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on 9 August 2006
Writing a biography is one thing, getting inside Philip K Dick's mind quite another. In this novelisation of the science fiction writer's life the biographical facts are incidental, and reconstructing the amphetamine fuelled thoughts that drove him to write, divorce (four times?), attempt suicide (twice), and invent and inhabit his own fantastic and fear-filled worlds is M. Carrere's objective.

He succeeds brilliantly. It's astounding that in his paranoid delusional state Dick achieved so much, although paradoxically that's what drove him. It's a testament to M. Carrere's skill that his portrait is so lucid. His book could so easily have fallen apart, as Dick did.

If you've seen some of the films (Blade Runner, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly) or read some of the books (The Man in a High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Ubiq) reading this book will enhance your appreciation of them. You'll suddenly realise what Dick was getting at, where before you'd enjoyed the ride.

It left me wanting a 'proper' biography (which exists, it's by Lawrence Sutin). That's not a criticism, Dick's universe had little room for reality. He discards the bit players in his life when they cease to be relevant. Now I'd like to know about Dick, as they saw him. The 'real' Dick, perhaps.
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on 2 September 2007
If you want to read a biography of Philip K. Dick please don't buy this book. The real autobiography is Lawrence Sutin's Divine Invasions. Carrére's book is mostly fiction. It's an avantpop novel where the author mixed facts about Phil's life with invention. It's very well written, and sometime reveals things about Dick's fiction that were ignored by critics and experts; it's very intelligent and a wonderful read; but it is NOT a biography. Some episodes, however moving or funny they may be, are completely invented (for example The Game of the Rat: there is no proof that Dick ever played it, while it's found in a brilliant essay by Thomas M. Disch on Dick, and it's probably Disch--not Dick--who had played that game). Having said that, one must praise Carrère for writing such a wonderful piece of postmodernist fiction, which shows great literary talent and an immense love for Phil Dick and his worlds.
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on 13 July 2005
This is a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in sci-fi guru Philip K Dick. Not only does it provide a moving account of Dick's 53 years on earth, but explores in detail how the author's personal circumstances influenced his writings - and not just the ones you'd expect (i.e. VALIS).
The story is frequently disturbing - especially as it chronicles the most bizarre epoch of Dick's life, spent in a house with drug-dependent young people, who inspired the characters for his 70s masterwork A SCANNER DARKLY.
Negatives: The book does spend perhaps too much time on simply retelling the plots of various PKD novels (though some of this is certainly needed); photographs would have aided the account; a bibliography would have been good also.
Good Points: The biographer conveys events in a literary yet lucid written style and cleverly mixes demanding passages with lighter anecdotes.
I have never read anything as compelling as this about Philp K Dick.
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on 4 October 2009
Quarter of a century after his death, Philip K. Dick's reputation and status is beginning to transcend mere founding fatherhood of modern science fiction and drift towards a more general greatness within the broader pastures of modern American literature.

Dick was exasperated about the perceived limitations of his genre while he was alive but before his untimely death in 1982 he had received industry acclaim for The Man in the High Castle in the sixties, but otherwise had garnered only cult following. Broader recognition beckoned - Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, based on Dick's altogether more complex Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was in post-production. Fame and fortune beckoned, but by this stage, as Emmanuel Carrere makes plain, even if he had not suffered massive stroke, Philip K Dick was in no state, mental or physical, to enjoy or capitalise on it.

That Dick was a troubled soul is relatively well known, but Carrere's biography explores and extrapolates Dick's unstable mental state into his literature and life choices, which became increasingly bizarre as the Seventies wore on. Carrere sources Dick's discord in the death in infancy of his twin sister Jane, and was compounded by Dick's hypochondria - and has produced an effervescent and fascinating portrait. Carrere, perhaps by taking some licence, gives us a close and personal view into his subject's unusually complex psyche which is rare in a contemporary biography (the only other comparable example I can recall is the Gilmans' excellent Alias David Bowie). Because of Carrere's aproach, Philip K. Dick is made very real on the page.

Some will complain that Carerre's approach crosses a sacred line into fictionalising, but philosophically I don't have a problem with that (I'm not sure there even is such a line in fact): particularly since Philip K Dick is long dead, outside the content of his oeuvre we don't have any "facts" against which Carrere's story can be measured - which will give pause in some quarters - but it doesn't feel to me that Carrere has breached the poetic licence he undoubtedly as as a biographer. That the complaints, such as they are, have mostly been "in principle" and not on substance seems to confirm that. These are fair fictionalisations, that is, and they paint a vibrant and fascinating picture of the man and an excellent introduction to his major works which are analysed and contextualised in a good amount of detail.

The implication, never actually made, is that Dick's hypochondria transcended simple pharmaceutical dependence and evolved into paranoia and ultimately genuine psychiatric illness. One might wonder what effect the cinematic success of Blade Runner and the many subsequent Dick dramatisations might have had on his mental state and subsequent writing career, but not for long: on Carrere's account he was a burnt-out husk by the end so, most likely, none.

Carrere is a novelist himself, and he writes well - as, it should be said, does his translator. This didn't feel at all like a translated book.

Well recommended.

Olly Buxton
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on 30 December 2005
The book reads well, and is terribly gripping. I have just one problem with it. How true is any of what it says? The reason for this concern is that there is no critical apparatus, and no information providing sources for various assertions.
For example, some material that is presented as biographical is clearly derived from Dick's fiction. There is a long section which consists of incidents from 'A Scanner Darkly', but told as if they happened to Dick (and not told as if they are actually part of the novel). Now, maybe they really did happen to Dick, and he decided to incorporate them into his novel. Or maybe the author of this book decided for reasons of his own to claim that they happened to Dick. Without discussion of sources, there's no way of telling.
Similarly, there's a lot of material which would appear to me supposition, as it is presented first person from Dick's perspective, telling us what Dick thought and felt at that moment. Now, Dick was very chatty about himself, leaving reams of semi-autobiography behind, but unless the material is properly referenced, I simply cannot tell whether this is fact or supposition.
So, we're left with a putative 'biography' which is written in a novelistic style and contains none of the apparatus that is expected in a good biography, or even any discussion of what is verifiable and what is supposition. Therefore, I cannot help but wonder if the book is possibly simply a novelised version of Dick's life, in which case it is still very interesting, but it isn't a biography.
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on 27 February 2007
I am a great admirer of Dick's philisophical approach to science fiction and was excited (if not a little aprehensive) at the prospect of delving into the man's mind. This book did not dissapoint. Unlike most biographies which merely list events as they happen, Carrere displays a skill at storytelling which is something more, something richer. Without displaying Dick in an artificially rosy light he tells the internal journey of the man, a journey which seeks not the truth but the MEANING of truth, just like Dick himself struggled with his whole life. An absorbing read and beautifully crafted, even if you're not a fan of the subject's work.
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on 19 February 2007
This is a well written and fascinating tale, which is truly stranger than any of Philip K Dick's fiction.

For any fan of Philip K dick, or even for those who aren't familiar with his work, this will increase your fascination with him considerably.

This biography sheds light on Dick's life and the reoccurring themes of his books, as well as providing insight into the background of many of his novels.

For me, the most interesting section is the extraordinary parallels between Dick's life and the occurrences in his famous book `The man in the High Castle', which not only adds huge significance to the novel, but also raises some very interesting questions about the state of our reality and the philosophy of time.

I'm not the strongest reader, but I ploughed through this book in a couple of days, which is a testament to its eloquence and amazing subject.
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on 10 January 2010
Philip K Dick is not only the greatest Sci Fi writer of all time, he is also one of the ten most important novelists that have ever lived. This book is a fitting tribute; the best that has so far been written about Dick. Okay, so it is not a conventional biography in that it is written as though the author really does have inside access to the subjects inner life. We cannot therefore, as an earlier reviewer points out, know how true any of it is. But for me that doesn't matter. If Philip K's work is about anything it is about the ultimate impossibility of finding certainty, finding 'Truth', knowing 'Reality' as something separate from one's own subjective experience. It is highly appropriate therefore that his life is treated in a speculative fashion with the emphasis very much on the creative process - so much more important than the bare, verifiable facts of his biography. This book will challenge you and inspire you to read, in my case to re read, the original novels; and what higher praise could there be for a biography of a writer of fiction?

postscript; The five essential Dick Novels:

Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
A Scanner Darkly
Flow my tears, the policeman said
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

Postscript 2; ten most important novelists of all time:
Feyodor Dosteovsky
J.D Salinger
Franz Kafka
Goerge Orwell
Charles Dickens
Robert Anton Wilson
Luke Rhineheart
Philip K Dick
Herman Hesse
Aldous Huxley
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Schnelle Beförderung, prima Zustand!
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