it warped my mind -- warped that in a fine conjunction of the fact that my mother and I had nowhere to live. We stayed with friends. Year in, year out. I did not do well (what seven-year-old child would?) and so I was sent to a school specializing in "disturbed" children. I was disturbed in regard to the fact that I was afraid of eating. The boarding school could not handle me because I weighed less each month, and was never seen to eat a string bean. My literary career, however, began to emerge, in the form of poetry. I wrote my first poem thus:
I saw a little birdy

Sitting in the tree

I saw a little birdy

looking out at me.

Then the kitty saw the birdy and there wasn't none to see,

For the cat ate him up in the morning.
This poem was enthusiastically received on Parents' Day, and my future was assured (although, of course, no one knew it; not then, anyhow). There then followed a long period in which I did nothing in particular except go to school -- which I loathed -- and fiddle with my stamp collection (which I still have), plus other boywise activities such as marbles, flipcards, bolobats, and the newly evented comic books, such as Tip Top Comics, King Comics, and Popular Comics. My ten-cent allowance each week went first to candy (Necco wafers, chocolate bar, and jujubes), and, after that, Tip Top Comics. Comic books were scorned by adults, who assumed and hoped they, as a literary medium, would soon disappear. They did not. And then there was the lurid section of the Hearst newspapers, which on Sunday told of mummies still alive in caves, and lost Atlantis, and the Sargasso Sea. The American Weekly, this quasi-magazine was called. Today we would dismiss it as "pseudo-science," but in those days, the midthirties, it was quite convincing. I dreamed of finding the Sargasso Sea and all the ships tangled up there, their corpses dangling over the rails and their coffers filled with pirate gold. I realize now that I was doomed to failure by the very fact that the Sargasso Sea did not exist -- or anyhow it did not capture many Spanish gold-bearing ships-of-the-line. So much for childhood dreams.

About 1939 my mother took me back to Berkeley and we began to have cats. We lived in the Berkeley hills, which in those days were mostly vacant lots. Mice rustled about, and so did cats. I began to think of cats as a necessary part of the household -- a view I hold even more strongly today (at present my wife and I have two, but the male, Willis, is worth at least five regular cats [I will return to this subject later]).

And, at about the same time, I discovered the Oz books. It seemed like a small matter, my utter avidity to read each and every Oz book. Librarians haughtily told me that they "did not stock such fantastic material," their reasoning being that books of fantasy led a child into a dreamworld and made it difficult for him to adjust properly to the "real" world. But my interest in the Oz books was, in point of fact, the beginning of my love for fantasy, and, by extension, science fiction.

I was twelve when I read my first SF magazine. . . it was called Stirring Science Stories and ran, I think, four issues. The editor was Don Wollheim, who later on (1954) bought my first novel. . . and many since. I came across the magazine quite by accident; I was actually looking for Popular Science. I was most amazed. Stories about science? At once I recognized the magic which I had found, in earlier times, in the Oz books -- this magic now coupled not with magic wands but with science, and set in the future, where, as we all know, science will play more and more of a role in our lives. Such has come about, but I am not too happy about that. In any case my view became magic equals science. . . and science (of the future) equals magic. I have still not lost that view, and our idea then (I was twelve, remember) that science would prove to play a greater part in our lives -- well, we were right, for better or worse. I, for one, bet on science as helping us. I have yet to see how it fundamentally endangers us, even with the H-bomb lurking about. Science has given more lives than it has taken; we must remember that.

In high school I held a little job in a record and radio store, sweeping and cleaning, but never, oh never, talking to the customers. Now here my longtime love of music rose to the surface, and I began to study and grasp huge areas of the map of music; by fourteen I could recognize virtually any symphony or opera, identify any classical tune hummed or whistled at me. And, through this, I was promoted to Record Clerk, First Class. Music -- and phonograph records -- became my life; I planned to make it my whole future. I would advance up the ladder, step by step, and eventually I would manage a record store and then at last I would own one. I forgot about SF; in fact, I no longer even read it. Like the radio serial Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy! SF fell into place as an interest of childhood. But I still liked to write, so I wrote little literary bits which I hoped to sell to The New Yorker (I never did). Meanwhile I gorged myself on modern classics of literature: Proust and Pound, Kafka and Dos Passos, Pascal -- but now we're getting into the older literature, and my list could go on forever. Let us say simply that I gained a working knowledge of literature from The Anabasis to Ulysses. I was not educated on SF but on well-recognized serious writing by authors all over the world.

I came back to SF -- and ultimately SF writing -- in an odd way. Anthony Boucher, the most dearly loved and equally important person in SF, had a program of vocal music on a local radio station, and due to my interest in classical music I listened to the program. I got to meet him -- he came to the record store in which I worked -- and we had a long talk. I discovered that a person could be not only mature, but mature and educated, and still enjoy SF. Tony Boucher had entered my life, and by doing so, had determined its whole basic direction.

Tony had a weekly class on writing, which he conducted in his home. I decided to go, and Tony dutifully read my painful first efforts. The literary ones he did not respond to, but to my surprise he seemed quite taken with a short fantasy, which I had done; he seemed to be weighing it in almost terms of economic worth. This caused me to begin writing more and more fantasy stories, and then SF. In October of 1951, when I was twenty-one years old [Dick is mistaken here; he was twenty-two], I sold my first story: a tiny fantasy to F&SF, the magazine that Tony Boucher edited. I began to mail off stories to other SF magazines, and lo and behold, Planet Stories bought a short story of mine. In a blaze of Faust-like fire I abruptly quit my job at the record shop, forgot my career in records, and began to write all the time (how I did it I don't yet know; I worked until four each morning). Within the month after quitting my job I made a sale to Astounding (now called Analog) and Galaxy. They paid very well, and I knew then that I would never give up trying to build my life around a science fiction career.

In 1953 I sold stories to fifteen different magazines; in one month, June, I had stories in seven magazines on the stands at once. I turned out story after story, and they were all bought. And yet --

With only a few exceptions, my magazine-length stories were second-rate. Standards were low in the early '50s. I did not know many technical skills in writing that are essential. . . the viewpoint problem, for example. Yet, I was selling; I was making a good living, and at the 1954 Science Fiction World Convention, I was very readily recognized and singled out. . . I recall someone taking a photograph of A. E. Van Vogt and me and someone saying, "The old and the new." But what a miserable excuse for "the new"! And how much the field was losing by Van Vogt's leaving it!

I knew that I was in serious trouble. For example, Van Vogt, in such works as The World of Null A, wrote novels; I did not. Maybe that was it; maybe I should try an SF novel.

For months I prepared carefully. I assembled characters and plots, several plots all woven together, and then wrote everything into the book that I could think up. It was bought by Don Wollheim at Ace Books and titled Solar Lottery. Tony Boucher reviewed it well in the New York Herald Tribune; the review in Analog was favorable, and in Infinity, Damon Knight devoted his entire column to it -- and all in praise.

Standing there at that point I did some deep thinking. It seemed to me that magazine-length writing was going downhill -- and not paying very much. You might get $20 for a story and $4,000 for a novel. So I decided to bet everything on the novel; I wrote The World Jones Made, and later on, The Man Who Japed. And then a novel that seemed to be a genuine breakthrough for me: Eye in the Sky. Tony gave it the Best Novel of the Year rating, and in another magazine, Venture, Ted Sturgeon called it "the kind of small trickle of good sf which justifies reading all the worthless stuff." Well, I had been right. I was a better novel writer than a short-story writer. Money had nothing to do with it; I liked writing novels and they went over well.

But then, at that point, my private life began to become violent and mixed up. My marriage of eight years broke up; I moved out into the country, met an artistically inclined woman who had just lost her husband. We met in October and the next April we had gotten married in Ensenada, Mexico. I had her and three girls to take care of, and for two years I was unable to produce anything except hack work. At last I gave up and went to work for my wife, in her jewelry business. I was miserable. As a child the misery had come from outside in the form of no money, no heat, no place to live; with Anne I could not fulfill myself because her own creative drive was so strong that she often declared that my creative work "got in her way." Even in the jewelry making I merely polished pieces that she designed. My sense of self-worth began to flag, so I hitched myself to the priest of our times, the psychologist-psychiatrist, and asked his advice. "Go home," he said, "and forget the jewelry business. Forget that you have a five-bedroom, three-bathroom house, with three girls to raise -- and a fourth coming. Go home, sit down at your typewriter; forget income taxes, even How to Make Money. And simply write a good book, a book you really believe in. You can stop fixing breakfast for the kids and assisting your wife in her welding. Write a book."

I did so, without preamble; I simply sat down and wrote. And what I wrote was The Man in the High Castle. It sold right away, received a number of reviews suggesting that it should win the Hugo, and then, one day, I got a letter from my agent congratulating me for winning the Hugo. Another point had been passed in my career -- and, as before, I didn't realize it. All I knew was that I wanted to write more and more books; the books got better and the publishers were more interested in them.

Now, most readers do not know how little SF writers were paid. I had been earning about $6,000 a year. In the year following the Hugo award, I earned $12,000, and close to that in the subsequent years (1965-68). And I wrote at a fantastic speed; I produced twelve novels in two years. . . which must be a record of some sort. I could never do this again -- the physical stress was enormous. . . but the Hugo was there to tell me that what I wanted to write was what a good number of readers wanted to read. Amazing as it seems!

Recently I have sat back, reflecting on my twenty-eight novels, which I have sold between 1954 and 1968, wondering which are good. What have I accomplished? Here I am, thirty-nine years old, rather moth-eaten and shaggy, taking snuff, listening to Schubert songs on the phonograph . . . "although bearded, elderly, and portly," someone said about me, "he is still a confirmed girl-watcher." This is true. And cat-watcher. They are the great joy for me, and I wish I could squeeze Willis, my huge orange and white tom, into a novel, or if they make a movie of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Willis could play a walk-on part (no lines), and we would both be happy. Four years ago I divorced my jewelry-welding wife and married a very sweet girl who paints. We now have a baby and we must find a larger house (we did find one, and, as I'm writing this, we are preparing to move into it: four bedrooms and two bathrooms and a level backyard, fenced, where Isa can play safely). So that is my nonliterary life: I have a very young wife whom I love, and a baby whom I almost love (she's a terrible pest), and a tomcat whom I cherish and adore. What about the books? How do I feel about them?

I enjoyed writing all of them. But I think that if I could only choose a few, which, for example, might escape World War Three, I would choose, first, Eye in the Sky [1956]. Then The Man in the High Castle [1962]. Martian Time-Slip [1964] (published by Ballantine). Dr. Bloodmoney [1965] (a recent Ace novel). Then The Zap Gun [1967] and The Penultimate Truth [1964], both of which I wrote at the same time. And finally another Ace book, The Simulacra [1964].

But this list leaves out the most vital of them all: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch [1965]. I am afraid of that book; it deals with absolute evil, and I wrote it during a great crisis in my religious beliefs. I decided to write a novel dealing with absolute evil as personified in the form of a "human." When the galleys came from Doubleday I couldn't correct them because I could not bear to read the text, and this is still true.

Two other books should perhaps be on this list, both very new Doubleday novels: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? [1968] and another as yet untitled [Ubik (1969)]. Do Androids has sold very well and has been eyed intently by a film company who has in fact purchased an option on it. My wife thinks it's a good book. I like it for one thing: It deals with a society in which animals are adored and rare, and a man who owns a real sheep is Somebody. . . and feels for that sheep a vast bond of love and empathy. Willis, my tomcat, strides silently over the pages of that book, being important as he is, with his long golden twitching tail. Make them understand, he says to me, that animals are really that important right now. He says this, and then eats up all the food we had been warming for our baby. Some cats are far too pushy. The next thing he'll want to do is write SF novels. I hope he does. None of them will sell.


"Notes Made Late at Night by a Weary SF Writer" (1968, 1972)
Here I am, almost forty years old. Seventeen years ago I sold my first story, a great and wonderful moment in my life that will never come again. By 1954 I was known as a short story writer; in June 1953 I had seven stories on the stands, including one in Analog, Galaxy, and F&SF, and so on down. Ah, 1954. I wrote my first novel, Solar Lottery; it sold 150,000 copies of itself and then vanished, only to reappear again a few years ago. It was reviewed well, except in Galaxy. Tony Boucher liked it; so did Damon Knight. But I wonder why I wrote it -- it and the twenty-four novels since. Out of love, I suppose; I love science fiction, both to read it and to write it. We who write it do not get paid very much. This is the harsh and overwhelming truth: Writing SF does not pay, and so writer after writer either dies trying to earn a living or leaves the field. . . to go into another, unrelated field, as for example Frank Herbert, who works for a newspaper and writes Hugo-winning SF in his spare time. I wish I could do that: hold an unrelated job and write SF after dinner each night, or early in the dawn. Then the pressure would be off. Let me tell you about that pressure. The average SF novel obtains between $1,500 and $2,000. Hence an SF writer who can write two novels a year -- and sell them -- gets back between $3,000 and $4,000 a year. . . which he can't live on. He can try, instead, to write three novels a year, plus a number of stories. With luck, and unending effort, he can raise his income to about $6,000 a year. At best, I have managed to earn $12,000 in one year; usually it runs less, and the effort of trying to bring in more money collapses me for as much as two years on end. During these two-year dry periods the only money coming in is for what are called "residuals." These include foreign sales, reprint in paperback, magazine serialization, TV and radio purchases, etc. It is awful, these dry periods, when you exist on the uncertain drip-drop of residuals. For example, an air mail letter arrives from one's agent. It contains royalty payments in the sum of $1.67. And the next week an air mail letter comes with a check for $4.50. And yet we who write SF go on, to some extent. As I say, it's love for the field.

What is there about SF that draws us? What is SF anyhow? It grips fans; it grips editors; it grips writers. And none make any money. When I ponder this I see always in my mind Henry Kuttner's


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