In the days just before the dawn of the World Wide Web, those wanting to prove the relevance of Philip K. Dick’s visionary books were likely to point to the prevalence of advertising everywhere and CNN’s coverage of the first Gulf War. More than twenty years later, in a world in which drones annihilate enemies of the American state, smartphones can decode spoken instructions, Netflix can accurately predict the next movie you want to watch, and so on, it would be folly to argue that Dick’s prescience has been any less than astounding.
In A Day in the Afterlife, a 1994 hour-long documentary made for the BBC series Arena on that great fucked-up writer, director Nicola Roberts employed a clever metaphor of a fictional product called “PKD,” complete with lightning-bolt corporate logo, to help illustrate the strongly artificial, alienating, and commercialized landscape of Dick’s works. The logo pops up at unpredictable intervals throughout the movie, and there are also cheeky “commercials” featuring Elvis Costello and Terry Gilliam as well as British novelist Fay Weldon.
Elvis Costello: “Featuring such classics as ‘Lies, Inc.,’ ‘The Man in the High Castle,’ ‘Ubik’.....”
I couldn’t find much evidence that Costello is a Dick-head (aside from his appearance in this very movie), but Gilliam’s enthusiasm for Dick’s books is well documented. (Unlike Costello, Gilliam consented to contribute a few more typical talking-heads bits.) In this 2008 interview with HitFix, Gilliam discussed his high regard for Dick’s work and his plans, never realized, to adapt Dick’s little-known 1956 novel The World Jones Made (Gilliam has the title slightly wrong):
Terry Gilliam: I mean, like, “Brazil”... I was even more determined it had to end that way because of “Blade Runner” having betrayed me at the ending. I felt betrayed because I loved that until the end of the film. Now all of a sudden, the android’s going to live forever? What the fuck are you talking about, man? You create a world that’s very solid, and then you… that’s why Philip K. Dick is always been one of my favorite writers. He doesn’t go where that road takes you.
HitFix: I am convinced that someone will eventually make “The Man in the High Castle.” There is such…
Gilliam: I’m actually meeting his daughter tomorrow.
HitFix: Are you? Are you? That is just a phenomenal book and so ripe in terms of the way it talks about how we process reality and the way we tell ourselves stories about history. I think now is a great time to remind people of some of the things Phillip had to say.
Gilliam: One of the things that is… there’s another one that people don’t know called “The World According to Jones.” Do you know that one?
Gilliam: That really fascinates me… where we’re in a world where basically everything is relative. It can’t be black and white because there’s a more religious fundamentalism that we’re talking about. So now everything is relative. And then the idea that a guy comes along that can see the future, and it is not relative… that intrigues me, and I don’t know exactly how to do it. His other books… Ubik is always fun. But again, so much of his stuff has been stolen already and used…
Obviously, the HitFix interviewer, one “Drew McWeeny,” was entirely correct that The Man in the High Castle would be adapted into a movie—earlier this year Amazon Prime dropped the pilot for a forthcoming miniseries based on the book. (As an aside, it’s wonderful that Dick’s greatness has been embraced by the Library of America, which in 2009 added Dick to its slate of great American authors like Whitman, Hawthorne, and Melville.)
The slapdash erudition of comedian Greg Proops makes an unexpectedly apt choice as the voiceover artist for the excerpts. A Day in the Afterlife is jammed with resonant insights on Dick’s work, and is surely worth an hour of your time.