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A Scanner Darkly [Paperback]

Philip K. Dick
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 Jan 1996
When undercover narcotics agent Bob Arctor is given a new assignment, his existential confusion is only slightly increased by the name of his target drug-user.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager (8 Jan 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006482465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006482468
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,823,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

A brilliant sci-fi novel from one of the last century's most influential pop culture figures. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Insightfull Genius! 13 Sep 2002
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
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Take a "Trip" 15 Sep 2002
By A Customer
This is the only Phillip K Dick novel I have read and thoroughly enjoyed.
The ideas conveyed are not particularly that of a science fiction writer but as a human being who lived a life very affected by substance abuse.
Touching, imagenative with a cruel punch at the end, in my opinion the author's best book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the Most Moving of Dick's Works 10 Mar 2011
"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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Drug use and abuse PKD style. 1 April 2002
PKD knew a thing or two about the costs of habitual drug taking, but do not expect this novel to take the form of a banal morality tale...there is far more merit to most of PKD's work.
The protagonist - Arctor/Fred is an undercover narcotics agent investigating the source of the enigmatic 'substance D'. PKD steers clear of what could be a predictable story line by having Fred (the agent) ordered to survey Arctor (the doper), this clever pretext allowing PKD to explorer the effects of the reality altering 'substance D', and paint his familiar plastic realities.
Arctor/Fred is typical of many of PKD's central characters in that he is a slightly flawed, and reluctant, everyman type. Possibly the Arctor/Fred character is slightly more one-dimensional than characters that PKD has used in other novels(Jack Bohlen (Martian Time-Slip) certainly seems more vulnerable, and Joe Chip (Ubik) is far more dynamic). One suspects that with Arctor/Fred, PKD is on such familiar ground.
PKD's writing style is typically efficient and unselfconscious, making this book like his work in general, misleadingly easy to understand.
Unusually for a 'Sci-fi' novel there is very little 'Sci-fi'. In fact were it not for the highly original 'scramble suits' which Fred wears to ensure his cover is never blown, and one or two communication devices, the novel could probably have been set in 1970's California. It is a shame that in doing this PKD might have gained more popular recognition as a 'serious' author, or failing that, have achieved similar sales to another tale of drug abuse - Irvine Welch's 'Trainspotting'.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Im sure its a good book if you like this genre as it was ...
Im sure its a good book if you like this genre as it was recommended to me by a friend, but personally I couldn't get into it.
Published 1 month ago by Caroline
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read.
Great read. Intelligent Sci-Fi.
Published 2 months ago by Mojo
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite PKD work
I'm not a lover of traditional Sci-Fi. It gets too hung up on the detail, padding out it's expansive world with minute detail but fundamentally falling down in the character... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Ben
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the purchase
This is a gem in Dick's oeuvre. To be read deeply when in a dark mood. Highly brainy and outlandish contents, mostly owing to Dick's visionary mind.
Published 5 months ago by Jess
5.0 out of 5 stars PKDick
What can I say? I love Dick and this novel is as good as I had heard it would be. His main character is just as lost as all his other protagonists, but every time in a different... Read more
Published 6 months ago by B. Juez
5.0 out of 5 stars Exactly what I want
This is exactly what I wanted and the delivery was fast as well. I also liked that it could be posted through the door and didn't need someone to sign for it.
Published 8 months ago by Suzanne Hutchinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a fan of sci fi, but one of the best of its genre... worth a read
Poignant, sad and accurate sci fi at it's depressing best. And this is from a non sci fi fan. I would give it to kids to read before they think about trying ecstasy, ketamine or... Read more
Published 9 months ago by London_nurse
4.0 out of 5 stars Expanding Stuff
I have fond memories of reading this book whilst laying on the grass down Greenwich park in the summer of 2011. Read more
Published 11 months ago by SJM
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best novels about drug addiction
This is totally paranoid. It wasn't really a science fiction book but more a realistic and sad look at drug addiction. It reminded me more of a beat book than anything else. Read more
Published 12 months ago by melanie strong
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic freakout sci fi
In a rather sad afterword to A Scanner Darkly, Philip K Dick wrote "I am not in the novel, I AM the novel. Read more
Published 24 months ago by James Adamson
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