Here’s A Story About Dick
Author Philip K. Dick has been dead for 20 years, but his work still influences Hollywood filmmakers. Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report is only the latest movie to be adapted from a Dick story or novel. The writer’s paranoid source material also has formed the basis for Blade Runner, Total Recall, Screamers and this year’s Impostor.
Dick specialized in dystopian futures, altered realities and the effect of technology on humanity. He was a visionary, writing 40 years ago about issues that have only recently become significant.
“He resonates more than any other science-fiction writer with modern audiences,” says Edward Kastenmeier of Vintage Books, which publishes many of Dick’s novels. “What does it mean to be human? What is reality? These issues have only become more relevant as time goes by. When people imagine what virtual reality can become, it’s more like a Dick dreamworld or a Dick nightmare.”
His works contain “great concepts,” says Scott Frank, the screenwriter for Minority Report. “They’re simply terrific ideas, whether it’s a man who can’t remember his past in Total Recall or a detective tracking down replicants who may be a replicant himself in Blade Runner.”
Dick’s life was as weird as his work. Emotionally unstable, he ran through a series of bad marriages and periods of drug addiction. At one point he even claimed to have contacted an extra-terrestrial religious force named Valis, which influenced his work. (He even wrote a novel called Valis, which stands for Vast Active Living Intelligence System.)
Yet, during his bursts of creativity, Dick could produce outstanding creations. His novel The Man in the High Castle, in which America loses World War II and is occupied by Axis forces, won the Hugo, science-fiction’s highest award. And Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novel adapted as Blade Runner, has become a classic about what it means to be human.
“He deals with levels of reality in the sense that now we’re obsessed with game playing and role playing,” Frank says. “We’re inhabiting all sorts of different realities now.”
Dick wrote more than 30 novels and hundreds of short stories, so there’s still plenty of material from which Hollywood can choose. Steven Soderbergh has purchased the rights to Dick’s drug-related novel A Scanner Darkly, and Paramount is currently developing Paycheck, a Dick story about a man who has part of his memory erased.
“His writing continues to be as relevant as the day he wrote it,” Kastenmeier says. “He was far ahead of his time, and for lots of people, only now can you come to grips with how real the worlds he was creating are. I don’t think The Matrix could have been created without Philip K. Dick.”
Here’s A Story About Dick