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130 of 147 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Slow Train to Oblivion, expertly documented
There is an old adage about writing: "Write what you know"--as quoted verbatim from Hemmingway, among many others, this proverb is a key to mastering the craft. One's best work originates from principle experience, core emotions; the rest is just window-dressings, technique for transition. Philip K. Dick, one of the most prolific authors of science fiction for the later...
Published on February 23, 2002 by Ian Vance

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good idea, but flimsy character s
Fred and Bob Arctor is the same person, one of them is a narc, the other plays a burned out drug addict. Bob has been popping Substance D pills while spying on his roommates while his undercover police moniker is Fred and is reporting his findings to headquarters. Only problem is that the Substance D is destroying Arctor/Fred's brain and he's slowly becoming a split...
Published on February 28, 2006 by David G. Phillips


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Drug-induced paranoid fantastic hilarity, July 15, 2005
By 
Q (The Continuum) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Scanner Darkly (Paperback)
Not primarily a science-fiction novel, but a chronicle of the drug-crazed sixties based on personal experience. Includes a lot of very funny and witty conversations between the various drug addict characters. A Scanner Darkly is also a deeply felt elegy for Dick's friends who died or went crazy from drug use. The protagonist, Robert Arctor (actor), is an undercover drug agent assigned to spy on himself. He eventually becomes so alienated from himself from drug use that he doesn't even realize that he is spying on himself; he can't recognize himself or even remember his own name. Dick draws here on the tradition of the Double, found in Dostoevsky, Poe, Freud, and others. Classic questioning of our understanding of identity, showing how fragile and inessential our self is. Plenty of cosmic speculations on the soul, and many great moments of paranoia in which the reader and protagonist can't tell what's real or not. Often entertaining, this is not up to the high standards of Dick's best work, but still better than 90% of the science fiction novels out there.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT READ!!, April 3, 2012
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This review is from: A Scanner Darkly (Kindle Edition)
I first saw the movie starring Downey Jr and Keanu Reeves a few years back and have been looking for the book ever since. Aside from the movie changing a few character roles around, there isn't a lot of difference. Of course, the book has MUCH MORE going on in the story than the movie does (as with any movie based on a book). Some of the reading can be a little too...intellectual(?) for my reading level, but the Kindle makes it easy with that included dictionary. A great, engaging story that will leave you thinking about what this world could be like in a not too distant, dystopian future.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love Never Fails, August 26, 2009
This review is from: A Scanner Darkly (Paperback)
We're coming into the home stretch, folks. You and I have gone through some of Philip K. Dick's best work, such as "Martian Time-Slip" and "Dr. Bloodmoney" and "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch ". There are only a few PKD novels left, and I've saved some of the best for last. Of "A Scanner Darkly", for instance, the author said "I believe it is a masterpiece. I believe it is the only masterpiece I will ever write." Wow.

In old usage, a "masterpiece" was a piece of work that a journeyman put together to advance to the rank of master within a guild. By that measure, Philip K. Dick was a master long before he wrote "A Scanner Darkly" in 1973. Nevertheless, this novel marks a sort of leap in his skill. He was always concerned with some pretty big issues, such as the need for empathy and the question of what makes a human being. He also returned to certain themes several times, including drugs, paranoia and the uncertain nature of what we call reality. In this novel, he dug deeper into all of these matters than maybe at any time before. What's more, while he always seemed to love his characters and grieve over their pain, he clearly took "A Scanner Darkly" much more personally. In his Afterword, he goes so far as to say "I am not a character in this novel, I am the novel." It shows.

Like a lot of great sf, but unlike most of PKD's speculative work, "A Scanner Darkly" reads pretty much like a mainstream novel except for the few technological developments. In this case, there are two such advances, if you can call them that. The first, since this is PKD, is a new recreational drug. It's called Substance D, and it's scary. It gets you high in some fashion, but if you take it, you run the risk of dividing the hemispheres of your brain so that they don't work together anymore. They function separately, or in extreme cases compete with each other. Either way, that's pretty much it. You thought you had one personality? Guess again.

The other technological advance is something called a scramble suit, which is composed of a material that broadcasts a huge number of facial and body features on its surface. Put it on and you're a vague blur that no one can identify. Very useful for undercover narcotics officers; in anonymity lies their security.

So one day Bob Arctor, a Substance D addict and undercover officer (who's called "Fred" when in his scramble suit), receives orders from his superiors (who don't know who he is) to bug the home of Bob Arctor the suspected dealer and collect evidence to be used against him at trial. Because he is an addict, and because the use of the scramble suit confuses him even beyond the drug's effects, he shortly loses track of himself and begins to suspect that Bob Arctor might really be a dealer. The activities of his paranoid housemate Jim Barris don't help his state of mind, and neither do his growing feelings for his friend Donna.

In short, both Substance D and the scramble suit tend to divide a person's personality into two untenable parts, and Bob Arctor has to deal with both technologies under increasing emotional tension. Like most great novels, then, the various parts of "A Scanner Darkly" work together to reinforce each other until you can't put the thing down. But does that make it a masterpiece?

Not by itself. While all of these wheels within wheels spin around and around, though, Bob Arctor and his friends maneuver through the precisely described physical world of Anaheim, California, with all its prefabricated plastic fast-food joints and gas stations and similarly denatured landscapes. With a few exceptions, they're actually very nice people - you wouldn't think a bunch of head cases could live together peacefully for any length of time, but with a few exceptions they do. Masterful characters in a masterful setting.

Also, this may be PKD's finest prose. He always wrote very fast, and therefore his style could get a little crude, but in 1973 his output had slowed. He took his time. He placed the information he wanted to convey into his characters' thoughts rather than in his own authorial voice, which makes his wild ideas touching rather than simply interesting. So when you discover that some character, by chemical means, has entered into a whole new mode of perception but can't communicate it to anyone, it's almost enough to make you cry.

If you ask me, the most devastating aspect of "A Scanner Darkly" is the way the characters hope for a better world even while the one they inhabit crumbles around them, either because of the effects of Substance D on their personalities or because of what they're forced to do to survive. The novel's title, of course, rings a change on the famous passage from 1 Corinthians in which Paul says that although we now perceive as through a glass darkly, one day we will see clearly. The rest of the chapter implies that when our perception is thus cleared up, we will experience _agape_, what the Jews call _chesed_, or selfless love. It's the kind of love that Bob Arctor, watching his mind crumble away, surrounded in his own home by police videoscanners that see him at all times but don't know him at all, continues to believe in.

The author informs us in his Afterword that many of his characters were based on people he knew - he lists several of them along with their various fates, mostly death, brain damage or psychosis. He says he loved them all, and in "A Scanner Darkly" he did right by them. You bet it's a masterpiece.

Benshlomo says, You don't stop loving people just because they mess up.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever, If Showing Its Age in Spots, January 18, 2007
By 
Timothy Haugh (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Scanner Darkly (Paperback)
In my teens and early twenties I was a passionate reader of classic science fiction. In those days I read most of the greats--Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Bradbury, etc. And, of course, I read Philip K. Dick. The Man in the High Castle remains one of my favorites.

I had read A Scanner Darkly probably twenty years ago. I decided to read it again before I watched the movie on DVD. I'm glad I did. There's a lot to like about this book. The plot is clever and it still speaks powerfully to the drug culture and government/corporate intrigue. Plus, there are some nice science fiction touches. I'm particularly fond of the scramble suit.

On the other hand, some of the cultural touches (which Dick lifted from his own experience of the drug culture of the seventies) are starting to show their age. Some of the dialogue, in particular, could be lifted right out of a B-movie from the era. It's a bit jarring in a book with so many nice futuristic flourishes.

In the end, however, a reader shouldn't let that stand in the way of experiencing this novel. It may be one of the best looks at drug culture ever put down on paper. It certainly is one of the best drug culture novels in the science fiction mode of which Dick was a master.
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26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, January 9, 2006
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This review is from: A Scanner Darkly (Paperback)
Jerry Fabin is covered in aphids. Or at least he thinks so, spending most of his time in the shower. His friend Charles Freck tries to help, but eventually must take Jerry to New-Path, a center to help addicts of Substance D (known as Death) come off the drug and adjust to life without intoxicants. Charles catches up with Donna Hawthorne, Bob Arctor's supposed girlfriend/dealer, scores some Substance D and falls in with Bob's crowd.

Bob Arctor lives with two roommates, Barris and Luckman. What Bob's roommates don't know is that there is more to Bob than his trivial job and his addiction. Bob is a narc called Fred, working for the Narcotics Division undercover. Whenever Fred enters the station to report, he wears a "scramble suit", so that he can't be identified. All narcotics officers wear them. When Fred is assigned to stake out his own identity in the drug world, Bob Arctor, things begin to fall apart for him.

At first, Fred finds it ironic that he is staking out himself, but as the drug corrodes his brain, literally splitting the hemispheres apart, Bob/Fred separate and reality twists into shivering fibers of uncertainty. Barris and Luckman start to behave strangely, as Fred observes them on the holo-tapes. Bob begins to speak and think in German.

What will happen to Bob/Fred if he doesn't stop using Substance D? Why is Donna so standoffish if she likes Bob as much as she claims to? How deep can Bob/Fred go before something snaps inside his head? Or has it snapped already?

'A Scanner Darkly' is classic the author Philip K. Dick. He vividly paints the funnier antics of substance abuse, and the tragedies that follow. The conversations between the men when they are high are both pathetic and hilarious. It's pretty obvious the author had some experience walking the pretty path of flowering hallucinations.

This book is poetic and realistic even in today's society though it was written in 1977. There is no "old" feeling to the storyline. And, there is a big surprise waiting for you in the end.

Also, read the Author's Note at the end, where the author Philip K. Dick describes himself and his friends, and their forays into the drug society, as children playing in the street. When one gets hit by a car (overdose, brain damage, etc) the rest of them would continue to play, oblivious to the dangers. He then lists his friends who he lost to this vicious game.

'A Scanner Darkly' is a definite buy, if you like to collect drug books like Luke Davies's 'Candy', Burroughs's 'Junky', Thompson's 'Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas', and Selby's 'Requiem For A Dream'. Grab a hold of your worst vice, whether wine or chocolate or Substance D, sit back, relax, and Enjoy!
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Living on a knife's edge, September 5, 2000
This review is from: A Scanner Darkly (Paperback)
This is the first science fiction book I've read since reading Starwars back in the 80's. I wanted to read something by Philip K. Dick after I found out that Bladerunner was based on his book 'Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep'. I must say, I was not disappointed.
This was not the easiest book to read, sometimes I got a bit overwhelmed by techno speak - (he obviously researched brain functions thoroughly), but persistence paid off.
The concept of this story is not a new one: A cop goes undercover as a junkie to try to catch the suppliers of a drug called 'Substance D', but in order to pose as a junkie, he must become one. We see throughout the story how he feels about lying to his friends, but by the end of the book we learn that he was not the only one with a hidden agenda.
After reading this story, it is easy to see why Mr Dick has such a strong following and why even after his death, his stories are still as relevant now as they were when first written.
I recommend reading this book. Philip K. Dick said there was no moral to this story, but I think it takes something from you when you read it and leaves in its place hopefully a little compassion for those who live on a knife's edge and for the walking dead.
RIP Philip K. Dick.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Battle Action Report from the War on Drugs, March 10, 2007
By 
Grey Wolffe "Zeb Kantrowitz" (North Waltham, MA United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: A Scanner Darkly (Paperback)
At the time that PKD wrote this story, the flower children of the sixties were falling into two groups: those who would never survive the onslaught of heavier drugs (the psychotics, brain dead and plain dead); and those who dropped out from dropping drugs and dropping out. PKD never really made it out himself, becoming a another casualty of the "War on Drugs (WOD)" because he just couldn't say no or even maybe. The 'deadication' at the end is the most poignant part of the story (he had lost sooo many friends, as many of us did).

The story itself is as black as a comedy can get, and the satire is so powerful to those of us who survived 'The Times, and the Summers of Love'. His autobiographical character is an undercover narcotics cop who has surrendered to the life. He is hooked on 'Substance D', d for death, and has gotten to the point where his cop personality (Fred) is spying on his drug personality (Archer) and he doesn't see the strange dialectic that is happening to him.

The conversation that he has with his dope taking roomates are to the point of hysterical goofs on the way people used to sit around in parks and discuss Camus and "Jules and Jim" versus "Laugh-in" and "Trout fishing in American or Watermelon Sugar". Those were the days when the words to every song had to have a 'hidden meaning' (i.e. Deep Purple's 'Smoke on the Water') even if it didn't. And as happened so many times in those days, the narcs spent more time watching each other than the 'real' drug dealers.

As in most cases from 'those days' we will never know if the drugs brought out the talent in PKD, or if he was able to transcend the drugs to get to a 'higher plain' (right!, cool man, realllll heavy dude). Later.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of Dick's stronger, more coherent novels, May 7, 2006
This review is from: A Scanner Darkly (Paperback)
"What is identity? he asked himself. Where does the act end? Nobody knows." (p. 29)

One of PKD's better novels, A Scanner Darkly, tells the story of an anonymous narc, Officer Fred, who lives a second life as Bob Arctor, an addict to "Substance D." This drug has the horrifying side effect of splitting the user's mind into two separate and antagonistic personalities. Of course, this being a PKD novel, the side effect takes hold within the protagonist's mind, and so the reader finds Officer Fred spying on Bob Arctor without realizing that he is following himself. The issues of identity that Dick raises alone are worth the price of the novel.

This novel, like many works in Dick's oeuvre, is a work of literature disguised as SF genre fiction. Which is to say that those looking for conventional SF should look elsewhere; the few SF elements in this novel are mere window dressing. (The one possible exception is his description of "straights" in their gated, guarded communities--talk about prescient.) Those looking for a thought-provoking exploration of thorny epistemic issues will find much to chew on in this novel.

Also like most of Dick's works, this novel leaves many loose ends unaddressed, and the ending definitely comes from out of left field. That said, the story is far more coherent than many of his other novels, and the writing (especially the dialogue), coming as it does from Dick's own experiences with addicts, addiction, and possible insanity, is much more personal and direct than in his other novels.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Through A Scanner Darkly, April 16, 2000
This review is from: A Scanner Darkly (Paperback)
A Scanner Darkly is the only book on drugs, besides Go Ask Alice, that resembles reality. It shows that drugs are niether good or bad; it is the user that makes them, so. Any one that has been heavily involved in the drug culture can identify with this book. The drug infested romance, distinguishably good and bad atmosheres, terminology,etc. should all be familiar to those who once lived the life described. But the most penetrating part of the book for anyone who knows what it's like to be addicted is Arctor's trangression. Arctor's speech including " Do I see my self through a scanner darkly...." is a poignant and penetrating dialogue that cannot, repeat cannot, be understood by those who have never been addicted. If you've ever been on the outside looking in, unable the see through the barrier you've created for your self, enveloped in the confusion of the human experience, than you can relate to Bob Arctor. As a recovering addict, I am glad that someone understands.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good idea, but flimsy character s, February 28, 2006
By 
This review is from: A Scanner Darkly (Paperback)
Fred and Bob Arctor is the same person, one of them is a narc, the other plays a burned out drug addict. Bob has been popping Substance D pills while spying on his roommates while his undercover police moniker is Fred and is reporting his findings to headquarters. Only problem is that the Substance D is destroying Arctor/Fred's brain and he's slowly becoming a split personality - he does not know that he is spying on himself.

It's a good book , but not pkd's best. The character development is a little flimsy, I'd like to know more about the Fred character and how he became an undercover narcotics agent. The split between Bob and Fred is sudden and unexpected; I think a slower separation would have been more realistic, it seems somewhat obvious that pkd wrote this in 6 quick weeks. What made Flowers for Algernon so memorable was the slow change in Charlie's mind, what made this book average is the sudden change in Bob/Fred's mind.

I did however find the conversations between Bob and his friends while under the influence to be hysterical and realistic. Their ruminations on a hash man walking though the airport along with their other random paranoid conspiracy theories. I am looking forward to the movie to see if they develop the characters a little better
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A Scanner Darkly
A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (Paperback - May 23, 2006)
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