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A Scanner Darkly (S.F. MASTERWORKS) Paperback – 14 Oct 1999


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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz; New Ed edition (14 Oct. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857988477
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857988475
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 39,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Mind- and reality-bending drugs feature again and again in Philip K. Dick's hugely influential SF stories. A Scanner Darkly is the novel that cuts closest to the bone, drawing on Dick's own experience with illicit chemicals and on his many friends who died through drug misuse. 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. In a just world this harrowing novel, the 20th selection in the Millennium SF Masterworks, would have matched the sales of Trainspotting. --David Langford

Book Description

A brilliant sci-fi novel from one of the last century's most influential pop culture figures.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Matt Etheridge on 13 Sept. 2002
Format: Paperback
Dick is renown for his dark, paranoid even delusional visions of the future. But 'A Scanner Darkly' is probably the most accomplished example of this. The story traces the ever declining life of undercover Narc. Bob Arctor, a man so beyond redemption he has given up his family to become a full-time professional police informant. As the story unfolds the lines between Arctor's lives become more and more blurred, a burned out addict on the one hand an undercover agent on the other. All seems well until the mysterious 'substance D' the 'D' being for 'Death' hits the streets and Arctor is assigned to find out what it is and where it comes from.
The assured and confident prose is a sign of this being a work by an author in his prime and very much on home soil, Dick's own life was in a constant state of flux due to his own drug abuse and this gives this novel the touch of realism lacking in so many other drug culture novels.
'A Scanner Darkly' is simply a wonderful look inside addiction, insanity and paranoia. A must for any Phil Dick fan, a great start for any potential converts.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 20 Mar. 2002
Format: Paperback
A Scanner Darkly was recommended to me by a real sci fi nut of a friend and so when he proclaimed it "The best book I've read in years" I wasn't expecting much as his copy rested neatly beside various Star Wars novels and a Starship Enterprise bookend. What I didn't expect was one of the darkest, most interesting thrillers I've read in years! This book has a unique visual style and whilst Dick quickly forgets his ramblings of how commercialism has encapsulated the near future you are still aware of the edgy neon wasteland right through to the end. The Science Fiction in this novel is subtly intertwined in the life of the agent sent to investigate himself as he lives one life behind an identity destroying "scramble" suit as a Narcotics agent "Fred" and the other as an openly addicted Substance D doper "Bob Arctor". The fiction comes from this suit the 3d holoscanning equipment set up in the investigation and the Drug he's hooked on; Substance D or "Death" which has the clearly defind side affect of seperating the brains hemispheres leading to total loss of spatial awareness and personality segregation which isn't exactly helped by Freds double life. This book deals with the moral issues of drug taking from both sides of the fence and shows, through the entertaining dialogue between doper Bob and his circle of equally spaced friends that drug taking is fun but that you lose a part of yourself with every hit.Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By M Jenkins on 10 Mar. 2011
Format: Paperback
"Substance D -- otherwise known as Death -- is the most dangerous drug ever to find its way on to the black market. It destroys the links between the brain's two hemispheres, leading first to disorentation and then to complete and irreversible brain damage. Bob Arctor, undercover narcotics agent, is trying to find a lead to the source of supply, but to pass as an addict he must become a user..."
-- from the back cover

Written in 1973 and published in 1977, A Scanner Darkly is Philip K Dick's thirty-third published novel. The novel is semi-autobiographical in nature based on what Dick himself saw in the drug culture of California during the 1970s. It is also I think perhaps the most moving of Dick's works. I, at least, am fighting back the tears at the end.

As with all PKD's works this novel makes you marvel at his imagination but also (if you are of a philosophical turn of mind) brings you to question and consider the themes he raises for yourself. PKD also creates characters that I at least find believable. As Ursula Le Guin has said "There are no heroes in Dick's books, but there are heroics. One is reminded of Dickens: what counts is the honesty, constancy, kindness and patience of ordinary people." PKD's characters always strike me as in some way authentic.

A scanner Darkly was a British Science Fiction Award winner in 1978 and a John W. Campbell Award nominee, again in 1978.

"[Dick] sees all the sparkling and terrifying possibilities. . . that other authors shy away from."
--Paul Williams, Rolling Stone

"Philip Dick does not lead his critics an easy life, since he does not so much play the part of a guide through his phantasmagoric worlds as give the impression of one lost in their labyrinth."
-- Stanislaw Lem, "Philip K.
Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Laura on 13 Jan. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A Scanner Darkly follows the legally ambiguous assignment of Bob Arctor. In a world where the government has lost the fight against narcotics, the law must turn to more and more radical ways to regain the control it has lost. Bob Arctor is a nark; a cop who masquerades as a user in order to infiltrate the paranoid hierarchy of the drug world and reach the dealers and distributors.

Philip K. Dick sets the book up to be part of the crime writing genre, undercover cop uncovers a dark conspiracy and moves towards a solution, but this gets lost within the first few chapters. The longer Arctor spends undercover, the more he loses his identity. His true identity seems even less real than his created one.

When Arctor is hauled in for questioning about his health and habits the pace of the book changes entirely. Soon Arctor is suveilling himself as well as the other suspects and loses sight of his assignment and his true self entirely. A whirlwind tour of the mixed up world of drugs and the people it attracts. When everyone else goes mad around you how long is it before you are forced to fall in line with them?

Or if you are the only sane person left, how do you know that you are not the only mad person in the room and everyone else is fine?

Dick weaves an incredibly dark narrative, drawing the reader into a world of addiction, paranoia and sin. The characters come alive from the instant they appear on the page and the world they are painted in is frighteningly not too far removed from our own.
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