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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Insightfull Genius!
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...
Published on 13 Sep 2002 by Matt Etheridge

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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 2 months ago by Caroline


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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
5.0 out of 5 stars A Dark Scan of the mind at the height of drugged confusion!, 20 Mar 2002
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. The resultant consequences of these situations are for the most part predictable but its the scenes in which cop "Fred" watches doper "Bob" that keep you enthralled as Fred at first evaluates the actions of him and his friends living their lives through addiction to the tragic mental downward spiral as he becomes more and more suspicious of Bob Arctor. There are enough twists at the end to keep things at the right level of intrigue and the final chapter in which Bob Arctor reaches the end of his career is both tragic and satisfying. This is a book easily read in a few days but it will certainly stick in your memory for much longer and make you think twice about sparking that last joint you promised yourself. Even if you're no Sci Fi fan, which I may now be after reading this, you're in for one hell of a "Trip"
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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. Dick: A Visionary Among the Charlatans"

If you are new to Philip K Dick's work I would also recommend the following novels (which generally seem to be regarded as among his best):

The Man In The High Castle (S.F. Masterworks)
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? (S.F. Masterworks)
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (S.F. Masterworks)
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (S.F. Masterworks)

That said, though some of PKD's works are better than others, to my mind they are all well worth reading. I would also recommend his short story collections:

Beyond Lies The Wub: Volume One Of The Collected Short Stories
Second Variety: Volume Two Of The Collected Short Stories
The Father-Thing: Volume Three Of The Collected Short Stories
Minority Report: Volume Four Of The Collected Short Stories
We Can Remember It For You Wholesale: Volume Five of The Collected Short Stories

A Scanner Darkly was also turned into a movie starring Keanu Reeves A Scanner Darkly [DVD] [2006].
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A geunine Masterwork, but Science-Fiction?, 15 April 2001
By A Customer
Most of the published work in any genre is touted as the best thing since sliced bread, and is rarely anything but pulp, at best. Examine the cover of many Fantasy novels & you'll see the inevitable unwarranted comparisons with Tolkien. Despite Mr Langford's general effusiveness, not every work in this series is worthy of it's place on the grounds of quality, but this one certainly is. Curiously, though, it is borderline on the grounds of Science!
The science in this novel is very low key, almost indistinguishable from the world that we know now, and that Dick knew when he wrote it. There are only, really, three instances of 'sci-fi' present - 3D bugging equipment (OK, so we still don't have it, but it's effect on the plot is exactly the same if it were 2D - irrelevant in that respect), the suit-of-many-faces (which makes a couple of brief, though, in terms of the plot, significant appearances), & Substance D. Substance D, central to the story, is a drug hardly different from heroin, except in one important respect - it's side effects are very clearly defined & known, and these are what allow Dick to move the story in the way that he wishes (a subtle piece of deus ex machina that should serve as an object lesson to other, clumsier, writers). So is this enough to make this a Sci-Fi novel? Decide for yourself. For my part, I can't help feeling that it is classified as Sci-Fi because Philip K. Dick is a 'Sci-Fi' writer. Perhaps if he'd dropped the middle initial, a la Iain Banks? Oh well!
This is all by-the-by. What this book is, is a novel about drug psychosis. What this book is, is a masterpiece of authorship from the first word to the last. Partly autobiographical, by the authors own ending admission, it is a dark, but entertaining, tale that deserves a wider audience than it will ever receive whilst labelled as 'Sci-Fi'.
In the words of a minor literary figure, who's name escapes me for the moment, this is "A hit, a palpable hit!" ;)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than sci-fi, and a genuinely human novel, 3 May 2002
I've gained more pleasure and (I hope) insight from this book than from many of the 'classics' of literature. Ostensibly set in the future California of 1994 (!), in a world where addicts eat substance 'D' and straights live in guarded apartment blocks, Scanner Darkly unfolds into a story about the dreams and the darkness of the drugs culture. It maps the disaffection that drives people out of 'straight' society, and the nemesis awaiting those who lived out the 60's ideal for too long. As with all of PKD's novels, the nature of reality and perception, and the desire for transcendence (in this case, in the fleeting visions of grace offered to the characters) are also explored.
The protagonist, Bob Arctor / Fred, is an undercover agent addicted to the drugs he is meant to be eliminating. As Arctor goes about his daily life, Fred sits in a safe house, monitoring his alter ego on hidden cameras, his mind gradually disintegrating from the effects of the drug.
Despite the sci-fi trappings, much of the novel's world is early 70's California (McDonald's, Coke, malls, American streets and broken Buicks), which was always PKD's true location.
The detail of Bob's daily life and his friends, which (judging by the postscript) mirrored PKD's, provide much of the 'fun' of the novel. The warmth and humanity of his characters, the strength of the plot, and the more immediate relevance to many people put this a cut above the rest of the PKD oeuvre...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dark narrative of addiction, paranoia and sin, 13 Jan 2011
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rather haunting..., 3 Nov 2001
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I'm new to science fiction and I have to say that this novel doesn't seem particularly representative of the genre. However, it is rather tragically brilliant, probably partially due to its clearly personel nature. Dick has a very compelling writing style in the sense of being able to create a mood where the reader is constantly waiting for something major to happen, which he then almost sneaks past you. In the case of Arctor/Fred's substance induced mental meltdown, Dick creates an interesting (vaguely) likeable character and then makes us watch him fall apart. I think the funny stoned conversations are great, but they actually make the end of the book all the sadder. Dick doesn't flinch from not giving us a happy ending. Arctor is not the same again. He doesn't get the girl. He is effectively a prisoner in the place of his recuperation. However, the text is not moralising in any way.
I particularly liked the sections where Fred reviews the records of Arctor's behaviour from the holoscanners, and talks about himself as if Arctor is an entirely different person. The scramble suits are aptly named - the lack of external identity when wearing them seems to unhinge an already vulnerable mind. The near future in Dick's book is a pretty nasty, cynical sort of place. Pretty much like the present then really.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite PKD work, 23 Mar 2014
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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 department. This is the strongest element of A Scanner Darkly, with much of the dialogue being ripped from PKD's own life - detailing the daily farse of drug-culture. Despite some small retention of Science elements, this novel is more straight fiction - a study of human interiority, what makes people tick. The themes of identity and Government collusion in the downfall of Man are all as applicable today as they were upon this novel's construction. Technically this is one of PKD's strongest works utilizing techniques that make this novel immensely readable.
The 2006 amimotion picture (the closest term I can construct that does the unique art style of this wonderful justice) captures the atmosphere of the novel almost perfectly, but the extent of Robert Arctor's downfall is most apparent in this prose.
Goes down as one of my favorite novels, and I even wrote my coursework on it.
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