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Philip K. Dick
288 Pages
Publisher: Vintage Books (December 1991)
ISBN: 0679736654
Price: S$23.95 (Available in Borders)






It is terrifying what stories the mind can come up with. It is even more frightening when you are writing about people you know in real-life.

And we are not even talking about those warm and fuzzy life-inspiring autobiographies here.

For a book that was written in 1977, and was probably the confusing madness that author Philip K. Dick’s personal friend went through before dying from drug misuse. This mishmash of losing the mind is vividly described in the book’s seemingly easy-to-understand prose.

The story narrates the life of Fred, who leads a perplexing double life. The addictive Substance D has made this poor man switch his life between that of a righteous narcotics agent and a seedy drug dealer named Bob Arcter. Such is the irony of life, we laughed upon reading the synopsis.

However, this book is definitely not a simple read as you’d have imagined. Though written in simple language, it is emotionally draining, as you’d have to know which character is speaking at which point. And the darkness and downward spiral of the human mind does not help to make your reading experience any easier.

There are also a few other side plots and minor characters which only help to mess up your already baffled mind. At the end of the day, you wonder whether any of these roles play any significance to the story at all. Also, a disastrous side effect may cause you to wonder whether the people around you really exist. Now, that is one scary thought.

Somehow, the day when this reviewer was reading this book seemed darker than usual.

While we may never have the chance to see Richard Linklater’s animated thriller movie version of this novel in theatres here, we are continuing to toy with the thought of what seeing an animated Keanu Reeves (playing the story’s schizoid) will do to our own minds.


“But in this dark world where he now dwelt, ugly things and surprising things and once in a long while a tiny wondrous things spilled out at him constantly; he could count on nothing. Like the deliberate, evil damage to his Altec cephalochromoscope, around which he had built the pleasure part of his schedule, the segment of the day in which they all relaxed and got mellow. For someone to damage that made no sense, viewed rationally. But not much among these long dark evening shadows here was truly rational, at least in the strict sense. The enigmatic act could have been done by anyone for almost any reason.”


A disturbing read that you should attempt only if you are willing to charge to the depths of a warped story. However, the Author’s Note at the back of the book does close the novel nicely with an emotional write-up of events that influenced Dick to come up with this story.


Review by John Li



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