Let me begin by pointing out that this writer, Dr. Eric C. Link, is a friend, but that is not why my review will be positive. As James Boswell pointed out when he began to review Samuel Johnson's work: "If friends did not review each others' books, there would be precious few reviews." That being said, my review will be positive because Link's book is so good and important to the study of the work of Philip K. Dick, specifically, and to the study of Science Fiction as great literature, in general.
Helpfully divided into five fore-grounding sections that progress pyramidally in their reasoning, "Understanding Philip K. Dick," "Philip K. Dick: Novelist of Ideas," "The Craft and Career of Philip K. Dick," "The Themes of Philip K. Dick," and "Reading Philip K. Dick: Notes on Six Novels," Understanding Philip K. Dick (Columbia: USCP, 2010) moves from a detailed examination of essential tropes and themes to a detailed and selective novel by novel approach, showing the recurring themes in such great works as The Man in the High Castle (1962), Martian Time Slip (1962), Now Wait for Last Year (1966), The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1964), Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (1970), and VALIS (1978). Link's discussion and biographical examination of the VALIS text and that period in Dick's life, alone, is worth reading the entire book. Indeed, I read Link's book backwards as I often do critical books, looking for proofs of the earlier stated assessments in the conclusions. Link backs up every assertion in the most scholarly of manners and fills a long existent gap in Dick scholarship with an extensive Selected Bibliography with nine major and minor categories listed.
One quoted section from Link's book, I think, really sums up Link's Biographical/Extratextual/Subtextual critical approach to Dick's works: "In his work Dick responded to the climate of his times. In the 1950's, when Dick turned his talent to serious writing, one can find clear reflections of the post-World War II era of cold war politics, atomic scares, bomb shelters, and McCarthyism. In the 1960s, Dick's work is heavily influenced by the Berkeley counterculture scene. Many of Dick's best works from the 1960s directly engage the issue of drugs and drug culture, sometimes as metaphor and symbol, other times as tangible and tragic. One also finds Dick working out implications of the civil rights movement, the rise of the Black Panther Party, the shadowy activities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the host of other social issues that the youth counterculture and the Beats gravitated to in their protests and writings ." (9). I would have nominated Link's book for this year's Hugo award in science fiction criticism, but as their website makes clear, a critic's books can only be secretly suggested and selected by those who notice it and who work for the World Science Fiction Society Board. So, respectfully, to the WSFS Board, here is the best book of Dick criticism published in 2010. Please consider it for one of your 2011 awards.
As I was the original African-American Dick fan, I was especially pleased to see how Link examined Dick's views on ethnicity and the future (sometimes aggrandized by Dick into "species-ism"), especially in Chapter 4's "Themes of Philip K. Dick." I would recommend this book to beginning readers of Dick who want more critical windows through which to appreciate Dick's works, but also to Dick-o-philes who want new, deeper examinations of Dick's themes upon which they have already thoughtfully reflected. In Understanding Philip K. Dick, Dr. Eric C. Link has done all Dick fans a favor, and I think his brilliant but easily accessible critique of Dick's works will also begin to build a new fan base among readers who otherwise may have known Dick only via Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1966).