Review: A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly is another tour de force from Philip K. Dick.  I enjoyed The Man in the High Castle so much that I picked up Scanner when I saw it a couple weeks later.

Scanner seems to capture a lot of what people love and hate about Dick.  It’s nominally a science fiction story about a powerful drug in a near future setting, but it’s also a novel about people and how they behave on drugs in contemporary society.  (Actually in 1970’s society – some of the slang is pretty humorously dated.)  There’s a focus on how people interact, but no character is an individual standout.  The plot, as a plot, is very by-the-numbers, but lots of interesting ideas and prose styling is hung off it.

Now, for me that all adds up to a closely observed novel about a marginal subculture that becomes more powerful when universal ideas about identity and paranoia are juxtaposed through unique writing.  For some people it adds up to a couple hundred pages of dialogue that goes nowhere as a set of forgettable characters discuss getting stoned and forget who they are, obscured by confusing text and random interruptions.

I stand by my position.  I think the novel is both enjoyable to read and interesting to think about and analyze.  So much of what I find worthwhile about it is how well the chances Dick takes in his writing and subjects pays off that I can see how a reasonable person could dislike it.  More than many things I like, I think assessments will vary widely.

I think it’s a great novel.  Variance may be high.

Strongly Recommended.

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