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Philip K. Dick: Tackling a prolific author's work

His works 'The Man in the High Castle,' 'Ubik' and 'How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart in Two Days' afford a good introduction.

June 10, 2012|By Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
  • Author Philip K . Dick
Author Philip K . Dick (Courtesy of Isa Dick Hackett…)

Philip K. Dickwas an incredibly prolific author, publishing 44 novels and more than 120 short stories before his death at age 53. Here are some ways to tackle his body of work:

Where to start: "The Man in the High Castle" (1962) is an alternative history in which the Axis powers have won World War II and includes a book, banned in America, that posits an alternative history in which Hitler lost. The novel won a Hugo Award and, like much of Dick's work, plays with perception and competing realities.

Where to start, alternative version: "Ubik" (1969) is a mystery wrapped in a horror story told by a (probably) dead man. It has psychic intrigue, government interference, half-alive cryonically frozen characters and a crumbling reality. See also: competing realities, untrustworthy perception.

Writing lessons, Philip K. Dick style: "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart in Two Days" (1985). "The two basic topics which fascinate me are 'What is reality?' and 'What constitutes the authentic human being?'" Dick writes. He turns not to craft and structure but precognition and religion.

What to skip: "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (1968). Although it served as the inspiration for the film "Blade Runner," the novel is not the same, nor nearly as good.

How to take the Philip K. Dick plunge: "The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick" (2011). Editors Jonathan Lethem and Pamela Jackson whittled this to a mere 976 pages from thousands. It's Dick's personal, elliptical, religious and metaphysical inquiry into space, time, visions, transformation and the human condition.

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