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Philip K Dick

Philip K Dick

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Also Known As: Died: March 2, 1982
Born: December 16, 1928 Cause of Death: stroke
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois, USA Profession:

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Though he spent most of his career being largely ignored by mainstream audiences, science fiction author Philip K. Dick became highly revered by larger literary circles following his untimely death in 1982, while also garnering the interest of Hollywood. Despite his desire to become an esteemed literary author, Dick relegated himself to the realm of science fiction, where he earned respect from colleagues and fans, which more often than not failed to generate sufficient income. In fact, while he wrote over 40 novels and 120 short stories, Dick spent a great deal of his life bordering on poverty, while dealing with a serious addiction to barbiturates that played a role in ending five marriages. After publishing numerous short stories and his first novels, he made his first impression with the noteworthy Time Out of Joint (1959), which fully realized consistent Dickian themes of misplaced identity and the questioning of reality. But it was his Hugo Award-winning speculative novel The Man in the High Castle (1962) that put him on the sci-fi map. Toward the end of the decade, Dick wrote Ubik (1969), which some considered his best, while moving into the next decade with Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said...

Though he spent most of his career being largely ignored by mainstream audiences, science fiction author Philip K. Dick became highly revered by larger literary circles following his untimely death in 1982, while also garnering the interest of Hollywood. Despite his desire to become an esteemed literary author, Dick relegated himself to the realm of science fiction, where he earned respect from colleagues and fans, which more often than not failed to generate sufficient income. In fact, while he wrote over 40 novels and 120 short stories, Dick spent a great deal of his life bordering on poverty, while dealing with a serious addiction to barbiturates that played a role in ending five marriages. After publishing numerous short stories and his first novels, he made his first impression with the noteworthy Time Out of Joint (1959), which fully realized consistent Dickian themes of misplaced identity and the questioning of reality. But it was his Hugo Award-winning speculative novel The Man in the High Castle (1962) that put him on the sci-fi map. Toward the end of the decade, Dick wrote Ubik (1969), which some considered his best, while moving into the next decade with Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974), A Scanner Darkly (1977) and the VALIS Trilogy (1981-82). Dick finally saw the larger world take interest in his work when director Ridley Scott adapted Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) into the cult favorite feature, "Blade Runner" (1982). But the film was the only one made during Dick's own life, which ended on March 2, 1982. In later years, Hollywood suddenly sparked to his works, adapting his short stories with varying degrees of success. While "Total Recall" (1990) and "Minority Report" (2002) were huge box office hits with major stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Cruise starring respectively, other projects like "Imposter" (2002), "A Scanner Darkly" (2006) and "Next" (2007) were largely dismissed by critics and audiences. Regardless of his posthumous entry into mainstream acceptance, there was no doubt that Dick remained one of the largest and most unique literary voices of the 20th century.

Dick was born six weeks immature on Dec. 16, 1928, in Chicago, IL, alongside his twin sister, Jane Charlotte Dick. Six weeks later, his sister passed away, which left Dick profoundly affected for the rest of his life. In fact, as he got older, Dick began to blame his mother for Jane's death, leading to a strained relationship with his parents that became worse after they divorced when he was five years old. Despite his animosity toward his mother over his sister's death, she retained custody over him and they eventually settled in Berkeley, CA, where Dick spent the remainder of his childhood and adolescence. He later graduated from Berkeley High School in 1947, where he was in the same class as another future science fiction icon, Ursula K. Le Guin. Dick moved on to study philosophy at the University of California in 1949, but dropped out after a brief stint. From the time he was seven years old, Dick suffered from bouts of extreme vertigo, which intensified while he attended college and may have contributed to his decision to leave. The vertigo was a precursor to a diagnosis of schizophrenia, which was dismissed by other doctors later on. But Dick did fight a series of psychological ailments throughout his life, including nervous breakdowns, depression and even quasi-religious experiences some attributed to drug abuse.

From the time he was 15 years old until he was in his early twenties, Dick worked at two stores - University Radio and Art Music - owned by businessman Herb Hollis, who served as something of a father figure to Dick and intermittently popped up in several of the author's works throughout the years. In 1948, Dick married Jeannette Marlin, only to divorce six months later. Two years later, he wed his second wife, Kleo Apostolides, which later proved to be the longest of his five marriages. Meanwhile, Dick's life-long fascination with science fiction and literature - he consumed novels from all genres and time periods from an early age - led to writing and publishing his first short story, "Beyond Lies the Wub" (1952), in the pulp science fiction magazine Planet Stories. Following that first sales, Dick went on to write numerous short stories over the next few years for science fiction publications like If, Galaxy, Beyond Fantasy Fiction and Astounding magazine. Such titles as "The Variable Man" (1952), "Imposter" (1953), "The King of the Elves" (1953), "Paycheck" (1953), "Second Variety" (1953), "The Golden Man" (1954) and "Adjustment Team" (1954) were added to his rapidly expanding canon.

Dick went on to sell his first novel, Solar Lottery (1955), which depicted a futuristic world where anyone can win the coveted grand prize in a lottery of becoming Quizmaster, the most powerful person in the world, who then must use his resources to ward off an assassin trying to kill him in a game designed to entertain the masses. Dick published several more novels in the decade, including The Man Who Japed (1956), The Eye in the Sky (1957) and Time Out of Joint (1959), a novel that dealt with man's tenuous hold on what he believes is real, which ultimately became one of his more popular novels from this early period. But even though he was selling books, Dick struggled financially due in large part to publishing almost exclusively with the small sci-fi outfit, Ace Books. He harbored ambitions to become a literary writer and wrote several non-science fiction novels during the 1950s. While he submitted these works to agents and publishers, he continued churning out sci-fi, advancing his prestige within the genre with Vulcan's Hammer (1960) and Dr. Futurity (1960). But the mainstream success Dick craved remained elusive.

A glimmer of hope for acceptance in the larger literary world came with Dick's highly acclaimed novel, The Man in the High Castle (1962), a speculative fiction detailing an alternative history where the Axis powers defeat the Allies during World War II, thanks to events triggered by the successful assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the inability of his successors to pull the U.S. out of the Great Depression, leaving it virtually defenseless. The novel was hailed by science fiction aficionados as a work of genius and earned the Hugo Award for Best Novel, the genre's highest honor. Despite gaining widespread praise and acclaim within the sci-fi world, Dick was again largely ignored by the larger public. Making matters worse, his non-science fiction novels were rejected and returned unpublished, squashing all hopes of becoming a mainstream author. Meanwhile, Dick continued to blend psychological dysfunction - bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia, addiction - with futuristic worlds in The Game-Players of Titan (1963), Martian Time-Slip (1964) and Clans of the Alphane Moon (1964).

With both The Penultimate Truth (1964) and Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb (1965), Dick ventured into the realm of post-apocalyptic fiction while maintaining his unique fascination on altering realities both within one's self and without. By this time in his life, Dick had married and divorced his third wife, Anne Rubinstein, after his split with Kleo in 1959. He entered into perhaps his most fruitful and idyllic time while married to fourth wife, Nancy Hackett, with whom he had a daughter, Isa. Over the next decade, Dick produced some of his most revered work, starting with The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), one of his first novels to blend religious themes with science fiction. Notable for its introduction of the hallucinatory Chew-Z, an alien drug used to enslave humans on planetary colonies throughout the solar system, The Three Stigmata fascinated John Lennon enough for him to want to turn the book into a movie. After Now Wait for Last Year (1966) and The Unteleported Man (1966), Dick published one of his most influential works, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), which was set in a post-apocalyptic world and followed bounty hunter, Rick Deckard, as tracks down several runaway androids that have assumed human identities.

While respected among peers and aficionados, Dick was still unable to match the sales of more popular contemporaries like Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert. He next published what many fans considered to be his best novel, Ubik (1969), a surrealist fantasy that touched familiar ground of non-reality through the use of the unreliable narrator and alternate universes. Dick followed with another revered title, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974), a futuristic dystopia that depicted America as a police state, that earned several nominations, including one for a Hugo Award. Soon after finishing the novel, Dick had what could only be described as a profoundly life-altering religious experience that affected his life and work for his last eight years of life. After seeing a strange pendant worn by a woman who came to his home, Dick began having strange visions of Ancient Rome, laser beams and geometrical patterns that culminated into what he described as a separate rational mind invading and occupying his own, which led to him questioning the reality of life around him. Though a long-time barbiturate user with a history of mental illness, Dick believed that he had indeed experienced something transcendental and religious; at one point, he believed he had been overtaken by the prophet Elijah. Regardless of their source, the strange occurrences from February and March of 1974 left the author shaken to his core.

Dick sought out specialists and faith healers to interpret the nature of his experiences, while also using his writing to explain what had happened. Meanwhile, he saw his only non-fiction novel, Confessions of a Crap Artist (1975), published during his lifetime. Dick next combined a dystopian future with a semiautobiographical look at the drug counterculture with A Scanner Darkly (1977), which followed an undercover drug officer forced to take down his drug addict friends while struggling to maintain a grip on reality due to his own spiraling addictions. He spent the ensuing years tackling his bizarre experiences in his novels, starting with VALIS (1981), in which the author thinly disguised himself as Horselover Far, who believes that his visions hold the secrets to reality on Earth. The novel marked what became known as the VALIS trilogy, which continued with The Divine Invasion (1981), which depicted God as being alive and exiled on a distant planet, where he awaits the second coming against a highly technical and rationalized world run as a police state. Dick concluded the trilogy with The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982), which focused on an Episcopal bishop haunted by the suicides of his son and mistress and driven to find the true identity of Christ. Transmigration ultimately proved to be the last novel Dick wrote during his lifetime.

Despite the always intriguing nature of his plots, Dick never garnered much interest from Hollywood. But that changed when director Ridley Scott adapted Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? into the futuristic sci-fi thriller "Blade Runner" (1982), starring Harrison Ford as a replicant bounty hunter stalking the streets of a bleak post-apocalyptic Los Angeles while looking for six refuge androids. Though faring poorly at the box office and receiving mixed reviews from critics, "Blade Runner" evolved into a cult classic that spawned generations of fans and numerous knockoffs. The film was also the only one Dick saw made in his lifetime. Having been enthusiastic with an initial screening with Scott, Dick was fully behind the filmed version of his novel despite disagreements with the director over certain themes and character arcs. But in early 1982, just four months before the film's release, Dick suffered a series of strokes that left him virtually brain dead while in the hospital. Five days later on March 2, 1982, he was taken off life support and died. He was 53. His father, Joseph, buried Dick's ashes next to his twin sister, Jane, at Riverside Cemetery in Fort Morgan, CO.

Following his death, interest in his life and work skyrocketed. In fact, Dick finally achieved the mainstream success in death that he so badly desired in life. Hollywood also took great interest in adapting his work into films following "Blade Runner." Director Paul Verhoeven adapted the story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" into "Total Recall" (1990), which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as a futuristic Everyman whose memory becomes implanted with that of a spy, leading to an all-to-real mission to Mars to free its citizens. Unlike the previous effort, "Total Recall" was a major box office hit, while critics generally praised the smart, non-stop action. Following two small films - "Barjo" (1993), adapted from Confessions of a Crap Artist, and "Screamers" (1996), culled from the story "Second Variety" (1953) - Stephen Spielberg helmed "Minority Report" (2002), adapted from the short story of the same name. The high-tech action thriller starred Tom Cruise as a futuristic detective in the pre-crime division who suddenly finds himself tagged as a future murder, forcing him on the run to clear his name. Once again, Dick's visionary fiction was almost perfectly adapted for the screen, while becoming another huge box office draw.

Director Gary Fleder was the next to step up and tackle Dick's material with "Imposter" (2002), which was based on the short story of the same name. Despite a strong cast that included Gary Sinese, Madeline Stowe and Vincent D'Onofrio, his take on the futuristic world where a respected government scientist (Sinese) goes on the run as an accused alien spy was met with large scale derision from critics while fairing poorly at the box office. John Woo was next to adapt Dick's material with "Paycheck" (2003), again made from one of the author's many short stories. But like Fleder, Woo failed to delve deep into the author's futuristic tale about the nature of memory and identity, and instead stripped the story of any meaning to focus on the plot of an engineering genius (Ben Affleck) on the run from an evil corporation. Again, poor reviews and box office cast a pall on an otherwise intriguing project. Meanwhile, Richard Linklater employed his patented rotoscoping technique to "A Scanner Darkly" (2006), which starred Keanu Reeves as the drug-addled undercover cop. Though generally well received, the film earned little money. Meanwhile, Nicolas Cage and Julianne Moore starred in "Next" (2007), based on Dick's story "The Golden Man" (1953), which again did poorly with audiences and critics. His story "Adjustment Team" was turned into the sci-fi thriller "The Adjustment Bureau" (2011), which starred Matt Damon as a smooth-talking politician whose world gets suddenly thrown after meeting an elusive and mysterious woman (Emily Blunt).

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