Monday, August 21, 2006

A Scanner Darkly - book

Phillip K. Dick's "A Scanner Darkly" (novel)
Of the several Dick novels I have read, this one is the most accessible. Its story is most linear and it is set in the near enough future that there's no technobabble/scifispeak to detract from the actual narrative.
I remember now why I stopped reading it the first time around...when Arctor suffers his final disconnect between his two identities, the book really begins to get depressing. But I stuck with it this time, and after a point at which Dick could have successfully concluded the tale, namely, Bob's admission to the New Path clinic, and his painful withdrawal in a lump on the floor - he kept going. He created Arctor's third identity, and implied strongly that all that happened to him that caused him to suffer this horrible disconnect was in fact engineered by the anti-narcotic agency that Fred had worked for. They deliberately sabotaged Bob's brain in order to break him enough that he'd be delivered to the New Path clinic, and would eventually lead the feds to the source of the Substance D. What an odd ending. It seems like this final ending was more of a fantasy to Dick who needed to believe that all of his friends who suffered so through their usage of drugs were actually serving a higher purpose - obviously to act as cautionary tales to the rest of us. Dick envisions - but does not actually portray - an eventual successful infiltration by the feds into the large narcotics cartels, thus removing this opportunistic scourge from the planet once and for all. Yet, for Bruce, this success comes at a very high price, and one is left to wonder whether it was all worth it. Was it worth one man's sanity to shut down the dangerous Substance D manufacturing? Dick implies that it was, and yet was not, all at the same time. He leaves it to the reader to decide. In the end, the novel acts as a caution to all its readers to overcome the temptation of drugs, as that way lies ruin.
I openly petition anybody reading this: Do not go to see "Snakes on a Plane" instead of "A Scanner Darkly". I live in a major city, and yet "Scanner" is playing on only ONE screen whereas "SoaP" is playing everywhere. I implore you all - this is exactly the kind of smart writing that needs to be filmed nowadays, when narcotics are more of a problem for more people than ever before. I have not seen the film yet, but I intend to at the next possible opportunity. (And, of course, I will review the film in relation to the novel afterwards.) If you have a choice between "SoaP" and "A Scanner", see "Scanner", please.
In terms of my rating scale this scores highly VERY GOOD. It's too depressing at the end to score higher - which is sort of the point, and although it accomplishes this task extremely well, I still don't like to feel depressed. (Heck, I never finished Johnny Tremain either...and probably never will.)

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