Right now Channel 4 in the U.K. is running Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams—U.S. viewers will be able to see it once it gets on Amazon Prime next year. To my eye the series appears to be an almost slavish attempt to recapitulate the magic of Charlie Brooker’s dazzling Black Mirror, but really, any excuse to adapt ten early-period Philip K. Dick short stories with movie stars and high production values is A-OK with me.
The series was developed by Michael Dinner (Chicago Hope) and Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica) and features, in the various episodes, such familiar faces as Steve Buscemi, Bryan Cranston, Anna Paquin, Vera Farmiga, Terence Howard, and Greg Kinnear.
“The Hood Maker” (originally published in 1955)
“The Impossible Planet” (1953)
“The Commuter” (1953)
“Crazy Diamond” (“Sales Pitch,” 1954)
“Real Life” (“The Exhibit Piece,” 1954)
“Human Is” (1955)
“Kill All Others” (Published as “The Hanging Stranger,” 1953)
“Safe And Sound” (Published as “Foster, You’re Dead!” in 1955)
“Father Thing” (Published as “The Father-Thing,” 1954)
In connection with the visionary themes of solipsism, madness, and unhinged reality, the series’ makers recruited Robyn Hitchcock and Graham Coxon of Blur, Kevin Armstrong, Johnny Daukes, and Jon Estes to collaborate on a cover of “Octopus,” by rock and roll’s most famous mental ward occupant, Syd Barrett. “Octopus” is the first song on the second side of Barrett’s first solo album, 1970’s The Madcap Laughs. One thing that sets “Octopus” apart is that this is the song in which the lyric “the madcap laughs” appears.
Strange as it may seem now, Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner received a decidedly mixed bag of notices upon its first release in June 1982. Some newspapers scribes considered Harison Ford wooden; the voice-over cliched; the storyline way too complex; the whole damn thing butt-numbingly slow and just a tad boring. One broadsheet even described the film as “science fiction pornography,” while the LA Times called it “Blade Crawler” because it moved along so slowly.
But some folks knew the film’s real worth—like Marvel Comics.
In September 1982, Marvel issued a “Super Special” comic book adaptation of Blade Runner. This was quickly followed by a two-part reissue of the comic during October and November of that year. This was when those three little words “Stan Lee presents” guaranteed a real good time and Marvel’s version of Blade Runner fulfilled that promise.
The comic was written by Archie Goodwin with artwork from Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon with Dan Green and Ralph Reese. While movies have time to develop story, plot, and character, and create their own atmosphere, comic books get six panels a page to achieve the same. Marvel’s Blade Runner managed the transposition from screen to page quite successfully. The artists picked up on some of the movie’s most iconic imagery while still managing to add their own take on the Philip K. Dick tale. Williamson offered his own (cheesy) definition of the term “Blade Runner” at the very end of the story:
Blade runner. You’re always movin’ on the edge.
You can read the whole comic here. Click on images below for larger size.
More from Rick Deckard , Roy Batty and co., after the jump…
David Pelham was art director for Penguin Books during the 1970s and was responsible for a great many arresting and distinctive covers for many of the sci-fi novels Penguin put out during that time, which is one of the great periods for sci-fi writing in general. Many of the images on this page come from a series that came out in 1972-73 that used (as Penguin often did and still does) visual cues to signal that books belong together. In this case the series had in common white text and a black background, bold use of primary colors and a strong horizon line that in some cases (Sirius, A Cure for Cancer) is cleverly adapted for a slightly different purpose.
Pelham did many Penguin covers for works by J.G. Ballard and was in close contact with the author in the process of creating them. Ballard actually named a character in “The Reptile Enclosure” after Pelham. After one meeting during which they had looked over Pelham’s mockups for a series of Ballard covers, Pelham scribbled some notes that were obviously based on Ballard’s comments, and they make for a resonant and Ballardian piece of poetry: “monumental / tombstones / airless thermonuclear landscape / horizons / a zone devoid of time.”
Pelham’s most famous cover was for Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, and fascinatingly enough, Pelham himself doesn’t think much of it:
When I was Art Director of Penguin Books I had to create this image in one night. We planned to bring out a film tie-in of Burgess’s wonderful book to coincide with the release of the movie, and we obviously urgently needed a strong cover image that related to the film. When Stanley Kubrick unaccountably refused to supply us with promotional press shots I immediately commissioned a well-known illustrator to help out. The result was not only unacceptable but it was also inexcusably late, so we were horribly out of time. Having already attended a press screening of Kubrick’s film I had a very clear image in my mind’s eye as to how the cover should look and so, collecting up a few supplies from the art department, I sped home to my Highgate flat to create the cover myself. I remember a motorcycle messenger arriving at 4.30am to deliver the ‘repro’—that is the typography—for the paste up. This of course was a long time before the age of computers, and everything was done with ink, glue and ‘repro’, which had to be painstakingly stuck in place on a base board. Another messenger arrived at 7am to whisk the artwork off to the printer. Consequently I had not had time to properly scrutinize the image, to make the small adjustments and refinements that I still believe it needed. So now, every time I see that image, all I see are the mistakes. But then, maybe it’s those unfinished rough edges that contribute to its appeal. Who knows?
In 1996 Eye Magazine wrote that Pelham’s covers “dignify the books with symbolic images that help to convey the conceptual sophistication of the writing inside.” For more of Pelham’s covers as well as many striking Penguin covers by other artists, check out the well-curated website Penguin Science Fiction.
I’ve heard some great stories about the David Cronenberg movies that almost were. Indeed, I once heard Cronenberg himself tell the tale of taking a phone call from the office of George Lucas, who wanted to feel the Toronto-born director out on the subject of directing Return of the Jedi. Cronenberg sniffed that he didn’t really direct material written by other people, and that was the end of that. (The conversation is all the more ironic if you consider that since that moment, Cronenberg has directed material originated by William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, and Don DeLillo, among others. Maybe he just didn’t think of Lucas as a writer on that level?)
Cronenberg also turned down a chance to direct Top Gun, finding it too jingoistic (plus, as a Canadian, Cronenberg doubly wasn’t into it).
What I didn’t know until recently is that Cronenberg was the first director to be considered to direct Total Recall, which was eventually directed (rather well) by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, previously responsible for Robocop.
Interestingly, Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon had tried to develop Philp K. Dick’s story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” as a script in the 1970s before concluding that the special effects would be too costly—their next project would become Alien, the commercial success of which kick-started the orignal PKD project again.
Cronenberg worked on pre-production for the PKD project for about a year, a process that generated the fascinating concept art seen below. His choice for the lead role was to have been William Hurt, a far cry from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, er, likely less thoughtful approach to the movie. After Cronenberg’s labors, the producers told him that they admired his treatment but were hoping for something a little bit closer to “Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars,” so Cronenberg returned to a project that would have a tone that interested him much more, that being a remake of the 1958 sci-fi classic The Fly.
Purportedly, Cronenberg’s take on the material would have been lot closer to Dick’s original story than the Verhoeven movie.
The artworks here were created by Ron Miller and his wife Judith Miller, who was responsible for the 3-D models, as well as production designer Pierluigi Basile.
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe,” said the Nexus-6 replicant Roy Batty at the end of the film Blade Runner.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears ... in ... rain.
It’s a great speech—one written by Rutger Hauer—which suggests this bad boy android or replicant has experienced a state of consciousness beyond its intended programming.
While we can imagine what Batty’s memories look like, we can never see or experience them as the replicant or android saw them. Which is kinda damned obvious—but raises a fascinating question: Would an android, a robot, a machine see things as we see them?
It is now believed that humans use up to 50% of their brain to process vision—which gives you an idea the sheer complexity involved in even attempting to create some machine that could successfully read or visualize its environment. Do machines see? What do they see? How can they construct images from the input they receive?
The human eye can recognize handwritten numbers or words without difficulty. We process information unconsciously. We are damned clever. Our brain is a mega-supercomputer—one that scientists still do not fully understand.
Now imagine trying to create a machine that can do what the human brain does in literally the blink of an eye. Our sight can read emotion. It can intuit meaning. It can scan and understand and know whether something it inputs is dangerous or funny. We can look at a cartoon and know it is funny. Machines can’t do that. Yet.
A neural network is a computer system modeled on the human brain and nervous system. One type of neural network is an autoencoder.
Autoencoders are “simple learning circuits which aim to transform inputs into outputs with the least possible amount of distortion.”
Here’s a robotic arm using deep spatial encoders to “visualize” a simple function.
Terence Broad is an artist and research student at Computing Department at Goldsmiths University in London. Over the past year, Broad has been working on a project reconstructing films with artificial neural networks. Broad has been
training them to reconstruct individual frames from films, and then getting them to reconstruct every frame in a given film and resequencing it.
The type of neural network used is an autoencoder. An autoencoder is a type of neural net with a very small bottleneck, it encodes a data sample into a much smaller representation (in this case a 200 digit number), then reconstructs the data sample to the best of its ability. The reconstructions are in no way perfect, but the project was more of a creative exploration of both the capacity and limitations of this approach.
The resultant frames are strange watercolor-like images that are identifiable especially when placed side-by-side with the original source material. That they can reproduce such fast flickering information at all is, well, damned impressive.
Among the films Broad has used are two Philip K. Dick adaptations Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly, which is apt considering Dick’s interest in androids and asking the question “What is reality?”
The marvelous cover for the first hardcover edition, 1969
For those who enjoy their realities getting fucked with, there’s no better writer for that than the great Philip K. Dick, and among his many unsettling works, his novel Ubik is held in unusually high esteem.
Ubik is about a mission to a moon base that includes Joe Chip, a technician who works for Glen Runciter’s “prudence organization,” and 10 cohorts. The mission ends in a fatal explosion, but who lived and survived that explosion is a puzzle the book never quite reveals.
It’s a bewildering mindfuck of a book, featuring routinized space travel, psychics and “anti-psychics,” a character who can alter reality by traveling to the past, and a mysterious (and mystical) product called Ubik (same root as “ubiquitous”) that comes in a spray can and serves as a slippery metaphor for God itself.
One brilliant aspect of the book is the devilishly ambiguous ending—as Dick’s wife Tessa wrote,
Many readers have puzzled over the ending of Ubik, when Glen Runciter finds a Joe Chip coin in his pocket. What does it mean? Is Runciter dead? Are Joe Chip and the others alive? Actually, this is meant to tell you that we can’t be sure of anything in the world that we call ‘reality.’ It is possible that they are all dead and in cold pac or that the half-life world can affect the full-life world. It is also possible that they are all alive and dreaming.
A few years ago a Deviant Art user going by the handle martinacecilia created three alluring posters advertising the benefits of Ubik, using a retro style and adapting “mostly vintage ads of Coca-cola.”
Californium is a game produced by Darjeeling and Nova Production, and published by ARTE, the Strasbourg-based French-German TV channel dedicated to the arts. It seems exceedingly likely that this game will prove to be the most sustained tribute to the works of Philip K. Dick in the video game idiom.
Both movies and video games have proven fertile settings for Dick’s apocalyptic visions, even if the path from book to final product has often been treacherous. From Blade Runner and Total Recall to The Adjustment Bureau, there seems to be no Dick work that can’t have its title changed on the way to becoming a major motion picture (okay, okay, Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly kept their original names, anyway). As for video games, John Saavedra argues that Eidos, makers of Deus Ex, might just be “Phillip K Dick’s greatest students.”
The tagline for the game is “Explore the worlds of Californium, a first person exploration game where you are a writer trapped into shifting realities. Will you find what’s behind the simulacra?” which puts us squarely in that familiar PKD “Got-here-30-years-before-The-Matrix” world in which every innocuous American surface is but cloak for a more terrifying reality.
For the position of as art director, the developers have chosen Olivier Bonhomme to help create the distinctive feel of a Philip K. Dick book.
Here’s the “synopsis” for the game:
Berkeley, 1967. You are Elvin Green, a writer whose career is not better than his sentimental life. Besides, the day starts badly : your wife Thea left you a break up letter. As for Eddy, your editor, he summons you : “you are a writer who does not write”—you should find yourself another editor. Your world is falling apart. Too much acid and cheap booze ? Too many sleepless nights stuck to your typewriter, powerless to tackle your first novel ? Your brain perceives a signal, the Theta—which seems connected to your collapsing emotional state—shows that there could be a way out: this world is unstable, you can extract yourself from it and thus access another reality! You have nothing to lose!
Californium is expected to be available for the PC in a few months.
Here’s a teaser video for the game followed by several mouth-watering screenshots:
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…
I have to admit that the first time I saw The Man Who Fell to Earth, back in the bad old days of pan-and-scan VHS, I was bewildered and bored. I don’t think I even made it to the part where Bowie takes off his human drag to reveal his true alien form. Now, it’s one of the very few movies I watch at least once a year, because it just gets weirder and more mysterious with every viewing. If you were at my place on these special occasions, you’d hear me asking questions like “Who is that guy who shows up twice without any explanation?” and “Hey, what happened to those genitals?”
Philip K. Dick loved the movie, too. He and his friend Kevin Jeter went to see it in the theater, just as in chapter nine of Dick’s novel VALIS, Dick’s alter ego, Horselover Fat, goes with his friend Kevin to see a movie called VALIS. The plot of the movie-within-the-book comes from Radio Free Albemuth, an abandoned early version of the novel VALIS, but the style of the movie comes from The Man Who Fell to Earth. Interviewer John Boonstra picked up on the connection in a 1981 interview:
The film VALIS inside the novel reminded me in its style of the film The Man Who Fell to Earth.
You got it. You got it. That’s where the idea came. It’s like Madame Bovary going to see Lucia—I remember that scene so well, how it crystallized all the nebulous things that were floating around in Madame Bovary’s mind. Now, that impressed me enormously.
I saw The Man Who Fell to Earth and thought it was one of the finest films—not just science-fiction films, but one of the finest films I had ever seen. I thought it was incredibly original, incredibly provocative, rich in ideas, beautiful in texture, glorious in its overall conception. It was enigmatic. In no way is the film VALIS the plot and theme of The Man Who Fell to Earth, but the idea occurred to me that a science-fiction film, if well done, could be as rich a source of knowledge and information as anything we normally derive our knowledge and information from. The film tremendously impressed me; I just loved it. My use of the film VALIS is my homage to The Man Who Fell to Earth. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life to see that.
According to biographer Lawrence Sutin, Dick so loved the movie that after he saw it he began scrutinizing Bowie’s catalog for clues from VALIS, which, before it was the book or the movie-within-the-book, was one of Dick’s names for the extraterrestrial or supernatural entity he communicated with. VALIS (an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System) was the aspect of the Great Whatsit that took the form of a satellite and sent information in beams of pink light. (If you don’t know about Dick’s epiphanic episodes, check out R. Crumb’s comic “The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick,” or, if you’re really interested, try Dick’s Exegesis.) Sutin writes:
Phil loved [The Man Who Fell to Earth], and for a short time he and [Kevin] Jeter listened closely to Bowie albums, hoping to discern a sly pop sign from God/Valis/Zebra. No luck. But a failed experiment can be a useful plot device, and in Valis [Horselover] Fat and Kevin go to see a movie called Valis, which portrays the struggle between the Albemuth characters Nicholas Brady (who is zapped by the pink light force) and evil President Ferris Fremont. Fat gets in touch with rock star Eric Lampton and his wife, Linda, who both star in the film. Fat is convinced that they know about Valis—the Vast Active Living Intelligence System—and can rescue him from spiritual isolation.
In a 1982 interview with Boonstra—Dick’s last—the author says that he wanted Blade Runner (based on his Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) to live up to The Man Who Fell to Earth:
The thing I had in mind all of the time, from the beginning of it, was The Man Who Fell to Earth. This was the paradigm. That’s why I was so disappointed when I read the first Blade Runner screenplay, because it was the absolute antithesis of what was done in The Man Who Fell to Earth. In other words, it was a destruction of the novel. But now, it’s magic time. You read the screenplay and then you go to the novel, and it’s like they’re two halves to one meta-artwork, one meta-artifact. It’s just exciting.
In 1981, Philip K. Dick discussed the ideas and themes behind his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in an interview with author Paul M. Sammon. Dick’s novel about a hired assassin (Rick Deckard) paid to eliminate escaped androids formed the basis for Ridley Scott’s classic science-fiction film Blade Runner. The story had its genesis in research for his novel The Man in the High Castle. Dick studied psychological studies on the mentality of the Germans who became Nazis and read how these Germans were often highly intelligent but emotionally “so defective that the word human could not properly be applied” to them.
This led Dick to a philosophical investigation into “the problem of differentiating the authentic human being from the reflex machine I call an android.”
For me the word ‘android’ is a metaphor for people who are physiologically human but psychologically behaving in a non-human way.
This was a subject Dick discussed in a lecture on “The Android and the Human” in 1972:
...an android means, as I said, to allow oneself to become a means, or to be pounded down, manipulated, made into a means without one’s consent—the results are the same. But you cannot turn a human into an android if that human is going to break laws every chance he gets. Androidization requires obedience. And, most of all, predictability. It is precisely when a given person’s response to any given situation can be predicted with scientific accuracy that the gates are open for the wholesale production of the android life form.
Philip K. Dick.
In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick developed the idea of “androidization” further when he considered what would happen in a war between humans and androids—would humans become more android-like if they won?
This emotional interplay between humans and androids was also examined in the relationship between Deckard and the android Rachael Rosen, which Dick discussed in “Notes on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (1968):
And this brings up the whole underlying subject: sexual relations between humans and androids. What is it like? What does it mean? Is it, for instance, like going to bed with a real woman? Or is it an awful, nightmarish, bad trip, where what is dead and inert seems alive and warm and capable of the most acute intimacy known to living creatures? Isn’t this, this sexual union between Rick Deckard and Rachael Rosen—isn’t it the summa of falsity and mechanical motions carried out minus any real feeling, as we understand the word? Feeling on each of their parts. Does in fact her mental—and physical—coldness numb the male, the human man, into an echo of it?
...[Deckard’s] relationship, by having intercourse with her, has melded him to—not an individual, human or android—but to a whole type or model, of which theoretically, there could be tens of thousands. To whom, then, has he really given his erotic libido?
...Here, I think, the crucial questions of What is reality? and What is illusion? come up strongly….The more Rick strives to force her to become a woman—or, more accurately, to play the role of a woman—the more he encounters the core of the unlife within her…his attempt to make love to her as a woman for him is defeated by the tireless core of her electronic being.
Dick postulates that the failure of their lovemaking “may be vital in his determination—and success—in destroying the last of these andys.”
In this interview, Dick discusses some of these key questions about what is reality? what is human?
Thomas M. Disch once said that his friend Philip K. Dick liked to play-up the image of the hard-done-to artist, struggling in the garret, living off ground-up horse meat (which supposedly led Dick to translate his name into “Horselover Fat”—Philip Greek for horse lover, Dick German for fat), but things were never really that bad. However, he agreed America gave short-shrift to speculative science-fiction writers, and was grateful for the adulation and serious critical appraisal both received in Europe.
In 1977, Philip K. Dick was interviewed for French television where he discussed the problems of being a speculative science-fiction writer in America, as well as many of the philosophical ideas behind his works.
I suspect a lot of “rare” poetry is rare because it’s not very good. Its significance rests not with its quality rather with the importance of its author. Philip K. Dick was a brilliant author of speculative science-fiction; but of poetry, not so hot.
A little background: I saw six poems listed in a PKD bibliography, and couldn’t find anything more about them online. It took me a little searching to track down the original publications, and I finally got three of them through an Inter-Library Loan!
These came from Child’s Hat, which was published in San Francisco in 1966, and I don’t think they appeared anywhere else.
THE ABOVE AND MELTING
Soft as tin,
Melting in the rain,
Melting and dripping down,
Soft as stones that are limp,
That can be bent into shapes
And stretched out,
Soft as bones,
Mashed into paste,
Mixed with pale milk,
Soft as crystal,
Dug from sweet soil,
It is soft as these:
The moon on a warm wet night.
WHY I AM HURT
Stung by a jewel!
Piercing the hand,
Clinging against the flesh.
Stung by a jewel!
The point deep into the hand,
Driven in allowed.
Stung by a jewel!
The child shouts out,
Shattering the jewel.
Amber bottle-caps rain down,
Fragments of grief
Lost in the ground.
AN OLD SNAKE
Philosophy is an old web
Long deserted, The dreams
The spider wove into it
Glimmer weakly during night
In the sun they are only this:
Fragments of dread leaves.
thegoslings will be posting more of Philip K Dick’s poetry when available.
Years ago a friend wrote me a story about how we all started talking but in doing so, stopped listening to each other. It was a short and simple story, adapted I believe from its Aboriginal origins, that also explained how our ears developed their peculiar, conch-like shape.
Like all the best tales, it began: Once upon a time, in a land not-so-very-far-away, we were all connected to each other by a long umbilical loop that went ear-to-ear-to-ear-to-ear. This connection meant we could hear what each of us was thinking, and we could share our secrets, hopes and fears together at once
Then one day and for a whole lot of different reasons, these connections were broken, and the long umbilical loops dropped away, withered back, and creased into the folds of our ears. That’s how our ears got their shape. They are the one reminder of how we were once all connected to each other.
It was the idea of connection - only connect, said playwright Dennis Potter, by way of E. M. Forster, when explaining the function of all good television. A difficult enough thing, but we try. It’s what the best art does - tells a story, says something.
It’s what Rod Serling did. He made TV shows that have lived and grown with generations of viewers. Few can not have been moved to a sense of thrilling by the tinkling opening notes of The Twilight Zone. The music still fills me with that excitement I felt as a child, hopeful for thrills, entertainment and something a little stronger to mull upon, long after the credits rolled.
Serling was exceptional, and his writing brought a whole new approach to telling tales on television that connected the audience one-to-the-other. This documentary on Serling, starts like an episode of The Twilight Zone, and goes on to examine Serling’s life through the many series and dramas he wrote for TV and radio, revealing how much of his subject matter came from his own personal experience, views and politics. As Serling once remarked he was able to discuss controversial issues through science-fiction:
“I found that it was all right to have Martians saying things Democrats and Republicans could never say.”
His work influenced other shows (notably Star Trek), and although there were problems, due to the demands of advertisers, Serling kept faith with TV in the hope it could connect with its audience - educate, entertain and help improve the quality of life, through a shared ideals.
As writer Serling slowly “succumbed” to his art:
‘Writing is a demanding profession and a selfish one. And because it is selfish and demanding, because it is compulsive and exacting, I didn’t embrace it, I succumbed to it. In the beginning, there was a period of about 8 months when nothing happened. My diet consisted chiefly of black coffee and fingernails. I collected forty rejection slips in a row. On a writer’s way up, he meets a lot of people and in some rare cases there’s a person along the way, who happens to be around just when they’re needed. Perhaps just a moment of professional advice, or a boost to the ego when it’s been bent, cracked and pushed into the ground. Blanche Gaines was that person for me. I signed with her agency in 1950. Blanche kept me on a year, before I made my first sale. The sale came with trumpets and cheers. I don’t think that feeling will ever come again. The first sale - that’s the one that comes with magic.’
Like Richard Matheson, Philip K Dick, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Serling is a hero who offered up the possible, for our consideration.
Philip K. Dick wrote an excited letter to Jeff Walker, at the Ladd Company, after watching a television preview of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, the film version of his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
October 11, 1981
Mr. Jeff Walker,
The Ladd Company,
4000 Warner Boulevard,
I happened to see the Channel 7 TV program “Hooray For Hollywood” tonight with the segment on BLADE RUNNER. (Well, to be honest, I didn’t happen to see it; someone tipped me off that BLADE RUNNER was going to be a part of the show, and to be sure to watch.) Jeff, after looking—and especially after listening to Harrison Ford discuss the film—I came to the conclusion that this indeed is not science fiction; it is not fantasy; it is exactly what Harrison said: futurism. The impact of BLADE RUNNER is simply going to be overwhelming, both on the public and on creative people—and, I believe, on science fiction as a field. Since I have been writing and selling science fiction works for thirty years, this is a matter of some importance to me. In all candor I must say that our field has gradually and steadily been deteriorating for the last few years. Nothing that we have done, individually or collectively, matches BLADE RUNNER. This is not escapism; it is super realism, so gritty and detailed and authentic and goddam convincing that, well, after the segment I found my normal present-day “reality” pallid by comparison. What I am saying is that all of you collectively may have created a unique new form of graphic, artistic expression, never before seen. And, I think, BLADE RUNNER is going to revolutionize our conceptions of what science fiction is and, more, can be.
Let me sum it up this way. Science fiction has slowly and ineluctably settled into a monotonous death: it has become inbred, derivative, stale. Suddenly you people have come in, some of the greatest talents currently in existence, and now we have a new life, a new start. As for my own role in the BLADE RUNNER project, I can only say that I did not know that a work of mine or a set of ideas of mine could be escalated into such stunning dimensions. My life and creative work are justified and completed by BLADE RUNNER. Thank you..and it is going to be one hell of a commercial success. It will prove invincible.
Philip K. Dick
The tragedy is PKD never saw the finished version of the classic science fiction film, as he died 5 months later, on March 2, 1982, just months before Blade Runner was given its cinematic release.
Philip K. Dick, Germs-manager Nicole Panter, author KW Jeter, and artist Gary Panter, at Philip K. Dick’s Santa Ana condo. From Nicole Panter’s Flickr account.
A rare look at the inside of Philip K. Dick’s condo! Here is the attendant interview, from Slash magazine, May 1980:
Philip K. Dick is 51 years old. Since 1955 he’s written 35 books that have been translated into eighteen languages. He has five ex-wives, two cats and lives 10 minutes from Disneyland. Of the books he has written, his personal favorites are, The Man in the High Castle, Dr. Bloodmoney, and Through a Scanner Darkly. His latest book, VALIS, will be released in February, with the sequel to be published sometime in the spring. Mr. Dick says he doesn’t take drugs anymore, but thinks about them all the time. Despite stories to the contrary, he’s a real charming guy.
The interview was conducted in Mr. Dick’s conapt by Gary and Nicole Panter. K.W. Jeter, one of Dick’s close friends and author of the yet unpublished but excellent DR. ADDER, attended and added his comments.
DICK: Um … fuck.
SLASH: I don’t drink beer.
DICK: I don’t drink beer either. What’s so … so … I’m tired of all this circle of … of effete intellectual … this circle of intellectuals who drink beer. (laughter)
SLASH: Is this a conapt?
DICK: It definitely is a conapt.
SLASH: Is a conapt a combination of condominium and apartment?
SLASH: So the people in your stories own their own apartments?
DICK: They own them and are doomed to live in them. And they are also doomed to participate in meetings with the other owners and have complaints made about their moral lives.
SLASH: Like in small towns … do you go to these meetings?
DICK: Yes, it’s mandatory.
SLASH: What do they say?
DICK: They say how come your car has got dust all over it? So I park in a dark corner of the garage so no one can see it. This one old lady built a little door for her cat to go in and out of and in a meeting someone complained that they saw cat shit out on the walkway and now she’s responsible for all the cat shit anyone sees around.
SLASH: Can they make you move out if the other tenants don’t like you?
DICK: No, they can’t get you out they can just sue you to death.
SLASH: Were you raised in a religious organization?
SLASH: Are you anti organized religion?
DICK: Yes. Technically, I’m Episcopalian, but I don’t ever go. I’m interested in them because they’re a barrio church and they do lot of civil service work … technically I’m a religious anarchist.
SLASH: Is this Orange County?
DICK: Very Definitely … I bet that’s good beer. The Germs are breaking up, huh? The cat’s laughing at me … But Darby Crash is going to start his own band.
SLASH: Yeah, how’d you know?
DICK: I know … I know this stuff. Did I do that right? I sure like the Plugz. Now the beach bands like the Circle Jerks …
SLASH: Darby has a mohican now which brings up the kids you wrote about that modeled themselves after South American Indians or was it Africans. When did you begin to write about mutant youth cultures?
DICK: In my writing? TIME OUT OF JOINT in 1958.
SLASH: Were you a beatnik then … a bohemian?
DICK: I was all of those things. I knew the first beatnik. His name was Charles McLane … oh, the first hippy. I’m sorry. He was into drugs - that would be hippy.
SLASH: What made a beatnik, alcohol?
DICK: Some were into drugs. The difference was there was more of an emphasis on creative work with the beatniks. You had to write … much less emphasis on drugs.
SLASH: How far does a bohemian or lunatic fringe go back?
JETER: To the Bohemians in the twenties …
DICK: Wrong! Puccini’s LA BOHEME describes people who were poets and singers and who burned their pictures in the 19th Century. The furthest I can remember back is the thirties to the WPA artists paid by the government. They became the bohemian strata of the United States.
SLASH: What prompted you in 1958 to begin writing about this kind of youth culture? Kids with teeth filed to points?
DICK: Yeah, I don’t know. It wasn’t until ‘71 in a speech I delivered in Vancouver that I was consciously discussing the rise of the youth culture. I glorified punks “kids who would neither read, watch, remember, or be intimidated.” I spoke of the rise of a youth culture which would overthrow the government.
SLASH: Do you still think that’s the case?
DICK: I certainly do.
SLASH: Have you got a timetable?
DICK: What time is it now? (laughter) Any day now I expect to hear that swarms have entered the White House and broken all the furniture.
SLASH: What comes after that?
More of the Philip K. Dick interview from Slash magazine after the jump