Philip K. Dick: Confessions Of A SF Artist
[An interview with Philip K. Dick]
by George Cain and Dana Longo
[source: Denver Clarion, October 23, 1980]
Philip K. Dick has carved a deep niche for himself among
the world's top science fiction writers. Unlike many of his fellow genre
writers, however, Dick tends to write more about inner space than outer
space. His characters come before his machines.
Dick's first published short story, "Beyond Lies the
Wub," appeared in 1952. Since then, he has published over 200 short stories
The Clarion managed to contact Philip K. Dick, by
telephone at his home in Santa Anita, California. He granted an interview
on the spur of the moment, proving what has been said of him many times.
He's really a nice guy.
Currently on the verge of publishing his first new novel
since 1977, Dick elaborated on the project, entitled Valis. "It's
the theological study of the inbreaking of futuristic technology,
established by supernatural intelligence, into the life of an ordinary,
present-day man. It basically deals with this invasion from the future into
the present and man's attempts to cope with it."
Valis is planned for release in February, 1981,
and marks the beginning of Dick's first series, possibly a trilogy. The
author's next work to hit the newsstands will be a short story in the
December Playboy, entitled "Frozen Journey," which Dick says he
likes more than the last few stories he's had published. Two recent works
can be found in last month's Omni and in the Stellar #5
A new Berkely anthology is also planned for 1981
release. It will include one of Dick's hardest-to-find novels, The
Cosmic Puppets, first published in 1956. Dick estimates he has written
"at least 100" short stories which have never been anthologized. But, he's
not writing as many as he used to.
"I'll never be as prolific as I was," Dick laments. "For
short stories, the financial return is just not great enough. I'm saving
my ideas for novels now. I personally enjoy novels more, anyway. I have a
chance to develop the people, flesh out the characters. I'm primarily
interested in the people."
While he is cutting down on his short story writing, Dick
has stopped writing non-sf altogether. Works such as Confessions of a
Crap Artist (1959) are things of the past. "I really liked that one,
myself," comments Dick. "But I've lost interest in writing non-sf. Their
time has passed. They're essentially fossils. When I'm dead and lying in
the marble orchards, I won't stop my heirs from digging them up and
publishing them. But I don't want to flood the market with a bunch of my
old non-sf now."
One thing Philip K. Dick is doing more of is research.
Seven years of research spent prior to 1962 on The Man in the High
Castle, paid off, when that novel won Dick his first Hugo Award for
best science fiction novel of the year.
Working on the Valis trilogy, Dick has taken
down "hundreds of thousands of words of notes."
How much time does Dick spend writing? "All the time," he
claims. "From the moment I get up until the moment I go to bed, except
when I'm with my friends or watching television. I spend a lot of time
with my friends."
His family life isn't what it once was. "I'm divorced
now," he says. "I live with two cats, Harvey and Mrs. Mabel M. Tubbs. I
don't like living alone very well at all. I do have a girlfriend in
France, who I met at a convention in Europe. She keeps calling me and
trying to convince me to move over there. If I wasn't so involved with my
work, I'd do it. And there's all these big Hollywood deals..."
What big Hollywood deals?
"They want to make a film of Do Androids Dream of
Electric Sheep. It's going to be directed by Ridley Scott, who
directed Alien. The last reported budget on it was $20 million."
The assistant produced of Alien is interested in
making a movie out of "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," a short
story. Another film company reportedly is interested in rights to "Second
Variety," with a screenplay written by Dan O'Bannon, who, just by
coincidence, wrote the screenplay for Alien.
As for the release date of these movies, "God only
knows!" says Dick. The actor's strike hasn't had a good effect on the
"I thought I was getting an exorbitant sum of money for
the films," he remarks. "And I was having a drink with Ray Bradbury,
telling him about it, and he had an aplopetic stroke He told me I was a
babe in the woods and I wan't getting nearly enough out of it. I thought it
was large amounts of money. I was crushed."
Unfortunately, Dick hasn't been asked to write any
screenplays yet. "I'd do it if they asked me," he says. "I like to do
Dick also pointed out that the three works chosen for
the silver screen all deal with "robots posing as people. Apparently, I
have a basic patent on that," he laughs. "Movies like Westworld all
used ideas I'd thought of a long time ago. Now, I'm finally cashing in on
Dick admits being a movie freak. Two of his favorite
films are The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring David Bowie, and
Robert Altman's Three Women.
"I have a pay TV, so I can see a couple of movies a day,"
he says. "I go mostly by directors. I like Altman and DePalma a lot. I
also go by actors. I like the Rocky Horror Picture Show and
Phantom of the Paradise, too."
This led to a discussion of Dick's musical tastes. He
has been a confirmed classical music fan for some time. "I'm starting to
get into punk rock," he comments. "I enjoyed rock in the sixties, like
Country Joe and the Fish, The Grateful Dead, the Stones and Jefferson
Now he likes the Germs, the Circle Jerks, the Plug, and
Suicide. Aside from punk, Dick also enjoys listening to the electronic,
experimental classical work of Karl Heinz Stockhousen.
As for his favorite authors, Dick says "Thomas Disch and
Norman Spinrad are both very good. And I think John Varley is an extremely
fine author. Roger Zelazny is another one of my favorites. He and I are
good friends. I really like Roger's writing."
Zelazny and Dick wrote a novel together in 1976, called
Deus Irae. Now there is talk of them doing a follow-up
An earlies collaboration, The Ganymede Takeover,
was done with sf writer and cartoonist, Ray Nelson. Nelson, incidentally,
invented the propellor-beanie which is used to symbolize today's
ehthusiastic science fiction fan.
What does Dick think about the millions of science
fiction fans collectively known as "fandom?" He doesn't attend many
science fiction conventions these days.
"I don't go to many cons," he admits. "But it's not
because I don't like them. I find them too arudous. My health is not too
good, and they're just too physically taxing. I can't do lecture tours
anymore either. I had to give up giving speeches. But I love to do
Dick was eager to talk about Valis. "It's very
autobiographical," he began. "It's about a guy who starts having a nervous
breakdown when his girlfriend is gone. He sinks lower and lower until he
resorts to a suicide attempt. Then there's an invasion by supernatural
forces, which he finally identifies as futuristic. But the forces are
elusive. When the book ends, he still needs an answer. It's a blend of fact
One thing the advanced beings tell the protagonist of
Valis is that a new savior is about to be born. When questioned
about his own religious beliefs, Dick said he could best be classified as
a "religious anarchist."
"I'm totally against organized religion," he states. "I
believe you have a direct relation with the divine or you have no relation
with the divine. It has nothing to do with faith or dogmatic creeds. The
initiative comes from the divine side. There is nothing you can do. All
you can do is live an honest life, be brutally honest with yourself, and
hope to become an object of interest with the divine beings. Using a
formula to evoke them is technically called "magic." I guess you could call
me a neo-Platonist with gnostic overtones."
Dick says there is some gnosticism in Valis as
well. The second book in the series will deal with Judaism, and the third
will be a "computer study of cybernetics and quantum mechanics."
Dick gets so wrapped up in his current work on the
Valis books he claims, "It's almost to the point where I can't get
myself together enough to go shopping at the store. I'm way out in left
field. I'm having a hell of a time. Someday I'm just going to walk through
a wall. I'll dematerialize my own universe."
If Valis is autobiographical, does this mean that
Philip K. Dick has been in touch with supernatural beings?
"That's my impression," he says. "It's kind of hard to
talk about, and work into a casual conversation. ‘What have you been
doing, Phil?’ ‘Oh, I've been contacted by supernatural beings
who are super-advanced and they told me about this savior who..." (blends
Dick was rather "amazed" when he first became aware of
this unearthly contact. "I couldn't figure out what they were up to," he
says. "Once, just after my wife had a baby, my blood pressure was near
stroke level. It was a lethal physical condition and I was close to death.
The baby was close to death, too. But we didn't know it. The supernatural
power informed me of my condition as my son's. It told me to go to the
hospital and we had surgery scheduled and made it through." Dick's son is
seven years old now.
Valis is the name Dick has given this supernatural
force. It stands for Vast Active Living Intelligence System. It still
talks to him occassionally. Dick's first experience with Valis was in high
school, during a final physics exam.
"There were eight questions based on a principle I
didn't understand," he recalls. "The supernatural being took hold of my
brain and explained it to me in a way I could understand. I got an "A" and
made my college entrance grades as a result. This was in the forties. I was
One of Valis' favorite subjects is apparently
reincarnation. The possibility that Valis may have once been human is
something Dick has often pondered. Valis described himself to Dick's
"tutelary spirit." After looking the term up in the dictionary, Dick
discovered it means "supernatural protector," with a secondary meaning of
"tutor." The spirit would only describe his function, without giving his
"He only tells me things if I'm completely exhausted in
trying to find the answers myself," Dick explains.
Since the spirit is reportedly so involved with
reincarnation, would it give Dick any clues as to his past lives?
According to Dick, it has.
"Do you want me to be frank, or do you want me to be
coy?" he asked. The Clarion asked for frankness.
"I lived in the first century A.D., in Asyria," he
says. "I was a secret Christian named Thomas. I was killed very brutally
by the Romans. I was garroted."
Dick claims to have some residual memories of this prior
existence. "It's been showing up in my dreams all my life," he says.
"It comes back very clearly, being in Rome. It came back so clear once that
I thought I was in Rome. I told my wife we had to watch out for the
The personality of Thomas once became so overpowering in
Dick's life that he was "taken over" for about a month. "He was very
different from me," says Dick. "He was very hard-boiled and shrewd. He was
much more energetic and resourceful that I am."
What is Dick hoping for in his next life? "I'm hoping
I'll be nothing next," he says. "I'm tired. I've been fighting against the
Roman empire in different forms for 2000 years. Today it's the U.S.
government. I'll leave them alone if they'll leave me alone."
During the sixties, Dick was heavily involved in
anti-war activities. Because of this, his house was broken into, his
belongings and papers were destroyed by a bomb planted inside the house,
and Marin County officials warned him to leave the area or be shot in the
"Whatever they thought I was doing was much worse than
what I was doing," he says.
During the sixties, Dick was also allegedly involved with
drugs. His latest novel, Through A Scanner Darkly, tells of his
disillusionment about drugs after several incidents of friends suffering
death and brain damage because of drug abuse. Dick's current opinion of
drug use is rather negative. "I think it's a very risky thing to do," he
says. "You're essentially playing a game and betting that you'll get
something that's better than it is bad. It's far too risky."
Clarion readers interested in Philip K. Dick have
much more to learn about the author and his works. Some good books to
start with might be Ubik, Counter-Clock World or The Best
of Philip K. Dick.
(Thanks to Frank Bertrand and Patrick Clark for contibuting this article.)