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A Scanner Darkly Paperback – October 18, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 285 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Mind- and reality-bending drugs factor again and again in Philip K. Dick's hugely influential SF stories. A Scanner Darkly cuts closest to the bone, drawing on Dick's own experience with illicit chemicals and on his many friends who died from drug abuse. Nevertheless, it's blackly farcical, full of comic-surreal conversations between people whose synapses are partly fried, sudden flights of paranoid logic, and bad trips like the one whose victim spends a subjective eternity having all his sins read to him, in shifts, by compound-eyed aliens. (It takes 11,000 years of this to reach the time when as a boy he discovered masturbation.) The antihero Bob Arctor is forced by his double life into warring double personalities: as futuristic narcotics agent "Fred," face blurred by a high-tech scrambler, he must spy on and entrap suspected drug dealer Bob Arctor. His disintegration under the influence of the insidious Substance D is genuine tragicomedy. For Arctor there's no way off the addict's downward escalator, but what awaits at the bottom is a kind of redemption--there are more wheels within wheels than we suspected, and his life is not entirely wasted. --David Langford, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

America in the near future has lost the war against drugs. Though the government tries to protect the upper class, the system is infested with undercover cops like Fred, who regularly ingests the popular Substance D as part of his ruse. The drug has caused Fred to develop a split personality, of which he is not aware; his alter ego is Bob, a drug dealer. Fred's superiors then set up a hidden holographic camera in his home as part of a sting operation against Bob. Though he appears on camera as Bob, none of Fred's co-workers catch on: since Fred, like all undercover police, wears a scramble suit that constantly changes his appearance, his colleagues don't know what he looks like. The camera in Fred/Bob's apartment reveals that Bob's intimates regularly betray one another for the chance to score more drugs. Even Donna, a young dealer whom Bob/Fred loves, prefers the drug to human contact. Originally published in 1977, the out-of-print novel comes frighteningly close to capturing the U.S. in 1991, in terms of the drug crisis and the relationships between the sexes. But the unrelenting scenes among the addicts make it a grueling read.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (October 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547572174
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547572178
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (285 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ian Vance on February 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
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 half of the twentieth century, wrote about what he knew: paranoia, `big brother', psychological disruptions, drug abuse; and the sci-fi `trimmings' of aliens, techno-dystopias, etc. usually served as interesting backdrops. As a mad, bad, meth-snortin' horsemeat lovin' pulp master, the dominant themes Dick experienced during his relatively short(ened) life appear again and again in the bulk of his work, though rarely so coherently expressed as in his tragic masterpiece, _A Scanner Darkly_.
The `basics:' Bob Arctor is a drug dealer who is also Fred, a narc working undercover with the LAPD to bust a big time drug dealer named...Bob Arctor. Bob/Fred's drug of choice, Substance D(eath), gradually splits the user's brain into two separate halves, corroding the interaction between the hemispheres and rendering one a split-personality veering chaotically close to schizophrenia. Bob doesn't realize he's Fred, and vice-versa (except in moments of rare epiphany). As anyone who has read VALIS can attest, the real-life events from which this story is based occurred to Dick in the beginning of the `70's, and most of his fiction afterward were attempts for him to glean and get down the life-shattering experience. _A Scanner Darkly_ was debatably his most successful attempt, and certainly his most lucid.
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Format: Paperback
I have always felt that PKD was the type of author who could really blow me away with his mind-expanding ideas. Unfortunately his other novels that I previously read struck me as overrated, as the ideas failed to gel into coherent stories. However, he hits the bullseye with "A Scanner Darkly" which has to be one of best novels. Taking place in a dysfunctional near-future, the story revolves around the new drug called Substance D. (The only glitch in this book is that PKD places the story in the 1990's, and PKD's vision of the future from back in the 70's is a bit distracting in its inaccuracies). Substance D causes a disconnect between the left and right sides of the brain, causing a split personality syndrome in which both of the user's selves are active simultaneously and compete with each other. The main character, Bob Arctor, is an undercover cop who poses as a dealer, and his undercover self has been assigned to watch his dealer self. At first he realizes the bureaucratic mistake, but as he falls deeper and deeper into the world of Substance D, Bob can no longer perceive the difference between his two selves and descends into a schizophrenic nightmare. Bob's deteriorating state becomes a very disturbing tract from PKD on the nature of one's identity, the destruction of the self through drug abuse, and the reality or un-reality of the self's replacement. Also, in PKD's future the drug war becomes a class war, as the "straights" need the users as a class of non-persons to manipulate and to experiment on. This may just be the way users see the world, and PKD shows us that it may not be a farfetched conspiracy theory. This is a truly troubling look into the world of damaged and ruined minds, from a man who just may have been there himself.
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This would have to be one of the most unsettling books i've read in a while. The plot revolves around a drug addict who is growing increasingly unstable and paranoid do to his heavy use of "substance D" a synthetic narcotic of the future which fries the brain permantly after it addicts the user to a life of misery. The main carachter is hunted by an undercover cop who is having his own problems keeping a grip on reality. After a while the true relationship between the two becomes clear to the reader and the whole thing gets even stranger.
If you enjoy fiction that makes you think sideways then this book is for you. This is the first book by Phillip K Dick i've read and i intend to read more of his work on the basis of this book's quality.
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Format: Paperback
The movie version of "A Scanner Darkly" was one of the most original films I saw last year. I loved it; the animation was innovative and fascinating, while the movie itself was hypnotic. Philip K. Dick has been responsible for writing the novel versions of several recent great films (including "Minority Report") and I was curious to read some of his work. After reading "A Scanner Darkly" I discovered why Richard Linklater made the film version the way he did. The subject matter of the film, its atmosphere could be caught in a live-action film; but I doubt it would have been as good. The book is great! Whether it's better than the movie or not, I really can't say...I barely paid attention to the plot of the movie, it was the animation that kept my eyes glued to the screen. The book is very close to the movie; Fred is an undercover narcotic agent trying to bust Bob Arctor, a man who's believed to be a big-time drug dealer of Substance D (as in death), a drug that causes split personalities in people. Scanners (hidden cameras) have been installed in Arctor's house so the police can have 24-hour surveillance; There's only one problem; Fred is Bob Arctor. He's doing surveillance on himself. His fellow workers don't know this because employees where a scramble suit (a suit which scrambles their facial features and vocal patterns, the movie couldn't have done a better job with it). Bob's life is relatively simple; He hangs out at his house all day dropping D with his two drug-addicted roommates James Barris (the most memorable character in both film and novel) and Ernie Luckman and hangs out with his drug-dealing girlfriend Donna.Read more ›
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