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From the Files of the RJ's Surrealist Research Bureau

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From the Files of the RJ's Surrealist Research Bureau

When Phil K. Dick saw God!

Many of the most treasured sci-fi writers of my youth led rather humdrum lives personally. While their eyes may indeed have been fixed on the stars, their feet were always planted firmly on the ground. I’m thinking of the giants of my teenage years: Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Van Vogt. Dreamers all, but rather plebeian personally. Only rarely would an obscure, cultish, Cordwainer Smith or Kilgore Trout lurk menacingly in the shadows.

The writer Philip K. Dick, on the other hand, saw God! He’d long been a prolific and successful sci-fi writer since the early 1950s. As he recalled later in his notes; “I was 12 (in 1940) and came across the pulp magazine “Stirring Science Stories” quite by accident. I was actually looking for “Popular Science.” I was enthralled by it and recognized the sense of magic and wonder I’d found, in my younger days, in the Oz books and Alice’s Adventures thru’ the Looking Glass--- this magic now coupled not with magic wands but with science. In any case my new viewpoint became “the science of the future will equal magic!”

By 1963 he’d won the Hugo award for his novel “Man in the High Castle.” Other notable early works included novels that were later made into wildly successful films such as Bladerunner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and many more. Before his death ex-Beatle John Lennon had discussed with Dick his financing of a film version of Lennon’s then-favorite Dick novel “three Stigmata.” But then, in February 1974, in his apartment in San Francisco, and in the middle of an otherwise normal day, Philip K. Dick met God.

In his notes at the time Dick recorded; “I met the Restorer of what was Lost and the Mender of Broken Things. It appeared—in vivid fire with shining colors in balanced mandala-like patterns. It enveloped me, lifting me from the limitations of the space-time matrix and I knew that the world around me was cardboard, a paper-thin fake. Through its power of perception I saw what really existed and it took on in battle, as a champion of all human spirits in thrall, every evil, every Iron, imprisoned, grey thing.”

Dick thereafter referred to this awesome presence that came to him as “VALIS” (Vast Artificial Living Intelligent System) and in his writings seemed to think of it as a galactic, if not universe-spanning, benevolent living computer-like being. His later novels took on a more profound if esoteric bent and those later novels (VALIS, The Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer) either show a writer in the midst of a nervous breakdown or someone touched by God; there’s a razor’s edge of middle ground.

Later still he would state, “The core of my writing is not art, but truth! Yet, I can do nothing to alleviate it, either by deed or explanation. Yet this seems to help a certain kind of sensitive, troubled person, for whom I speak. Those persons cannot or will not blunt their own intimations about the irrational, mysterious nature of reality and for them my corpus of work is one long dialogue regarding this inexplicable, bizarre thing we call existence.”

Phillip K. Dick died of a stroke in 1982. His collected works have just been released in a three-volume set by The Library of America (available at Sandpoint Library). Though his reputation as a theologian, sci-fi writer and philosopher has grown by leaps and bounds since then, let’s not forget he was still “just” a pulp sci-fi hack who once wrote, “This is why I love science fiction! The SF writer sees not just possibilities but wild possibilities! Its not just, “what if?” but “oh my God! WHAT IF!?” in frenzied hysteria!     

‘til next time—Yours for a Strong America! (and All Homage to Xena!)

Photo of Philip K. Dick reprinted courtesy of the Philip K. Dick Trust.

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Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

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