Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern

Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern

Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern

Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern

Synopsis

Once solely the possession of fans and buffs, the SF author Philip K Dick is now finding a much wider audience, as the success of the films Blade Runner and Minority Report shows. The kind of world he predicted in his funny and frightening novels and stories is coming closer to most of us: shifting realities, unstable relations, uncertain moralities. Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern examines a wide range of Dick’s work, including his short stories and posthumously published realist novels. Christopher Palmer analyzes the puzzling and dazzling effects of Dick’s fiction, and argues that at its heart is a clash between exhilarating possibilities of transformation, and a frightening lack of ethical certainties. Dick’s work is seen as the inscription of his own historical predicament, the clash between humanism and postmodernism being played out in the complex forms of the fiction. The problem is never resolved, but Dick’s ways of imagining it become steadily more ingenious and challenging.

Excerpt

This book discusses the science fiction of Philip K. Dick, both short stories and novels. the discussion is from two points of view: historical and formal. the first considers the fiction as a depiction of and a response to postmodernity, and investigates a clash between humanism and postmodernism, which is seen as the inscription of Dick's own historical predicament—a predicament which might also be ours. the second considers matters of genre and form. Dick is an enthusiastic rather than a conventional writer of sf, so that he exploits the conventions of the genre rather than obeying them. Not that his version of sf is simply playful: the clash between humanism and postmodernism is played out in the complex forms of the fiction; the tension between realism and fantasy, endemic to sf, is exacerbated in this case. the focus on genre opens up issues of representation, which can otherwise be overlooked when texts are considered as responses to historical conditions, though no one has ever argued that Dick's novels are simply mimetic or straightforwardly extrapolative, given the wild mixture of satire, metaphor, fantasy, and reflection on the fake and fictional that they present. the focus on history puts into question both the nature of postmodernity and issues of agency, as regards the postmodern subject and as regards the postmodern text.

Because our ideas of authors and their agency and autonomy in history —or lack of it—have changed, the writing of a monograph is no longer a simple business. Indeed, in the case of Dick, it never was a simple business, as a perusal of previous efforts, by Hazel Pierce, Douglas Mackey, Patricia Warrick and Kim Stanley Robinson, will confirm: all are insightful and I have learnt from them all, especially the last, but all struggle with Philip K. Dick's prolific output. Thirty-five sf novels, half a dozen (roughly) realist novels, and more than a hundred stories: such a large and dazzlingly varied production does not lend itself to a steady chronological exposition. One can spend more time summarizing the invariably tangled plots and specifying the crowded cast lists than actually commenting on and interpreting the novels. I have not tried to discuss all of Dick's novels in detail, or even all his major ones. the first part of the book (Chapters 1-3) ranges generally over his sf, introducing the historical and formal questions touched on above. the second part (Chapters 4-12) concentrates on specific stories and novels. I have included extensive discussions . . .

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