Philip Kindred Dick (December 16, 1928 – March 2, 1982) was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist whose published work is almost entirely in the science fiction genre. Dick explored sociological, political and metaphysical themes in novels dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments, and altered states. In his later works Dick's thematic focus strongly reflected his personal interest in metaphysics and theology. He often drew upon his own life experiences in addressing the nature of drug abuse, paranoia, schizophrenia, and transcendental experiences in novels such as A Scanner Darkly and VALIS.
The novel The Man in the High Castle bridged the genres of alternate history and science fiction, earning Dick a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, a novel about a celebrity who awakens in a parallel universe where he is unknown, won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel in 1975"I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards," Dick wrote of these stories. "In my writing I even question the universe; I wonder out loud if it is real, and I wonder out loud if all of us are real."
In addition to 44 published novels, Dick wrote approximately 121 short stories, most of which appeared in science fiction magazines during his lifetime. Although Dick spent most of his career as a writer in near-poverty, ten popular films based on his works have been produced, including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, and The Adjustment Bureau. In 2005, Time magazine named Ubik one of the one hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923. In 2007, Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series.
Philip Kindred Dick and his twin sister, Jane Charlotte Dick, were born six weeks prematurely on December 16, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois, to Dorothy Kindred Dick and Joseph Edgar Dick, who worked for the United States Department of Agriculture. The death of Jane, six weeks later on January 26, 1929, profoundly affected Philip's life, leading to the recurrent motif of the "phantom twin" in his books.
The family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. When Philip turned five, his father was transferred to Reno, Nevada. When Dorothy refused to move, she and Joseph divorced. Both parents fought for custody of Philip, which was awarded to the mother. Dorothy, determined to raise Philip alone, took a job in Washington, D.C., and moved there with her son. Philip was enrolled at John Eaton Elementary School (1936-38), completing the second through fourth grades. His lowest grade was a "C" in Written Composition, although a teacher remarked that he "shows interest and ability in story telling." He was educated in Quaker schools. In June 1938, Dorothy and Philip returned to California, and it was around this time that he became interested in science fictionDick states that, in 1940, at the age of twelve, he read his first science fiction magazine, "Stirring Science Stories".
Dick attended Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California. He and fellow science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin were members of the same graduating class (1947) but were unknown to each other at the time. After graduation, he briefly attended the of California, Berkeley, (September 1949 to November 11, 1949) with an honorary dismissal granted January 1, 1950. Dick was an undeclared major and took classes in History, Psychology, Philosophy, and Zoology. Through his studies in Philosophy, he believed that existence is based on the internal-based perception of a human, which does not necessarily correspond to external reality; he described himself as an "acosmic panentheist," believing in the universe only as an extension of God. After reading the works of Plato and pondering the possibilities of metaphysical realms, Dick came to the conclusion that, in a certain sense, the world is not entirely real and there is no way to confirm whether it is truly there. This question from his early studies persisted as a theme in many of his novels. Dick dropped out, according to his third wife Anne in her memoir, because of his ongoing anxiety problems. Anne states that he did not like the mandatory ROTC training. At Berkeley, Dick befriended poet Robert Duncan and poet and linguist Jack Spicer, who gave Dick ideas for a Martian language. Dick claimed to have been host of a classical music program on KSMO Radio in 1947.
From 1948 to 1952, Dick worked in a record store. In 1955, he and his second wife, Kleo Apostolides, received a visit from the FBI, which they believed to be the result of Kleo's socialist views and left-wing activities. The couple briefly befriended one of the FBI agents.
Dick was married five times: Jeanette Marlin (May to November 1948), Kleo Apostolides (June 14, 1950 to 1959), Anne Williams Rubinstein (April 1, 1959 to October 1965), Nancy Hackett (July 6, 1966 to 1972), and Leslie (Tessa) Busby (April 18, 1973 to 1977). Dick had three children, Laura Archer (February 25, 1960), Isolde Freya (now Isa Dick Hackett) (March 15, 1967), and Christopher Kenneth (July 25, 1973).
Dick tried to stay off the political scene because of the high societal turmoil from the Vietnam War; however, he did show some anti-Vietnam War and anti-governmental sentiments. In 1968, he participated in an anti-war pledge called the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest",resolving not to pay income taxes, which resulted in the IRS seizing his car.
Dick sold his first story in 1951. From that point on he wrote full-time, selling his first novel in 1955. The 1950s were a difficult and impoverished time for Dick. He once said "We couldn't even pay the late fees on a library book." He published almost exclusively within the science fiction genre, but dreamed of a career in the mainstream of American literature. During the 1950s he produced a series of non-genre, relatively conventional novels. In 1960 he wrote that he was willing to "take twenty to thirty years to succeed as a literary writer." The dream of mainstream success formally died in January 1963 when the Scott Meredith Literary Agency returned all of his unsold mainstream novels. Only one of these works, Confessions of a Crap Artist, was published during Dick's lifetime.
In 1963, Dick won the Hugo Award for The Man in the High Castle. Although he was hailed as a genius in the science fiction world, the mainstream literary world was unappreciative, and he could publish books only through low-paying science fiction publishers such as Ace. Even in his later years, he continued to have financial troubles. In the introduction to the 1980 short story collection The Golden Man, Dick wrote:
"Several years ago, when I was ill, Heinlein offered his help, anything he could do, and we had never met; he would phone me to cheer me up and see how I was doing. He wanted to buy me an electric typewriter, God bless him—one of the few true gentlemen in this world. I don't agree with any ideas he puts forth in his writing, but that is neither here nor there. One time when I owed the IRS a lot of money and couldn't raise it, Heinlein loaned the money to me. I think a great deal of him and his wife; I dedicated a book to them in appreciation. Robert Heinlein is a fine-looking man, very impressive and very military in stance; you can tell he has a military background, even to the haircut. He knows I'm a flipped-out freak and still he helped me and my wife when we were in trouble. That is the best in humanity, there; that is who and what I love."
In 1972, Dick donated manuscripts, papers and other materials to the Special Collections Library at California State Fullerton where they are archived in the Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Collection in the Pollak Library. It was in Fullerton that Philip K. Dick befriended budding science-fiction writers K. W. Jeter, James Blaylock, and Tim Powers. The last novel Dick wrote was The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. It was published shortly after his death in 1982.
On February 20, 1974, while recovering from the effects of sodium pentothal administered for the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth, Dick received a home delivery of Darvon from a young woman. When he opened the door, he was struck by the beauty of the dark-haired girl and was especially drawn to her golden necklace. He asked her about its curious fish-shaped design. "This is a sign used by the early Christians," she said, and then left. The Christian fish-pendant Dick called the symbol the "vesicle pisces". This name seems to have been based on his conflation of two related symbols, the Christian ichthys symbol (two intersecting arcs delineating a fish in profile) which the woman was wearing, and the vesica piscis.
Dick recounted that as the sun glinted off the gold pendant, the reflection caused the generation of a "pink beam" that mesmerized him. Dick came to believe the beam imparted wisdom and clairvoyance; he also believed it to be intelligent. On one occasion, Dick was startled by the pink beam. It imparted the information to him that his infant son was ill. They rushed the child to the hospital where Dick's suspicion and his diagnosis were confirmed.
After the woman's departure, Dick began experiencing strange hallucinations. Although initially attributing them to his medication, after weeks of hallucinations he considered this explanation implausible. "I experienced an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind, as if I had been insane all my life and suddenly I had become sane," Dick told Charles Platt.
Throughout February and March 1974, Dick experienced a series of hallucinations, which he referred to as "2-3-74", shorthand for February–March 1974. Aside from the "pink beam", Dick described the initial hallucinations as geometric patterns, and, occasionally, brief pictures of Jesus and ancient Rome. As the hallucinations increased in length and frequency, Dick claimed he began to live two parallel lives, one as himself, "Philip K. Dick", and one as "Thomas", a Christian persecuted by Romans in the 1st century AD. He referred to the "transcendentally rational mind" as "Zebra", "God" and "VALIS". Dick wrote about the experiences, first in the semi-autobiographical novel Radio Free Albemuth and then in VALIS, The Divine Invasion and the unfinished The Owl in Daylight (the VALIS trilogy).
At one point Dick felt that he had been taken over by the spirit of the prophet Elijah. He believed that an episode in his novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said was a detailed retelling of a story from the Biblical Book of Acts, which he had never read. Dick documented and discussed his experiences and faith in a private journal, later published as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick.