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A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick

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This month's reading circle book is Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly

 

Mind- and reality-bending drugs factor again and again in Philip K. Dick's hugely influential SF stories. A Scanner Darkly cuts closest to the bone, drawing on Dick's own experience with illicit chemicals and on his many friends who died from drug abuse. Nevertheless, it's blackly farcical, full of comic-surreal conversations between people whose synapses are partly fried, sudden flights of paranoid logic, and bad trips like the one whose victim spends a subjective eternity having all his sins read to him, in shifts, by compound-eyed aliens. (It takes 11,000 years of this to reach the time when as a boy he discovered masturbation.) The antihero Bob Arctor is forced by his double life into warring double personalities: as futuristic narcotics agent "Fred," face blurred by a high-tech scrambler, he must spy on and entrap suspected drug dealer Bob Arctor. His disintegration under the influence of the insidious Substance D is genuine tragicomedy. For Arctor there's no way off the addict's downward escalator, but what awaits at the bottom is a kind of redemption--there are more wheels within wheels than we suspected, and his life is not entirely wasted.

 

So, we'll start with a few questions, and hope you can take it on from there:

 

Standard ones:

 

1: Who is your favourite character, and why?

2: Was there a particular part you enjoyed more?

3: Was this the first book by the author, and in the genre, that you've read, and does it encourage you to read more?

4: Did you struggle with any of it?

5: Was it overall enjoyable

 

 

Some more specific ones from me:

 

6: How do you think the title reflects on the book? What is its meaning

7: What did you make of the unreliability of Arctor/Fred as a "narrator" (in the sense of, how did you view his experience as being worthwhile

8: Do you feel that the ending was at all redemptive, or did you see it as unremittingly bleak? And, either way, why is that?

9: How does the book relate to your experience with drugs/druggies?

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I plan on reading this, but not at this moment, I saw the film adaptation before reading which as a rule I don't usually do, but the concept intrigued me enough to throw it on my TBR list, i'll be interested to see what others think.

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I enjoy SF but don't read as much of as it as I used to, and I was really pleased that this book was chosen as April's reading circle book.

 

1: Who is your favourite character, and why?

 

My favourite character was Donna, as she seemed to try and help Arctor/Fred and to be genuinely fond of him, although I was surprised towards the end of the book by the extent of her involvement with the federal plan.

 

2: Was there a particular part you enjoyed more?

 

I enjoyed the part at the beginning of chapter two relating to the invention of the scramble suit. I very rarely picture anything I read, but the description of that really came to life for me.

 

3: Was this the first book by the author, and in the genre, that you've read, and does it encourage you to read more?

 

I had previously read Eye in the Sky and enjoyed that. My son has a huge collection of P K Dick novels, but he doesn't like me to read them as he rarely breaks the spine of a book but I make a proper mess of them! He did relent and let me borrow A Scanner Darkly, and I'm hoping to prise more of them away from him. I have enjoyed SF as a genre since my mid teens.

 

4: Did you struggle with any of it?

 

I found some of the language a bit dated (60s/70s hippy), but it wasn't a problem.

 

5: Was it overall enjoyable

 

Yes, I found it an enjoyable read, and would read it again.

 

I will need to think a bit more about questions 6 to 9! :lol:

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Actually, I should have thought a bit more carefully about question 4 - the bits I struggled with most were the bits in German; I could get the gist of some of them but not others, and didn't look them up.

 

6: How do you think the title reflects on the book? What is its meaning

 

The book refers to a quote in The Bible, "through a glass darkly", which I think refers to humans not perceiving the world entirely accurately; I think it may refer to the confused thinking of Fred/Arctor watching what was recorded through the scanners fitted in the house.

 

7: What did you make of the unreliability of Arctor/Fred as a "narrator" (in the sense of, how did you view his experience as being worthwhile)

 

I felt his unreliability added to the way the reader saw his mind unravelling as the book went on.

 

8: Do you feel that the ending was at all redemptive, or did you see it as unremittingly bleak? And, either way, why is that?

 

I felt that the ending gave some hope for Arctor's recovery, as he did recognise the small blue flowers, which made me think that he could recover slightly.

 

9: How does the book relate to your experience with drugs/druggies?

 

I certainly know people whose lives and health have been totally ruined by drug addiction, but I also know people who have totally turned their lives around and are now successful after living lives very similar to those depicted in the book when they were younger.

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I had every intention of joining in this month, but I have to finish a few books for reviews first, so I'll hopefully come to it later on. *crosses fingers*

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Good start Ooshie I enjoyed and agreed with your answers. I am going to have to try to think of something different to say about the book now! :lol:

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That's a relief, vodkafan :lol: - I was a bit nervous about posting first and was stressing that nobody would agree with my conclusions and I would look really daft! But I had been really late reading last month's book and joining the discussion, so I was determined to take part from the very beginning this time.

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Nuts, I completely forgot about this.

I'm still only a third of the way through my current book, I'll see what I can do though.

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OK my turn....

 

1: Who is your favourite character, and why?

 

Donna Hawthorne. She is a complex character who is doing an awful job and has sacrificed Arctor. That was part of the plan all along to get him inside. She feels herself tainted but hopes in the end the price will be worth it.

 

2: Was there a particular part you enjoyed more?

 

When Fred/Arctor had to start surveillance on himself. That really started to pull the story inside out. Pretty genius I think.

 

3: Was this the first book by the author, and in the genre, that you've read, and does it encourage you to read more?

 

Always loved scifi but sci fi is not classifiable as just one thing. Read a couple of others by Dick but enjoyed this the most.

 

4: Did you struggle with any of it?

 

Like Ooshie I didn't bother trying to translate the little bits of German. But it didn't affect the flow for me.

 

5: Was it overall enjoyable

 

Yes.

 

I will come back to the other questions.

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6: How do you think the title reflects on the book? What is its meaning

 

It is mentioned a couple of times, as Ooshie said it refers to a bible quote (which I was not familiar with.) I think he is getting at the fact that people take drugs to see truth but none of us druggie or straight actually see the world clearly.

 

7: What did you make of the unreliability of Arctor/Fred as a "narrator" (in the sense of, how did you view his experience as being worthwhile

 

It added to the story. At the beginning he seemed to be functioning fairly well.

All the background information about the Corpus Callosum and the split brain experiments was true, I have read up on that before. Weaving that into a story was brilliant in my opinion.

 

8: Do you feel that the ending was at all redemptive, or did you see it as unremittingly bleak? And, either way, why is that?

 

I feel that for Fred/Arctor there was no way back, but the redemption came from the fact that you knew that the liitle blue flower would find its way back through the agent to Donna and the department as evidence. So that was good, he had succeeded.

 

9: How does the book relate to your experience with drugs/druggies?

 

I don't have any experience with drugs or druggies so can't answer this one.

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One other thing I thought was strange. Near the end is the part where Charles Freck tries to commit suicide with pills but instead has a bad trip and is read his sins for eternity.

Yet, when Fred is playing back the surveillance tape it is Ernie Luckman (one of Arctors housemates) who is swigging the red pills. I wondered then if Charles Freck actually exists or is he a mental split off of Luckman ?(because of Substance D)

I wondered if the author put that in to catch us out. I intended to read back and check if Luckman and Freck are ever seen together by other characters, but haven't done so yet.

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I hadn't picked that up about Luckman/Freck (one of the hazards of not remembering much about what I read, if inconsistencies take place far apart from each other then I don't notice them; I probably miss lots of subtleties in books because of that). That's a really interesting theory - I probably won't read back to check, so let us know if you do! :lurker:

 

With regard to Donna, I was surprised when she met Westaway and I realised that she was actually part of the plan to get Fred/Arctor inside. It put a whole different spin on all her interactions with him.

 

I couldn't decide whether Fred/Arctor had consented either actually or tacitly to be destroyed to quite the level he was, and felt that if he hadn't then even if good ultimately came of his ending up the farm facility I couldn't see anything redemptive in it.

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I couldn't decide whether Fred/Arctor had consented either actually or tacitly to be destroyed to quite the level he was, and felt that if he hadn't then even if good ultimately came of his ending up the farm facility I couldn't see anything redemptive in it.

 

 

Ah- so for you the end did not justify the means! Fair enough. That's good when a book leaves you with a question (especially a moral question) to answer at the end.

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I'm definitely still thinking about it! If I was just asked the straight question, is it justified to sacrifice one person to save many more, I would probably say yes. But put into the context of a person I know something about (even in a fictional sense) then it gets more difficult for me and I end up saying no!

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Ooh. I hadn't spotted the Freck/Luckman split brain thing. Interesting idea.

 

Anyway, in answer to a couple of my own questions, just getting started:

 

I think the title is very relevent - the biblical phrase saying that we see ourselves through a glass darkly: that what we see through the mirror is ourselves reflected, but both obscured and we see a dark, starker, truth of ourselves.

 

There's the specific section where Arctor/Fred is looking through the Scanner, and he sees himself as he really is, rather than how he thinks of himself; he sees all his failings. But generally, I think Dick is saying that the use of drugs often brings out the darker, harsher truth about yourself.

 

-

 

And, in respect to the druggie-ness of the book overall: my feeling is that Dick is writing what he knows, what he really knows. As he starts the book, he shows the warm, friendly glow - in places - of how taking drugs makes people feel better, feel like they're the good guys rebelling against the system, and the babbling, weird, but kind of entertaining conversations people end up having.

 

But, over time, as they take more and more drugs and break down more and more, they get more and more paranoid - and he does a brilliant job setting up the idea of a drug and informant system that would make you astonishingly paranoid - and where the warm and friendly space gets more and more vicious. And it feels like lots of people I've known who started with cannabis and moved on to stronger stuff; or who've taken just too much of anything. Never as far or as extreme as portrayed in the book, but it's very familiar and it's clear Dick is writing what he knows.

 

You can tell he still has good, enjoyable, memories of his drug-taking days, but has seen what it's done to him and his friends.

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As for the ending - I'm really, really torn on it. It feels that Fred is lost, completely lost, that his brain is mush; yet the fact that he knows that he should keep the blue flower and return it to the labs implies, perhaps, that his brain is nothing like as fried as the previous sections had suggested. It's left very vague, though.

 

But even if he is fried and lost, and has been completely manipulated by the authorities and, effectively, sacrificed, we are told that the sacrifice is not in vain.

 

It's fascinating to work back and realise that all through the process they've been trying to actually get him in to a place where his brain is so split that he has to go into the rehab program.

 

-

 

Generally speaking, it's actually quite a dark book, even if the end has a redemptive side, the book says very little positive about people. And it's not always easy to read. But the ideas driving the plot are fascinating and the characters often seem remarkably plausible and believable.

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I saw the film in blockbusters and have now watched that too. Quite faithful to the book I thought. Can see why it was done in animation style, the scramblesuit would blow a film sfx budget.

 

Hey are we the only 3 who read this book?

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I've been wondering that myself! Just had a look, and 8 people voted for it, so maybe more will join in later in the month?

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I didn't vote for it but I'd love to read it. I'm hoping to find a secondhand copy in a couple of weeks, but if I can't I'll splash out and buy it new. So I will be reading it, just a bit after everyone else. :)

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I didn't vote for it but I'd love to read it. I'm hoping to find a secondhand copy in a couple of weeks, but if I can't I'll splash out and buy it new. So I will be reading it, just a bit after everyone else. :)

 

Kylie that's great I would send you mine but I see you are in Oz and the postage would be horrendous. Try Amazon? I think my copy was about a penny plus postage.

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Thanks Vodkafan. I've seen a good, reasonably cheap copy at the Book Depository, and it's the edition I want (SF Masterworks) but I'm such a cheapskate that I'll hold out for a couple more weeks and see if I can find it at the book fair. :lol:

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